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

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gus is Magnanimous, George is a Conundrum, and Chloe Plans an Expedition

This morning I hurried off to the barn, anxious to make amends to Gus for having treated him rudely yesterday.  Bearing a peace offering of carrots in my pocket, I went out to Gus and Skipper's pasture.  They were  hanging out in the area by the gate, always a sign that they are available for conversation and interaction.  They both came right over when they saw me.  I gave them their treats and told Gus I was sorry.  He was particularly affectionate, and I do not believe this was because I was bossy to him yesterday;  I believe it was because he could tell I was determined not to be bossy today.  He even slid past me, putting me next to his flank so I could scratch him - something he has never done before.

After a while, they set out on a Grazing Mission.  They leave their area by the gate and take off on a wide loop of the pasture, heads down, doing some serious eating.  At this time, they are usually not too interested in interacting, especially Gus.  However, Gus's front toes needed a little trimming, and I decided to follow him with the rasp and ask him to give me his foot every so often, when it was convenient for him.  He was very nice about it, and whenever that foot was free, he would voluntarily pick it up for a moment or two and let me work on it.  I felt as if I were a hairdresser, cutting the hair of an important tycoon on a conference call - most of the time I had to back off while he shuffled papers or talked - but whenever there was a lull he would beckon me over to take another snip.  At one point, when I was just standing by myself, Gus even came up to me, very gently nosed my rasp hand, and kindof sortof drew my attention to his right forefoot. I bent down, he lifted his foot for me, and let me work on it for a moment.

After  a while, they returned to their hangout area by the gate, where I was able to work for a longer period of time on the outside of Gus's feet.  Before I left, he expressed a little interest in the halter, but when I put it on, he didn't want to come - so I took it off again.

I think Gus, rather than having no bubble, has a rather thin one.  And that he kind of has to let you slide under and into it.  And that, today, he let me do that.

It's interesting to me that Gus, who is Mr. Dominant in the pasture, hangs out in Skipper's shadow the way George hangs out by the more dominant gelding's side.  It's almost like they both want a mom, but Gus says, "Hey you, I'm making you my mom, ok, but you still have to do what I say."  And George says, "You must be my mom cos you're taking care of things."

Even the Prince likes to shelter under
the kindly wing of the Friend.

Feeling happy about Gus and Skipper, I headed down to the boarding barn to find George, alone in the pasture without his buddies, hovering by the pasture gate.  Fetching a long stick, I went in to reprise my territory-staking exercise.  George tried a couple of times to come up to me, looking innocent.  But I wasn't buying it.  I have been told on several occasions that George lacks respect.  I believe, however, that the issue is not respect but trust.  I don't have to concern myself about whether Gus respects me, because he seems to trust me, and he knows that I cannot be pushed around.  And George doesn't respect me because he doesn't trust me.

George seems to be, as I may have said  before, a mixture of Sergeant and Dandy.  The Sergeant wants clear boundaries, wants to know who's in charge, and especially wants to know that the person in charge is reliable - and will feel isolated, alienated and, eventually, angry if he can't count on that person.  The Dandy is sweet, amiable, childlike and somewhat vulnerable.  It is the Dandy in George that makes so many people - women especially - say, "Oh George, he's so sweet, he's so cute."   I think he sometimes uses that facade - like today when he was trying to slide past me.  I think one reason he and my daughter get along well is that her bossiness satisfies the Sergeant, and her 13-year old girliness satisfies the Dandy.

George's former owner astutely remarked to me one day that she didn't feel it was a good idea to sweet-talk George when working with him.  Today,  whenever I would drive him out of my territory, I would congratulate him in a sweet tone for having done what I asked.  Then it hit me that this was a bad idea, that I am not going to win his trust by being sweet.  I decided I had a bubble, as big as the area I was defending - that it was cold and dangerous outside my bubble, a place where there was no sweet talk, and only by entering in and accepting the terms of my bubble would he ever hear any kind words. Well, that didn't happen today, because after about - oh, maybe 20 minutes of this game, he headed off to the other end of his pasture because he saw his buddy going by on the other side of the fence. Well ... more another day, I guess.

Then it was time to take Chloe and Bridget, who had been waiting for me, for their grazing walk.

As we were coming back into the pasture from the barn paddock, Chloe hung back.  I took Bridget's halter off, closed the gate, and went to see what Chloe wanted.  First we did some of those knee bends that she likes, and some of the neck relaxing that she likes.  Then she went to graze a little.  I went over with the rope loop to offer it to her - when she glimpsed me, she startled.  I wonder if she doesn't see well out of that eye, because after she'd turned around and saw what it was, she came up to have me put the rope on. 

