Winter Solstice upon us and in these short, dark days there is a bit of light in my world already. My friend Cori used to talk about ‘synchronicities’ all the time. Defined as the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection, Cori was a big believer. Perhaps she had a hand in the series of events that led me to have a new horse come into my life during this dark season, in more ways than one. A spark of youth and vibrant energy to bring balance back to my life, my herd, and my bruised heart.
His name is Gray Feather, a four year old mustang gelding from Oregon. He made it to Colorado into foster care at Eagles and Wild Horses Ranch by way of Evanescent Mustang Sanctuary in Texas. He came unhandled except for the halter and lead rope unceremoniously shoved onto his head in a chute when he was purchased by people who thought that might make it easier for them to gain some control over this wild one. I doubt they ever touched that rope… He’s still at Eagles and Wild Horses and will stay there until the days are longer and travel a bit easier on both horse and human. I can’t remember the last time I had a horse in my life that didn’t live with me! It’s not easy! In the time since I made the adoption official, I’ve been to see him maybe seven times.
He’s slowly shifting from extremely volatile, ‘mock charging’ out of fear frequently. I marvel at his sensitivity, his insistence on accuracy, focus, honesty and clear intent. I have always worked with domesticated horses that have been desensitized in some way. This horse is all sensitivity and undomesticated reaction. The opportunity of a lifetime for me to see exactly what is possible in building a true partnership. A partnership based in shared dialogue and mutual trust.
True Tango with Horses…
For several weeks my time with him was spent sitting down on a mounting block. It’s the only way I could force myself to be still and not try something. Every time I tried standing or moving around him he would go into fight or flight mode. Finally, on Friday, I thought he was trusting me enough to revisit standing up. He was, and I could even stroke his face while standing, a first. I decided this would be a good day to lay the foundation for him to feel comfortable following me.
He senses and responds to such tiny impulses. I can imagine him meeting me half way, feel for the moment when he’s agreed, take a step in his direction and he turns and starts walking toward me. We meet half way. I can stand in front of him and create an intention to move towards him, he shifts his center of gravity back. If I take a step first, or move into his space too fast he turns abruptly and marches to his ‘time out’ corner. It’s such refinement to find the place where he might be able to take one step back, but he’s proving to me that it is absolutely possible to build a foundation of communication without being the dominant one. We can simply learn to dance together by mutual choice.
Right at the end of our time together I could feel that he had enough input. I almost walked away and let him be but then I looked at the clock and thought, ‘I have time, just one more try’….
I imagined him meeting me half way. I did not feel him agree before I stepped toward him. He did not turn to come. I took another step toward him, very much in my head now wanting to make it happen. He still did not turn to meet me as he had every other time. I took another step toward him and he came. He stood in front of me and then got stressed enough to mock lunge.
I call it mock charge and mock lunge because he doesn’t follow through. I know him well enough to recognize this as a clear sign of him experiencing stress. It’s his way of letting me know something is too much for him. In other words there is nothing here to punish.
I know him well enough to know all I need to do is raise a hand and he turns just as abruptly away. But then on the heels of that I have to apologize to him because I flat did not listen to my own instincts, or to him. I let my head jump in and convince me for one more try. Had I listened we would have had an entire session of beautiful communication with no mock lunging at all.
So, I could beat myself up for that and walk away feeling like I blew it, but I know that doesn’t serve any purpose. Instead, I sat back down on the mounting block and got still, back to our mutual comfort zone. Waited for him to recognize that I was sorry for not listening and then packed myself up and left him for the day.
My goal in life is to find a way to work with horses that does not involve being the dominant one. Working with horses is supposed to be fun, fighting with horses, dominating them, forcing compliance in any fashion has never felt right for me. I’m beyond thrilled to have this opportunity to develop a relationship from the ground up with a horse that has not been desensitized to anything. The level of sensitivity and communication available is remarkable and intoxicating. Just like dancing a really good Tango!
It’s an incredible opportunity I will not squander.
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