It all began innocently enough. You go to the bookstore to get a coffee and kill some time. You do what any right-thinking person does - you head to the horse section to pick out a volume or three to browse through while you sip your latte. You see the photos of Toppur, and you go "Hmm, cute horse, this book'll do." Imke Spilker's Empowered Horses. A cup of latte becomes the thin end of the wedge.
I sat and read through most of the book, fascinated but mystified. Where was the system? Where was the program? Step A, Step B? I went back the next day to buy the book, kept it by my bed and read it through over the next few days. I was away from our own horses for the summer, and so two horses belonging to a friend were my first companions on this strange new path.
Ella was a charming and communicative two-year old Connemara filly, and Buddy was a slightly enigmatic five-year old Appendix QH, of a genial but often irascible temperament.
The first step was to ask the horses if they'd like to come with me out of their pasture. They both always said "Yes!" but each horse had a different motivation. Ella loved the diversion and the chance to get out of the herd and have some me-time (as they say). Buddy, I believe, loved to come and hang out in the arena because I let him cruise around the perimeter and munch on all the long grass growing on the other side of the fence.
But I really didn't know what on earth to do with either of them. No lunging? No round-penning? What do we do? For Buddy the answer was clear: "We eat!" I tried to entertain him, to engage him in some kind of shared activity - but he was just fine eating grass, thanks. I started to long for the way he used to behave when I was bossy and dictatorial - he would come up to me with his friendly face and follow me around. Sigh. I felt like I was with a stranger at a cocktail party and the conversation had run dry.
Ella made things a little easier, being of a sweet and affectionate nature. She would tell me if I pushed her too hard, and readily forgive me if I did. But I had the same feeling of not knowing quite what to say.
I would like to say I had a breakthrough of understanding, but I did not. I was supposed to be helping my friend with these two horses, and I felt that I had become completely useless overnight.
This was last summer, and it is only after interacting on an almost daily basis with our own horses (as well as others) that I am gradually beginning to see something taking shape. Buddy has come to live with us and is now called George. (Well, all male horses are "Buddy" aren't they?) Our two dear old mares both died of old age over the winter. Bridget came to live with us. And good old Chloe is with us still, demanding, as Hempfling says, "righteousness" from the humans around her.
It is true to say that I still do not know what I am doing. In the beginning, for every three steps I took forward, I'd slip back two. But I can sense the dust settling, or the mist parting (or some such metaphor); strange new forms are emerging from the fog. The inability to have a schedule, to form a plan, to do - all this continues to be frustrating. But today, in the car on the way to the barn, I felt excited at the prospect of seeing the horses. That can't be bad.