The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

By George, She's Got It

This is my week for apologies.  Carolyn Resnick surely knows what she's doing, but I think Carrots' Last Stand is not for me at the moment.  I'm sure there are circumstances where it is helpful to establish your superior claim to food or territory or other desiderata - but I've been going about things all the wrong way.

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.


  1. June wrote:
    "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."

    How moving, these realizations you arrive at!

    June, though we come from quite different places regarding the relevance of religion in our lives, I want to take this opportunity to relay that you continue to impress me with the earnest explorations into how you relate to your horses. Many of your observations (which wonderfully lead to further, deeper reflection) are certain to be helpful to others just beginning to try a different approach to horse/human relationships.

    Thank you for sharing your path!

  2. Thanks, Lynne! And thanks for inspiring me to start blogging. I find it really helps to keep writing things down - it's like they say about how if you write your dreams, it encourages more dreaming.

    p.s. I edited my post since your comment. Is that cheating?

  3. I really like how you approached George. I think with all techniques, and, much as I like Carolyn Resnick's Waterhole Rituals, they are still techniques, they can lose soul if applied mechanically. What Imke Spilker does so wonderfully is give treats "just because" and go against what might be expected, because it is right in the moment. If I remember correctly, Carolyn does something similary in her approach to her Uberstreichen Exercises when she says to react as if the horse had responded.

    It is too easy, reading what a skilled horseperson does, to try to apply their ideas when they might not be right in our particular moment with our particular horse.

  4. Yeah, you're right. I keep on finding that - that you can't just approach the horse as if he were a "case" to be dealt with according to a formula. When the time is right to actually defend territory for a real reason, it's a whole different thing. Carolyn Resnick might have a really good relationship with that stallion in the video, and she might find it helpful in their relationship at that point to emphasize that she is in charge of the food supply.

  5. Imke always emphasizes - listen to the horse and nobody else!

  6. Many times I've tried to put it in words how great it is that you write this blog - now it's easy, Lynne said it so nicely! :)

    I've disappointed Olga so many times by going to meet her with a plan or some sort of agenda - she hates it! And she always manages to show me that's not right :) I think I've gotten past that already, and nowadays she is more happy to see me :)

  7. And thanks for all your interesting and helpful comments!