The other day I had an employee review with my boss at my day job. First thing he inquired was how my horse was doing. (yes, he is a great boss to even care about such things). He is not a horse guy in any way but we have discussed in detail how the best way to reach a horse is through the mind, framing the communication in such a way that the animal understands and desires to respond. That you can force and manipulate a horse to do just about anything you want but how the quality suffers under duress and fear of reprisal . . . how it improves through willing partnership. He gets all that, for sure.
We talk about how Peter Campbell admonishes not to knock the curiosity out of the horse but to encourage and develop it’s natural instinct to be aware and engaged in it’s surroundings and how to put that to work for you instead of against you.
I told him how I used to be known for painstakingly taking the steps to help a horse work out it’s troubles . . . building so carefully a foundation from the ground up that work from the saddle became a non-issue. All but for my own. I was known for skipping those.
How this year has been choked from the dust of the collapsing foundation I did not build with Royal. How the pressure of the skipped steps has come back to haunt us in injuries for both of us, mental and physical trauma. We discuss how you can’t get caught in guilt and remorse when you discover an error, how you have to move in whatever positive forward motion you are able . . . do what you have to do to make good the remedy.
And then we talked about work.
This past couple of weeks, Royal is back outside in his pen with his pony. We are all happier.
I have gone out, checked his owie which finally looks like it is going to heal nicely. The huge thick scab over his Achilles tendon that had worried me is gone (thank you Granulex), he moves a little stiffly still and that long awaited chiro visit is surely in order now.
I left my tools in the car. No halter, no stick, no anything. Just me and a horse that really didn’t want to look at me anymore.
When he did look at me, I approached, took him under the jaw, asked him to come around in front and step over behind. It was appallingly difficult.
He didn’t want to. Bracey, politely resistant.
All I would have to would be go to the car, get the halter and he would do these things as he always has. Because he has to. I am in search of something different.
I stayed in it, waited. Didn’t allow him to raise his head up and away from me. He allowed me to not let him. We hung in the balance. Eventually, stiffly, the hip stuttered over behind and front came a little loose. I released to that try, walked away. He watches me, puzzled.
Eventually, his head lowers, eye soft. He licks and chews, thinking (I suppose.)
The next time I ask, it’s still hard but not as.
That’s where we have been, building step upon step until he walked with me willingly, a hand under his jaw. I still don’t have him engaging without my touch but I will get it.
Got far enough to use the halter the other night and practiced lateral, soft as possible.
Hadn’t planned to ride him again until I had all those things in place. For both of us.
The other night, I arrive at the ranch after work to park cars for the hayrack rides. My scheduled mount has been ill with a respiratory infection most of the season. He was standing in the alley but five minutes of listening to him gurgle through his breath, my boss and I agree, Paint is not ready.
Bring up another, he’s sore. The third choice, a little black horse I have been using is sore too. Doubt he’s worked as hard in his life as the trail rides and car parking and it’s telling on his fat ornery self.
So . . . who? It’s a light night, and we decide my horse is the next best option. I don’t know how it will go and neither does my boss. We agree that if it doesn’t look good for any reason we will put him up and figure out some other thing.
It was amazing. He saddles quiet, I take him out into the busy yard, do some work to see if the four quarters will reach anything like equal on all sides. It’s not perfect, but we get moments. He’s distracted but I can keep him with me.
When I mount, my heart pounds. I have not been on Royal since that wreck due to our lay ups. He sets his feet, stands like a rock amidst the commotion. Tractors are firing up, the early crowds are running to make their rides. He is not bothered. Curious but not afraid.
Three quarters of the night, he rides like a saddle horse. Neck level, ears cheerfully forward. A couple of times, things booger him a little but it’s the Royal I know and there is no deadly panic behind it.
Later on, the stress gets to him and he starts to lose it. The reactions are bigger over smaller things. I trade places with one of my crew to give him an easier job. Enough is enough.
I have to set my rein on my thigh a couple of times and let him find a place to relax and set his hip over, instead of leaving the country. It works out. He’s high when we head back for the barn, but controllable.
How happy was I to discover when I pull the saddle that regardless of the antics and the seeming upset, he hadn’t a wet hair on him. Neither did I . We did okay and we are back in business.
Last night, much busier, I use a different horse. Royal and I will continue to build.