As some of you might know, I previously had a lot of free time to work with Dandy because I was unemployed. I used to visit and either ride or work him on the ground anywhere between 3 and 4 times a week. That allowed us to progress pretty swiftly. But last Monday, Sept 12th, I started a new professional training that is going to last 10 months, till June 30th 2017. Till then, my schedule will be pretty packed and finding time for my colt is going to be somewhat challenging.
Sadly, Dandy is still pastured alone, for now. He can see a mare standing in the next paddock, but he can’t interact with her. Other horses may occupy the nearby paddocks during the day, but again, he can’t have any physical interaction with him. How aggressive he has behaved with other horses previously certainly has not encouraged his boarders to give him compagny. I’m still in hope his buddy from last spring will come back to the farm and that he can have a friend again, but until then, every day that I doesn’t come to visit and work him is spent in loneliness.That’s a hard thing for a herd animal.
The weather has also changed drastically in the course of 72 hours ! We went from a whopping 34°C to a crisp 12° in the course of three days, and that is a genuine shock to the system, for horses and people alike. All equestrians know that horses are way “fresher” in cold weather than under the heat. Mine is no exception, and a frisk body will result in an unsettled mind for him. Today I rode him and he just couldn’t relax, until the very end of our session.
That is him in the cross-ties, post work. See how balled up he is ? That is not a relaxed horse…
That is interesting, though. When troubled during work, he used to be resistant, and sometimes belligerent about it. We went through a whole phase where a repeated ask to move a body part would generate a buck (mild), head snaking, rolling his back, etc. Later, he switched to speeding up in the parts of the arena that made him anxious. He woudn’t try to duck them anymore, but he’s go through them at a million miles per hour. Bending softly to a trot or even a stop took pretty good care of that. Today was different. At no time was he disrespectful or pushy, but there weren’t many moments of relaxation, either. Though he kept blowing air through his nose and trying hard to fullfill my various asks (polite ones, too), he’d fail fiding peace in his work. The nervousness would show up in all the same places he’d act bratty and belligerent before, only his response was different, like trying to manage his own anxiety while still delivering the work I was requesting. One can only be awed at how hard horses sometimes try to please us, to “get along” as Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance would put it.
Something else happened, in relation to my own professional training, that is somewhat relevant to horse training. This week I got acquainted with an industrial sewing machine. It looks roughly like a home sewing one, only bigger, meaner, more powerful and serious looking, with a tethered beam lamp, a LCD screen displaying fancy functions, and a very large pedal. Put 30 of them in rows in a warehouse and it makes for a pretty intimidating work set-up. So here I was, a grown-up thrown back in time and trying to acquire a totally new and unknown skill, one that is totally motor and needs to be processed and repeated to activate muscle memory. Thank God the instructor was smart enough to stay out of my hair (once having provided sufficient information and guidance) and let me figure it out, slowly, ever so slowly, myself. I’d get up and go check out with her every time I finished a piece and wanted feedback and more advice. And while I was desperately wanting to succeed and sew straight and do well, while it was a deliberate decision from me and a genuine desire to perform, it was STILL very hard to get it right ! So imagine how the horse must feel when we not only ask of him something that he doesn’t understand, hasn’t chosen for himself, and doesn’t know how to do ???
It’s hard for us to empathize and imagine or accept they probably sometimes have NO freaking idea of what we want. And until we’re clearer and have better timing, more feel and more gentle patience, they need a lot of trial and error to get it right and learn, sometimes “in spite “of us, rather than thanks to us…
Today we had forward. We had giving to the bit, getting off the leg, we had yielding, bending, counter bending, stopping, backing up. We had pretty much everything I asked for, except the one thing I truly wanted : softness from an untroubled mind. Most people would be happy with a performing horse, and care less about his state of mind. I’m not most people. What matters to me is what he can do UNtroubled. Should he run a flawless reining pattern with a bracey mind and inner turmoil, I’d be bummed and frustrated and feel rotten. Because I can’t feel good if he doesn’t, it’s just that simple. So tomorrow I’m heading back there, to go over all the basics he’s comfortable with, until he can find that inner peace, so I can, too 😉