Wednesday, February 4, 2009


It occurred to me this week that I do not have three horses. I have six. Each animal represents a natural horse and a possible horse. The natural horse is the blank slate, left to its own devices. Basically of little use beyond attractive lawnmower. The other, the possible horse, is the one I hope to create with time, love, and training. Something beyond the raw sum of its parts. Maybe it has a soulful eye--like Eli--or wonderful movement. Maybe the possibility lies in something wholly undefinable which defies the animals current state or behavior problems. There is a belief that somehow, someday that horse will develop into what it is meant to be.
I was thinking of all this while handling my favorite problem horse, Chance. The natural horse is essentially--hopefully--a blank slate with regard to training. A natural rescued horse is better described as Pandora's Box. Who knows what annoying, dangerous behaviors (often man made) lurk beneath the surface?
At the end of last summer my head fairly exploded with pride over the progress Chance had made. I do not know how or why this horse became what he was when I found him. Starved and mishandled for most, if not all, of the first 7/8 years of his life produced an aggressive and completely unappealing animal. It took six months of food and training for me to catch a glimpse of the possible horse that lurked within. I saw it when he finally learned to trailer load without a fuss, when he stood still on the trail--my ten year old daughter on his back--while a motorcycle zipped behind him. I saw it when the previous "puller" stood for 40 minutes, leg cocked, on a windy fall day as a little girl braided his long white mane (oh that every horse could experience the extravagant love of a child). Was this the same horse that once couldn't lead or tie safely? The same horse that attacked me unprovoked? My tiny mustard seed of faith paid off.
Not so fast Sister. Possible horses can and do slip back into natural horses. Like yesterday....
After a long winter break, Chance is definitely in natural horse mode. I have less than a mustard seed of faith some days. For one thing, the pulling problem I worked so hard to break him of reared its ugly face again (pun intended). I only have myself to blame. A terrible, preventable fright reintroduced the problem (see post, A Thousand Pounds of Panic) then last week an episode of Stupid Horse (affectionate term for an affliction common in equids) enabled him to get free a second time. I knew I was in for it.
The pullers I have known are one of two varieties: Clever horses who do this dangerous behavior in a calculating, thoughtful manner, and those whose brain seems to vacate their body entirely while they do it--like a bad drug trip. I recommend trying to rehabilitate the first type.
When I tied Chance up (tie high to something secure with equipment that will not break and keep a knife handy) I could see the plans he was making. His body language dared me to watch him pull--body leaning away from the concreted, industrial size post, whites of his eyes showing. Standing back and placing my hands on my hips, I also sent a message with body language--Give it your best shot Pal. A moment later he threw his body back, straining against the rope halter with everything he had. This happened not once, not twice, but four times before he decided that not only was the equipment not breaking, he had a headache. He finally stood, lips chewing thoughtfully. Natural horse becomes possible horse.
Ironically, I had my own introduction to natural Catherine a few minutes later when my husband and I got into a heated argument over something silly. Forget possible spiritual and mature Catherine, I was boiling mad and enjoying it, thank you very much. I took off in my truck, a natural little pinto tucked into the following trailer. The Bible says to be kind to your enemies because in so doing you will "heap hot coals on his head." This is meant as a metaphor. I had a more literal translation in mind and not for righteous reasons.
Later, after I had some time to ride and reflect I could put aside most (okay, not all but getting there) of my natural reaction. Chance, too, was showing glimpses of the horse I believe he can become.
Some days a mustard seed of faith is all one has to cling to but I choose to trust in the work that is being done and the One who is able to do it. I believe in the possible.

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