Naturally I had to explain that we would ask the horses if they were willing to participate in this venture, and if they weren't, we'd have to settle for taking them for a walk or just hanging out. I ended up talking at length about how we're trying to do things these days. Our guests were enthusiastic about this approach and said they were perfectly happy to abide by whatever the horses decided.
Lately Rose has been showing signs of wishing to move forward in her relationship with us. I'd already formed the intention of bringing George and Rose out for the girls to try riding, and when I went outside, I saw George and Rose striding purposefully up toward the house. The horses were happy to have their halters on; we lead them out and let them graze. I brought the saddle over to Rose, who looked askance, so I said, "That's ok," walked away, and waited for a while. When I asked again, she didn't mind, and I put the saddle on.
George didn't have any objections to being saddled. He accepted his bridle very readily but was fussy with the bit. When my niece went to mount, he objected. I thought perhaps he didn't like his bit. I swapped the bridle for his halter with two ropes attached, and then he was fine with my niece climbing on board.
Rose didn't object to the bridle and stood like a saint, while I gave the other young lady a leg up, which involved a lot of scrambling and kicking.
Then we set off, with me accompanying on foot.
Rose strode forward, leading the way, ears forward, relaxed. George brought up the rear, looking cheerful, and stopping for frequent bites of grass.
We went along the road, turned down the lane, and after about 50 yards, Rose became anxious about Bridget whinnying in the distance. We stopped, and I discussed with Rose's rider whether or not we should turn around. We agreed that Rose would feel more confident next time if we turned back. Rose stayed rather anxious until we got back to the corner of the field, where she immediately dropped her head and was tranquil again as we walked along the road next to the fence.
After being untacked and turned out, both the horses very much wanted to stay and socialize with us - a testament, I think, to whole experience having been a pleasant one. The horses had obviously formed a very favorable impression of our guests and were welcoming and warm towards them.
I was so happy that these two wonderful young women immediately grasped the importance of treating the horses in this way. I was also happy that the horses so very obligingly reacted positively! It was great to see Rose accepting the saddle on her own terms after being allowed to reject it. To see that George was not objecting to a rider but to the bit, and that when we accommodated his concerns, he was willing to cooperate with our request. (I am now convinced that we need to go bitless right away, certainly with George, and probably also with Rose.) We discussed how if a person has arachnophobia, you don't start by sticking a spider in front of them and then slapping them if they run away. You gradually desensitize them. So by allowing Rose to only go as far as she felt comfortable going, we were building up her confidence, and next time she'd be able to go further.
My niece, who grew up with horses off and on, was particularly aware of the contrast between our way of doing things and the "traditional" way. At first (well, still!) it's hard to see how one balances the horse's needs and desires with one's own legitimate concerns/needs/boundaries. I explained that it's not like we want the horse to ride roughshod over us and that it's ok to say to the horse, "Look, I really need you to do this for me now" - e.g. stop eating so many apples. I told her about going to the end of the leadrope and saying, "We need to go this way now," with or without a very light pressure. She practiced and found herself getting the hang of it - of having a dialog with George and having him respond, not to pressure or coercion, but to her direct requests.
Before they drove off this morning, my niece's friend said our horses were "very charismatic and charming." I don't think our horses are innately unusual but that they have started to become Kommunikative Pferde, who as Spilker says, "are different."
|Rose and my niece become friends|