I feel awful.
I made two mistakes last night, one born from frustration and one born from my not taking cause and effect to its logical conclusion. It makes me feel sad and ashamed. And as much as I would rather all of the readers of this blog to only have positive posts to read (and to see me in a good light), I can't in all honesty neglect to chronicle my mistakes along side my triumphs.
I don't think I've completely explained my first and most important goal in working with Ashke. In order to do so I have to go back and explain about Queeny. Queeny was a three-year-old Arabian-Appaloosa mare I was given for Christmas when I was thirteen. She was all of my heart and most of my soul for my teenage years and into my twenties. She was greenbroke when I got her (means you could sit on her back, but not much more) and I started breaking her in during the winter. There was NEVER a time at any point in our relationship when I felt scared or threatened by her. She was sweet and smart and my partner in our adventures. I did everything with her. We won ribbons and rosettes in 4H, rode with a posse at rodeos (think Westernaires), explored every nook and cranny of our county, and during all that time I enjoyed a connection with her I don't think I've experienced with another living creature until T came along.
THAT is what I think about when I work with Thee Ashke. That is what I am striving for. I want a connection of trust, of understanding, of love with my horse that transcends the normal and enters the realm of the spiritual.
It's not what I had with Kieli. My relationship with Kieli was always tense. I couldn't ride her without feeling afraid or hesitant or down right scared. When I purchased her I allowed someone else to dictate how we were going to interact and instead of being patient and going slow, I allowed them to use "cowboy" breaking techniques which only increased her fear and distrust. It was a huge mistake, because with her mental condition she never forgot, and I didn't work hard enough to get her to let go.
I don't want to make those mistakes again.
Mark Rashid has written a book called Horses Never Lie. In it he outlines his philosophy for becoming a leader to your horse. He believes that horses can't lie, that they behave the way they are behaving for a reason. Horses aren't stubborn, they're confused or scared or unsure of what you want or conditioned to act a certain way, but they don't have an underlying motivation in their interaction with you. To teach your horse to trust you and listen to what you are asking you must become the leader to your horse. To be your horse's leader you must be calm, patient, consistent and trustworthy. He steps away from the idea that in order to work your horse, you must dominate it, force it to listen to you. Basically, you need to step away from the idea that you have to bully your horse into doing what you want and find a way to communicate to your horse in a way they understand, what it is you are asking them to do. It's very much the same philosophy J and I used when raising T. You ask politely, you give choices (both choices are ones you are willing to live with) and you let them decide that what you want them to do is what they want to do. The bottom line is that it is my responsibility to figure out what Ashke is telling me, to be patient and consistent, to establish a pattern and above all, not to be frustrated.
Part of not being frustrated is expecting differences from day to day. Just because he did someone well yesterday does not mean he is going to behave the same way today. AND I need to remember our relationship is still very new and there are going to times when he is less likely to feel safe with me.
So, last night J and T went with me to the barn. We were greeted by Ashke and he put his head in the halter. It was very windy and the barn was rattling with the wind gusts so instead of taking him outside, I attempted to put him in the grooming stall. He refused. It was late and we didn't have a lot of time, so I left him in the aisle (which gives him a whole lot of room to move around) and began grooming him. He was so much better about his stomach being groomed that I was feeling pretty good about myself. He twitched a little bit, but mostly just stood and let me brush him out. We did that on both sides. He let T comb out his mane and brush him after I used the shedding blade. I went over him with a soft brush and then moved to his feet.
Now, remember how he let me raise all four feet a couple of days ago? Well, when we got him from Steve we were told he was wonderful with his feet. You could just throw the rope over your shoulder and trim him with no issues. I think that scenario was playing in the back of my mind. I picked up his front left and cleaned it with no issues. Then I moved to his front right and that's when it went to hell in a hand basket.
