The equine floater was here the other day. He travels from afar a few times a year and checks and/or works on all of our horses. I like that he is commited to doing teeth without sedation, speculum, or power tools. For the most part my horses like this, too.
I say "for the most part" because for the past few visits, Rusty has not wanted to let the floater do his job. It raises questions and provokes conversation. This visit went much better than last visit. Last time I was ready to say, "Nope, you won't be handling this horse again." I am a protective owner, but sometimes I wonder if I'm over protective, if I expect too little, if I allow too much.
Rusty has been provoking my learning since I got him as a yearling. I'm grateful for the sense (or nonsense) that has led me down this path of horsemanship so that he and I could enjoy our time together. I spent the first few years criticizing him, misunderstanding his needs and his communications, and finally have adjusted my presentation enough so that 96% of our time together is indeed together. What a treat!
So when Rusty was not cooperating with the floater, I got to doubting my approach, wondering if I'd missed something that this horse of mine was so strong in his opinions. Those strong opinons matched with a large healthy body result in situations where either we gain his cooperation, or we don't.
I tried to express this while things were a bit of a mess during the prior visit. I know I used the right words in terms of being clear and understandable, but there might have been an edge to my emotions, because in fact, there was an edge to my emotions. As I watched what was going on I felt increasingly uncomfortable and protective of Rusty. What a bind -- wanting to stop an interaction between a professional and my horse -- risking losing the professional's accessiblity and skill if I seriously turned him off in my effort to protect my horse and facilitate some change so that better communication and cooperation were happening.
Rusty cannot be forced. He has to think about things and make a decision. I know he trusts me enough that ever we had an emergency he would let go of his ideas right away and follow my feel, follow my directions there and then. But on less urgent issues, no force. Period. He knows he is stronger, and he knows from experience that his ways of taking care of himself are likely to be better than those ways of us silly humans.
A vet I used before I moved called Rusty a Prima Donna. Prima Donna has a few meanings: the leading woman soloist in an opera company; a temperamental, conceited person; a disagreeable person, unpleasant person. The vet's comment came after doing the usual annual vet stuff with Rusty, and watching me ask Rusty to stand or move, to lift a foot or whatever. It was not said in a warm loving manner, more with some exasperation that I would have a horse who needed the time he did before he'd 'behave himself'.
And that raises the huge question about horses behaving themselves. How can a horse behave on human terms? Most of what we ask them to do is counter to their very nature. So, in my understanding, am I enabling a disruptive, unruly horse or am I letting him be a horse as long as I'm safe and I enjoy our rides together?
I have to remember that each of us makes choices about our horse handling (excluding those folks who act unconsciously day after day around horses, and sadly there are folks like that), and that my choices reflect who I am today and my history with life in general not only with horses. My reactions around horses are similar to my reactions around people. My best communication offerings around horses are similar to my best around people. I am one and the same person regardless of what species I'm with.
Although, as so many of us know, it is often easier to be in the presence of horse or dog or cat, than of a fellow human being. Sad but true.
I wander in my writing this evening. I started out thinking I'd share about how well little Bo did with the floater. He was awesome! He questioned what this stranger wanted to do but allowed him and was more relaxed at the end than at the start. It was comforting to learn that his teeth were in pretty good shape as I have few details about his past.
I'm a type of person who questions a lot. So now I question -- how come Bo was so good (there's that judgmental word!) and Rusty wasn't (more judgment!)? I question if I've done something wrong and wonder if the longer Bo lives with me the better chance he'll be troublesome, too.
But then I remember standing there after the floater decided not to try anymore -- concerned he'd get hurt as Rusty threw his head around -- and put my fingers in Rusty's mouth, from one side, from both sides, reaching back up toward his molars, pulling his lower lip down, stretching the sides of his lips out, and Rusty allowed this except for one complaint. So that tells me I really can't do anything myself to prepare him any better to accept the floater, unless I asked everyone who comes to the farm to put their fingers and metal objects into his mouth? Sigh. I can do that. But I imagine that anyone I enlisted would either offer an acceptable feel to Rusty and be successful as I was, or offer an unacceptable feel and be rejected as clearly and quickly as a moving equine head can express.
It comes back to the word feel. And what we do when a horse accepts or rejects the feel we offer. Unless it's an emergency, I'm commited to letting the horse say no to me, and then looking for how I can share my intent and gain his cooperation without force. Leslie Desmond has told us that unless a horse can say "no", his "yes" will have little meaning. I'd say this applies to people as well. Having the choice to say "yes" implies that it is OK to say "no" as well. And often I've let a horse say "no", waited a bit, and found the horse offering a "yes".
Blah, blah, blah. It was an invigorating day outside in the chilly air but bright sun, warmed by my brandnew sheepskin hat, much more fashionable than my trusty old red and purple gortex hat. I'll have to get a picture of it, or wait and take a picture of my dreams if I make them come true -- dreams of making sheepskin hats from our Jacob sheepskins. I think their long fleece would look good on the outside of a hat, but would it be as warm as when it's on the inside?
Here I go again... blah, blah, blah.