She walked to the gate into the barn and waited.  I waited.  When she rattled the gate with her nose, I opened it, and we  went through into the barn.  I thought for sure she just wanted to go into her nice cool stall, but no -- she led us out of the barn, out into the open.  She set off purposefully down the side of the equipment barn (pictured above with the overhanging roof), turned right and went straight to the arena gate.  I opened it.  She walked to the far end of the arena, stopped and started grazing.  After about ten minutes, she decided it was time to leave - headed back to the gate, back to the barn, back to the pasture. And this time she didn't scurry back but strode calmly all the way.

Chloe is awesome.

If someone had been watching me today, it probably would have been about as exciting as watching paint dry.  But it was a really good day.


  1. I have this feeling about Gus, that he might be really, really sensitive to your state of mind?

    Today he felt you are "safe" because of all the empathy and warmth you were sending towards him. Horses are experts in "scanning our hearts" and I feel they do that every time we go to meet them. If we carry any fear, anxiety etc. with us, they usually prefer to keep a distance.

    Comparing for example to Chloe, who I think is on a mission here, to help you. She knows how to kindof filter what is going on in your head, she does not take it all personal and let everything affect her.

    Does this make any sense to you? It's harder for some horses to have a real "encounter" with people, it's easier for strong and self-assured horses.

  2. I have to put this here. It's a quote from newest Horses for Life, written by Susannah Cord:

    "We horses came to give service but the Great One knew this could be a bitter and difficult task in the company of the two-legged. So he gave us the power of insight. To instinctively know what moves in the hearts of the people in whose care we find ourselves, that we may know their pain, their despair, their anger and their fear, and have some understanding when they channel this darkness into our mistreatment.

    Through understanding comes compassion, and with compassion comes the strength to endure.

    We are messengers, yes, but only by moving in your midst and subjecting ourselves to your darker selves may we shine our light and deliver our message. And this requires strength, trust and understanding, empathy. Only by witnessing the truth that lives in your hearts can we hope to have the faith and strength to fulfill this task."

  3. That's a lovely quote - thanks!

    Your other comments are apt too. I think of the horses I spend time with, George is the least sure of himself, and so the hardest to get to know. I'm pretty sure, as I realized yesterday, that being "sweet" to him is not the way to his heart. He is unsure of himself, and yet he is very strong and unflappable. The time when I felt he and I had the most connection was just after I had had a riding lesson on him a few weeks ago. I let him go in the pasture, and he followed me with such a confident, cheerful expression on his face. I am prepared to settle in for the long haul in getting to know him!

  4. p.s. shock! horror! a Riding Lesson???!!! What's that???!!!!

  5. Aquinas also said "the more knowledge one acquires of an object, the more he can love that object."

  6. I would have to agree that lack of respect can really be lack of trust. And it can take some horses so long to start to trust. Sometimes it feels to me like inch by inch. I just love your descriptions of Chloe.

  7. Gosh, I've had another change of view about dominance - i wrote about it today.

  8. About George once again (maybe you could say hi! from me next time you meet :D):

    I am always quite alert when people start mentioning how to gain respect, and yet I've had the best lesson about it, that I'd like to share.

    Olga is very skittish and mistrusting in general. The (great!) advice I got from my mentor was to take better care of my personal space.

    At first I thought: how is this going to make her feel safer if I bully her around. I've always thought that "maneuver" to be more about respect than trust. But as I started to do as adviced, I understood how it works.

    As you know, horses are very aware of their space and their location comparing to others. So by taking care of my own space and letting horses come there only when invited, I actually prove to be aware of myself and my space, and via that, more credible to be able to take care of the horse in question.

    Hardest part for me proved to be timing, one should be "softly announcing" these new borders so well in advance so that it doesn't feel unkind to the horse. And Olga tests these boundaries repeatedly, before she feels she can trust that I will take care :)

  9. Yes - I think it's great advice. That's kind of what was going on in my Malcolm Chimes In post. When, like you say, I "announced" my presence to Bridget by focusing on my own personal space, the result was electrifying - she behaved completely differently. And it wasn't even like I had any particular clarity or anything - I had just changed the emphasis of my awareness from "oh-my-gosh-what's-going-on-here-what-should-I-do?" to "Hey, here I am."

    You said: "So by taking care of my own space and letting horses come there only when invited, I actually prove to be aware of myself and my space, and via that, more credible to be able to take care of the horse in question."

    I think Bridget and Chloe both feel themselves more able to cope with my rather less-than-ableness than George does.