I went to pick up his front foot and he pulled away and then reared. It scared me and upset me. I mean, he had let me do this two days ago and it was no big deal, why was it an issue now? I tried again. Again he reared and pulled his foot away from me. This time it scared me enough that it made me mad and I swotted him on the shoulder. Now. I didn't hit him hard. I used my open hand and much like a swot on the diapered butt of a squalling two year old, I did it mostly to get his attention and to let him know his behavior wasn't okay.
It was the absolutely wrong thing to do. It scared the crap out of him and he just absolutely didn't understand. I went to pick up his foot again and this time he reared before I got close. We played that scenario a couple more times before I finally asked myself what in the hell I was doing. It had gotten to the point that Ashke wouldn't let me even touch his shoulder on that side before rearing. And his rears were getting higher and more desperate. I took a step back and stopped trying to touch his leg, putting my hand on his shoulder instead. He was shaking and his muscles were tense. I had managed to turn this pliant, trusting horse into a shaking, terrified and very confused pile of horse trauma. Exactly what I didn't want.
So, I stopped. Inside I was berating myself for forgetting my philosophy, for behaving in a manner completely at odds with my stated objective. I was bullying my horse. I was fighting with him. Both of which I had stated to J and T that I didn't want to do. I felt sick and ashamed inside. I was better than this and we weren't in a rush. I unhooked him and led him to the arena. He wasn't happy with me. I wasn't happy with me.
I had thoughts of trying to teach him to lunge, but lunging is basically teaching the horse to run away from you in a circle (and not something I ever really did with Queeny), I decided upon entering the arena that lunging was not going to work. I didn't want to scare him into running in a circle away from me. I want him to come to me, to seek me out as a source of comfort. I don't see how I can encourage him to do the one without destroying the other. So, instead we wandered about the arena while I worked on his leg.
At first I could only stroke his shoulder and back. I could stroke to the top of his leg, but even that was making him twitchy. Slowly, consistently, I ran my hands over his shoulder and to the top of his leg. Again and again and again. And over his chest and belly. Finally, after much stroking and cuddling and working, I was able to lift his front right hoof for a few seconds. At that point, we were done and it was time to play.
I released him from the halter and let him inspect the horses who have their stalls off the indoor arena. It was then that I realized my second mistake. I have been using a halter that has fleece on the noseband. When I had first started using it I realized it pulled at the hair on the bridge of his nose. When I was in Amarillo I replaced it with a medium sized horse halter (the other is a cob sized) and then when we got back here I realized the medium was too big. I went back to the fleece-lined one. Well, at some point in his rearing and fighting me for his foot, the halter managed to remove all of the hair from the bridge of his nose. He had bare skin there. I felt sick inside. My equipment was to blame, but I should have recognized that the halter had the potential to injure him that way. I asked J to go get the other halter from the car and told her and T that we couldn't continue to use the halter we had first picked out (it is very pretty) because it had hurt the horse.
Did I mention that I feel awful?
I decided that in order to get him some exercise I would walk from one end of the arena to the other and see if he would follow me without the halter on. He did. In fact, it became a game. We would run to one end of the arena and he would trot or canter after us. He would stop and wait. T would take off running as fast as he could to the other end of the arena and Ashke would tear off after him, bucking and kicking and snorting. I would follow at a more sedate pace (okay - I can't run as fast as T). We did that 7 or 8 times until Ashke was warm and T was tired. Then we took Ashke back to the stall, put his blanket on him for the night (didn't want him to cool too fast) and said goodnight. In the stall, he once again let me raise his foot without fighting.
One of the things I have to say, is that even after being scared and hesitant when I was working with his feet, when we were in the arena he gravitated to me. It's something that Monty Roberts calls "hooking up". It's shows the person that the horse has joined with you, sees you as a source of safety and comfort. He still did. He had forgiven me for being stupid and impatient. In fact, he licked my hand and came right up to me when we were done. The swot on the shoulder was a small set back and one he forgave me for. A small grace.
I need to remember to not get in a hurry.