The other day, I thought I'd stick a saddle on George - first time in a while. As I went to pull the girth up underneath him on his right side, he gave an angry look and kicked up underneath him. This is the Old George.
But not really, cos I'm not exactly the Old June. I decided we didn't actually need to saddle up, so I just spent a little while asking him to let me put my hand on that oh-so-sensitive spot behind his right elbow at the girth. Then I let him eat grass.
I've been moving the horses into a different pasture on the other side of the drive every day and putting them back at night. The move back in the evening is easy - block off the driveway, open the gates, and put feed in their buckets - they come careening through and settle to eat. In the morning, though, I lead each one across individually, which affords a good opportunity for a little one-on-one conversation.
George and I have been working on Not Minding When June Touches the Funny Spot on his Right Side. The second day, when I put my hand there, George pinned his ears and kicked straight out behind him. This caused me to growl ferociously and stomp my feet. Whereupon George composed himself, relaxed, and stood serenely while I rubbed the funny spot.
This deliberate self-control is a new thing for George. I've seen him become resigned and just put up with stuff, but now it's almost as if he takes a deep breath, and tells himself: "It's ok."
A few more days of this, and yesterday I reached out (I always warn him first and tell him what we're doing) to touch the funny spot. I began scratching him there, and was taking my hand away, thinking that he'd done well and that was enough, when I saw that his neck was stretched forward, and his upper lip was twitching. So now he actually likes it! Shedding time is a good time to use scratching as a motivator.
George and I have also been working on backing up. We get real relaxed and make sure George's neck is loose, and then I just gently point at him and very softly and politely ask him to move back, and he steps back without tensing his neck. He's getting quite good at bending on a circle too (I think ... !)
Bridget and I have been working on what - if she were a dog - would be a "sit-stay," only she's a horse, and it's a "stand-stay." She gets it really well. She stands so alert, looking at me, like "Now can I move? How about now?" We practice it also when I'm visiting with Chloe and don't want Bridget to drive her away. Bridget and I have been working on Not Fixing Our Shoulder. This has been an abject failure so far.
Rose, on the other hand, totally gets the shoulder thing. I've also been working on kissing to her and having her turn towards me, even when her mind and eyes are leading her elsewhere. Rose really wants her own person, and as my oldest daughter is hopefully moving this summer to be only 1 1/2 hours away, maybe they could be a match. I've had hopes for my husband, but while he might enjoy the occasional ride, I can't see him going out into the field much to schmooze. This morning I was brushing Bridget, and Rose came to within a few feet and let it be known in her sweet subtle way that she would like to be brushed too. I fended off Bridget for a while, and Rose had a turn.
Chloe, I've been asking to back up - this is not something she generally approves of, and she does have a tendency to swing her hindquarters to the side as she goes, so as to not capitulate 100%. I mean, let's be fair, she's got to hold a little back for herself. But again, I'm trying to be super polite about it, and I think it's ok.
George and Bridget have finally begun to make contact without an intervening fence, and I've seen them standing quite close together. George and Rose continue to be comfortable with each other, even though George has given up his puppy-dog attachment. George and Chloe still have no contact, even when there's a gate in between. The other day, George reached over the gate to bite Chloe while she was on the leadrope, which made me yell at him. Which made him pause and become pensive - the New George.
Having backed off being bossy with George and Chloe for so long, I suddenly find that we're in a different place, and that I can start to insist on some things now. Between George and me, there used to be a certain fear and mistrust. This could only dissipate on the basis of my giving him huge amounts of leeway, except when I felt really pressured by him. I feel now that in some sense we're connected; when he becomes stressed or annoyed, I don't feel threatened, but feel as if I can be in that anxious space alongside him, sympathizing, but at the same time demanding a different kind of behavior.
Similarly, having long ago instituted the Chloe Rule - Chloe Never Has to Do Anything She Doesn't Want - which has made Chloe a much happier pony, I now find that I can take liberties again, and Chloe doesn't mind. For example, if she doesn't want to be caught and put back in the field, sometimes I jump up and down and whine like a petulant toddler - "Chlo-o-o-eee" - which makes her roll her eyes and come to me, going "Omg, fine, if that's what you want." Whereas for ages, I tried to be reeeeally tactful.
The other day I saw all four horses lying down together, which I've never seen before, as there's always at least one left standing guard. I don't know what made them all feel so relaxed, but it was a nice sight. I would post the photo I took, but my new camera phone is giving me fits.