The horse's pasture to the East...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


It was just a few months ago when I got the idea to start letting my herd OUTSIDE...outside the fences at Liberty. It was a major uber scary decision for me to make too. Liberty is the real test of your relationship with your horse(s). I'd worked hard at learning how to move in harmony with my herd, to understand their needs and to learn their language. Treating them with respect and, at the same time, retaining their respect for me was a bit like learning how to walk on the edge of a knife without cutting myself. It was immensely more complicated than just overwhelming them into submission. And it was so much more rewarding too!

When I let them OUTSIDE, I use good climbing ropes that I buy, by the foot, to create temporary perimeter fences to keep them away from the road.  They're bright, rugged, easy to tie off and easy to roll up and store. I've been doing this on various parts of the property we live on, allowing them more freedom and opportunity to explore their environment on their own. They love it. And I love the anticipation it builds for them. They never know which direction we're going in or what gate I'm going to open. The unanticipated side effect from this "outside the box" approach of mine has been the excitement they meet me with at the gate every single morning. 

This morning was the REAL test. As I was getting ready to go out for morning chores, I looked out the kitchen window to see where they were in their pasture...AND THEY WEREN'T! As I turned to look out the back doors onto the deck I saw them go thundering past ... OUTSIDE. They were out, really out, and with no guide. I've always been the anchor for them when I open the gates, so it's been an easy exploration for them. As long as they could see me, it was "no worries" and the world was theirs to run, play in and explore. 

Panicking, on my part, in a situation like this serves no purpose. It just frightens them more. From their point of view, monsters must be everywhere if the herd leader comes bursting out of the barn. Besides that, a person on foot cannot outrun a horse. Might as well save my energy and take the time to calm myself before going out. Took about 5 seconds for me to get through that phase. ( * big grin here* )

I stuffed my pockets with cookies, took a deep breath and walked out the door just as they went zooming past. Ho hum. Just another morning. "Hi guys. Nice morning for a run!" and I strolled on down to the barn, not stopping to see if they were following. SCORE! There's twenty foot long groves in my yard where they came to a slamming halt and then turned to follow. I could hear them in back of me, curious about where I was going.

When I turned to see where they were, there was Lucky peering around the edge of the shed at me. Apache was right beside him. I smiled, cocked over onto one leg and waited with my hands in my pockets just like I do every morning when they're OUTSIDE and it's time to come in for grain. SEMI SCORE. They came to me, Lucky first and then Apache. Willow was so cool, she didn't need to. She'd been in the shed stall all the time they were OUT, eating the hay they'd left behind. 

They touched my hand in our ritual horseman's handshake and then the game began.  It was obvious they'd gone out through our little donkey gate. It was hanging open. When I checked later, John had latched it but through the wrong hole. When I wasn't out there exactly on time, one of them tested it and VOILA!, it opened. I did a little tracking after everyone was home and all chores, inside and outside, were done. The ground's so squishy here today from snow melt that it made it easy for me to see where they'd been. 

They'd gone into the barn to flip some bales over, walked over to the middle bay in the shed to drink from the bucket I keep there for the cats and dogs, walked through the gardens in the front yard to the front door (where or where is Nancy?), gone on around the house to the raised vegetable beds to check them out, to the  arena to rattle the gate (gates are to be opened no matter which side you are on!), over to the pedestal to stand on it (wish I had a picture of that!) and over to the neighbor's yard and under her carport. Aren't horse's minds fascinating? 

Course there were divots all over the place from the running. I don't know what set them off. It was probably realizing they were really, REALLY outside in the big world without the herd leader. Turns out it can be pretty scary out there! But once I was there, it was time for the ten steps away game.

While I was throwing on my boots and coat, stuffing pockets with cookies and trying not to think about the open road where truck driving kids sometimes drive much too fast, just at the end of our drive, I was also forming a plan. I'd decided that this couldn't have come at a better time. I needed to be pushed out of my little hibernating comfort zone that happens in the Winter. This morning would tell me where we really were in the relationship and language parts of our journey. 

I wanted to see if we could play the inevitable "But I don't want to go in!" game that happens when safety is no longer the issue. And here it was. For me the challenge was to play "Stick to me" with no ropes, halters or carrot stick. Were we strong enough as a team to go home and enjoy it?

 I stood with them for a bit, but they were thrumming with excitement and energy. " WE'RE OUTSIDE! WOO HOO!" Standing still was just not going to last. That energy had to go somewhere and so did they.

Lucky danced away sideways, prancing. My Left Brain Introvert was prancing! (I'll have to think about that. How will I get that kind of excitement later when we're in a work/training environment?) It was an obvious invitation. " Wanna play? Wanna run?" So I decided to try matching his energy. Obviously I wasn't going to be able to keep up with him if he took off running again. But what if I took off in the opposite direction, even if that was away from the paddock?

So I did. I took off, looking over my shoulder at him with a big grin, down the path into the East pasture where they go when OUTSIDE, jumping into the air and trying to imagine myself bucking. I'm not very good at "bucking"...certainly not as pretty as they are when they do it. But I'm not afraid to play the part, so buck I did! "Yee Haw! WAA HOO!" I ran out into the pasture in a big circle and here they came, running with me! It was working! They were playing with me.

It was going great until I ran through a particularly soggy boggy part in the field and sucked one of my boots off. Swift Nancy! Now what do I do? I've got one boot on, one boot off, a muddy, soggy foot and two horses chasing me. I tell you, it's never boring! All I could do was stop, put my hands on my knees, lean over and laugh. Apache, never one to pass up an opportunity like that, came over and put his head under me and FLIP! up and out I went. Too bad I hadn't been practicing fancy mounts with him. If I were more prepared I could have turned it into a mount over his neck. The strangest things go through my head when I'm flying through the air!

I landed right on top of one of the muck piles. Oh, this morning was getting better and better! Now I was bootless, covered in muck, my horses were loose and the morning had only just begun. Not a bad place to land though. Nice and soft as landings go.

And they still hadn't left me either! SCORE! They were having fun. It was a game. 

"You OK Ma?" I did what any logical, clear thinking girl scout would do. I got up, laughing again, brushed myself off and walked over to pick up my boot. I emptied the snow and mud out of it, put it on with as much dignity as I could muster and walked to the barn to get the halter and lead. It was time to come in. And then SCORE!...they came in with me. Just like that THEY CAME IN WITH ME. All I had to do was give them each a scritch and cookie as they walked past me, through the stall door and into their paddock. JUST LIKE THAT!


 The morning finished up the way it does every day. I fixed grain, cleaned out stalls and the paddocks, brushed them (this time checking carefully for any swelling or warm places from all the running. They were both covered in mud and snow, so I wasn't sure if they'd been rolling to blow off the adrenalin or if they might have fallen.), gave them each an extra cookie and went inside, squooshing all the way in my gooshy boot.

Today I was pushed outside my comfort zone and tested. It was unexpected and, after the fact, most welcome! No one was hurt. And it's obvious that, although we have miles and miles and miles to go on this journey, I'm further along and so are they than I thought! 

I was going to list all of the things I thought might pertain to this from the 7 Keys, Qualities, Principals and Responsibilities. But I think this morning pretty much hit all of them across the board! It just doesn't get any better than that!

I am, ever yours, Nancy, laughing and shaking my head in wonder!

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