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

Thursday, November 11, 2010


In the last few days I've been over to my friend's house twice to trim hoofs. While I was there both times, a third friend, of suitably diminutive stature, came over to work with a pony brood mare, the idea being to polish her up into a riding pony to keep her from the fate of returning to her less-than-ideal prior living situation. She was supposed to be "broke," but it's not clear that she ever was.

So, from upside down underneath a horse's belly, I observed Chicky being worked with on two consecutive occasions. She was lead, lunged, saddled, and mounted on both days.

The first day, you could see she was thinking that it was all rather unprecedented and random - being pulled and pushed (gently, mind you) all over the place, and then having this person sit on you. She looked stiff and confused. The second day, her expression was different - softer, more inward looking, more tuned in, more thoughtful. A light seemed to be glimmering in her face, as if she was becoming aware - "Oh, there's actually something meaningful going on here."

Lately, I've started training our two dogs. They know how to sit and be polite and all that, but I want them to know a little more. I think it's good for them. My previous experience with dog training was in Chicago, where our friendly neighbourhood dog trainer was of the Koehler school, a teutonic and draconian method, which delivers remarkable results. I am using a much watered down version of this with Malcolm and Lucy.

The first few days I took them out, they were like Chicky on the first day. They had no clue something meaningful was occurring, although they submitted to my strange behaviour as best they could. Then something clicked. Their eyes became brighter and more focussed, their responses sharpened, and they became eager to participate.

This got me thinking. There is being with horses, and there is working with horses. The two can overlap; but while the horses know all about the former, only I know about the latter. And I think it's an activity that can be fruitful for both horse and human. How are they going to find out about it if I'm always being apologetic and never present it to them as a thing but only tiptoe around the subject?

With this in mind, I took George out of the field today and said, "Before we graze, we're going to do some practicing for, hmm, let's see - fifteen minutes - well, no, maybe ten."

For starters, he was very distracted and alert about Something Going On on the far hillside. I was confused as to whether I should just let him look as long as he wanted or ask him to pay attention to me. I pretty much opted for the former. (I had the disloyal thought: "Hmm, I bet once you start grazing, you lose interest in what's going on over there." But, in fact, while he was grazing later, he kept stopping to look up at the hillside.)

Despite the distraction, we got in some practice backing, moving hindquarters, and relaxing the head down on request. This all went rather smoothly. Next we turned to the prickly topic of turning towards me while releasing the shoulder away. After the second successful attempt, I decided he could graze. Six minutes is long enough to practice, right?

Again, whilst grazing, I periodically asked George to return to me and relax for a moment. He does it quite nicely now. Not that he says, "Oh what a great idea, June - I feel it will be so good for me to centre myself for a moment!" No, he says, "Ok, here we go again, I get it, this is what you want, right?"

In none of this is there a sense of George awakening to a realization that we are engaged in an interesting project. But I'm hoping that will happen eventually. (Um, maybe if we actually do something he considers interesting .... !)

He is such a prickly character. It would be so easy to work him in a round pen, at a safe distance. I'm sure he'd do great. I know he would, as I've worked him in the round pen before. And maybe, eventually, he'd soften and become trusting. Maybe I'm doing things backwards - I'm starting at a soft position and trying to build up something dynamic. But, backwards or not, this is the trajectory I'm committed to.

I also feel that to some extent, I'm making myself more vulnerable by working close to George. I mean, look, I got bitten already. Sometimes, when I'm next to him, I can almost feel electricity coming off him, like you could get a shock just by getting too close. It's not that he "misbehaves" - for example, he behaves well with my daughter. I've been wondering about that, and I think it's because she's very business-like, and he can maintain his armor undisturbed when she works with him. And if I'm in a hurry and just want him to get on and do something, it's not a problem - but in that situation, he also can preserve his protective shell.

However, he knows that I know his weakness. I can put my finger right on the nerve. He trusts me, but is still very reactive and self-protective, and we're working around an acute awareness of that exposed nerve. Do I even know what I'm talking about? Good question.

George gets on with the important business of the afternoon.

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