Recent. As in, yesterday.
I made the mistake of going about a week without at least sitting with Joey Joey. Because it's a week before Christmas, my mom went out quite a bit this week, which meant that I had to babysit a lot; which means that I hardly got anytime to spend with Joey in the absence of food. The only times I really got out were breakfast and supper time--to feed.
Except this Saturday, when my friend came over and we groomed him, played "Catch Me If You Can" (a game in which I tell Joey to stay, I walk away, and then I tell him to come. The idea is to get him to want to come to me. Given, we've been using treats. . .) and I tried to teach him how to bow. Didn't work out as easy as they make it look on YouTube. I picked up Joey's front left leg, put pressure on his head via a leadrope I was holding between his front legs, and tried to walk him back and down into the bow. But he wouldn't rock back at all! He kept turning his head to give me this comical, quizzical expression. So I tried to break it down for him--telling myself I would be content if he could just learn to lower his head on cue. Using treats, he didn't learn anything; he was just focused on the treat the whole time. When it came to lowering his head, he kept backing up while lowering instead of staying stationary. Is that a good thing? I have no idea.
Besides that, on Friday afternoon, we played "Catch Me" for a little while before supper. But other than those two occasions and feed times, I didn't get out to the barn.
Joey Joey won't take anything except sweet feed and Nicker Makers. So I decided to experiment with something, beginning Saturday evening: I've bee breaking up whole carrots and leaving them in his bucket for 24 hours at a time. And guess what? He's been eating them! So when I went out [yesterday], I took a carrot to see if he would take it from my hand. After many tries, he wouldn't; so I broke it up and put it in his feed bucket. He ate it while I watched him. He made faces the whole time and "threw his tongue around a lot" (you know what I'm talking about? My horse doesn't lift his lip when he doesn't like something, he smacks his jaw wider and wider. Every heard of this before? I hadn't before Joey showed me). He made it look like he disliked the taste or something; but he ate all of it, so, I don't know. . .? o.0
[*Break in notes that I've been typing from my Horse Journal.*]
Ok, back to current day for a moment.
The other day, as I was scrolling down my Facebook homepage, marveling at the beautiful images of equines that Heart of a Horse posts several times a day, I came across one of the stories of horsey people from around the globe that they also post several of. This one was different, though. It was about a girl who had finally found The Connection needed to achieve The Dance. I was fascinated while reading about this girl who seemed to have been just like me: knowing something was missing between her and her horse, and desperately searching for it. She talked about something I had never heard of: liberty training? So I did a Google search; and it came up with Carolyn Resnick and Robin Gates. Apparently, from what I could briefly understand from quick glances at Google's articles, liberty trainers, in general, don't believe that using tack and "aids" (i.e., whip, spurs, etc) are the only way of getting the horse to do what you want. They promote having a relationship based on mutual understanding, respect, and trust. (Things easy to say, but difficult to truly possess.) Searching through Robin Gates' website ( http://libertyhorsetraining.com/ ), I was enthralled as I watched the completely different way that she interacted with horses compared to what I had seen and heard. Liberty trainers, in general, believe in only using the method of positive reinforcement for training. I was (and still am) fascinated, but still kind of skeptical. Which you will probably observe in my notes.
Which shall resume. . .
[*Back to yesterday's interaction and the notes I took.*]
I went out with the carrot and my latest issue of Horse Illustrated. I thought a lot about Robin Gates and of how she really respects the horse and his space, waiting for permission to come over and rub. I watched a video of her working with an abused gelding named Pony; every time she tried to approach Pony, if he turned his head away, Robin back off. She says it's important to a horse being an individual for him to be able to say "no". So much of the time (if not all the time) we ask or tell or expect the horse to do something, and even with enthusiasm, but there is no other option. Robin says (and it makes logical sense) that if you want your horse to be an individual in a partnership, then he needs to be allowed to say "no" and trust you to respect him.
Mutual respect--that's what liberty training is all about in the least. But how do you reach that perfect balance?
