Today I went out to interact with Joey, expecting him to be, in the very least, just as responsive and wanting to follow me around as much as yesterday.
But no. Every once in a while he would come up behind me and rub himself on my arm; but as soon as I moved to return the affection or walk up to him, he would turn his face away or step at least a couple of paces away in a "no" gesture. For nearly two hours I tried to puzzle this behavior through, yet without success.
So finally, I "gave up" for a moment; and, in fear that I might forget myself and doom the whole thing by trying to get him to play, I left him at the wooden gate and went down to the second paddock. He became most interested and alert when he realized that I was no longer hanging around waiting on him; he even followed me halfway. When I reached the back paddock, I took off jogging around the perimeter to "run off my oats." That got him. I looked over my shoulder to see Joey standing in the break between the two fences watching me with a most confused air. What was wrong with me? Had something spooked me? Or was it really possible to actually run just for fun?? I continued jogging until I had gotten back around, and by this time he had figured out my course, and was standing, ready to meet me in the corner that I was approaching--but he was on the other side of the fence, in the other paddock. I jogged right past him, without so much as bothering to stop and let him inspect me before I went on.
Now he was following me down the fence line--no faster than a march, of course; he was still trying to figure out if you really could just run for the fun of it. When I reached the gap between the paddocks again, I stopped to catch my breath. It was cold, so I stood there a long while, basking in the warm sunshine, ignoring my horse who had ignored me. I felt breath on my elbow and looked back over my shoulder ever so slightly enough to see a curious black face with pricked ears, trying to smell me without getting too close. After another little while, when it seemed that we had both nearly settled into a doze, I took off trotting the perimeter of the paddock again. About halfway, when I was parallel with the gap where Joey and I had been standing, I saw that he had marched well into the second pasture and was standing, watching me again with that confused look. Then he did something I never would have expected: I reached the last corner, and saw him trotting toward me, snorting out little questioning, grunting nickers. We met, and I paused for a fraction of a second and said his name; and then I decided to jog right by him again to see what his reaction would be this time. To my utter astonishment, he squealed and kicked out in a playful gesture, and came trotting after me for a couple of strides.
I don't remember what happened next; but somehow, he began standing and browsing just out of reach again. Deciding that I should not pursue him this time, I plopped down on the ground in frustration and confusion. Lexi bounded over to see if I was alright; and I assured her that I was perfectly fine, despite having my feelings hurt. I stared off into space a while, and suddenly realized that Joey was browsing right next to me, with a soft, friendly look in his eye. He came close enough and buried his nose in my hair and breathed deeply for a moment. I played with his forelock, which he accepted fine, and told him that I wasn't giving up on him. I told him that I was all he had, and that, in terms of the horse world, he was all I had; and that we had definitely stumbled upon a method that was working for both of us and that was deepening our relationship already to depths I had never known before.
I told myself that we were both going to have off-days -- but we aren't giving up.
We ended the lesson at the top of the barn paddock, with him standing off ignoring me. I was cold and discouraged; so I quietly slipped out the wooden gate. I tried not to look back; but halfway to the house I did and saw that confuzzled gelding with his head slung over the fence, looking as if we were the best of friends and I was suddenly leaving a party without telling him, or bringing him along. Unable to help myself, I called back to him, "Not everybody's going to wait around forever for you to be friendly," as I continued walking backwards to the door.
I'm only going to note a couple of things about my interactions with Joey today: We pretty much did everything we did yesterday, but he was friendlier today--not slanting his ears back and ignoring me so much; although he hardly followed me around like a puppy, either.
The other thing I wanted to note was that today I received a message from Mosie (here's a link to her wonderful YouTube page where she posts videos about her work with her mare Annie); and she said, in answer to a question I had,
"However, I don't know if you want to give up riding like I did (I had to change all of my training... Annie and I basically started from scratch which was a scary prospect). But you can get a great relationship without doing what we did. If I were you, I would ride! Just be conscious - do what you were doing when you wrote your blog. Just observe and while brushing and tacking, try to stay present and connect with him. Maybe switch up what you do "automatically". Think about what you do and why. Do the same when riding. Maybe you will see something or notice something that will help you later. I would love to read about what u do see. Right now, just learn to listen."
It was wonderful advice (thanks, Mosie; you're really great at that kind of thing).
The first thing that came to my mind when I thought about how to go about taking away pressure that I was used to applying was the halter. When I thought about it, I realized that Joey tends to shut down when we use any kind of head-collar; and much of my "advantage pressure" comes from using a head-collar of some kind. So today, while it was trying to spit cold rain at us, I brought out the saddle and a jingly harness and swung it up onto the fence, making sure he thought he knew what I had in mind. I was fully prepared for him to begin walking away in an attempt to evade work, as he has done before. But he stayed right where he was by the feed bucket, just watching me curiously with an excited/interested look on his face that almost seemed to ask, "Are we really going to go riding?" So, I went into the paddock -- no halter or tying up of any kind -- and gave him a quick once-over with the brush, letting him investigate it first to understand that it wasn't the saddle. Next, I grabbed the saddle blanket and brought it to his nose for a sniff, before I draped it over his back. I thought that now would be the time for him to leave me; but he didn't. He continued to stand quietly; but his ears were slanted back and he looked like the old "workaholic" Joey that I used to saddle. So I decided against riding for the day. Oh, he didn't push a "no"; but then, I'm not convinced that he was aware that it was an option.
He was most surprised indeed when I lifted off the saddle blanket again. I put all the tack away; and he was very interested in everything that I was doing after that.
Back to present day.
I was hoping to get this entry up and posted on the 24; but obviously I didn't quite make it. So here it is, on the 26; and I promise that soon I will get another entry up about Christmas and what special goodies I found under the tree for both Joey and I (possibly pictures to come with that one, too).
Thanks for reading! I hope you decide to come back for the next post.