Last week, I wrote about the new horse’s lovely manners. Specifically, I stated:
Yesterday and today (I can’t guarantee tomorrow, but I have a good feeling about it), the new horse demonstrated lovely manners.
Let’s talk about the tomorrow part. That was the part that hadn’t arrived yet at the time I wrote my blog post.
I did have a good feeling about tomorrow, which is now several yesterdays ago. Good feelings are good to have, of course, but they don’t determine the outcome of anything. Nor do negative feelings, all New Age beliefs aside. Things happen. We don’t control them. We can influence them, but we are only one, small influence in a greater cosmos full of other influences, large and small. If that were not the case, who’s to say that Bob in Wichita, if he’s really concentrating on a certain outcome, isn’t the one determining your tomorrow?
All that aside, the new horse had a small relapse (actually, he had two sequential relapses) in the lovely manners department.
My Yankee-Irish horsewhispering boyfriend hadn’t yet had his rotator cuff surgery, so he was helping me. We discussed the plan in a few words, as we do when we’re training. I would take the new horse and he would take my retired Thoroughbred. Even though they were late going out, it would be straight out to the paddock, no grass.
Why is this all such a big deal? It wouldn’t be, but for the fact that it’s important to me that horses be well-trained on the ground, and the new horse needs some remedial work. There was a handler at his last barn who was a softy for a big, handsome horse, and let the Big Handsome graze on his way in and out to the paddock. I couldn’t persuade the handler to do otherwise, nor could the barn owner, and he was unapologetic for his insubordination. That’s what love will do for you.
And that’s why hand-grazing (or as we refer to it here on the farm, in code, “HG”) is such a big issue for this horse. Perhaps we shouldn’t have picked that day to ask for the new horse’s best, but if you never ask, you’ll never get it.
It was no surprise that the new horse dove for grass. I expected it, and corrected him when he did it. I’m still clicker training so every time he does something right, he gets rewarded. And then he balked at the gate. I waited. He backed up. I went with him. It continued. It escalated. So I let him back up and simply redirected his body so he was backing up right through the gate into the paddock. He looked surprised to find himself inside, but as Colonel Carde says, we must be more intelligent than the horses.
We had another challenging day after that, but today, he was better behaved than ever. He put his head down willingly to be haltered and unhaltered. He backed away from the gate and stood there while I took the other horse out. He calmed down when I asked him to, after my Thoroughbred had a bug-related breakdown that was contagious.
He’s looking to me now as his leader, resting his head against me when things become difficult. He’s finding out that he’s happier and life is more pleasant when he has lovely manners. Under saddle, there’s no resistance. He’s a sponge. But on the ground it’s a different story. They’re both places to work, and it’s not unusual to find a horse far superior in one area than another.
I never expect a straight upward trajectory in training. It’s impossible for people and impossible for horses. But the trend is positive and the achievements greater with each passing week. Tonight he came in without giving the grass a second look. We’ll put the days together, and the tiny triumphs of today will be replaced by new triumphs and the relapses of yesterday soon forgotten.