I'm on the last leg of the story. It's not going to be as long as I was hoping, but I think the message it holds will make up for it's lack of length.
Ashwin is doing great. I've taken him on several rides, both alone and with a group and he is doing amazing. He is learning how to canter without being afraid and is a super steady horse. He doesn't like a bit so we ride him bitless, like Smoke. Levi rode him a little earlier this week and he liked him. He's such a sweet boy and he's come a long way from when we first got him. Lydia was even able to ride him on a trail ride the other day and he was absolutely perfect. She even loped him a few times.
Turning, I saw my mare gazing at me from her corral. Her expression was guarded, but curious.
Her gaze was intense and instead of avoiding her eyes as I usually did, I fixed my eyes on her shoulder as I approached.
That seemed to confuse her a little, but she held her ground and waited. I held my breath. I sensed that whatever was happening was crucial to our relationship.
I walked slowly up to the fence and she still stood quietly. I could see the battle raging. She wanted to trust me, wanted to believe I wouldn't hurt her, but something was holding her back.
I looked into her eyes and I knew, this was it. I had to join up with her now.
The mare's head came up and glancing quickly behind me, I saw Dad standing in the barn doorway.
I picked up a ten foot rope from where someone had left it on the ground and moved slowly to the gate.
I eased it open and stepped inside. The mare turned to face me and she blew out nervously. She knew something was up.
Slowly I coiled the rope in my hand and took a few steps toward her. I needed to see how she responded to pressure so I didn't push her too hard and set us back.
I stepped slightly to her right and she copied my movement. I stepped closer and she backed up.
I had a feeling that she understood what I was doing and was okay with it.
So I held one end of the rope in my left hand and the coil in my right and waved it at her gently.
She snorted and backed up. I waved it higher and with another snort, she turned and trotted along the fence.
I shook the rope at her and she picked up her pace. She held her head high and the white of her eyes were showing. She was filled with fear, but trying hard to please me.
When I felt she was ready, I tossed the rope toward her, keeping hold of one end. She immediately started cantering.
I kissed to her and trotted to keep up, coiling the rope as I moved before throwing it again.
It landed closer to her this time and she gave a little squeal as she jumped ahead to avoid it.
This was the beginning step of join-up. Horses are prey animals and they usually choose flight over fight. When I put pressure on her and made myself to be bigger than her, she ran from me. I can't kick or bite her like another horse would to assert dominance, so by chasing her off and denying her access to me,
eventually she will ask to have a relationship with me and will join-up. The rope is basically an extension of my arm and to her, it's like another horse kicking her.
A horse's flight distance is usually about a quarter mile. After that distance, they will turn and face whatever frightened them and determine A) whether it really was a threat or B) whether it is still there at all.
When they are in disgrace with the alpha horse, they are chased from the herd and made to stay away until they show signs of submission. They are more vulnerable when away from the herd, so they usually come around fairly quickly, eager for the security of authority.
During join-up, you are letting the horse know that you are the alpha and also teaching them that you don't want to hurt them and letting them know they can trust you.
The mare didn't like the fact that I was telling her what to do, but I could see her relaxing as she realized I wasn't going to hurt her and also finding security in my authority.
After ten minutes of keeping the mare moving constantly, I saw her inside ear turn and lock onto me, the first sign that she beginning to submit. Up until now, her ears had been flickering back and forth, but now that it had locked on me, I knew that she was concentrating.
As she loped around the pen, I marveled at how beautiful she was. Her silver coat glistened in the sun, her dainty head and intelligent eyes drew me in. Underneath that stunning exterior lay a beautiful heart, just waiting for someone to notice and help it blossom.
It was a warm day and the mare was sweating heavily. I prefer to do join-up when it is cool in the early morning or evening, but Dad had always told me, "When you feel the time is right, go for it." A lot of working with horses is about feelings. You can only have so much head knowledge; the rest comes from the heart. Dad says that is what separates the great trainers from the rest. They follow their heart, not their head.