React or Respond

To get her to give her best performance and be the great girl you’ve come to expect – Avoid giving orders in a no-nonsense way. Remember she female and show her respect.

A new horse arrived the other day. She is a beautiful big black Friesian mare. As a rule, I introduce new horses to the herd in stages. “Grace” seemed anxious to find a friend, so I took a chance and turned her out in the pasture with the majority of the herd. She had already met Ranger who is the gelding that makes the new guys tow the line for a few days and that had gone extremely well. My four horses were not included in the group that morning as the bare foot farrier was here for them and I had them in the barn. Grace trotted right up to the eight horses in the field just like she had known them forever. In fact, she pretty much started laying the law down like she was going to be the new sheriff in town. I turned my horses out one at a time out as they got trimmed and they all just calmly joined the rest – with the exception of Guilty. She was the last one to be trimmed and we never did get it done. We didn’t even try because she was so worked up. She saw Grace taking advantage of the fact that she was not on duty and thought she was trying to steal her job of being the Alpha lead mare. Big mistake. Guilty is a passive leader, but she knows how to manage her herd. She tore up the hill to the horses, cut Grace out of the group and rounded up the others and disappeared over the hill with every one of the horses but Grace. Poor Grace was ostracized for not showing Guilty the proper respect for her position. Grace spent the day alone in the lower pasture while Guilty kept the others out of site. Grace knew enough not to try to work her way in but she wasn’t ready to accept Guilty as her leader yet. I put her in another paddock with two very friendly horses for the night so she would have some company and could make a couple of friends. In the morning, I had a lesson with a little girl on Guilty but we could not get her attention. The entire time we were in the arena giving the lesson, Guilty was watching the pasture to see this new horse. Grace was standing at the gate waiting to face off with Guilty. Guilty gave my poor little student the ride of her life as we headed back to the barn and Guilty ran right for the fence where Grace stood. After removing the student and tack from Guilty, I opened the gate and let her in. Grace made her move and immediately started backing into Guilty  trying to kick her. Another big mistake on Grace’s part. Guilty, in her infinite wisdom, did not turn it into a fight. Instead, she ignored Grace and just ran up the hill to claim her herd and Grace was left standing all alone again for the rest of the day. I learn so much from watching these herd dynamics play out. It is not the bully who ultimately wins the fight. Guilty still has her herd and Grace has no-one until she figures out that she needs to concede to Guilty as the leader.

Guilty on duty as Alpha mare

Guilty on duty as Alpha mare

Guilty will teach her that very important lesson without a single bite or kick. She will make it Grace’s choice without using force. Hmmm – what a concept.

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Child’s Play

Many hours of childhood playtime was spent outside running around – while I pretended to be a horse, rearing and pawing the ground

While most little girls spent the hours pretending to be a mommy or a teacher, I imagined I was a horse. I didn’t play with my collection of glass figurines that stood on my dresser, although they were all named and I envisioned real-life versions of them. I didn’t pretend to be riding a horse or get on my dad’s back and have him gallop around with me. I didn’t spend my time on sawhorses or stick ponies. When I played “horses” I mean I played like I was the horse. Sometimes I would be a wild horse, running like the wind. Spirited, free and unbroken. Funny thing, now that I think about it, is that I was always an untamable stallion – not a mare or a filly- when I was running loose. I would have my head held up high and paw the air in a make-believe rear. I(I guess I would have been what you would call a problem horse these days). Other times, I would play the role of a dutiful horse being ridden. I could actually feel the hands on the reins that guided me and held me back. I would have moments of protest and buck, kicking out my heels and challenging my imaginary rider that was controlling me.

I was a horse as a child

I was a horse as a child

It is a common saying that horses mirror their owners. I guess that tells you quite a bit about me because I don’t see that much has changed in that regard over the decades. The only element that has been added is that I am actually interacting with some of those horses that I used to pretend to be. I have never forgotten that feeling of will, spirit, power and distrust that is inherent to the species. I lived it from a horse’s point of view with the idealistic innocence of a child. I never dwelled on the ugly side of being a horse in the hands of insensitive or cruel humans. I never played the part of a discarded, older, discarded or abused horse. My world was filled with the magic and the majestic side of being an equine, as a child’s should be. I still try to capture that feeling when I am with my horses now. I believe I have developed a “feel” for them born out of those countless hours I spent delving into their world and looking out at us. It has made me more aware of how we share our time and space with these creatures and how we handle them. I am no longer the naive little girl living in a world where bad things never happen, but I continue to keep the mindset of an indomitable spirit that I learned from the horse.

