Every horse is different. From their personalities to the way they learn. In my herd of three for example, Rosie has a “can do” happy go lucky, what’s next personality. Lady has a “I don’t want to be bothered so I’ll just stand over here in the barn and watch attitude”. Amber is in between. She will usually choose to give the new exercise a try with some encouragement, but then decides to join Lady in the barn and watch me and Rosie.
Since my primary focus is on working with Amber this summer, I want Amber to do more than just audit the class. At the heart of the summer exercises is “liberty”. I want my horse to “choose” to do these things with me as this is a BIG part of the summer program. However, I have come to realize in the current situation she just will not. I also began to notice that in allowing her to choose to “audit” Rosie and I working together, and taking what I could get when I could get it from her, she began to treat me with less respect, little by little, day by day. I was getting very frustrated and in truth, my feelings were hurt. This was NOT after all the way it was “supposed” to be going. She was “supposed” to “want” to choose liberty with me just like Rosie. She obviously didn’t read the fine print in the text book.
It became very obvious when I took her out on halter for the first time since starting the program just how far we had regressed. She is normally very light on the lead and very respectful. So when she tried to run away with me holding the lead rope, I realized something was amiss. I immediately asked her to lunge on the lead, and normally she calmly walks in a circle around me. But on this day, she rared up when I asked her. So I asked again. Again she rared, clearly throwing a tantrum and screaming “NO”! This continued for a while until she finally lunged at break neck speed! No walking on this day.
I knew in that moment Amber needed to be placed in time out. She was throwing a tantrum much like a two year old child, except this child weighs 1200 lbs. I knew my mare needed to process through the events of our day as she always does, and so did I. So I moved her to a pasture all her own. No herd. I had been working to become part of the herd as lead mare, and while Rosie was certainly accepting of that, Amber was not. It was obvious Amber was attempting to establish her dominance over me. We were definitely in a power struggle. She won the power struggle each time she chose to just “audit” and I was inadvertantly communicating to her that she was the dominate horse each time I allowed that to happen.
Amber is a thinking horse. She can be very complicated and gets her feelings hurt easily. She is a “lead” horse in the herd environment. Though choosing “liberty” in this way with Rosie worked perfectly, it did not with Amber. She has been in her own pasture for a week now and we have continued our work. For now, I am Amber’s only herd member. For now, when we “work” on her choosing liberty with me, it is in a smaller space, although we start each session with the halter on, and then remove it. She continues to test dominance boundaries though less and less. I am no longer allowing her to “audit” anything as she is the star of the show. We work until we get something right and end on that note. We are becoming more “normal” again. I still hang out with her as often as I can too…just sharing space with her…though we have not gotten back to where we first began yet. I believe her feelings are hurt too, just as mine have been, though I haven’t yet figure out why. Perhaps in her mind, I let her down as her “leader”. Irregardless, the love is unconditional. So now we work on rebuilding trust, establishing our positions with one another, and forgiveness. In the end, I believe Amber and I will be stronger because of this bump in the road. Working through problems together builds stronger relationships.
One new experience today I happily report………I was lunging Amber (no more raring!) and I just thought the words “I am ready to tell her to Whoa” and she stopped. I did it a second time for good measure. She stopped again. A great confirmation about intentions and equine intuition in the moment. That connection felt so good!