Ok, George, I get it. I come back with the halter, George waiting for me at the fence.
|Yes, we had 5" of snow on Monday night.|
He found one or two interesting items to explore.
|This is more like it.|
He scraped off some snow to uncover the grass, but only once. I had to stop him from eating the box hedge. (Is box poisonous?)
Then I decided it was time to practice some maneuvers. George and I seem to be progressing in an odd direction these days. Part of it is that he's allowed to express his frustration. Which takes the form of grabbing bits of me or my clothing with his mouth. This is not biting. If it starts to feel like biting, I get crabby. He understands this.
So - for example - we're standing there, and I'm saying: "George, just chill for a moment, relax your neck, and then take a step forward. It's good for you." And he wants to go off and do his own thing maybe. Or maybe he doesn't like the feeling of being controlled. So he gets hold of my sleeve and holds it. I don't get mad. Maybe I wait a little and ask again, or maybe I rub his ears really hard and tell him he's a silly billy. Or maybe I snort and shake my head, because that's what he does sometimes when he just feels that pent-up frustration but doesn't want to do anything rude.
All this feels in some ways like we're moving backwards. I can't help thinking back to our round pen days, when George would move forward, and turn and stop and speed up and slow down, all on command. But in those days, he was much more of a cipher to me. Occasionally I would see little flashes of resentment, like tips of an iceberg, without really knowing what was under the surface.
Now when he is frustrated or resentful, it's out in the open, laid out on the table and part of the negotiations. I know many people would be horrified at the way I let him use his mouth and would say that I'm opening the door for him to press the advantage and become more and more aggressive. But he's already bitten me, and when he did, it was not the culmination of a process of ever greater liberty-taking - it was more or less out of the blue.
I would rather be with him in the moment, and have him present his feelings to me- I'm having a hard time with this. And then I can respond - It's ok, we can work this out together.
I do have doubts. I think that when you allow humans to continually express frustration, sometimes it can breed more frustration and lead to an inability to focus. On the other hand, supporting a fellow human through the frustration block does not necessitate becoming punitive. Sometimes you may say, "Come on, just get on with it." But that is a different thing from saying, "Shut up, you bad person" - which is what hitting a horse amounts to.
I always used to say it takes two years to get to know a horse. Although I first met George more than two years ago, I've only really known him for a year and a half. We have a ways to go yet, and I'm sure the situation is further complicated by baggage from the past - both his and mine. If I had to characterize the difference between our old way of working and the new, I'd say that before I was working outside George's bubble. In some ways it was a safe place to be for both of us. Neither of us really had to deal with the other - it was all remote control. Nowadays, I'm inside the bubble with George. It was he who let me in initially. When I'm in that close, I have to allow him to wriggle and fuss and complain - anything else would be like having him in a stranglehold.
My thoughts and words on this subject are abstract. I can only describe what I think is going on in impressionistic brush strokes. The way forward is not clear (although I have ideas), but despite our ostentatious lack of achievement (what? no riding? no lunging? no "training"?), I feel ok about where we are.