[*Sorry, but another time warp back to present day.*]
At the time I wrote this, I imagined the scenario of me wanting to go out and halter Joey and do something active with him undersaddle or something; but he was having a lazy day and turned his head away and even tried to walk away. I wondered if letting him have his way would create the habit in him of evading working with me? But after yesterday's interaction with him, I no longer worry about this. In the very simplest idea, this scenario brings up the bottom line of, Am I going to be a selfish brat and drag my horse into work regardless of how he feels? Am I just going to waltz into his space, oblivious to what he's thinking? I came to really see what a jerk I can be sometimes, almost always unconsciously, just because I wasn't more open minded.
[*Back to the Journal entry.*]
Ob. 5: Horses are dumb beasts (in the sense of the Creation story found in Genesis in the Bible--they were not created on the same intellectual or spiritual plain as we were; which is evident in the different ways we live and interact with other beings). Therefore, they do not reason as we do. I believe this is a very important lesson for me to truly learn and take to heart if I am going to be successful with working with equines.
I heard it said by a liberty trainer that inside every domestic horse is a wild horse, and inside every wild horse is a domestic horse--they are one and the same. And, I have to admit, I can definitely see that in the horses that are working through liberty training methods much more than in the super-tame show-stoppers with all the tack and aids.
I could tell a difference in Joey today when I went out (although, he could have just been feeling his oats). He came to the fence nickering. I slipped through and it was suddenly like he was really getting to know me for the first time. I would walk a few paces, "reading" my magazine, and he would tentatively follow, after standing and watching me for a moment. At first, he wouldn't come without some encouragement, such as me softly calling out, "Hey, Joey Joey, you wanna come over here?" or me just sweetly talking to the cats. Then he was most eager to come over. Soon, he got over his shyness and suddenly, he was smelling me all over! I continued to "read" my magazine as he inspected me from the toes of my boots to gently burying his nose into the top of my scalp. He was breathing deep breaths; and I tried to hold still, letting him search and try to understand me. Something in my brain screamed out that I was letting him dominate my space; but during the smelling process, I felt a spark between us that I've been longing for since I first met him. For once, he was really interested in me without food of any kind (except for the carrot, but he wouldn't eat it). Soon, he was following me and rubbing on me and nudging me. (I think he was jealous of my *full* attention being on my magazine. Once, he even shoved his face between mine and the article I was standing and reading!)
A few times, he went off for long moments at a time, completely ignoring me. I wasn't sure what to do or think when this happened. Suddenly, I was the boring one (I've been in the bad habit of believing my gelding to be lazy and boring all the time), and the trees on the other side of the fence were slightly more interesting. There was nothing going on over there; so I wasn't sure what to think of Joey's behavior. Usually, I would march over and demand his attention; but this time I actually stopped to evaluate my actions. After a while, desperate to know what I was supposed to do next, I remembered the policy of mutuality. He had come to me and followed me around and shown interest in me without any response from myself except a few quiet paces taken away from him every now and then to see if he would follow. Maybe no it was my turn to show interest in him? Crawling out on a limb, holding my breath and bracing myself for the spark of connection to die upon my approach, I scuffed up to Joey's shoulder. Unusually, no words were spoken; and he immediately turned his head to me and nuzzled me! The spark grew into a small, warm flame. I was elated! He followed me pretty well after that; and he always showed interest in me at all times--smelling and watching and even exploring me with his "hand"! (Remember what I said about the upper lip?)
Note:I tried not to let him get mouthy; every time the teeth and gums came on the scene, I tried to let him know that they were not welcome, without over-doing it and possibly losing his trust and interest in me. Finally, I "nipped" him with my fingers when he tried; and I think from then on that it was understood that this is mutual respect--you don't bite me, and I won't bit you.
I believe that Joey Joey was really testing his boundaries when he became more bold. But, at least at the end of today (yesterday), we reached a place of mutual respect.
I think I got a taste of what "mutual" means. ^.^
Aannnd, back to present day for a final word.
Thanks for reading! Sorry it was so long; I had a lot to cover! I hope you come back to see how Joey and I are doing (hopefully) in a couple of days.