Monday, December 20, 2010

Day Four: The real work begins

Today Jay finally realized what I'd been telling him all along: I have no finesse with the most basic of basic skills, like asking a horse to yield his hindquarters, or back up. Yes, I generally get the job done, and to the untrained eye, it all looks fine.

But it's not fine. Jay's method is all about clarity and consistency of communication, and if you're not precise about the way you ask the horse to do something, she can easily get confused. A confused horse can't trust you enough to feel secure in your presence, and that's not a good thing at all.

So Jay started to get tough with me. Over and over, he'd correct me, and it seemed like half the time he'd tell me one thing one time and something different the next time I tried it. But that's actually part of the lesson--nothing about working with horses is cut and dried. Rather, it changes depending on exactly what's going on at any given moment.

What doesn't change is the absolute need for clarity with what you ask and the way you ask it. So I appreciated the drills, frustrating though they were. My mind might understand what Jay was asking me to do, but getting all my body parts to react appropriately while trying to manage my stick and string and lead rope and also keep my eyes on my equine companion--intense and very, very difficult.

Toward the end of the day, I was pretty worn out mentally, and my defenses were down. We were asked to lead a couple of horses back out to the pasture, where they would spend the night. Jay grabbed the "easy" one and left me with Gus, who proceeded to give me a bit of horsey attitude. He's a perfectly nice horse; he just wanted to get the haltering over with and go out to the pasture.

What's interesting to me about the interaction between me and Gus wasn't in the details, but rather in what I learned about myself. When he started acting up, I got "stern," as I always like to think of it, and raised my voice and my energy level. As soon as I did so, I realized that "stern" was actually combative. And it was based on fear. I could feel my tension rising and my breathing quicken.

Fight or flight: how do I react to fear these days? The pendulum lately seems to have swung to fight. But the fear remains. I'm not sure what I want to do about this, but it's good to be aware of it. I wonder how this relates to how I react in other situations?

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