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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.


Making Peace With The Things We Would Rather Not Do

Sometimes we have good reasons for avoidance or resistance; sometimes we avoid or resist simply out of habit. The bigger the habit of resistance, the smaller the reasons can be to cause it. Horses and people are alike in this way. This blog is about making peace with the things we would rather not do.

Myrnah and I are building a relationship and a training method together that relies heavily on the building of positive habits. Because I have no way of forcing her to do anything, I HAVE TO build a habit of her saying yes to my requests. She needs to make peace with the things she would rather not do.

Every time I ask Myrnah to do anything, I have to consider what her likely response will be. If I want to turn left and I think she has a reason to oppose that, I have to consider: Do I have enough pressure to change her mind from opposition to cooperation? If I don’t, I had better just wait for another time to ask. Otherwise we are building a habit of saying no, instead of a habit of saying yes.

Here’s the rub. This week Myrnah has had big reasons to resist and oppose, bringing our training progress almost to a standstill.

Reason number one for Myrnah to oppose me, I talked about in my blog a couple of weeks ago– simply low energy levels. Any mother who has ever lived through the first few months of nursing a new baby will empathize. As much as Myrnah loves working with me and is happy to carry me around, when I ask her to trot or canter, her enthusiasm is limited. I can see her muscle loss since Errai was born and the resulting weakness can be felt when I ride. He is nursing the nutrients right through her and leaving little behind for her own energy expenditures. When I ask her to take a sprint across the field with me, she has bigger reasons to resist than she has to move with me. Grazing and resting and raising her little one are her priorities for now.

I said I was going to try to supplement Myrnah’s diet to help her, but it has taken some trial and error over the last few weeks to understand that this newly domesticated mustang does not consider grain or pellets to be food. She will pick all the carrots carefully out of the grain and leave the rest behind. During the winter I did convince her to eat some hay pellets and vitamins, but, now that green grass is in more abundance, she won’t touch the concentrated feed. The only concentrated feed I have been able to get her to eat is alfalfa hay, and even that only in a limited quantity.

This brings us to the second big reason Myrnah has to oppose me lately. Concern for Errai, his safety and well being, take number one priority for Myrnah, as it should be. Yet, that means sometimes she is too preoccupied with being a mother to even walk away from the herd for a moment to come eat some extra food with me.

This week we introduced a new mare named Red into the herd. Errai, being the bold and inquisitive creature he is, was very interested in her. Nickering, he would gallop over to Red. Myrnah, not knowing if she could trust this new character, would gallop after, determined to chase the new mare away from her precious foal. Theo would then chase after them too, not wanting to be left behind. Then the four of them would gallop a lap around the field before Errai backed off, only to do the whole thing again a few minutes later. Errai looks as though he thinks this is a great new game to get everyone running with him. Myrnah looks frustrated, and Red looks a little overwhelmed by the intensity. I never know quite what Theo thinks, but he definitely doesn’t want to miss out on whatever is going on.

So, as you can imagine, my time riding and training with Myrnah has been altered somewhat by the demands of our environment.

The question remains: What CAN we do together during these times of challenge to keep progress going?

The working theory is to train the first step, to train the habit of yes, and to make the tasks easy enough to accomplish without too much of a fight. We have to make peace with doing the things Myrnah would rather not do, even if it is only those first steps we are able to practice right now. Even if we can’t travel exactly the speed I would like, we can often practice a couple of steps of speed, resting and rewarding each positive effort.

The first few days Red was in the herd I had to pick times when everyone was at their most peaceful, only then asking Myrnah to walk up to the trailer to eat alfalfa. I had to consider her taking a few bites a success, because a few bites was all she would take before she went running back to be close to Errai. Each day she gets a little more relaxed about the new herd structure and is willing to stay and eat a little more. Little by little she is making peace with the things she would rather not do, trusting this new horse, leaving her foal and trusting the herd to take care of him.

The riding Myrnah and I do follows the same patterns. I have to pick a time when Errai is not pulling Myrnah’s attention elsewhere. Then, if she can tolerate a little focus on me, we can work on training those first steps of turns, and trots, and canters.

Just like a person, Myrnah is going to weigh her options and decide if she has more reason to work with me or to work against me. The more practice she has saying yes to my requests (even if I have to keep my requests small to get that yes) the more peace she will acquire about doing the things she would rather not.

The more peace Myrnah feels about doing things outside her comfort zone, the more she learns. I could be frustrated when the environment throws challenges our way, or I could just take it as part of the evolution Myrnah and I are working through together.

Making peace with the things we would rather not do is part of the process for both Myrnah and me. She would rather not be pulled off her job of mothering when she is distracted by its challenges. I would rather not have to take our training so slowly. Regardless, here we are, and we are both going to learn from being outside our comfort zones- that is just the way it works.

Here is to making peace with what is.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

One Comment

  1. Sounds like Myrnah, within the freedom you have already demonstrated, is redesigning your training program, adapting to the moment, as you have wanted all along.
    And thanks for the glorious year+ at Santcuary and Plum Pond; now I know what I’m going to do when I wake up! 😉 Michael


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] Last week I talked about developing the habit of yes with Myrnah. With no tools to push through an argument I need to be aware and learn tact and timing about all the requests I make. Each request I make has to result in either movement or stillness, where we can enjoy each other’s company. The more time we waste arguing, the more I am building a habit of Myrnah saying no to me, instead of the yes we need to make this relationship functional. […]

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