This morning I helped with haltering a skittish horse — let’s call him Bayou — who is here on the ranch for re-start and development.
It’s sunny and brisk out, and despite recent advances in his trust in humans and his acceptance that maybe, just maybe, the halter isn’t a snake, he was having a tough time. I went in and just stood there relaxed, halter in hand, my back to him.
It probably wasn’t long before he came up and sniffed my elbow. I don’t know how long as I was in the now and mostly unaware of time passing.
When Bayou had sniffed me for a while, I walked away a few steps. I did not think about haltering him.I had a halter in my hand, but that was just incidental. I was in there to relax in a sunbeam, to study the bark of a tree, to watch a carpenter ant carry its burden across the rubber mat.
The other horse — I’ll call him Stanley — kept trying to approach, which got Bayou all high and dominant. If I swung the rope to drive Stanley away, Bayou got re-scared of the rope, while pinning his ears and snaking his neck toward Stanley. Over time, I figured out how to drive Stanley away with an intense look and tight core on my part, adding a slow and deliberate swinging of the rope if needed, with my body entirely between him and Bayou.
It really showed me how the yo-yo game works and how neutral is different than draw. When Stanley backed off, I would soften, and then Stanley would try to come in, and the cycle would start again. If I could find neutral, I could keep Stanley away. If I went all the way soft, Stanley thought it was an invitation to draw in.
Three times, I let the outside world intrude. I would become conscious that the longer it took, the more delay in everyone else’s feed. But then I realized that Jan wouldn’t let that happen — if it looked like it was going to take 2 hours (or 2 days), she would move on with the rest of the horses, even though she wanted to watch and learn. And I let go of any sense of hurry, urgency, or goal.
Bayou eventually stopped being so drivey and high about Stanley and would stay behind me. He wanted me in zone 1, though; any move I made toward zone 2 set him all skittish again, and I would walk several steps away and get absorbed in something. I wanted to unstick him without putting any pressure on him.
I learned from Salsa early on that my belly button has an invisible but palpable light saber coming out of it. When I turn, I have to turn with my front away from him, so it doesn’t slice his head off. I walked slowly in arcs, always aware of both the front end and the back end, using peripheral vision and feel to keep myself aware and safe.
Bayou eventually seemed impatient that he had not been led out to his bucket yet, and was lipping his halter, and finally put his nose through it. Unfortunately his nose was not in the nose part, so I had to get myself organized and friendly it back on, but it was his idea. I acted a surprised and said “Oh? You want to wear this? Okay, let me help you with the tie.” And so we proceeded with the breakfast routine of leading him out to his tie post and breakfast bucket.
I don’t actually know how much time I spent in there. I didn’t check the clock when I went outside, and I stayed out to talk to Jan and help with the other horses before I came inside to work and blog.I feel good about it though. I learned from both horses, how to modulate my energy, how to be in the now, how the slightest twitch of one of my skin cells is perceivable and possibly frightening to a skittish horse.
It’s nice to be back on the path.