Sunday, December 9, 2012

The First Step of The Dance

"I'm sick of feeling pressured to prove myself and Joey's ability via training and shows."

A section from my new Horse Journal. I've put the pressure upon myself, really. But it's been there, just the same, becoming a heavy weight upon my shoulders, and hampering whatever relationship I've had with my horse.

I suddenly realized the presence of the unnecessary, self-imposed pressure after watching the above video. Joey and I certainly don't have a relationship like that. I have a young horse that believes he is strictly a work horse, that must eat, sleep, poop, and do whatever I may ask of him, without showing any spark of interest except when it comes time for some much deserved grain. He has no idea what the words "fun" and "play" mean. At the moment, it seems impossible for us to ever be able to do anything like what's in the above video.

. . .But what if we could? What if I allowed myself to dream? What if I allowed myself to hope? and really look into and research what these kids are doing to achieve what Buck Brannaman calls "the dance"? The hunger for this kind of connection with my own horse began in the very pit of my being after watching the documentary "Buck" for the first time. I heard him call working with horses a dance; a new concept that I had never thought about before. And so. . .

. . .I dedicate the rest of this December to learning my horse on the ground, strictly working on our friendship and our dance, with the goal and the aim to have him interested and loving toward me without grain and to get to know him better. No matter how difficult it may prove with a blind horse who seems to refuse to really open up himself to me because he thinks I only need him for work, this will be my focus. Riding is not out of the question; but the focus this month is on relationships.

This creed was taken up two days ago, on Thursday. My Horse Journal is a practically empty notebook I found collecting dust on my bookshelf. It will be used specifically for recording what I discover throughout the next month. Already, I have several pages of observations I made while just sitting, studying and thinking about my horse and his quirks.
To begin this skeptical journey of learning my horse, I just threw his breakfast hay out in the paddock, took a camping chair and set it up a few feet away, and settled in to quietly observe with my Horse Journal and a pen to log his reaction to me and other things and to write out my observations and thoughts about him.

Observation 1: Joey cannot do everything a sighted horse can.

That is something that is really hard for me to admit to myself. But as I watched him that first day, I noticed that he had to really feel with his nose to find the hay that was right in front of him.
He also doesn't just plunge in and eat "whatever" hay, like I originally thought (I have been noted to call my horse a greedy pig that doesn't care what he is eating, just so long as he is eating). Contrary to popular belief, he really does nose around to find the best pieces of hay-- so he does have his own tastes. A new idea to me.

After a little over an hour, he had come over to curiously sniff me and to say "hi" twice (probably more wondering why in the world I hadn't yet strapped a saddle to his back, or sent him around to work on the lunge line yet). Then he came over a third time and let me do almost a full body rub.

I had read up the night before on techniques of getting to really know your horse. Pat and Linda Parelli suggested playing their "Seven Games", of which, the Friendly Game is the first. In the Friendly Game, you rub your horse all over, desensitizing him to your touch anywhere and all over his body. Pat also suggests flapping arms and making noises and jerking motions to further "bombproof" him.

The first day, I had resigned myself to just sitting quietly, enjoying my horse's companionship. But when he came over, completely ignoring his hay like he'd never done for me before, I couldn't resist. I stood up and began petting him and murmuring to him. Soon, I was giving him a full body rub, watching his reaction to my touch everywhere my fingers strayed. Joey has been head and ear shy in the past, and generally doesn't like me messing around his ears. But he let me touch and retreat all the way to the tips of his ears! He also turned to watch me as I rubbed, sighing in pleasure, and just gazing at me with his soft brown eyes. Another thing he has rarely, if ever, done. Suddenly, I found myself excited about something that seemed so little compared to jumping a 2' fence. But Joey and I were bonding. Slowly, but surely.
I came up with a theory while I rubbed and watched:

Theory 1: Joey will act more interested in what I'm doing if I remain quiet and firm; as opposed to being noisier and having him just shut down. He can hear me talking in the backyard; he doesn't need me to shout or raise my voice specifically for him to get my point--he's blind, not deaf.

So, Joey and I have taken the first step towards learning The Dance. I don't know if we'll ever learn the whole thing. I don't even know if it's actually real and achievable. But if I don't try, I know that I'll always wonder if we could have done it.
And at least for a time, I can believe in some magic.

Thanks for reading. I hope you decide to come back for more later.



  1. Interesting you mention him using his nose to feel. I got severely scolded at the barn one day back when I had my blind horse...for clipping his whiskers...what kind of moron was I...he needs those...except I hadn't been clipping them. He used his nose so much he wore them right off all the time.

    Although my guy couldn't do everything a sighted horse could, he could sure do a lot. He really impressed me every day. I look forward to reading more on your journey.

  2. Beautiful entry, Sam. Nice to hear what your December plans are after NaNo. Mine are researching family history, which is an absolute ball... :)

  3. Hi, Nice post thanks for sharing. Would you please consider adding a link to my website on your page. Please email me back. Thanks!

    Aaron Grey


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