After Ellie’s first session of groundwork and handling in the arena this morning I felt at first that there was nothing worth posting about. But as the morning’s work with Ellie niggled in the back of my mind I realised that there are a thousand valuable lessons I could take from just that one hour with her lovely self. I’ll try to choose just one or two or I’ll be here typing all night!
So my plan today was to try to catch Ellie from the field where she has two new companions, and see where we’d go from there. After a weekend which could only be described as life altering for her (being separated from her yearling sister, transported 3 hours and entering the human world) I was unsure and slightly nervous about whether she would want to have anything to do with me when I tried to catch her. But little Ellie surprised me and came straight to me. She seemed a little unsure but after letting me touch her nose and walk away a few times she came looking for a scratch on the neck and her halter.
Off to the arena we went, passing by some Slurry machinery that would scare an old pro, but El was an absolute champ and strolled straight by. I was eager to start handling her some more today but decided to do some groundwork first to settle her and get her quarters rolling away, in case she felt like kicking during handling. I have only ever groundworked slightly older horses who are well halter broken so the mess that ensued was pretty unexpected. After 10 minutes of fumbling around, trying to keep her attention, and trying to get her to move out in a circle around me without falling in and running me over, I started to wish that she had refused to go by that farm machinery! Ellie was groundworking me like a pro and I was too nervous of her quarters to really send her shoulder out. Finally something clicked and I realised that I was setting a really dangerous precedent, so I set my fear aside and got to work sending her forward and firmly laying down what was my space and what was hers. Within minutes, El was walking a lovely relaxed circle around me, and her attention span was much better.
WHY DIDN’T I STOP THERE!
Clever me then decided to move on to rolling her quarters and in hindsight I gave her far too little reward for respecting my space. I was relieved that she had stopped running me over but rather than stopping to praise her to the moon and back for that I felt a pressure to keep the momentum going and achieve more great things… WordPress, meet my Achilles Heel: The simple, seemingly innocent question, “What’s next?”, often accompanied by the phrase, “That was great but I’d really like to improve this other thing and then I’ll be especially happy with her”. This is not news to me; It did not dawn on my while I sipped my fifth coffee of the day. Attending a clinic with Ricky Quinn (a student of Buck’s) last Spring he gave me a pretty frank talking to for not giving the horse time to soak and always wanting more straight away. This insight almost knocked me off my feet.. as I realised that I do this to myself too. I have no need for an over-bearing parent who is in constant pursuit of the unattainable ‘more’ or ‘better’ as I have that person within myself. Since that clinic I’ve learned to be a bit easier on myself but I can’t deny that some of that seeped out in Ellie’s direction today.
After some mucking about with very messy efforts at rolling her quarters, Ellie began to get frustrated, lose her rhythm and fall in towards me again. So I decided to backtrack and work on her circle again and dropped it as soon as I got one nice circle with her respecting the ‘bubble’ between us. All in, it was probably about 30 minutes work. Feeling awful about pushing her so much, and also not wanting her to the leave her first arena visit thinking it was the worst place in the world, I opted for rubbing her down, massaging her and scratching in all of the places she loves. I would swear she read my apology as she relished the attention with pricked ears and a relaxed expression, nuzzling me affectionately. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have such a forgiving horse, and that only intensified my affection for her in that moment. While rubbing her down, it occurred to me how far this little horse has come in just 4 days. Ellie is not going to be the ‘finished product’ by Christmas, or in a year’s time, or likely even in 5 years time, but she is trying – and it is those tries, whether big or small, that I have to reward.
Buck says that with a horse you can “look like one mind and one body, if you got a taste of it, you couldn’t get enough of it, you’d rather do that than anything. You may spend your whole life chasing it…but it’s a good thing to chase”. I’m on that chase, but I have to remember that me and Ellie will get there in our own time.