As I get older, I gravitate more and more to less. I see what has been done with bitless/bridle-free riding and partnership training and I know that's the kind of relationship I'd like to have with all my horses. But I have a long way to go. (I am looking at my bitless bridle with deep intent.)
One example is my latest epiphany. I used to think that whenever you started training a horse in earnest, you should separate them from the herd to help get them locked onto you and a little less herd-bound. I've always done it that way. Last year, however, I did it with Beautiful Girl for a week and after that week, when I released her back, she was almost impossible to catch. Our sessions hadn't gone well and, by the time it was over, neither of us were dying to be together.
I put her out of my mind and concentrated on Cowboy.
This year started out in earnest--trail rides throughout the weeks--lots of sunshine and an amazingly warm spring--and a trailer that has been completely reconditioned with new tires and brakes.
In a field of Balsamroot.
Salnave Conservation area.
Palisades ride and flat tire (Left) Since that trip we have all new tires and brakes.
All spring, however, I've had questions running through my mind about Beautiful Girl and how to salvage our relationship.
There was a night, about a month ago, I had this dying urge to walk out and find them in their pasture. It was pitch dark with hardly any light from the moon, so I had to follow their path and keep an ear out for them.
The first one I came across was Beautiful...most likely because she's always extra alert. She didn't look too happy--was even a little snorty and protective of her herd now that she's high up in the order. She tried to keep Cowboy and Money Penny from coming to me.
So, call me crazy, but I talked to her. I don't really think horses understand our words, sometimes I doubt they even know their names, but I do think they understand intent and tone. I talked to her all about our relationship and my relationship with the others, her place in the herd, my place in their lives, and our future.
And, yes, our relationship was better the days after that--for whatever reason. Apparently, a little night talk went a long way.
Back to the topic--willing students--after a day of training--tying, crossing water, saddling, and other basics, I put Beautiful Girl away in a stall thinking, like I always did, separating her would be best. But as I thought about it, a new idea came to me--what if putting her away is, in fact, cheating? If I had a crappy day with training and didn't exercise self-control & respect, she'd still have to come to me because she'd be "caught." Yet, if she was free with the herd, I could gauge the effectiveness of my training/partnership by whether she would willingly be caught.
I reversed course and released her.
The big test came this morning when I went out to get her. I was rewarded. For a second she did turn away, but I stopped where I was and talked to her, lead rope clearly in front of me, and she stopped and turned to me and allowed me to approach and halter.
She's still herd bound in a bad way, but consistent time away from the herd will take care of it. She has a good memory, though, for her previous lessons and saddle work. She almost took right up where she left off and allowed me to saddle, lunge, and then get on and move her around. She did get broncy at one point in the lunging--I think she mistook the lead rope for a snake because she went straight up and down about 5 times, snorting.
The problem in her training is loping. She's acting like it's difficult for her to get into and maintain a gentle lope. I'm worried about that and whether it's a conformational problem. She demonstrated the same thing last year. I'm going to keep moving forward and see if it's not just a training thing and if it persists, I'll have my farrier assess her the next time he comes out.
I didn't love my horses any less, but I didn't have a pressing need to ride all the time or train much. I just wanted to let them be in their herd running free on our pastures. And, you know, I don't feel bad about that.
I didn't feel guilty about it then, and I don't regret it now. Our lives are complicated and full of changes and sometimes, for whatever reason, we pull away from our passions only to return in earnest to them later. We can't always figure out why it happens or how to "fix" it. I do know my horses are one of the greatest joys in my life, no matter if I'm riding them every day or enjoying them from the ground. This chapter of my life has thrown me back together with them, and I'm having a lot of fun.
Surprisingly to me, I like my new self better than my old. When your nest is empty you only have you...and, in my case, my husband. But the YOU part becomes more important. Not in a vanity way, but in a caring way. For the first time, I'm asking myself how to take care of and protect myself better. This takes on many forms, but the crux of it is... I like ME quite a bit. I might even love ME. I hope I do. I love a lot of other people, too. And mine and other animals--pretty much any animal that crosses my path actually..and flowers and plants, too.
I believe all things are created spiritually first and foremost--that is what I'm most in touch with at this point in my life--the sanctity of all life and the huge and happy responsibility I have to those around me....and myself.