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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tuning In

Today, I returned to the miniature stallions. Last time, the dominant one had been playful and curious and easy to work with. The other one, a stocky little brown guy, had struck at me with his teeth when I was working on his front feet. Today, I thought I'd pay better attention to the little brown stallion and see if we couldn't maybe elicit a better response without getting cross at him this time.

I realized that touching the foreleg is an invitation to rough play, as that's often where horses will nip at each other to get the fun started. As I went to pick up the forelegs of each little stallion, he turned to respond with a nip. However, the brown stallion's strike last time had not been of this nature - it was much more of a defensive "get lost" character. Perhaps he thought I was too big and scary to be playing with him.

Today I went slowly with the little brown guy, and this time, he didn't get cranky. Like his more dominant buddy, he started out by trying to nip. I said "uh uh" sternly. Then I remembered my resolution to be kinder and gentler and started just pushing his head away quietly. Then, somehow, we started engaging each other. Our interaction became interesting for both of us.

He began to understand that my touching his foreleg was not a prelude to play, but that I had another purpose. When I picked up his leg and he decided that pawing the ground would be a better activity for said leg, I encouraged him and put his foot up on my knee. I admired his leg and talked about it, and pointed out all the different parts of it. He was right there with me, inspecting his leg and nosing and nibbling at it. He became very cooperative. There was a bucket of treats up out of reach in the little pen we were in. Every now and then I'd take a break and go get him a treat. Once - and only once - he interrupted the proceedings himself to go over to the bucket and indicate that he would like one.

At the end, I taught him to shake hands, which took about 2 seconds.

The thing was - as I realized afterwards - we were both having fun. It was a nice day; I didn't have to be anywhere else for another two or three hours; the owners were pottering about in the background doing yard chores, not breathing down our necks or worrying about how much time it was taking. I wasn't focused on getting it done. I was focused on this little guy and who he was and what he was thinking  - and on how charming and delightful he was. I think horses like that much better - if you're just trying to get the job done, then of course it probably feels a bit to them like you're treating them as an object - never mind that "it's for their own good."  It's the same with the "crazy" mare at another barn - as long as I'm more interested in her than in her feet, everything goes just fine.

Later today, I was working on an apparently rather surly, bossy, uncooperative mare. I resisted the (every-present) temptation to establish dominance (although we did briefly play the Bored Game, which is nearly always helpful) and instead tried to be 100% responsive to all her concerns and complaints and to listen to everything she was trying to say. Mostly what she was worried about was her sore left stifle, and when I was "obedient" to all her requests, she freely offered a great deal of intelligent cooperation.

Having said all this, the other day I worked on a gelding who stood like a perfect statue when I worked on him, and I must say it was quite lovely to be able to mark his feet up and fuss with the details in peace and quiet, being a plain old trimmer for once, instead of counselor-therapist-teacher-psychologist as well!

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