Horsey Therapist

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Rusty, Rusty, Rusty

Tuesday notes:

It was Rusty's turn today. He is more interested in doing stuff with me because Little Bo Man aka Mr. Pony Stud Muffin has taken Kacee into his horsey harem and Rusty is just one of the gelding group now. Except at feeding time. Very different vibe among the horses right now but I trust it will change again.

Quiet time being groomed and saddled. Some days like today I don't halter or tie him. He knows the routine and if he's mentally with me, he needs nothing to keep him where I want him. Well, the hay bag helps I'm sure.

Our ride was different. I'm still figuring out what I can do to support his more open, forward movement. If I ask (and sometimes ask and ask and ask), he'll give me anything. But that's not what I want right now. I want his enthusiasm to resurface. I know it's there inside him. I have some guesses about what I did inadvertently to squash it. I have some ideas how to invite it back out.

I know it's not going to be a one-time life changing event with him. But today was good. And I'm glad I was riding in my secure feeling western saddle.

Glad about that because I experimented today like I have been with Sofia. They are in different places with their education and exposure to things, but in some ways, are exactly alike. I suggest 'let's go' and they have reservations.

First I mounted Rusty and livened up and went with him wherever he went. Most of his interest was at the gate. Remembering LL's suggestion to lead a horse away from where they want to be and mount and let them carry you to where they want to be, I dismounted and led Rusty to the other end of the arena. He's a treat to mount from the fence -- as I'm climbing up, he walks into position and stops. Once mounted, I livened up a little and he headed toward the gate at the other end.

I livened up some more and he trotted half heartedly the rest of the way. I dismounted and led him to the other end again. Mounted and off we went, this time with a little more life in his trot and a few canter steps, but still I had the sense he was holding back.

Next time I offered more life as we headed off, and he took a stride or two then let go into his own life, no holding back. This felt like a leap, a buck, a bigger leap followed by a bigger buck, and a couple of canter strides followed by some large loose trotting before he slowed down.

Wow. I was glad I was holding on to the horn and cantle for that ride. I was even more glad that I did nothing mentally or physically to interfere with his offering of life. That is progress with me managing my fear reactions. Very exciting!

Again dismounted, led him to the other end, mounted, and livened up. This time I got more of that bigger loose trot that I feel from him so rarely. That confirms that he can do it, and that I can get out of his way.

After this I played around with offering a little life to discourage him from stopping at the gate, and observing where he took me. We did quite a few small circles right near the gate and finally he switched his pattern and headed off toward the middle of the arena. He is very keen on listening to me and getting it right. Sometimes to our detriment because nowadays I want him to try things without fear of my criticizing him. I do not simply want an obedient horse. I like that he can be obedient, but I don't want it to stop there.

After the ride, I decided to see if he would go to the barn without my handling his halter and lead rope. I went to the gate and he followed me. I opened the gate and let him through then turned to close the gate, unsure what he would do. He kept walking until he got to the bare ground where RNB's truck had been during the snowfall yesterday. He sniffed around while I approached him, passed him, and headed to the barn. Admittedly I didn't give him much time to see if he would have come or would have stayed sniffing around, as I took a few steps back to him and lightly touched his lead rope then turned for the barn again, and he followed. It all felt good. I'm getting better at feeling our connection and trusting that staying connected is important to him not just to me. It is something we share.

It requires me to be in the present moment with him. Me wandering around in some mental fantasies of some other time and place -- yesterday or tomorrow -- cuts our connection. This is my meditation practice right now, being present with others.

Later I was thinking more about Rusty and his confusion, which happens to be very like much of my confusion. And one day I may find I'm simply projecting this stuff on him, but till then I'll continue to enjoy my own musings and revelations about parallels and similarities.

I think Rusty confuses 'direction' with 'criticism'. I take all blame. How many times have I said to him, "No, not that"? How many "no"s does it take to discourage a horse? So when I go to direct him, he's getting ready to be criticized. That does not feel good! That brings a mental brace, an emotional cringing, a physical reluctance. I consider it my responsibility to monitor me in order to let him have many new experiences of moving and being around me and carrying me places, and build a new more pleasant memory bank of time with me.

I have faith we can both make some changes. I suspect it will be easier for him to let go of expecting criticism from me than it has been for me to let go of expecting criticism from people in my life. This is a biggy.

Thursday notes:

Another ride on Rusty today. I procrastinated long enough through the day so that it was getting dark by the time I saddled up and led him to the arena. More intentional risk taking on my part. More opportunities for me to feel trusting with Rusty. Normally I would not have saddled him up because it's cold and dark out, not a good time to ride.

I had a conversation yesterday with horsemanship compadre, RW, who told me a bit about a Russian horseman who trains and rides without tack. It struck a chord, more than in the past when I've thought about going bitless for example, more out of guilt for possibly hurting the horse than from a place of understanding the value of being connected mentally with a horse sufficiently to be communicating without the normal 'aids' we are exposed to and expected to use. I have mentioned before about riding Rusty with nothing on his head. I did that a few days ago. Tuesday's ride was with halter but without my handling the lead rope to influence him during our ride. Today, Thursday, it was again with nothing on his head. I'm not a good enough rider to do this successfully without a saddle.

Rusty offered me more energy and willingness to tool around today than I could imagine! What a treat! What a good feeling! This is what it feels like to have a horse carry you someplace. The reluctance was gone. The cranky ears were gone. The choppy trot was gone. The 'make me' feeling was gone. I am amazed how quickly things can change! He trotted out at length. He cantered around easily, making the transition in response to a light release from me. He took me places at the walk, at the trot, at the canter. He asked about slowing and stopping and some times I said yes and sometimes I said let's go someplace else.

My heart is overflowing with appreciation for these riding moments with Rusty. I am grateful for all the guidance and support from friends. I am speechless with thanks when it comes to my life with RNB that allows me the time to spend with our animals.

I don't know how this will translate into our trail riding adventures. I have a fair abundance of tolerance for Rusty's lively expressions. I am unsure about riding buddies and their horses; I am unsure how well we will integrate this 'your life is most welcome' play in the arena, with 'your life is mostly welcome' on trail rides, taking into consideration the safety and comfort zones of riding buddies. I'm in no hurry to test that out.

I do wonder what conditions I want for testing out a trail ride alone on Rusty. Will I do what I've been doing in the arena, lead him away from where he wants to be, mount, liven up a little, hold onto horn and cantle, and see where he wants to take me, and how fast? I suspect I will deal with that after a few more 'your life is most welcome' rides in the confinement of the arena. There I can start experimenting with nurturing his enthusiasm as I direct him. Actually I did a little today when I felt our togetherness and opened my left leg to invite him to head to the left, which he did.

My mind is busy with possibilities. I'm having fun!


At 19 January, 2007 18:01, Blogger ZinniaZ said...

This post made me so happy. I loved reading about Rusty and I think dismounting and heading toward the gate was BRILLIANT and perfect and effective. Much gladness for you. :)


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