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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Asking Permission

Charlie is 40 years old. He has his own life, in the deep woods with the goats and the rabbits and the chickens. People come and go occasionally; they bring him food and sometimes trouble him with bothersome things like fly spray or hoof trimming. His owner, now a college student who has had him since she was in elementary school, is the only one he likes.

His feet have improved a lot since the first time I saw him. Yesterday was my third visit. His little feet have become rock hard in the dry weather, and the nippers struggled to break through. His behavior  has improved a lot also, and yesterday I had with me a mini hoof stand (loaned to me by another client), and sometimes Charlie stood like a little angel with his hoof resting on the sling.

But, as I said, Charlie lives in his own world, and sometimes he just wants to get back to it in mid-trim. If it gets a little hard to balance, or if there's too much leverage while I'm nippering, or if it's going on too long, Charlie says, "I'm outta here!" Not mean, not aggressive - just claiming his freedom.

I came armed with carrots this time, which Charlie took happily. His lack of regular human interaction was, I think, evidenced by the fact that he's not very good at taking treats without taking a bit of hand also. With my own horses, I've gotten quite careless about treats, because they're so careful to not nip flesh while taking even a tiny morsel from your hand.

Having experienced the kicking banshees the other day, I appreciated - for the first time - Charlie's restraint in not kicking. He rears or moves away, but he never kicks or bites (except when mistaking fingers for carrots).

So, here's a little horse who keeps his own counsel, who values his liberty, who doesn't have much use for humans, and yet who remains calm and restrained while being bothered and beset by them.

So, as we were getting near the end of the trim, and Charlie was getting fed up with me taking his hind leg and kept moving away, I thought I'd better properly ask permission. Not just be polite and tactful about asking him to pick up his foot but asking permission to approach at all.

He stood a few feet away, his owner holding him. I stood a moment then moved half a step toward him. He flinched away. I moved back. Again, I took a tiny step forward, and again he pulled back. I backed off. About five or six times he moved away at my approach, and each time I retreated. But then, on the last attempt, he stayed still and allowed me to come in and pick up his foot, and I finished trimming.

All of which tells me that Charlie's objections to trimming are not so much due to specific discomfort (although I'm sure he suffers some of that) but more to being manhandled and pushed around. And it's a good reminder to me that really asking permission is not just a formulaic thing but has to have real consequences - such as not going ahead if the answer is no.

I believe there are horses from whom it is sometimes best not to ask permission - with whom it's best to be polite but firm. Some horses (like people) need one approach one day and a different approach the next. It can be hard to figure out who is which when - the way to find out is to listen. The real challenge is to stay listening and stay in the moment.

I just finished reading Moses by Sholem Asch. The sages have it that Moses was condemned to never reach the Promised Land not because he was disobedient, but because he was too harsh when he struck the rock (Numbers 20, 2-13). Asch's interpretation is that Moses was angry - not with the generation of Israelites before him, who were just thirsty - but with the previous, more obdurate, generation, allowing his frustration from those days to color his experience of the present. There were times when the Lord himself was angry with the Israelites, and Moses had to plead for them. This was a time when Moses allowed his own anger to eclipse the Lord's forbearance. I've started to notice how often my behavior is rigid and formulaic, based on past assumptions or on things I've heard only at second-hand. I'm not sure I'm really ready for the freedom to grasp each moment as it comes. But I really want to make it to the Promised Land.

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