Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

I brought River into the arena last night around 10 just to hang out a bit and brush her. She is a cusp LBE/LBI, and her “winding up” to click over into extrovert mode is pretty subtle. I’m finding that the keys for me are:

  • Trust my intuition. I can feel when she’s starting to need to be more … exuberant, let’s call it. It’s like the advice to dismount as soon as you think “maybe I should get off this horse” — as soon as I think “hrm, is she winding up?” I need to change tactics to match the wound-up River.
  • Read her ears. When River has horizontal ears, she’s engaged and interested and relaxed. When she perks her ears up to point her attention to a person, horse, or thing, she’s starting to wind up.

I sense her winding up before I see it. When I start to feel it, I try to look and identify physical signs to support what I’m feeling. I believe that I’m still not seeing the more subtle signs and doing it in this direction (feel first, evidence after) will teach me to see “what happens before what happens happens.”

Last night, I stopped brushing when I sensed a wind-up coming on and we moved around the arena on line. Then I let her off line so she could explore on her own. After a while she came back over at liberty and enjoyed having her other side brushed. Then we moved around some more as a pair, at liberty, and I grabbed a tarp and started to drag it. I didn’t see what happened but suddenly-for-no-reason-at-all she was kicking up both heels in my direction but far enough away not to make contact, with exuberant but not aggressive energy, and I had to flick my string in her direction (also without making contact) to encourage her not to get any closer.

At which point she turned around, leapt on the tarp with both front feet, picked it up in her teeth and shook it, then collapsed onto it and rolled, still holding it, so that it wrapped all around her belly and back as she dug her back in. She rolled all the way over and stood up with it completely over her back, like a pup tent. It didn’t bother her a bit. She shook her body and walked a few steps out from under it and then went trotting off to buck and gallop and play.

I’ve said this before and it’s still true: where is the camera crew when I need one?

When she settled down physically and began to amuse herself by standing at the rail looking at the rest of her herd in the Back 40, I approached and retreated in catching-game style to bring her back to me. She helped me put her halter on, backed through the arena gate like a pro, and minded her manners when I took the halter off.

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