Monday morning was an exquisite late Indian summer day. My neighbours to the south – with two huge hayfields cut incredibly late due to crazy weather this year, and turned once already, so heavy was the crop – were praying. The weather forecast hammering in was appalling with huge snowstorms, wet and severe and predicted to hit hard for Tuesday. Never have I seen Alberta’s huge tractors and machinery running so hard, the tension almost palpable over the land.
Overhead, the last of the barn swallows flock, with one last group of four nestlings still not completely fledged, deciding whether to run southwards. My, nature throws up tough decisions for those swallow families tucked up high in It’s-all-Good’s overnight shelter and the nearby almost century-old barn. Their homes are exquisitely crafted, this year with white, brown and black horse hairs dangling down in long strands, once idly twirling in summer winds. Those same hairs now madly swirling.
Tension, tension, tension, with the exception of the calm bay gelding steadily munching through yet another haynet with his usual serious dedication. Winds started to rattle branches, temperatures plummeting, snowflakes beginning to gust around the old buildings. It was brutal, stripping leaves off trees, heavy wet snow flattening crops for miles around. It took all week to melt down, the corral’s working area and marked out grassed arena (a bit of a grand word, but the measurements are right!) were knee-deep in snow, slush, slurry.
Already dealing with personal challenges, and now with this dreadful weather, I have decided to withdraw from the North American Horsewoman’s Challenge. In Alberta at least, in order to carry about the competition’s detailed six-month training schedule, an indoor arena’s essential – well, unless climate change slings New Mexico and Arizona northwards!
Having started late after a brutally bitter winter and putting in, on average, two-hour daily training for its three components (liberty work, western dressage and then a cowboy challenge type obstacle course) – plus we had a few ‘episodes’ that clocked up five, six hours to work through – we have just run out of training time before the October final. (Then there’s the ‘freestyle’ for the final ten contestants where I reckon you need two months to think up – and put together – an innovative display with dynamite music, that’s going to really zap your audience into handclaps.)
Is it possible with a ‘wildie’? Yes, I do still think that it is.
I’d been hooked on ‘free’ work for a few years, working horses with their language, not them adapting to mine, and watched so many horse-starting videos they came out my ears! But I agree now with an apparent comment from American horsewoman Linda Kohanov that’s probably pretty accurate. That the modern day horse is pretty shut down mentally, emotionally, psychologically – akin to someone standing too close to you all the time, like taking your spectacles off, right off your nose, or a Martian shouting at you because as an Earthling you don’t get their language.
I wondered why ‘Mops’ (his nickname, I mean, look at that forelock!) exhibited little interest in other horses and mentioned this to Maureen Enns, bestselling author of ‘Wild Horses, Wild Wolves.’ We discussed his age, five not the original four years (by his teeth when he was knocked out for the feet trimming), and her opinion was he probably hadn’t been stud boss with his own wildie band, so I was unofficially now ‘head stallion’ and not alpha mare. Oh my.
Trust, with that hard flat eye telling me whenever I was not being an appropriate two-legged horse, took forever. I watched even more videos, with trainers who talked about ‘acceptance,’ but it didn’t seem to work for him and me, so went back to classical methods in the main, that and fancy footwork. I will remember forever one evening where everything went sideways with a neck-line on (that he’d imprinted on being captured and roped obviously hadn’t slipped his memory) and the halter fell off. I knew this was a deal-breaker. We’d started at 7:00 that evening when disaster struck, two ancient interior barn lights reflecting rain coming down heavier and heavier, bouncing their meagre light on ever increasing puddles. At midnight, very cold and very wet, I crawled into the farmhouse’s kitchen and shakily put on the kettle, laughing hysterically at what’s become an absolutely surreal memory
I absolutely hadn’t picked up on the massive ‘block’ of body and mind, went out in the morning and that body curled right around in a dance around mine, and I put my hand out saying oh thank you, thank you, thank you.
I learned not to wear jewelry that sparkled or bracelets that slid up and down my arm in the early days, wear perfume, yet other things didn’t faze at all that I’d thought would take hours. The ESP connection was remarkable – he could read when I’d appear at the back door every time. Equally, with even just thinking about a new piece of equipment, he’d be standing in a different place to the usual.
What’s next? Oh my, a few things on the plate here for the human and he’s definitely good enough, talented enough, athletic enough for Combined Driving (no saddle needed, and so many thanks to readers with helpful suggestions who wrote in!). And perhaps time this two-legged learns another equestrian skill-set. I’d say, too, that the Mops-horse could a really important advocate for teaching humans about horse-think and their body language in demo work. Imagine a horse that tuned in competing with you.