Brrrr….it’s chilly outside! I need to start wearing my long john’s under my farm diva sheep jammies when I go out and do chores in the morning. It’s water packing time once again, but I’ve got a new appreciation for freezing weather after the recent flooding and the four letter S word. At least the ground is hard enough to go out and work with the horses without being slurped up by mud.
I gave Firecracker a week off due to weather and her aborting the foal. Thursday we stepped back into the swing of things. My trusty lariat, with which I couldn’t rope the broad side of a barn, is my favorite tool to work with. I toss the end out over her back and let it fall down her side, getting her used to the feeling of being touched. The rope isn’t threatening like my arm is, especially since my body seems to come attached to the arm. If it were just my arm out there floating in limbo without my big body attached, she may be a bit more hip with the idea of being touched. Then again, maybe not. Floating arms may prove to be rather frightening.
Typically, I’ll start out with my long branch, resting it on her back as she moves around the paddock, letting her know I can keep pace with her, and that the feel of something on her body isn’t the end of the world. We’ve done that enough now for her to be relaxed, and generally she turns to face me rather than trotting circles these days. I rub the branch back and forth on her body, up and down her legs, under her belly, between her ears; this desensitizes her and lets her know that being touched isn’t anything to be afraid of. Some wild horses (most, really) aren’t appreciative of being handled on their legs. Their feet are too important to their survival. Firecracker, however, stands still and doesn’t seem to mind the branch running up and down.
Once she’s settled down with the branch, I pick up the lariat. Tossing the end over her back from a distance has never been an issue. Now, however, I’m working up closer, getting into her space. Her bubble, as some would say. She’s not totally comfortable with that, so I’ll pick up the lead rope so when she moves off she can’t go more than a few feet away. I let her circle until she’s tired of circling, then approach her with the rope again. Typically, more circles are on their way.
My goal is to work my way close enough to touch her with the rope while it’s coiled in my hand. This is frightening for her, because the rope appears larger when it’s coiled. Large equals scary. There are times when the thought that maybe I’m pushing too far, too hard cross my mind, but then that thought is generally followed by the fact that Firecracker comes willingly into my space when I’m carrying feed through her paddock. Her fear is based on a lack of knowledge. She knows to trust me in some areas of her life, just not in all. Rather like our relationship with God. Trust is a difficult thing, especially when you’ve never done it before.
Yesterday I didn’t want to quit until I was able to touch Firecracker. I always gave her a way out, but didn’t let her get far. I didn’t stand directly in front of her to block her path, but I also didn’t allow her to turn away from me. There were times she was frustrated, but the more we worked, the more she realized that despite not being able to completely escape, she wasn’t being hurt. And eventually, my coiled lariat found it’s way to her shoulder where it rubbed gently up and down. She stood, tight, tense, unsure…but still. I let the rope disappear from my hand and began with my fingers to rub on her withers, the part of a horse’s body where the neck meets up with the back and the top of the shoulders. On most horses, that’s the sweet spot, the spot they can’t reach with their own teeth to scratch and depend on others to scratch for them.
And Firecracker enjoyed it. She stood as I moved my hand up under her mane and rubbed, she let go of some of her tension. Not all of it, but enough for there to be a visible difference in her eye. And that’s when I stepped away. No point in being greedy and asking for too much. Better to step back and let her absorb the moment, feeling the positive rather than the negative. I gave her a minute to think about what had just happened, then approached again. Once more she let my hand rub up and down, and once more I stepped away before she became uncomfortable.
I left her side for a few minutes to do a couple other chores in the paddock, then wondered if she’d let me back into her space again. She didn’t want to. Her fear and sense of self preservation had kicked in already. She doesn’t know me. She has no clue that her very life depends on me; that it always has.