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The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One trainer

No tools

Just body language

The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

 

 

 

 

She Has a Mind of Her Own!

Training Myrnah seems to have more resemblance to raising a child than training a horse some days. This week was like that. As she is getting more and more comfortable in her new pasture space and with her new herd mates, working with me seems to have become passé. She still loves to see me, hanging on the gate when I am working with the kids and their horses, walking right over to greet me whenever I come in the pasture. She loves her grooming, and follows me whenever I invite her to come with me. However, in our morning work sessions she is growing up and seems to need to prove she has a mind of her own!

On Tuesday when I needed to trim her hooves, we spent forty-five minutes attempting the task. She picks her feet up just fine, but, on this particular day, she didn’t like the feel of the rasp. She isn’t scared of it, she has certainly fallen asleep many times while I trimmed her hooves, she just didn’t feel like letting me trim on this day. With any other horse I can use some negative reinforcement, enough to let them realize the right thing (standing quietly while I trim hooves) is easy, and the wrong thing (pulling their feet away from me and being fidgety and impatient) is harder than the alternative.

The interesting thing about training Myrnah is she always has a third alternative- walking away from me. If I try to prove a point by making her life difficult, she can prove her point- that she can just leave me if I am going to be difficult.

Training Myrnah I have no choice but to patently persist. I can make the wrong thing a little hard, but I can’t make it so hard that she chooses to leave me. I can make the right thing as easy as I can imagine, but sometimes I have to get something done, like rasping her hooves. If Myrnah decides she doesn’t feel like it is easy enough to be worth tolerating, sometimes I just don’t have enough patience.

Tuesday, after forty-five minutes of patiently persisting through the struggle of trying to rasp Myrnah’s hooves, I had to admit defeat. There was no more patience left in me, and she had a mind of her own that would not be swayed to my way of thinking.

Wednesday, after a good night’s sleep, I was there bright and early ready to work this out. Myrnah reminds me of a teenager with a beautiful new found independence determined to oppose any request sent her way. I love that she has a mind of her own, and feels she can have an opinion about life; I just need to keep balancing that with a respect for community, specifically the community of us.

It seems Myrnah had had a good night’s sleep too and was ready for me, all contrarian purposes at the ready. We left her horse companion in the paddock and headed up the hill to the arena. Once there, instead of following me through the gate, she spun around and trotted gaily down the driveway. A little concerned that she would get it into her head to go out and play with the cars on the road, I ran after her, got her attention, and we walked back to the arena. This time at the gate, she spun away and cantered down the hill back to her friend in the paddock below. I went running after, got her attention again, and we started walking back up the hill. Halfway up I thought I should stop and ask her to back up so we could check in with each other. No sooner did I reach my hand toward her chest than she chose to evade me and sprinted off up the hill past the arena and back out the driveway. I sprinted after her and thought to myself this would be quite fun if I wasn’t worrying about the cars we might run into if we went too far.

I decided that was enough flirting with danger, and once I had gotten her attention again, heading us back toward the barn together, I had her duck though a side gate into the pasture where I could close it behind us, blocking the exit route down the driveway.

Just as I turned my back to close the gate she took off at a gallop down the hill with twists and bucks all the way. What fun to watch so long as I didn’t take it personally.

I ran after her, and, once we were connected again, we resumed work in the lower paddocks below the barn. This time I asked very little of her.

If Myrnah was going to be contrary, I would give her as little as possible to be contrary about. All I needed from her was to spend time with me. If nothing else, we would simply spend time building a habit of community together.

Grazing was not allowed; if she tried to graze, I asked her to move her feet. Other than that we walked or stood still together, side by side, operating as one whether she liked it or not. Eventually she got tired of that, and stopped at the old tree stump asking me to get on. I think she thought, maybe I would let her graze if I was riding.

I got on, but still insisted she just exist with me, no grazing allowed yet. We stood still for ages. All I was aiming for was building the habit of being together. When Myrnah’s back seemed like it was starting to shake from the weight on it, I would encourage her forward, knowing it is easier to carry my weight in movement than standing still. She would take five or ten steps and then stop again. I knew if I pushed for more movement right away, it would be just the fight she was looking for today; so I sat and did nothing, only asking her to move again when it felt like her back needed a break from static carrying.

Eventually she got tired of this, and took me back to the stump as if asking me to get off again. I declined, and told her I would get off after she agreed to a few turns, walking us together into the next paddock. Oh, the head shaking and foot stomping I got from those requests! Finally, she took a deep breath and pretended it was her idea to walk into the next paddock. The walk was fluid and forward and relaxed, so I took my chance to praise her, signal her to drop her head to graze, and jumped off, calling that enough riding for one day.

I wasn’t done yet though. Her hooves had to be trimmed and I had an idea. She was allowed to eat grass so long as she let me trim her hooves. The moment she pulled that hoof out of my grasp, off to work we went. I was banking on her wanting to graze enough that she would try to work it out with me instead of running away. Otherwise I could see myself running a marathon with her through the pastures. I took the risk, got lucky, and won my bluff.

The first time Myrnah yanked her hoof out of my grasp, I excitedly jumped up and down: Lets play! She was not impressed, and did not want to run and play; she wanted to graze! So, after a brief run (actually, I ran in a circle around her, and she spun in one spot with her ears pinned) I called her softly back to me. She touched me gently with her nose, I told her she could graze, and proceeded to pick up her hoof and start again. It took five or six repetitions of this, and then all of the sudden she relaxed and stood quiet as could be for the rest of her hoof trim. She didn’t even seem to care that much about grazing. Sure she put her head down for a nibble now and then, but mostly just fell asleep while I rasped away her excess hoof. It was like a relief flooded over her when she realized it was OK to relax and let me do my job, letting go of all the fight and contrary attitude.

Like any parent, I am proud of my charge developing independence and a mind of her own. I trust that her character is developing, and all the trials and tribulations of growing up will help her blossom into the fullness of herself. My job, as I oversee her development, is to help her keep a healthy balance between her sense of self and her sense of community. Both are important.

She has a mind of her own, this mustang Myrnah does. My job is to nurture and develop that in a balanced way, and I pray to all that is that I continue to have enough patience and ingenuity to do that with grace. Wish me luck!

Elsa Sinclair

Equine Clarity.com

4 Comments

  1. Spectacular images!

  2. See, you will never need to join a gym. Look at all the running you got to do. The last picture seems to sum that up.
    Sky and I completely lost forward the other day. Sideways, backwards, spins, all fine but forward was just gone. Very interesting.

  3. Great read

  4. I like your phrase “…the community of us.” Puts this experience in perspective, nicely.
    It looks like Myrnah is now trading you the Rules of the Herd for showing her the Ways of LImited Freedom Among the Two-legged.
    And in that, she is so like you. Methodical, adaptive, yet ahead of the crowd.
    Nice photo narrative! The cameras like you, Lady. 😉 Michael


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