It was, admittedly, probably not the best choice. Due to weather and the holidays, Noble had been idle for a while. With his paddock now mucky, even the newly emerged grass does not tempt him to go out into the field beyond. So, he sulks in his stall and has temper tantrums – though far fewer and less volatile than in winters past. But today the sun was shining, and we had no specific agenda, so I decided to get him out for some quality time. I failed to factor in the North wind that was building – and that is known in the valley to set even the most level headed horse on edge.
From the minute he left the stall, he was high headed and snorting. Halfway to the cross-ties, he planted his feet and got a rather mulish look. As I asked him to continue forward, he spun and bolted back toward his stall. I don’t know how I managed, but I was able to hold on to him, and he spun back around. Not happy about his attempt, but very happy at the outcome, I coaxed him to continue to the cross-ties. Once we got to the edge of the grooming area, I realized my other miscalculation – the last time he was actually out was a few days before, when the vets were there for dental day.
We spent a good bit of time nosing around the area, smelling the remnants of disinfectant and mouth wash from the dental. He then took one long look out the front of the barn, then entered the cross-ties. Our grooming session was unremarkable, save for my surprise at him asking for his face to be brushed. He’s hated any handling of his face, since his foalhood injury, but has finally learned that it feels good to have his forehead rubbed or brushed.
Knowing I was dealing with a slightly electric Noble, I decided that a nice grooming session was a good place to leave off. I was reaching for the lead rope when I realized he’d moved his haunches off the mats. Although not too picky, I do prefer that they are standing reasonably straight before they are unclipped from the cross-tries, so I stepped over to ask him to straighten out – but he was having none of it!
For the second time in his life, Noble pulled back. But this was unlike any horse I’ve ever seen pull back – he simply set his haunches and calmly began to move backwards. His expression was very much what I’d seen in so many times when he’d pulled away from me. I cannot help but believe that he remembered that time, as I wrote in my last post, when he was able to break his halter. Over the years, I’ve had a couple of horses break my elastic cross-ties – and none were nearly the size and weight of Noble. So, I fully expected to see them go flying at any second. My immediate thought was, “Here we go again!”
Time ticked on, and the cross-ties held. The one on his right was now stretched twice its length, yet it held. The draft horse halter certainly had no intention of breaking, but now the noseband was pulling down over his nostrils. He was now sitting nearly down, yet still balanced such that if he got loose I did not fear his falling over. I watched his face change from “I’m outta here!” to “What’s going on?!” I do not know how long it went on – but I know that most horses either had fallen over, broken the ties, or given up long before the time that passed.
I found myself praying that the cross-tie would continue to hold – and it certainly did. I was beginning to worry that he might finally reach a point of panic, and then could injure himself. According to my mother, just outside, I kept talking to Noble throughout – although that part must have been just habit, because I do not recall saying anything. But, I did bury my hand in my pocket, on the off chance that he would give up – and give up he certainly did!
Noble finally took just one step forward, still stretching the one tie, but easing the closest one. That’s when I quietly went into action. His expression was still perplexed, and seemed to be contemplating his next move. Afraid that he would try again, I stepped right up with my hand outstretched offering a carrot bit. At this point I do know I was talking to him, and I managed to get his attention focused on me. He came the last step that eased up the cross-tie, letting out a small snort as he reached for the carrot. I moved to his shoulder to give him scratches and get him to relax.
Just before I attached his lead rope, he again moved his haunches to the side. Once again I moved over to ask him to straighten – and he calmly did! The rest of the session was uneventful, and I was feeling very grateful – even a little triumphant – that things had not gone as badly as they might have. I do not normally view my work with horses as winning or losing, but with Noble’s history I am grateful any time his inappropriate behavior is not reinforced.
Training horses is all about the decisions that we make. Being only human, we will not always make the best choices. In those cases we can only hope that either the horse is very forgiving, or that we receive help in mitigating the results of our questionable choices. Clearly today was not a great day to work with Noble – but I will always be grateful to the quality in those cross-ties. Perhaps the small battle Noble waged with them will help convince him that breaking away isn’t always an option.
Happily, the softer Noble was back tonight, with the North wind now abated. I’m seeing more of that Noble every day – but today was a reminder that the more impetuous, independent Noble is still around. So, tomorrow I’m buying more of those cross-ties!
Be good to your horses!