One of my worst habits is failing to accept credit for small pieces of progress I make. Learning about horsemanship has forced me to begin to make changes here, as the phrases “find the try” and “reward the try” (meaning that you’re looking for the smallest effort from the horse, because you’re pushing them and they may find things really hard) are key.
As I drove to the yard to work with Prince this week, I realised that I felt far more optimistic and relaxed than I had the week before: as it had gone well previously, I was feeling encouraged and, although I knew that I had to keep pushing forwards, I was reasonably confident that I could do so. And the pressure is off with this horse – riding isn’t currently on the cards, due to the lack of arena or suitable field, and he isn’t mine, so if it goes wrong, I can choose to continue or walk away.
Probably my favourite element of last week’s session actually happened whilst I was getting Prince ready. I groomed him before we started working, and made my way around his body picking out his hooves. When I’d done this about a month previously, he’d been really quite stubborn, and I’d actually needed a little help from his owner – she’d held the lead rope to prevent him from eating and leaning on me as I worked on lifting his hooves in the field (all of her horses will stand willingly without being tied up, especially if, as in this situation, one of their friends is also being groomed or worked with nearby). Last week, however, not only had Prince offered no resistance, but by the time I got around to his fourth corner, the hoof was already hovering at hock-height waiting for me – I didn’t even have to bend over and squeeze his chestnut! It’s a very small thing, really, but I was very pleased with him for what he did.
This week, Prince’s owner and I discussed how he’d been doing since I saw him last, and some exercises she’d like me to try. I then groomed him again and set to work. We had a shaky start today – Prince was struggling to focus, but I kept trying until I found a solution to that little issue. At one point early in the session, he tugged in one direction and, because I was using a loose grip on the rope, he trotted off across the paddock towards his friend Bella and her owner. I sauntered along behind him, and Jo tried to get Prince’s attention and bring him to her so that she could catch him, but he ignored her. He briefly turned to glance at me, I did the same thing that Jo had done and, incredibly, it worked – Prince trotted back to me with a look which read a combination of “well, that was silly of you to let go of the rope!” and “oh, sorry, I was looking for you! Where did you go?”
I was pretty shocked that he came straight back to me with very little effort on my part, given how attached he is to Jo and Bella, but I took it and ran with it – I rewarded his try, settled him back down and carried on to have a much more productive session. And it was further proof for me that a horse doesn’t have to be yours in order to look to you for guidance. Prince and I will play together once more before work commitments write me off prior to Christmas, and I look forward to seeing what he offers me next.