Things are a bit chaotic in the barn this week. We’re tearing off an unused overhang on the back of the barn, in order to add runs off the backs of the stalls. The roof overhangs a very low spot behind the barn, and is barely tall enough for us to walk under, let alone a horse. We’re excited about the whole project, but this is the messy, loud portion of it. It is also causing a bit of disruption to young Noble’s routine, as it means his back field is currently off limits. He’s a bit put out by his turnout time being limited to the arena, and it was only a matter of time before his baser self appeared again … and that time was today. But this time there was a slight twist.
It’s been a couple of days of arena turnout, and Noble was clearly a bit edgy today. The amount of time out seems immaterial – it’s the limit in space. He loves to get into a full out gallop and do laps around the back acre. The arena is just not sufficient for a good head of steam, when you’re such a big boy! And when steam is prevented from escaping, it leads to explosions.
As we headed out of the barn this morning, Noble’s nose just behind Java’s tail, I could tell he was in a mood. He kept trying to nip at Java’s tail, and my hands were full keeping him from getting an actual grip. As we passed the turn toward the back, he turned his head to gaze toward the gate. I could see the wheels turning, so I got his attention and kept marching toward the arena. As we got a couple of steps past the turn, I saw his ears flick back. His head went up, his feet stopped, and I knew what was coming next!
For those who have been reading this blog, you know that we’ve been having a problem with Noble tearing away. He knows full well that he’s strong enough to leave if he wants, and when the mood strikes he does just that. We’ve been managing the situation, and over time the incidents are fewer – but hanging on is generally hopeless, without an obstacle to stop him.
As I watched his posture changed, I knew the next movement would be a spin right then a bolt away – and that’s exactly what he did. He planted his front feet and shoved off for the spin, and I let out a loud “Ah-ah!” just as his weight came against the rope in my hand. I fully expected the rope to be ripped out of my hand in the next second, but it never was. Instead, he stopped his spin and his head flew up. “Knock that off!” I yelled. He turned to look at me, head still a bit high, upper lip sticking out, and an expression that looked for all the world like a kid just caught reaching for the cookie jar!
All I could think was “Whatever you do, don’t start laughing!” Struggling to keep a stern tone, I said “Let’s go!” He lowered his head, upper lip still stiffly sticking out, eyes now downcast, and marched peacefully toward the arena where mom and Java were waiting. As he went through the gate, he thought it might be worth one more try. His haunches dropped in preparation for the launch, and his forehand began to puff up. “Ah-ah!” He instantly deflated, dropped his head, and turned to get his halter off.
His expression was meek and mild when he lowered his head for me to unbuckle his halter. He calmly waited for his carrot – then turned to take his frustration out by body slamming poor old Java!
I couldn’t help but chuckle as I turned away. The battle is far from won – but without the use of force or drastic training methods I’ve clearly been getting through to him. It shows that control of horses is not about brute strength – I have no hope of holding him, and he clearly knows it. It’s also not strictly about trained responses – he already knows all the right responses for in-hand work, but is perfectly capable of ignoring them if he wants. No, real “control” comes from having a relationship – one built on trust, communication, and an interest in how the other party feels. Initial training may involve directing the horse – but over time the horse should offer willingly because they enjoy the interaction. Noble did not stop because of the rope – it never worked before. No, he stopped because my voice said that I was upset at his behavior. It was a welcome sign, for me, that our connection is growing.
We’ll be finishing the tear down this weekend, and Noble will once again have his racetrack around the back acre. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that his manners will hold out that long!
Be good to your horses!