Horses are born teachers. Maybe it’s their complex social structure and their hardwiring to live in a herd, which means everybody has to learn to get along, but they’re always ready to teach something new–whether it’s “Don’t get in my face and really don’t get up my butt or you’ll be sorry” or “Chill, dude. Everything’s just chill.”
Living with them every day, interacting with them multiple times a day, makes regular observation not only easy but mandatory. The better I keep track of their moods, attitudes, and interactions, the better we all get along, and the safer I am in with all those big, athletic, sometimes fast-moving bodies.
This morning we had mare in standing, flaming heat, and stallion pretty much not there except insofar as HIS MARE was concerned. It was awfully easy to read. She was leaning on the fence, tail high, eyes and ears fixed on the beautiful unattainable. He was dancing, rearing, snorting, charging his own fence, and even charging at me, which is distinctly not on.
The lesson in it? Don’t play into the drama. Breathe steady and deep. Weight grounded in feet–not all tense and bunched up around my ears. Movements slow but confident. Firm. Patience: wait out the spinning and charging. Wait for him to come and get his halter and do some calming exercises before turning him loose.
In short: Keep Calm and Carry On.
That’s a very good lesson for life as well as horse handling.
Then there’s how one carries on. All the above physical signals tell the horse you’re not afraid or tense, you’re a still point in a turning world, and he should trust and come to you and do what you ask of him. There is also, with time and history, the awareness that if he doesn’t cooperate, you’ll up the ante (without being aggressive or unfair) and quite calmly but firmly insist that he pay attention to you and not the raging hormones.
Amazing how useful that is in, say, heavy traffic. Or with obnoxious customer-service reps.
Then there’s the essential lesson of horse handling:
Don’t lock on. Be light but firm. Give him the sense that he can’t break loose, but he’s free to ask, and may be let loose if you agree.
It’s amazing how hard we monkeys tend to hold on, especially with our hands, but also mentally. We clamp tight. We trap the animal or person (or concept or action or choice). We don’t leave room; we don’t allow movement or flexibility or change.
Keeping a light but firm and mentally aware grip means leaving room for the horse to breathe and move, but keeping him within quiet bounds. Letting him know he has boundaries, but also making it clear he can escape if he absolutely has to. But you hope he won’t, because he’ll trust your authority. Then he’ll calm down, and you’ll be able to communicate. And when it’s time, you can separate without fear or hostility.
That’s a great lesson for dealing with the crap life dumps on everyone’s head. Know what you’re doing and where you want to go, but leave space for changes. Be willing to walk away if you have to. And always have a Plan B. And a Plan C. And…