Thursday, October 18, 2012

Their Trust Almost Breaks My Heart

Just think about how much trust our horses place in us - those of you who have adopted and worked with wild horses will know this even more than the rest of us, but it's really true of all horses.  Those who have worked with horses who have been abused or neglected know this even more truely.

Just think about all the things we ask our horses to do, which they do willingly for us, and how much trust that takes -

we ask them to stand tied, or to stand still when ground tied - the ability to move is essential to the prey animal they are.

we ask them to hold their feet up for us, disabling their ability to move in case of danger.

we ask them to accept farrier work, or visits from the vet, often involving unpleasant poking with needles or worse.

we ask them to be haltered, and to lead and follow us - are we worthy of the trust to be their leader?

we ask them to trust us that they will be fed and cared for - are we worthy of that trust?

they enter the confined space of a horse trailer at our request and take long journeys with us to strange places.

we confront them with new tasks they do not understand at first, and new places, and even new horse herds and companions.

Just think of the trust it takes for a horse to let us do all those things, and more.

What made me think of this was my in-hand work with Red and Pie a few days ago.  One of my fellow boarders has what I call a "victory stand" - it's like the round stand elephants stand on in the circus - it's made of heavy aluminum and has a non-slip top - it's probably at least a foot high.  Red's apparently done some obstacle work in the past - he walks across a wooden platform just fine - so I tried him out with it first.  With Red, there's still a bit of resistance in there - if you ask him to do something he'd rather not do, he can stall on you, or if he takes a mind to explore something or go somewhere you can be the last thing on his mind.  There's no harm in any of that any more - he's not trying to dominate, take control or protect himself, he's just easily distracted and the connection/softness I have with him still comes and goes, but he comes back much more quickly now.  So with the stand, I got a few minutes of resistance, but when he understood that it was important to me, he pawed heavily a few times to test the surface and then stepped right up and stood proudly with his front feet up until I asked him to back down.

Now Pie was a different case.  He'd clearly never seen such a thing before.  As I was leading him out of the back barn through the door into the arena, he saw the new object, and stopped, snorting.  He thought about heading back the way he'd come but didn't - he came right through the door with no pulling on my part, just because I asked him to.   And he immediately approached the object, snorting and glancing at me from time to time.  As soon as he touched it and I praised him, he was no longer worried about it - that's my Pie!  It took him a moment to figure out that I wanted him to step up on it.  Once he understood what I wanted, it took him less time than Red to step up - he seemed comfortable because I was.  It almost broke my heart - Pie is a horse who can be somewhat standoffish and hard to reach, but he looked to me for guidance and safety and was happy to do what I wanted - what more can you ask?

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