Today, while anticipating going to the barn, I just didn't quite feel good about it. Why? I wondered and thought and wondered some more. Then all of a sudden it hit me: the image of George a couple of days ago, standing rather forlornly nudging his feed tray when I went into his stall. It dawned on me: that wasn't just a random dumb-horse-doesn't-know-it's-already-had-its-dinner moment - George was telling me something. He was saying, How come you never feed me treats?
Now, I've been "told" by more than one person that I shouldn't feed George treats because he is "grabby" and "disrespectful." I bought into this well-meaning advice. So I would hardly ever give him any treats, or I would place them in his dish, as I did the other day. Meanwhile he can see me handing out treats to Chloe and Bridget like I'm the Easter Bunny.
As soon as I had thought of this, I was consumed with eagerness to get to the barn. After attending to some human business, I finally made it - went to the tack room, stuffed my pocket as full as it would go with treats and went out to see George. He came up to me, and I fed him all the treats one by one until there were none left. When the treats were gone, I scratched his jaw for a little, and then he slid along next to me, placing me in the "bad spot" on his right flank, exactly where he doesn't normally want me to be.
I stayed to hang out with him (and Stoney, the dominant gelding, whom I would not allow to approach me) for a while. George came up to me several times, not at all grabby or looking for treats, but just friendly like. He didn't repeat that initial moment of closeness, and I tried to be aware of his reactions and give him distance when he seemed to want it.
Eventually, I began to get a little bored. Chloe and Bridget had, all this time, been in the next-door pasture ignoring my presence in a most uncharacteristic way. Right when I began to be bored, Chloe walked up to the fence and looked over at me: It's our turn now!
I begin to see the sense behind Imke Spilker giving treats to Max, the dangerously aggressive gelding. George's former owner (my good friend) and I agreed that George's owner-before-former owner had exacerbated his tendency to be irascible by reacting with fear when he showed anger. This may well be the case, but we thought that the solution was to react with dominance and sternness. Spilker sees that the opposite of fear is not force, but love. I guess that's what it means to turn the other cheek. Stormy May has an interesting perspective on this in her recent post about Ghandi and horses, equating turning the other cheek not with passivity but with courage, which, after all, derives from the word for heart.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)
So.... sorry, George. But he already forgave me.