Nasr Learns About Tarps, and I Learn To Stay Present & Vigilant
This post is part of a series I am writing about training, or being trained by, 2 stallions. Nafis Rafiq “Rafi” is 24, a been-there-done-that wise protective smart patient stallion. Nasr Mubaarak “Nasr” is his yearling son, just as smart and wise as his daddy, with the curiosity of youth mixed in. Stallions in general aren’t part of the majority American horse culture. Most of us grew up riding geldings, or mares. Stallions are generally reserved for the breeding farms and experienced riders and trainers, and are often perceived as dangerous or difficult. Thank goodness my first stallion experiences have been with Rafi. I am figuring out much as I go along, finding a path that honors their conscious being, while also keeping me and other people and horses safe. I have been blessed to find some conscious horsemanship for stallions mentors in the books of Linda Kohanov and Klaus Hempfling and the teachings of Kim Walnes and her horse Gideon.
Join me for the journey!
Well, today stallion Rafi’s hay shredder decided to start self-destructing. After some servicing so that I could finish Rafi’s breakfast, I needed a change of pace. And there sat that lovely new tarp that had been covering the hay bale. Hmmm…
I remember reading in Kim Walnes’ journal about Gideon and all the different experiences she helped him have, to teach him that she would not ever put him in a dangerous situation and to build his confidence. Things have been very busy on the farm lately, so Nasr and I grab time together for formal learning when we can. The rest of the time our interactions are greetings and leading in and out after the daily naptime in the barn. (And right there in that sentence is the first clue to a recent important lesson, which I will circle back to.)
I put the tarp in the pen and brought Nasr and his mom Bahi in for their hay and naptime. Other than a hard stare, I really didn’t get any reaction from them. So I moved the tarp over next to them and crinkled it a bit for sound effects. Another hard stare and they went back to eating. I then picked the tarp up and held it out for Nasr, and crinkled it again. His eyes got a bit big, but he reached with his nose to check it out. I immediately told him how proud I am of him and what a brave boy he is. He gave it one more sniff and went back to his food. I decided to up the ante. I asked them to step away and I spread the tarp in front of their hay, so they would have to stand on it. Both horses marched right over, onto the tarp, and started eating. Hmm, no fear. And now I had to get my tarp back. They calmly backed and let me pull it away. Now what? Well, he had been so brave and calm I figured I’d see if he would let me rub him with it or even wear it. After carefully folding it, I approached. His reaction was to simply roll an eyeball back at me, while calmly continuing to eat. I draped it over his back. Nothing. Mom walked away to get a drink, and he decided to take a stroll around the pen wearing the tarp. Still no reaction. After a huge amount of praise and scritches on the best spots, I took away the tarp and left them to eat and nap. I got a strong sense of his pleasure that I was pleased and proud. He likes showing how brave and smart he is.
I forget sometimes that he is still young, and still learning. And that he will test boundaries, because that is his nature, especially as a young stallion.
Someone needs to make a pretty bracelet that says “Every interaction is a lesson”.
It’s so easy with the older horses to become complacent. We have walked together hundreds if not thousands of times. Everyone knows the routine. I generally lead from in front of the horse, either walking backwards or at least keeping my shoulders pivoted and my eyes on the horse. Sometimes with my old friends my mind wanders off onto other subjects instead of really paying attention to what I’m doing with them. And that is a dangerous mistake, especially with stallions. Thankfully Nasr and Rafi are generally very kind and calm. That being said, I have gotten so accustomed to Nasr leading well that I turned my back and let my mind become unfocused. He rushed and I almost got chested from behind in the aisle. That was a very good reminder that I need to always be paying attention with him, and correct any slight issue before it becomes a major one. After the near miss I paid close attention and I realized that he also was not being as crisp with his halts and was creeping into my personal space. The proof of how muddied our boundaries had become was that it took a bit of “monkey jumping” for him to be reminded that stop means stop, right where you are. (If you are wondering about “monkey jumping” check out Klaus Hempfling’s book. Basically, it means if I raise my hands while facing him and he doesn’t stop, then I need to get as flamboyant as necessary. I had to raise both arms and wave them and jump energetically toward him for him to believe that I really did mean stop right there. I was prepared to amp it up with a rap on the nose if necessary, but it didn’t come to that.
It took one really strong reminder, and one a bit less strong, and he was back to being his respectful self.
He has also learned to be better about keeping his teeth off of humans. No mutual grooming using teeth, no pinching skin when taking treats. Certainly no play using the mouth. Shunning has been the best tool for teaching this. When he would use his teeth, I would give a harsh no, and then stop the fun grooming or treats and leave him. The mare herd and his mom use this approach with him also, simply leaving him when he is annoying. He generally stays very very polite. He still cannot resist mouthing objects around him, though.
I’ve also learned that when he gets himself into a potentially tight dangerous spot, the best thing I can do is remain very calm and give him a few mental suggestions about how to best get himself out. He studies the situation and then slowly maneuvers out of or around whatever the problem is.
Our next planned lesson is to wear the tarp over the entire body and head.
I love reading your stories about the boys! And I will always be grateful to my aunt’s Standardbred stallion, Dudley, who I met and fell in love with when I was two when I climbed through the fence into his pasture. Lucky for me, he was kind to and even protective of me. And, though it almost gave my mother a heart attack every time she saw me out there with him, after several thwarted attempts of keeping me away from him and seeing how he clearly loved me, too, she stopped trying to keep me out of his field. When I was 8 (probably after incessant begging on my part), my aunt Barb would let me ride him while she supervised. At the time I didn’t think it was that big a deal but, perhaps it was! I also worked with some lovely, well behaved stallions at Iron Spring Farm, a dressage barn in Coatesville. We did have one maniac that you had to be really, really careful around, but the others were all gentlemen (so long, of course, as the humans around him were also being gentleman and ladies, as it were).
C. H. Eastman
So glad you are enjoying them. We loved having you here, working with the horses, and hope you can return someday. What a lovely story about Dudley!