With Rock, I practiced “sending with draw” tonight and sort of got the hang of how it works. I tried to keep the right balance of intensity, rest, variety, and mosey. And I kept to my re-instated policy of no cookies if you’re frisking me for them, no cookies for easy stuff, and yes cookies if you stand parallel to the fence and stay there while I rest my legs on you. At one point while I had a leg on him he began to paw vigorously. I have no idea if it was frustration at not getting 15 more cookies or if it was an invitation to get on his back — kind of a “get on already and let’s go do something” impatience.
I wanted to slide onto him at that point, but something held me back. Not fear. But anxiety. I don’t think he would bolt or buck or rear, as he’s never done any of those things with me on him, and in fact even if he spooks, he spooks in place first. He has always taken care of me when I’m on him. In fact, once when I started to slip, he shrugged me back into the saddle.
Yet, tonight, I realized that I didn’t trust him! How can I expect him to trust me, if I don’t trust him? My hesitation was more that I’m not sure if I would hurt him, as he has no muscle tone in his back, and his front feet are (as usual) a bit off. And yet, I did not trust him to let me know simply by wincing. I felt like I had no idea how he would react, if I eased myself up there and accidentally prodded his tender spots.
I sat there on the fence panel for a long time, while he stood parallel and licked the railings in that meditative way that he does. What did I really think he would do? Worst case, couldn’t I just slide off? (Maybe not easily, in those full-seat Polartec breeches.) In all the time I’ve been developing this partnership, he has never done anything that threatened my safety. Ever. Even on The Walk, even once long ago when we were brand new and he was terrified of a tractor, he was aware of where I stood and did not run over or through me.
I wonder what he was thinking about while he massaged his tongue on the rails and while I thought deeply about trust.
When I brought Salsa in to play with figure 8 and our first level 2 touch-it, Rocky did not want to relinquish the pedestal. I had to drive him away three times before he stayed at a safe distance. (The look on his face was priceless, too. “That’s MY platform!”)
Salsa did the figure 8 just fine, even with the cavaletti in the middle, all of 10 inches high. He also caught on real fast that pawing the pedestal doesn’t count but getting two feet on it does.
I risked allowing Rocky to step up there too, with me between them, and then I drove them both off.
I experimented some more with encouraging their ideas (“you wanna go that way? great! go that way faster!”) and with Rocky, sending with some draw in my aura; if I got even a quarter circle with the bend in his body and his facial expression saying “when do I get to come in?” I invited him in. And when he went out a little wider and a little wilder and didn’t look at me, I kept my energy up to move him until he did look at which point I instantly relaxed into friendly invitation — and he came in, all three times. By the end of our session he managed almost a complete circle with good focus on me and not breaking gait. I was so proud, especially as we were in the covered arena (too big but with sodium vapor lights), not the round pen (right size but pitch black).