Snorty is a gorgeous golden sorrel/red dun Arab gelding. We just met today. Well, I fed him carrots and let him snorfle my hair the other day but we didn’t officially meet until today. He’s beefy for a desert pony and while some of that is just chubby summer grass belly and lack of direction, he’s still big enough to smash me to ribbons if he felt the need.
But today? Well, today we met. It started slow with twitchy ears and lots of snorts and head tosses. But soon he settled, leaned into the soft rub on his withers and began smacking his lips. For an hour and a half I groomed him from the tip of his nose to the top of his tail. Apparently the rest of his tail will take more trust.
He is smart. And spooky. And hasn’t had a job in over two years. He’s a project. One that I am looking forward to taking on even though I feel seriously out of my league. We’ll take it slow. Both of us.
He’ll learn to trust me and I’ll learn to appreciate him and how to ask for his best effort.
It’s a process of learning to communicate and it’s always so rewarding when it happens. See, I have always spoken “horse” to some degree. Since I was very small.
I was the precocious 4 year old hanging on for dear life to a spastic sorrel Shetland pony named Cheyenne as she galloped her little heart out down Fly Creek with her flaxen mane and tail flying in the wind whipping in perfect cadence to delighted screams. Screams which were just as effective as caballero spurs on a mustang.
I sat the gallop, didn’t even budge. I moved right along with her. I think that was the moment I realized riding was something I could do and something I loved more than almost anything.
Horses have one goal. Survival. To achieve that goal they have two responses to things they don’t trust or understand. Fight or flight.
This is a concept I can relate to. After decades of living in the near misses of innuendo the subtleties of behavior speak volumes. I always look for quiet voices, slow hands, and a light touch.
Between the horse and the human there is a delicate dance of communication between us. Small humans and an anima sol much larger than we can be. It is a dance that, especially in the beginning, can be exceptionally precarious. Baby steps.
So today, as Snorty and I said hello, exchanged information, and he let me into his little world I had no idea where this would lead us.
After an hour and a half of grooming and basic attitude assessment exercises I tied him, quick release knot and everything, to the post and went off to catch Ginger, the sorrel little mare who was being a pain. Flighty girl. Obnoxious. Bad manners.
Once I was out of sight, Snorty decided to pull out the post he was attached to and “dance” with it all around the corral. At which point I should have vaulted the fence and ran away.
But no. I could only see this terrified horse being “attacked” by the heavy beam beating against his legs and side. I could hardly breathe!
And then the most amazing thing happened. As I walked slowly toward him, making soothing noises and reaching out to him, he stopped.
Trembling, blowing, head high, eyes wild. But he stood dead still.
He fixated on me and waited. As though he could read me and knew I wanted to help. And as I unhooked the lead and led him carefully away from the beam I couldn’t help trembling myself.
Snorty put his head down with his nose to my shoulder blade and walked, or rather limped, behind me to a safe distance where I attached a second lead and turned to assess the damage.
Remarkably there was little more than what he would have received in a brawl with another horse. Scrapes, bumps. He’ll be sore tonight and especially tomorrow but he should be fine.
We spent a thirty minute process getting over the terror of the beam, walking back into the barn, regaining trust to so I could have access to his space. I needed him to trust me again so I could tend to his scrapes and cuts.
He kept his eyes on me. Fixated. Squared. Even when he was terrified. And as he calmed, eventually relaxing and breathing normally, I stayed quiet. I stayed “small” and non-threatening while gradually his world righted itself.
I get fear. I really do. I understand being bludgeoned by things that don’t make sense and stay attached no matter what I try to do to get away.
I understand hearing a quiet voice, seeing an outstretched arm and learning once again to trust while allowing access to places now scratched, bleeding and bruised. I understand how hard it is to let someone treat me and touch me again.
I wonder what Snorty will teach me next time.