The horses have not been getting the attention they deserve this summer. With my husband’s injury and the insufferable heat, I am mostly indoors. I have bent the bedtime procedures at the barn during the extreme hot weather we had a few weeks ago. Instead of locking the girls in separate stalls, I began leaving the front doors open at night so they could go back and forth or stay together, wherever it was most cool. Silk usually prefers to have her own space at night so she can lie down and not have her baby bugging her. I soon noticed that this was no longer an issue, and Mama Horse was enjoying the freedom of moving about in the corral or in Siete’s stall. I closed the gate to the pasture so no deer or other intruders would have the nerve to disturb the girls. And each morning, I have been happy to see the two beautiful red heads poking out in their assigned stalls, waiting as always for breakfast to be served.
Without my husband’s meticulous care of the yard and pasture, things have gotten a bit out of hand. I tried to coax the landscaper who is now mowing for us to go into the pasture and cut down the weeds. He broke a blade on his mower on a hidden rock within less than a minute and has refused to come near it for over a month. The weeds were above my waist, so in desperation, last weekend, I began pulling them out by hand. I fill the wheelbarrow with them and hump it to the way back for an hour every morning and every evening as part of my barn chores. Little by little, things are returning to normal. By the end of this weekend, I will have achieved my goal, which is incredibly satisfying.
Having lots of time to contemplate life and horses as I pull up the weeds, I began thinking about Manolo Mendez. He is a Spanish dressage trainer who is one of the founders of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. I really like the way he thinks – to quote from his Facebook page: “ Manolo's work is rooted in having grown up in rural Andalusia on a farm and learning to be patient planting rice, tending crops, watching over cattle, sheep and swines. You cannot hurry the land, you cannot hurry the ewes into giving births, or the orange trees into bearing fruits. …This is an experience that is very foreign to us who live in a world where we are asked to deliver results immediately (I NEED IT NOW) and do not get to experience for ourselves what it is like to be given time and space… What he does is not new but it is very liberating. It is ok to take time, to take weeks and months if needed, to be content with standing quietly today. And it’s a gift you can give your horse, but also yourself. “
I have not been spending enough time with Siete, and she is developing a bit of a punky attitude. This was most apparent when the farrier came, and she decided that she was not going to stand on three legs for one more minute. He pronounced her “spoiled”, to my embarrassment. There is no doubt that she and I need to have a project that we can focus on together. I am going to start training her to ground drive and hopefully, we will get to driving a cart someday soon. As I was reading more from Manolo Mendez, I found a description of something that one of his students, Bunny Battaglene, learned that I knew I could apply immediately to my communication with Siete: “ No “ is a word I have often struggled with. It's a fascinating word because it can convey so much. Fear, anger, frustration, petulance and disbelief to name a few. None of these, as you know, are useful when working with horses. But Manolo has a wonderful no. When he says no, it contains not just emotion but a whole sentence. His no says "That's not right, try again." It is the no of a patient teacher guiding the learning process. It does not threaten or frighten but it is firm. It creates a boundary. “
I tried it tonight on Siete as she attempted to yank the hay out of my hands before I put it in her stall. “No.” I got the tone “that’s not right, try again” just right, and sure enough, my little upstart stepped back politely and stood waiting for me to drop the flake on the ground. When I told her it was okay, she sheepishly came forward and dug into the hay. Much better.