Sometimes being practical and having a tight timeline and agenda backfire.
Sometimes we humans have to revisit old lessons. Humans are funny that way.
Lucky has been one of my best teachers over the years. In past posts I have talked about his lessons regarding proper riding. I still remember the days and days I spent working with him to willingly volunteer to accept a saddle and saddle pad entirely at liberty.
This past year Lucky and I have been pretty busy with guests and tours and students, and sometimes I have had an agenda, perhaps been in a hurry, and certainly not walking my talk. This has sat more and more uneasily with me, and tonight, it came to a head.
I went to the barn tonight determined that we were going to ride on the new trails. I had an agenda, and fitness goals for us both. I know I could have forced him into the saddle when he danced away on the lead. He would have obeyed, and I would have gotten a similar grudging ride to the last few.
I had a moment of decision. Do we continue down this old path, or go back to the heart-connected partnership we had found together? I dropped the agenda and chose the heart. What happened next was another excellent lesson.
I brought him into the square pen. I took off his reins, leaving just his bridle, got the saddle pad, and just waited in the center. And waited. And waited some more. He was anxious, disconnected, focused more on the mares. Around and around he paced.
I checked my breathing, calmed my mind, centered my heart, lowered my gaze, softened, offered gratitude, offered a shoulder – all the things I knew to check that could either block our connection or encourage it. He slowed, but continued to be disconnected and agitated. I put the pad down on the mounting block and stepped away, and again worked on feeling gratitude and affection. He slowed. He stopped. He walked off again, but more slowly, and he was starting to pause and make eye contact. As I started getting more of his focus, I began slowly walking with him, then turning and inviting him to follow. He began to briefly join then disconnect then join again. I focused on watching for the tiniest cues in his movements and eye contact and following his lead, while inviting with softness.
Suddenly, he was with me! His eye softened, his head lowered, and he was walking, stopping and turning with me as one. We stopped and he sighed deeply.
After a minute I got the saddle pad and approached. Again, he rejected and turned his head then walked away.
I realized I wasn’t listening to his smaller signals and became even softer, more respectful. After several rounds of this dance, he stood quietly and let me place the pad. Much stroking and gratitude, with a minimum of sound, and then we stood together.
After a minute, I went to get his saddle. And he was off!
Back to his pacing, avoiding eye contact, head up. We went back to the dance again. Advance and retreat, soften more, ask and retreat. And the most interesting thing happened. His signals went from obvious and loud – walking rapidly away- to a more slow departure. Then turning his body away but not walking away. Then just his neck turned while he stood. Then just his head. Then his eye contact. Then a simple hardening of his expression. And then just a feeling. Each time, I did my best to listen and back off, waiting until invited back. The last time, when it was pure emotion, I backed away the furthest yet. I simply stood.
And I realized, he was testing and teaching, asking me to get softer and to really listen, to pick up the smallest signal from him. When I made that last retreat at his wave of emotional rejection, he stared at me, then lowered his head and stepped toward me.
He stopped, sniffed me and the saddle, and stood totally quietly while I placed it and girthed up.
I got the message. May we all continue to get the message…