Inspired by a very interesting blog entry from Ponies at Home, I put aside my plans of a domestically productive afternoon in favour of visiting George and Co. in the field.
We have been reading Margrit Coates' book Connecting with Horses, which makes the claim that horses are here to be our teachers. Ben, one of the Ponies at Home horses, taught his owner the lesson today that she needed to "wake up." As this advice arose in a context which I encounter frequently - namely keeping a bossy, dominant horse out of the space of a less dominant one - I gave it some serious thought.
George is often unpleasantly assertive toward the mares. He won't share attention, or food, and he doesn't like to allow them to get in and out of the gate. Rather than penalizing this behaviour, however, I have been indulging him. It had become clear to me that George needs large helpings of affection, intimacy, attention, and unconditional acceptance. That this was more important for him than discipline.
Yesterday, however, George actually ran Chloe off while I had her on a lead rope, and when I read the latest Ponies at Home blog entry, I realized - You know, maybe we've moved forward a little, maybe we've established enough trust that it's ok to start setting some boundaries.
So thinking that maybe there was something I needed to learn from George today, I headed off to the field with a pocketful of treats and a stick, not exactly sure what we were going to do, but intent on finding something out.
At first I tried getting George and Chloe to share the same space with me and take turns having a treat. Not really working. The stick made zero impression on George.
The mares, interested at first in the possibility of treats, soon left us in favour of a less Georgey environment. Which left me and George and the treats. He kept nudging me and trying to chew my pants. It didn't take him long to figure out that what I wanted was for him to not nudge me or try to chew my pants, so he started turning his head away, whereupon he would get a treat.
Then he made the suggestion that maybe I'd like it better if he stood me next to his side and relaxed for a split second, before bringing me back into prime treat-donating position. Well, I liked it a little better. But he continued to be rather agitated. He was either trying to grab a treat or else intently doing something he thought would earn him a treat: "Look, I'm turning my head away, now do I get a treat? Huh? How about now?"
I found myself repeating, "George, compose yourself." And then of course, it hit me: I needed to compose myself.
So I pulled myself together and tried to become strong and still, tried to deepen and slow my voice, and to draw George into a space of not-reacting. His head stopped seesawing back and forth, he stood quietly. I didn't wait too long, but gave him a treat. We practiced once or twice more, and then I was so pleased with him, I couldn't help jumping up and down and doing a little dance. He must think I'm really weird.
He then helped me out by noticing that the dogs were in the field across the road. So I called them back and stayed with George for a bit longer. He kept suggesting that there might be another treat in store. I was, like, "George - they're all gone." But as I sit here typing, I find there is one left in my pocket. Maybe it's just as well I didn't give it to him.