Saturday, September 18, 2010

Furry Language

I'm training this 2 year old filly at my horse job in Sylmar that I do twice a week. This is because I have totally given up writing at the moment. Writing is dumb. Horses are furry.

Anyway, this has been an insane little horse. No one had handled her much, so she was alot like our dog Owen. Scared of everything, hiding under a couch.

So this lady I ride for (I ride her stallion) she said, go ahead, work with the filly. The filly is palomino, had a matted mane, just looked ratty and wild. I've worked with lots of kinds of horses, in lots of disciplines, but not young horses at all. I looked up how to work with young horses and watched some videos on YouTube. Then I set to work.

I won't go into all the boring details (and also I won't reveal my magic secrets). Plus, I'll pretend that when I drive to work I go over green hills, and out into a wide open pasture, dressed like Jane Austen, with horses nickering at me. In my mind, it is so. In reality, it's a dirt lot. But there is a frosty Diet Coke in the garage fridge, waiting for me at the end of every session.

I worked first with the filly just getting used to me approaching her. This is a strange thing to do, have to alter your normal human behavior in accordance to the body language of the horse, but it's amazing and makes you a better rider. More in tune with the horse, even on the ground. The key is not rushing up to the horse, but training the horse to stand still while you approach her. You want the front end of the horse facing you at all times. You don't want the butt end with the kicking hooves aimed at you ever.

So I would approach the filly and only go as far as I could while she stood her ground. If she started to move off, I would move her off faster by waving my arms around, making scary motions. She'd run around and circle me a few times, and I'd step backwards, giving her more room. When you step backwards, the horse feels less threatened and slows down. When she slows down to a stop, you step backwards, and slightly behind her so she has to turn her head backwards to see what you're doing. Eventually, the horse will move their whole body around to see what you're doing. You have succeeded in making the horse keep her safe face-end of her body toward you. It's a real lesson in when you FEEL like rushing forward is when you don't. You stop, and even step backwards. Then everything, somehow, pulls toward YOU.

Once she was facing me and still, slowly I would take steps forward until I finally got up to her nose. I would just stand there, make no movements. I would walk away. Then approach again. Once she got used to me walking up and back, up and back, with no movement of my arms, she relaxed. She learned, oh. This person is just walking up to me. Then I could pet her on her head.

Then you do the whole thing with a rope in your hand. Then you pet her with a rope in your hand. Then she runs off again and you start all over.

This horse was always nervous, though. Took forever. Pulling away, head up, scared of what I was going to do.

Then, last week. The miracle.

We're out in the big arena, and instead of running away from me, she has lots of room to run, she starts running in circles around me. I couldn't figure out what she was doing. She never stays near me. Then I saw - she's got her ear turned in, listening for me to talk to her. So I talk to her. She stays nearby me. She finally stops, and lets me approach her. She lets me hook her rope on. She lets me brush and pet her. She is scared, but she is 10% scared. She lets me stick my finger in her mouth where a bit will eventually go. She lowers her head so I can scratch her ears. I brush her neck. I untangle her mane, slowly, carefully.

Then she does it. She leans her whole giant dinosaur head on my stomach. She just leans there.

She trusts me.

She wants love. Having me dote on her - she decided. It felt good.

It's this amazing thing. I didn't even do anything. All I did was recognize her way of speaking and moving, and tailor my approach to what she needed and understood, as a horse. I spoke her language, and then she spoke mine. She surrendered to me.

I came home and thought, wow, that was a fluke. I'm sure it was just a really good day. It will probably start all over again when I get back the next time, she'll be nuts, I'll be nuts for trying to be a horse trainer with as much education as I've had and so many good teeth.

But I went back the next time, and there she was. I stood in her paddock, climbed through the fence and then leaned back against it and just waited, far away, to see what she would do. I decided it wasn't up to me. It took her about 5 whole minutes. She stood with her back to me. I called to her and said come on over, girl. She stood there, looking sideways, then glancing at me, but not coming. I waited. Then she shifted her feet. Then she smelled a giant pile of poo like this was waaaay more interesting than me. I still waited. Talked to her. Then I could see it in her, she was curious. She HAD to know why I was standing ALL the way over there. That's that person that is nice, she thinks. So she came over. Right over to me.

I've been back about three times since then, and this horse wants to learn. She wants to be affectionate. She wants to see what we're going to do next. She doesn't always understand what I'm trying to show her, but she isn't trying to get away or kill me. She wants to be in my club.

Love, patience, trust. These have got to be universal truths, because there they are, silent and spoken in other languages. Furry languages.

So maybe I am still writing after all. Manipulating language, in a whole other, tactile sphere.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Hitting the Trail

So at dusk we went riding with our boarder Karen. Karen has been on a horse maybe a dozen times, and now she owns Charlie, the huge Thoroughbred ex racehorse. Charlie needs a forklift just to get on his back. Charlie is what they call Death on Spindley Legs.

I didn't used to be this safety conscious. Until a dumpy pony dumped me off and broke my hand last year. Now... the tall Charlies of the world hold no interest to me. Love horses. Obsess about horses. But I don't want to ride nutty horses anymore.

So I packed all the kids on bikes. Lilly had her fake camera, a chicken sandwich and a granola bar. Emma had her new short haircut and Nathan had just recovered from 103 temperature. Ron, the tall asian dude that Karen hangs with, joined us on another bike. And Karen climbed aboard the massive Charlie.

So riding down the street with huge Charlie, I am now Worried Instructor. My kids are riding bikes in the street, but all I'm thinking is Don't Kill the Boarder. We need the income. Plus she's nice and I don't like emergency rooms.

I kept hammering it into her head to be firm. Be Woman of Steel. You must LEAD Charlie. Charlie has ADD. He must be constantly told to pay attention. He wants to try everything. If we passed a water slide, he would want to get on. If he could fit in a gopher hole, he would gopher it. heh.

We did ride up the trail without incident, and the kids and I ditched our bikes to walk up the dirt path to the new house they're building up there. Big Armenian arches. The kids ran through the house, picking their rooms, finding their closets. Lilly wanted to be in Emma's room, and even though it was just make believe, Lilly kept looking up at Emma in her "closet," saying "You share with me, Emma? I be here too?" That kind of heartbreaking loyalty, that little blonde face. Ay, killer.

Then it isn't all about the killer horse, where no one died, but instead about the killer mom, who gets to go on adventures, and gets to be there with these explorers, who find joy in everything.

I keep thinking the horse, the horse will keep me sane, just watching him, the way he moves, the silence of the horse...because my life is so loud and so not mine, and it's hard to grab onto, everyone growing up up and away... I don't want any of it to go, so if I just look the other way...find a distraction...

There is so much peace right underfoot. It's obnoxious, huh.