Yesterday, I had a strange experience, which I am processing and may take a long time to fathom.
My good horsey friend, who gave us George, came over. We haven't seen each other yet this summer, due to various family circumstances on both sides, and this was the first time she'd met the horses, apart from George of course.
She is extremely knowledgeable, experienced, and understanding about horses. We can talk for hours, literally, on the phone about matters equine. Horses like and trust her. She is thoughtful and curious about horses and knows far more than I do about horse behaviour and herd dynamics.
The but does not apply to her but to myself.
Where to begin? Let's start with Bridget, who has acquired the habit of reaching out with her foreleg. To my friend, this is a potentially dangerous and certainly domineering habit, which should not be allowed. She suggested that I "train" this behaviour and only let Bridget raise her leg on demand. So I reached toward Bridget's right foreleg and asked her to give it to me. Whereupon - she bit me. Instinctively, I thumped her. Which would have been ok, I think. However, my friend was carrying a short stick and proceeded to chase her off.
Then there's the matter of Bridget asking to have her rump scratched. This is permitted, and my friend's horses do this. However, Bridget committed the "fault" of bumping me and getting me, in the process, to move my feet. My friend said that to allow my feet to be moved was to admit that Bridget occupies an alpha position over me. Before scratching her, I should insist that she move a step or two away from me. I asked her, but she didn't move, and my friend prodded her, whereupon Bridget went to kick (to me, it was more of a startle reaction, more like a bounce with her butt), whereupon my friend chased her off again. Afterwards, she was very quick to move forward when asked.
Bridget has never offered to kick, and she has nipped me only once or twice before, quite a while ago, when annoyed at being led away from some choice grazing, and never since moving up here.
Ok, what about George? My friend says he is a typical cattle horse, bred to be unflappable, and that you need to really impress upon him the need to get off and move away. That he is not "hot-blooded" and does not "give to pressure" readily, and therefore you have to go after him very forcefully. So she spent quite a lot of time making him keep his distance.
The trouble is that my friend has thought long and intelligently about all these things. She has observed horses in groups and understands the way they interact. She really does know better than me.
I felt uncomfortable about the whole thing and felt that try as I might, I couldn't explain to my friend where I was coming from, because whatever I said could somehow be interpreted in a different way.
Today, little Bridget showed up with a nasty-looking wound in her forearm - a puncture, with a flap of skin that looked like it ought to be stitched. But also looked like it ought to be allowed to heal from the inside out, which would argue against stitching. It wasn't bleeding much, and it was too late to call any but an emergency vet, so I decided to wait until tomorrow morning, when I will go consult the horsey experts at the feed store. She is very restless - walking, walking, walking - which I reckon is a good thing as it will keep blood circulating to the spot to help healing and will prevent stiffness setting in.
Anyway - I went out with a tube of antibiotic ointment to apply on the wound. But Bridget wouldn't let me get near. I feel this is not entirely attributable to her restlessness but also to a break in trust since yesterday. In order to get near her without George interfering, I went in armed with a stick and made him back off a lot.
After a while, nobody in the field was speaking to me. Except of course Chloe, whom I hung out with for comfort until it got quite dark.
As I was standing with Chloe, it came to me.
George shouldn't be approached with extra force, but with less. He should be asked in a whisper. George likes to work from a position of intimacy and closeness. He doesn't want me to stand a few feet away and wave a stick at him and tell him to buzz off. He wants me to come up close and ask him sweetly.
By this time he wasn't speaking to me. But I know the way to George's heart. (Reminds me of my son, who when he was a little boy, could always be made happy by an offering of money or egg rolls.) I went into the house, came out with a large handful of treats and gave them all to George. Then I whispered, "Could you move back a little?" and made a quiet, little gesture with my hand. He stepped back immediately.
And if my friend was right about Bridget, Bridget would have been gradually assuming more and more dominance over me as time went by. As she realized that I would "allow" such impertinences as making me move my feet, she would have pushed forward to secure her advantage. But that has not been happening. Together, we have been bumping up against each other, figuring out what works, what doesn't work, what makes us feel safe, what makes us feel insecure. I broke that trust.
George and Bridget are not first and foremost horses; they are first and foremost individuals. Like most people, I reckon, I hate it when people analyze me and attribute motivations to psychological syndromes or human behaviour patterns . And I'm sure my kids would feel betrayed if I insisted on discussing their actions in terms of "adolescence" or "early adulthood" and approached them with behavioural techniques.
These means of interpretation have validity, as does a systematic study of horse behaviour. However, between two individuals, or in a family group, these ideas must stay firmly in the background, perhaps sometimes enhancing one's overall understanding of a situation, but never dictating one's responses to friends and dear ones. The Creator set in place all these mechanisms in order to create individuals; these individuals cannot then be reduced to the mechanisms of which they are composed. The individual is always more than the sum of his parts.
The experience has not been entirely negative, however, as it has made me question myself and find an answer.
I have ordered copies of Dancing With Horses, Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive Leadership, and Zen Connection With Horses. Thanks to the magic of Amazon Prime, I am already in possession of Dancing With Horses and can't wait to settle down with it. I hope to learn more about how to be with the horses and how to move forward with them.
But the most important thing to relearn and remember is what Imke Spilker reminds us on her website Communicative Horses: "Who inspects my work? Who supervises me? My horse."
Not my friend who, despite her superior knowledge and experience, isn't me and isn't my horse.