For those of you who read part 1, you may recall that Remy exploded into my life, through no fault of her own (she didn’t choose to move to Dartmoor did she?) at a time when the bottom had also fallen out of my world. I had certain plans for her which she knew nothing about, and cared about even less. So, it turned out I had to change my ideas about what I wanted to work on, to deal with what was important to Remy.
Having said that for the first few weeks that she was here, I don’t think Remy had any idea of what was important to her. She would wait at the edge of the field staring at the horizon, away from all of the other horses, and when I brought her in she would wait at the edge of the next boundary she came into contact with and stare into space there. There was something somewhere which would fill the hole in her and she spent every day looking for it. I knew her only hope was to find ‘it’ with the horses she now lived with, and with me. I was more optimistic about the horse bit than the me bit to be honest.
I couldn’t spend too much time naval gazing though, as every time I came into contact with Remy she was throwing up things which were either dangerous, or so far away from what I wanted that I had to act.
Day 1 – Remy gets off the lorry after a very long journey so I turn her out with one other horse. As I go to take her head collar off she rips her head away and charges off. I put this down to too many hours travelling and first day anxiety. However, the same thing happens in the stable the next morning , the moment I start to undo the buckle she pulls her head up and away whilst her feet start to leave the scene, even within this confined space.
I guess this might be considered a relatively minor thing and in grander scheme of things why worry too much? Maybe with a different horse I might have worked on this in the fullness of time or figured it would come out in the wash. However, it was clearly a dangerous manoeuvre with such an agile, highly anxious animal, and I sensed that I needed to get some small things worked on as soon as possible as there were some bigger things looming...
My friend Kathleen Lindley Beckham said something along the lines of the putting on and taking off of halters as the start and end of your conversation with your horse each day. It would be nice if it was a ‘Hi there’ or a ‘Thanks for that’ from you both, rather than a mindless act on the part of the human and a ‘screw you’ on the part of the horse. I pay a lot of attention to these kind of small acts of contact with my horses, which is why I get so twitchy about other people handling them.
Therefore, if this was the start then I had better start here. When I took Remy back to the field (which is a blog all of its own...) and went to take the headcollar off I wanted to explain a few critical things. The most important at this moment being, ‘Wait’. Remy is a horse after my own heart – always one step ahead of herself. She and I are both excellent at having a forward lean through life. What’s next? I’m not in this moment I’m in the next, so get on with it! For me to take her headcollar off we both had to WAIT. Be present in this. This was also great opportunity for me to show her that there is a feeling in my hands and coming from the inside of me which means something, and which could actually help her feel better. I hoped that in time she would being to understand that our contact could result in her softening and relaxing – I could be part of the solution.
However, we were not at that stage. The first attempts were just mechanical. Mike Schaffer has an excellent description of this learning process in his book ‘Riding in the Moment’. He is describing training your dressage horse, and how your aids begin as ‘mechanical’ then move to ‘cognitive’ and finally become ‘connected’. We want to end up with a ‘connected’ feel between us and the horse, but we have to sometimes begin with something purely ‘mechanical’ (physically showing the horse what we want) and then move to something ‘cognitive’ (the horse understands your aids) before you can get to the stage where you work together based on connection and feel.
So, long before I worry about half passes or flying changes, or even sitting on my horse, I want to be able to put the headcollar on and off without being knocked flying or having mud kicked into my face and ultimately, I would like it to be a really nice ‘connected’ beginning and end to our time together.
My first attempts are ENTIRELY mechanical. When Remy feels the buckle start to come undone on the headcollar and flings her head up I don’t undo it and hang on. In giraffe mode (which those of you who know her will recognise as her number one skill) she starts moving her feet. I don’t undo the buckle and I hang on. This is not easy, up a steep hill, with a rigid Lipizzaner whose head is now about 10 foot above the ground. Tomorrow, I think, I will work on this somewhere more sensible.... but sometimes you just are where you are and have to do your best to deal with what you’ve got.
This is a job of patience and persistence rather than physical strength. I am not pulling her head down, any ‘pull’ from me results in an even bigger pull back from her. I am simply blocking her attempts to throw her head into the air and using movement to ask her to unlock her neck. I don’t even touch the buckle again before she has stopped twirling round in a circle. My only commitment is to getting some semblance of something a little bit better. To begin with, if we can get still feet and a lowered head I will have to take that. We are so far away from the ideal I have to give her some chance of success and can’t worry about the subtleties just yet.
20 minutes later (this is probably an under estimation) she finally works out what the job is, and I take the headcollar off. I go to lie down in a darkened room.
The next day we go through the whole thing again in the different context of the stable. This is actually harder for her as she feels more confined and threatens to go up on her back legs (she is excellent at performing the most perfectly balanced levades, should she feel the need) so I have to find a compromise where she might get some idea of what we need to do without blowing her top. This simple thing, to Remy, is an infringement of her ability to do what she wants when she wants (she has spent 3 years doing pretty much entirely her own thing in the field, so I do understand that this is a bit of a shock to the system...). She has an idea about how this should work and changing that while she is so panicked is both a nightmare and totally necessary.
In the end, I just work through it everywhere and every time. In the school, in the field, in the stable. Some days we are back at square one, if something terrible happens like a bird flies out of a tree or other horses are doing something interesting. It seems like it is never going to get better until I realise that I have forgotten all about it, and that taking off Remy’s headcollar is as sweet and easy as taking off it off Tycoon. Well, maybe not quite as he is the king of things like that, but it’s pretty nice. She even waits with me l after I have taken the headcollar off, standing with donkey ears for a scratch and a conversation about how marvellous she is, before ambling off to see her new equine friends.
Please don’t think that everything else has gone as well as this, I’m starting with the high point. I’m banking on the acorns and oak tree theory.