This may sound a little, oh, ethereal, but I'm listening to horses more. Talking to them more, too.
Now, I've always talked a lot to Lena and Bar; I even sing to them while riding sometimes. They are paying attention and I do try to stay on key, and it even improves the ride 9 times out of 10.
On Sunday, getting ready for my lesson, Bar was particularly stressed out. Granted, I am usually a little nervous before my lesson - no, I don't really know why - and he does pick up on that, but he was really having a hard time Sunday. Maybe it was because Steve didn't come with me and hadn't gotten Lena saddled up before-hand; maybe it was because it was breezy; maybe it was some weird horse dynamic I missed. Whatever it was, he was acting more agitated than I could see reason for.
I put him in the cross-ties, which he's gotten pretty comfortable with, and he started tossing his head, up and down, side to side, pulling against the restraints. This is way out of line from his normal behavior, which often includes shifting his rear end from side to side whenever I disappear into the tack room but settles out when I emerge with brushes.
I tried breathing with him, assuming my nervousness about the lesson was feeding his behavior - at least in part - and telling him, yes, I was nervous but I am always nervous and it wasn't anything to worry about. I hit some of the calming points I learned in my acupressure and massage class, too, but he could not relax and kept looking out the barn door towards Lena.
So I stopped for a second and just listened to him. And then I looked at him and asked him if he thought I was getting ready to take him away, get rid of him. He stopped tossing his head and looked at me. I hugged that big brown horse and told him he was stuck with me and we were just having a lesson, then went to get his saddle. Bar stood still after that and I got him saddled and led him down to the arena.
He did act up once we got in the arena and saw Bill and CD doing some reining spins, but his attitude was normal for who he is and what his life has been. I would think the only reasons racehorses spin around are not good ones. And with only minor disagreements, we got through our lesson and learned a lot in the process.
I know it sounds crazy that I think he understands me on some level, and I'm sure you could attribute his behavior to him just figuring something out in his own head and/or giving in.
But I saw the look in his eye, felt his relief in every pore of my body, saw the tension bleed out of him.
Sometimes, he makes me think of a foster kid, a kid who will try everything he knows to test you so you either send him back or you forge more love in your relationship. In both cases, it's a mixture of love and discipline.
He has to trust us, but we must prove ourselves worthy of his trust. We are getting there, and I'm loving (most) every minute of it.