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

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Bored Game

I can't quite remember how or why I came up with the Bored Game. Leading impatient horses from one pasture to fresh grass in another may have had something to do with it. Waiting with Bridget while she makes up her mind to step backwards when I ask may have been another cause.

Be that as it may, the Bored Game is a very useful tool.

It goes like this:

Rule No. 1: We Are Both Bored. Sorry, but there it is.

Rule No. 2:  No Eating.

Rule No. 3:  No Moving Feet.

Rule No. 4:  No Getting In My Space.

Rule No. 5:  No Scratching Your Leg To Distract Yourself.

Rule No. 6:  I Suppose I Can't Stop You from Pawing the Ground.

Rule No. 7:  No Taking An Interest in Anything.

Rule No. 8:  No Chit Chat

Rule No. 9:  The Human Must Always Insist Politely and Display Good Manners.

Rule No. 10:  Like I Said: We're Bored.

The first reaction of the horse (especially if her name is Bridget) is: "What? Are you kidding me? You're kidding, right? I know you're kidding - here let me chew your arm a little bit. What?! No??!"

In the case of Bridget, she raises her objections in an upfront, communicative way. Other horses continue their quest to distract themselves and get away from being in-the-moment-with-the-boring-person by pawing, trying to graze, pulling, or - as in the case of a little mini I was working with the other day - rearing. Before long, however, a magical change occurs, and boredom settles like a gentle mist upon the scene. Only when the horse stops resisting it, it's not boredom - it's peace.

I've had occasion lately to ask owners to play the Bored Game before the horse would agree to cooperate with trimming. Once that blessed aura of peace descends, you can see how futile it was to try and work with the horse's mind constantly darting off in all directions.

Today, I was trimming a very bossy, smart, dominant mare. She's done fine with me in the past, but today her owner warned me that she's been very difficult lately and that we might not get anything done, as she's been refusing to let her owner work with her feet. Sure enough, when I started working, she would give me her foot but immediately snatch it away again. She was very distracted, fidgety and absent. So I introduced the Bored Game. She surprised me by not taking very long to subside into an almost trance like serenity. I caught myself talking too loudly and agitatedly - the comparison between me and the horse suddenly showed me in a bad light, and I slowed down to join the mare in her tranquillity. The owner was pleasantly surprised by the mare's mood.

Maintaining this restful state, I asked the mare to give me her hind foot, which she quietly did, and I was able to work on both hind feet. However, when it came to the front feet, whichever foot I asked for she would calmly press into the ground, at the same time leaning gently into me with her shoulder. I don't know where this new reluctance has come from - she is sound, and I don't believe she is physically challenged by holding up her front feet - but I would prefer that she politely refuse to give her foot than that she give it and then snatch it away. I decided that it would be "against the rules" for me to use any physical effort to try and pick up her foot myself. She knew I wanted the foot, and for whatever reason, she declined.

But this was a conversation, and a polite one at that - very different from the interaction we'd been having just a short while before - the mare listening to distant sounds, thinking about the other horses, reaching for food, pushing into her owner, giving her foot, snatching it away, moving her feet.

This mare lives on dry, stony ground; her feet are good; and her owner knows how to rasp hoofs in between trimmer visits. So we agreed to let her off the hook. For a fearful horse, it's very empowering to be allowed to leave the feet on the ground. Somehow, even though this mare is far from fearful, I felt it was important to give her the same consideration we'd give to an anxious horse. Who knows - perhaps her hyper, pushy behavior might be a form of anxiety. This mare was an unlikely candidate to embrace the Bored Game, but she did, and perhaps she was thankful for it.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to work with owners like the owner of this mare, who not only shares my "liberal" views about horses but is relieved that I share hers. We both agreed that "letting the horse get away with it" does NOT make things worse the next time, but can often make things better.  I'll be curious to see how the mare will process her experience today. Today I feel I really learned (again! - seems a lesson that I must repeat many times before it really sinks in) the importance of working from a place of peace and focus. Hempfling says (something like), "Everyday chaos accumulates to high danger," and I think this is a wise observation.

The owner and I drew the mare into a state of peace, but once she was there, the mare drew us in even deeper. The hyper mare teaching the humans a lesson in tranquility. Horses are perennially amazing.

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