17 February 2011

The Gray Gelding - Part I

Last weekend was a blast. Lots of great questions, learning, understanding, horses changed for the better. There's one in particular I want to share.

He's gray. Lovely in mind and spirit. Beautiful body. After several years on the track, he's one of the fortunate ones. His new owner is perfect for him. She gave him the time off he needed to heal a bowed tendon and get him integrated back into society. How wonderful!

When her lesson came up, I watched this gelding trot quietly beside the golf cart as his owner brought him to the arena. Right away I was impressed by his willingness to be led this way. She hopped out of the golf cart and led him over. We chatted for about a minute and the entire time this gelding was wallering around, unable to stand still and pulling on her. The poor woman didn't hear a word I said. She was very busy trying to keep him still, but he had other ideas.

I asked if I could take him and she willingly obliged. I took the lead and watched him closely. He showed no indication, no understanding at all, that another human had just stepped into the equation. He couldn't have cared less. That was the problem. He didn't have anyone to connect to. He only had his buddy who was a football field away and didn't care that he was gone! His alone-ness created anxiety in his mind, which sent his emotions reeling, which caused his feet to move. With each passing second his emotions were gaining momentum over his logic and if that happened, he was going to find a way to pull free and bolt back to the barn.

He needed me to change his mind - to change his thought process toward something more productive. Who better to become his new buddy than me? All I had to do was prove to him that I was worthy to be his new friend.

Force wasn't the answer. One cannot force a horse to like them. Instead, I offered him an option. My choices were based on his behavior:

He couldn't stand still.
He couldn't focus.
He couldn't find comfort.

I picked one - he couldn't stand still and I offered that up to him as my idea. Instead of trying to keep his feet still, I gave them direction. He chose the speed and I chose the place. There was a fence nearby so I had him go between me and the fence, disengage and go back the way he came. I kept my feet still. He moved, I directed. He moved again, I directed again. I didn't force him to go, he needed to go.

He went five times between me and the fence before he stopped and looked at me. He stared me right in the eye and lowered his head and licked. He turned to face me, put a hind foot up and relaxed for the first time. It took him less than three minutes to find a new buddy. When he was ready, he made a move to come greet me. I invited him in. We introduced ourselves to one another and he was so kind, so gentle. He stood perfectly as his owner and I continued our conversation.

More on the rest of the lesson later...

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