What Do You Really Want?
Updated: Jun 2, 2019
Do you ever get impatient with your horse? I’m ashamed to admit that I had a day full of that with Dorian recently.
And we all know how things go when you try to train or ride or even just hang out with your horse and you’re impatient or frustrated.
Doesn’t go anywhere but downhill!
The winter had been awful and Dorian struggled with a fungal infection for 6 months. I’d get rid of it and turn him out and back it would come.
The vet gave him meds and two huge shots that were each administered four days apart. The stuff was so potent, the needle so big, and the meds so thick that each shot had to go in half on one side and half on the other.
His neck swelled up after shot number two and then the swelling moved to his throat. Pretty scary for me.
But it didn’t keep him from eating (nothing keeps him from eating :) and Dr. Olivia said just watch him. In about a week he was back to normal.
Spring came. And with it tons of rain. I kept medicating the brief bouts of infection that rose and fell with the onslaught of rain. But he was turned out to pasture regularly because I just could not keep him in a stall any longer. He was so happy to see his friends and eat the shoulder-high grass in the pasture.
We were both pretty darned sick of the situation and I think he was a little darned sick of me, too!
I wouldn’t lose anything by being more loving to Dorian and way less demanding.
So one pretty spring day my friend Liz shared her two boots full of fungus and scratches meds and I pulled D out of the pasture to see if he’d let me put them on. He needed to soak for about half an hour.
He didn’t want to go in the wash rack —who can blame him? He’d spent way too much time there over the months.
Balk. Halt. Plant the feet.
I tried to reason with him. Did not get far with that.
Finally I got him in the wash rack but no way those bright yellow, knee-high boots were going on any of his legs let alone the two back ones!
I poured the meds on, rubbed it in and decided we’d just go for a bit of training then maybe a short ride. It was too pretty a day to waste!
Saddled and mounted, we headed for the outdoor arena where we do a lot of exercising. He halted at the barn door and gazed at his pasture. I urged him forward.
But the minute he realized where we were headed he stopped dead beside the indoor arena. So we did some tight circles.
You wanna stay here? Fine. We’ll just do some stuff on the gravel. Not fun for either of us.
All this time—from pulling him out of the pasture to turning our tight little obsessive compulsive circles, my angst was on the rise. And of course he felt that.
"Being mindful when you're working with your horse . . . keeps you from being frustrated." Warwick Schiller
The more I fretted and frustrated him, the less cooperative he became.
Though it’s a little off-topic, there is information about how the most effective horse training occurs in very short spurts. I remember reading about a training session with mustangs. The fellow who trained the shortest amount of time each session found that the horses learned and retained more than the ones who had the lesson “drilled in” and those horses moved through the training much faster than the other horses.
So, for me, not only should I have been centered, non-reactive, and positive, if I had released the pressure every moment Dorian tried to do what I wanted and not pushed things, that day would have gone much differently.
I’d sure like it if people treated me that way!
When we offer love, trust, and respect to our horses as opposed to praise, ribbons and treats, we’ll get those things in return. Tim Hayes
But back to our day of struggles . . . .
Finally I gave up on the circles. I was unhappy. Dorian was unhappy. So we headed out for a ride on the trails. First up was to trot up one of the pasture lines.
The one with the electric fence.
Halfway up Dorian shifted into it. I heard when it hit him. In a nanosecond he reared, bucked hard, shied, and off I came, landing on my tailbone.
Had I been less self-involved I’d have been more in tune with him and would likely have stayed in the saddle. Or kept him from the fence line.
He was a good boy, though, like he always is and stopped right away, quivering and looking at me.
I jumped up and went to him, stoking his neck and murmuring it was all right. He was all right. Everything was all right. Pretty soon he bent to eat some alfalfa growing in the field.
So did I call it a day? Nooooo, of course not!
I lowered my stirrup all the way and remounted. We went on our little ride as the clouds peeked in and out and the breeze cooled us. Green and blue and white surrounded us and to our left were quiet horses contentedly grazing in their pastures.
All really was well. If I’d known that at the start of the day, things would have gone a lot smoother! It kept occurring to me the next day (which I spent getting rid of my sore behind), that we both needed a break. We’d spent the past six months hassling with Dorian’s infection—he’s pretty much been in his stall, the wash rack, the indoor arena, or out in a flat non-muddy field with me all winter.
None of those places had other horses. He belongs in a herd, I thought. I should be letting him just be a horse.
I realized that we wouldn’t lose anything by me being more loving to him and way less demanding. If anyone I know deserves a break, it’s him!
Most of all what I learned was to have more respect for Dorian. And trust that our relationship has a solid foundation. I can rely on that whether we’re together or not.
Natural horsemanship clinician Tim Hayes said it best. In Riding Home: The Power of Horses to Heal he notes that when we offer love, trust, and respect to our horses as opposed to praise, ribbons and treats, we’ll get those things in return.
And those things are pretty much the only things I want from Dorian—or any relationship.