It was interesting working with Velvet and Padre today. Velvet arrived a couple of weeks ago and has really done a successful job at getting Padre's hormones fired up. Velvet is very much a queen of the throne kind of mare who likes to swing her head and swish her tale and claim her space. She has a lot of energy with quick and sudden movements, she is trained nicely to ride english with a soft leather bitless bridle. After working with Velvet for a the first time with no big surprises, I thought I would give Padre a whirl in the round pen and work on us galloping circles bareback.
I've had Padre for almost ten years. He is my heart's calling and dearest friend. We're close emotionally as much as one can be with an animal, and we've had adventures, we've been up mountains, in rivers, at ranches... basically just riding, playing around. He did alright loping circles while I rode him, and since we always do that, I thought I would try some ground work with him, just me, him, and the lunge whip, which isn't actually used to whip the horses; it directs them, you use it to guide them like a very long extension of your arm, and they make great sounds that can really get a horse moving!
Padre did all the usual things, run, walk, trot, stop, then I thought I want him to walk towards me. He would not walk towards me. I even had treats. He wanted to go see Velvet, and who wouldn't want to see a horse with a name like Velvet, and I realized that as long as I was giving Padre free choice, even though we were still in session in the round pen, he would not pay attention to me, he had no interest. This is not good horse/person relations when you are working with a horse. The horses can be attentive, respecting your position as teacher; a horses chances for best quality of life increase when they can respect their person and teacher while being in the realm of domestication. Domestic horses who do not respect their person, generally are more dangerous, and when a horse is dangerous their chance of being cared for in a loving home decrease, along with their chances of doing all kinds of fun horse/human activities.
I realized that when Padre was listening to me, he was moving out of fear and obligation to the lunge whip and my movements which were driving him forward. I wanted him to listen also when I was asking him to come to me, with no gesture of force or obligation, other than the fact that I was asking him to. I decided to use the lunge whip to direct his body a little bit as it's long enough to reach behind him even while I am standing in front of him gesturing for him to come towards me. He freaked, racing back and forth against the fence rails trying to get away from me and towards Velvet, while I lunged from side to side not allowing him to get out of the space with which I was able to draw boundaries with him. He eventually stopped, I was able to get him turned around facing back towards me, and we repeated the whole process about 3 times while I was asking to myself "is he ever going to get this", and then the fourth time he just did it perfectly. He trotted around the round pen, as I asked him to walk and then asked him to turn in towards me and walk to me, he did so with perfect attention and no hesitation. I wasn't expecting it so suddenly perfect like that, I met him with a hug and a treat. Padre tests me, but in the end, he always lets me win, he has never beat me at anything, and so we have the perfect balanced horse/person relationship that can be safe and limitless. Anything I want to teach him, with focus and perseverance, I can teach him. This exercise today helped me see how much more limited I am because of the habits I have maintained with my horse over time, and it also helped me see the endless potential. I love my horse, and with him I want nothing less than for both of us to thrive.
Tonight when feeding the horses, I was letting Padre out to the river to graze. We practised our exercise of having him walk towards me when I gesture for him to do so... he did, but he wanted to charge past me at the gait, and when I asked him to back up he spun around and bolted around me, and so I kept circling him and we did the walking and stopping and backing again, until he let me win, and I allowed him to walk gently past me to the grass. I love that he will test me every time, because it shows me that he does not lose his spirit. I love that he gets a little mad every time and kicks and bolts and protests, demonstrating his strength and what he is capable of, only to give in, reminding us both every time; the depth of understanding between us, as person with domesticated horse, the surrender of power to the greater power that IS, which allows us to live in harmony, such the rewards that come to us both from that.
I gave Velvet and Shiro hay, first asking Velvet to do a little recap of the ground work that we did in the round pen also. She flicked her tail, she swung her head, and so I held her head in my arms, asking her to bend her head towards me as bending at the pole of the neck releases tension in a horse. She did relax as could be observed because she dropped her eye lids and started chewing, but every time she relaxed, signalling that I could give her the space to proceed humbly to eating, she threw her head at me like "how dare you!", and she didn't let me win.
Currently, as I write this blog, Shiro is eating hay, Padre is eating grass by the river, and Velvet is tied to the fence post. Cowboy always said; if a horse won't let you win, tie him to the fence and let him contemplate life for a while ;)
It's so strange to me sometimes, with horses, it's a game of dominance and then respect. It always has to be. It's the language horses speak. It's how they survive amongst each other in the wild, it's their nature. I wonder sometimes what is it in me that is so attracted and attuned to this game of wild nature. It lights me up, it gives me energy; invigorates and satisfies.