The main purpose of the journey was to visit college kids. However, a trip to the area could not be complete without a pilgrimage to our old barn, most especially to catch up with human friend Judy and horse friend Gus. So on Friday morning I donned my boots (taking up inordinate amounts of space in my little suitcase) and headed up to our old haunts.
The weather was perfect for hanging out with horses - clear, still, and mildly warm. My friend fetched in her Thoroughbred mare and started preparing for a ride. Now, my friend thought it would be nice if I went for a ride with her, so she told me to go get Gus. Naturally, I very much wanted to see Gus, but knowing him, I wasn't sure if he would be up for a ride. Apparently he has been ridden off and on since I left, but Gus has Views about things.
I took a halter and went out. Gus came up very amiably and seemed happy to see me. He even expressed an interest in the halter and poked at it with his nose. But when I put it on and invited him to come along, he - in his inimitable gentlemanly way - informed me that this was not on his agenda for the day. He even gave me a tiny, careful, little nip on the hand.
So I said, "Gus, old buddy, today we are not exercising that option. Judy is up in the barn, and it would be disappointing for her if I didn't join her on her ride. So, pretty please? Do your feet hurt? Is that it?"
By means of coaxing and cajoling, interspersed with expressions of sympathy for his potentially sore wee tootsies, I got him to move a few steps at a time. Finally he stopped dead and emphatically pawed at the ground with first one foot and then the other. This was his way of saying, "Let me spell this out for you - there is a lot of clover growing here, and I feel it my duty to stay and eat it - someone's got to keep on top of the situation."
So I said, "Oh, sorry, I see - it's not your feet - you want to stay and graze. Please, let's go though, because I'm only here one day, and I think it wouldn't be polite of me to not ride when I've been invited." And then Gus walked forward cheerfully and followed me into the barn.
When we were all ready, we went out to the arena. I lead Gus to the mounting block (not being nimble like my friend, who levitated onto her tall mare without any help). He was distracted by the food growing at his feet and kept repositioning himself. But as Gus understands Human rather well, I asked him to please stand still for me on a loose rein while I got up, and afterwards he could eat for a bit. So he did.
After a little grazing, I asked him to please stop. Then he got all fussy and peeved, but I told him we just had to behave ourselves and he didn't have to move or anything, but could he please just stand still on a loose rein and not eat. And then after standing for a short while, I suggested we might move forward. So we did.
In her heyday, our old mare Misty would go out into the arena with me and enter a zone of calm attentiveness, her ears flicking back and forth, listening to me and to her own body. She knew I would let her stop when she asked, but she would often be willing to go for an hour before stopping. I believe she enjoyed the experience. Gus, on the other hand, thinks the whole arena thing is dumb. I've had lessons on him, when he has stayed focused, but I feel that part of having an official lesson is eliminating the option of really listening to the horse. Gus is not an angry or insecure horse - if he sees that the human means business and that he really has no choice but to buckle down, buckle down he will, with a pretty good attitude. But Gus knows I'll listen to him, and so he makes it clear that this is a Waste of His Time.
|Gus believes reins are for chewing on.|
At first I thought I should work with Gus as I used to, asking him to bring his weight back a little, soften a little, bring his back up. But he's out of practice, and he fussed, and I realized: gee, this is supposed to be fun, why should I get on his case when I'm only here for one ride? So we walked along any old how, trying to keep up with the longer-legged mare, who kept circling back so we wouldn't be left behind.
Then my friend suggested we might t-r-o-t. Gus's default trot is a heavy-on-the-forehand, out-of-control-feeling, rushing trot, which is good for neither man nor beast, and particularly not good for a combination thereof. So I made him do what I call (and he probably feels is) the sissy trot. Once we had that established on a loose rein (after some objections from Gus), I realized that if would stop poking his nose to the right and leaning his shoulder to the left, we might manage to morph the sissy trot into a much faster, but still nice, macho one. And so we did!
And once Gus had that under his belt, he re-discovered his good jog, which is a light, airy, loose-necked jog, enabling him to keep up with the mare's long-strided walk.
And so back to the barn, where Gus received treats and accolades from me, before being released to his important grazing.
|Gus in the middle distance|
I don't know about the moment when I insisted on bringing him out of the field. I think it was the right thing under the circumstances. But what if he were my horse? Would I always let him stay and eat clover and get fatter and fatter as the summer wore on? (Although if he were my horse, I wouldn't have any clover available to him in the first place.) Would he sometimes want to come out for a ride? Maybe if he knew I wouldn't make him work in the Dumb Arena, he would be keener to come. Maybe if he got fit, he'd even enjoy a little arena time after all.
One thing I'm sure of: in the months since we moved home with the horses, I have learned a little bit more about how to have a conversation - how to ask-not-tell, how to take the horse's views into consideration without giving up my own agenda completely - a little bit more about when to give in and when to persist, and a little more about trusting the horse. Only a little bit, mind you. But that's something.
|I miss this guy.|