The Headless Horse

Because you’ve practiced it over and over, your friend can now easily walk slow and lazy past those feared imaginary horse-eating monsters that once used to make your equine act crazy

I was just finishing up at the barn one morning, when I heard a ruckus coming from the upper pasture. Although I couldn’t see what was causing it, I could tell it was something earth-shattering as the entire herd of horses were screaming in a panic and appeared as a solid wave over the hill at a full out run-for-your-life gallop. They came charging down the hill toward me and were genuinely terrorized and wild-eyed. As I stood there watching and trying to figure out if I needed to run also, I saw the monster that was pursuing them. At the back of the pack was my daughter’s show horse, Detail. She had put a leopard patterned spandex-type slinky that covered his head and neck to keep him sleek and shiny. Somehow, the elastic strap that kept it in place had come undone and the stretchy leopard thing had been pulled up and covered the poor horse’s head, making it appear as though he had no head. The end was flapping loosely in the area where his face should have been. Not only was this a strange and frightening sight to the other horses, it blindfolded Detail. The other horses panicked at the sight of him and took flight, screaming as they ran. Detail couldn’t see what was scaring them and had no idea they were running from him. The harder and faster they ran to get away from him, the more he struggled to keep up with them, resulting in them running all the more as he “chased” them. Poor Detail struggled, fearing for his life and afraid he would be left behind to battle a monster he couldn’t see. He just knew it was something really, really awful to cause the others to stampede in terror like that. He was running blindly and I feared he would get badly injured if he didn’t slow down. They all ran right toward the gate where I was standing which brought him into earshot of my voice. As the horses veered off to the right, I called  “whoa” to Detail in a very calm and relaxed voice. Gratefully, he stopped dead in his tracks when he heard me. I kept talking softly to him as I approached him and was able to remove the horrible culprit. Detail was trembling when my hands touched him but he stood perfectly still, trusting me. Once it was off him, I think he and the others felt pretty foolish that they made such a big ado about nothing. I know I got a big laugh out of it.

Chased by a headless horse

Chased by a headless horse

I learned an important lesson that day. The lesson was that F.E.A.R. is really false evidence appearing real. What we think is happening usually isn’t anything near what our imagination would have us believe – the same is true for horses.

You Get What You Really Want

Finally, the long awaited day arrived – Although not until I was full grown. I am proof that wishes do come true – And I got to ride a horse of my own.

It was my 22nd birthday when it happened. All my childhood days had been spent imagining this moment. My nights were filled with dreams about it. As I passed from childhood to young adulthood, the love never died but the fervor of wishful thinking had waned somewhat. I was in the house fixing dinner when they called me outside. There she stood like a vision – sleek, shining and all tacked up – a gorgeous 2 year old 3/4 Arabian, 1/4 Thoroughbred registered bay mare. Tentatively, I walked up and put a hand on her shoulder, not believing my eyes and not yet knowing why she was standing in my yard. My first thought was that they were just showing her to me knowing how much I had always loved horses. Just a visit. My mind flew to the thought that possibly I would be able to ride her. What a wonderful thing that would be to experience a ride on this magnificent creature. I timidly asked what she was doing there, afraid of the answer. Afraid it was just for that moment and that laying a hand on her shoulder and taking her in with my eyes was the extent of it and then she would be gone. “She’s yours” was the reply. My hand flew off her like it had been scorched. I turned to stare at my husband  (at the time) and his friend who was holding Blaze. Was this a joke?If it was, it was a cruel one knowing how much I had always wanted a horse of my own. I searched their eyes for a glimpse of “just kidding” but it wasn’t there. She was mine. It took me all of 10 seconds to climb into the saddle and fly through the fields. If this was a dream, I was going to live it to the maximum. The realization was almost frightening. To have something I yearned for for years and years finally manifest out of seemingly thin air was almost too good to be true.

A Dream Comes True

A Dream Comes True

What made me think of this story was a young girl who visited my farm with her grandfather the other day to ride the horses. She was as love with them as I was at her age and was virtually vibrating with excitement. On our ride that day she must have said “I love horses” at least half a dozen times and she meant it. I know how that feels. Of course, she was in no immediate position to have a horse. They lived in the city, no funds, no knowledge of care, etc. Nothing but the sheer pure will to have one. Exactly how I started my horse  journey. I explained to her that that was enough and someday, somehow, she would have her horse if she didn’t give up on it. By keeping that picture in her mind and thinking of how she could get past some of those obstacles, the attention she paid to that dream would pay off someday. That is the way the universe works. If you really, really want something – you will get it. Why not want a horse?