Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Lesson from Nevada

I made a serious error the other day: I embarrassed Nevada in front of her friends—I swear!—by making her work right there in the pasture.
Pasture 5 is a LONG way down the lane. I was tired, it was hot, but I felt I SHOULD work with her. Now, a “should” in that context ought to have tipped me off right away that my judgement was impaired. But it didn’t.

The mares were all at the bottom of the pasture, clearly enjoying the grass that had just been mowed. So fragrant, even to me!

I walked toward the herd at the bottom of the pasture. Nevada came willingly once I got close, and I put the halter on her. Then I did a short version of our normal workout: yielding front and hind, circling me at a walk and trot—but all of it right there next to the rest of the herd. And I’m certain that she saw absolutely NO point in it. There weren’t even any treats involved.

We didn’t work for long—maybe five minutes. But it was long enough, apparently, to offend a sensitive nearly-three-year-old.

The next day, when I went to get her, Nevada took off running as soon as I got anywhere close. She’s a smart little mare: She took the entire herd down to the creek, where I couldn’t get to her without wading in and making a big fuss. Clearly, she wanted no part of me and my stupid games! Only then did I stop to see things from her perspective, and I couldn’t blame her for being offended.

The mares stayed in the water a long time—I could hear them splashing. I deserved to be dissed, so I had to laugh—but I just waited her out. I had my camera with me, and went off and took some photos.

Eventually, they all came back out, running and rolling and bucking and farting. Nevada soon spotted me, and then the real games began. She’d chase and bite at one horse or another to make them run, the stinky little mustang, to provide her with cover so she could “hide” behind them.

No matter. I made sure she kept running, and that she knew that the running was my idea, not hers. She’s such a joy to watch—that natural self-carriage and collection of hers is something to see.

Eventually, after several trips around the pasture (interestingly, the rest of the mares didn’t move unless she made them move—obviously, they knew I wasn’t after them), Nevada slowed down and deigned to look at me, kind of sideways. I approached slowly, stopping and/or turning away to reward her every time she glanced in my direction. Once she quit running, she didn’t argue much, and didn’t try to move away as I approached.

When I got up to her, at first I just petted her until she relaxed a little, then walked away from her for a minute. Next time, I showed her the halter, then walked away when she relaxed. Then I put it around her neck and asked her to flex a little—no dice at first. She was still trying to ignore me. But eventually she gave just a bit, and I dropped the halter and walked away.

By this time, she’s looking at me like I’m crazy, right? But each time I walk back to her, she’s a little softer.

Eventually, I did put the halter on her, flex her, thank her, take it off, and walk away clear out of the pasture. She watched me but didn’t offer to follow. That’s OK. Next time.

It’s a lesson I won’t forget.

[This wonderful photo of Nevada and her friends is copyrighted by my good friend at AimingHigh Photography, used by permission.]

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