Most mornings, I stagger out to the barn after gulping down a half of a cup of coffee, feed breakfast to the horses and open the stall doors without much consciousness. I will notice the sunrise or the symphony of the birds but my brain is still on auto-pilot. And usually, it doesn’t matter. The horses greet me with their welcoming murmurs, nnnmmmh, nnnnmmmh, and bury their noses into the good green hay.
So this week, when Siete decided to mix things up, I wasn’t at all ready for it. I yanked open her stall door which sort of sticks because of all the ice and old hay on the ground, and she came flying out, bucking and squealing. Luckily, I was behind the door instead of in front of it or she would have flattened me. This is not okay, I told her as she snorted, spun around in a circle and stuffed her face into the flake of hay that I had thrown on the ground in the corral. In my foggy mind, I knew I had to do something to remind her that I am the leader, and I had to do it right now. But what? All I could think of was to make her back up away from the hay and wait until I told her that she could come back and eat it. So I waved my arms, made myself puff up big and stepped towards her. She looked up at me like “who are you kidding, lady?” I did it again, telling her, “Get back, Jack. Move it!” Siete grudgingly stepped away about three feet from the hay. We stood frozen in time for a few seconds and then, I thanked her and told her it was okay to come back. Man, who needs that so early in the morning before a second cup of coffee?
Next morning, I was prepared for it. I heard Siete getting riled up as I opened Silk’s door. Her mother just ignored this silliness and ate her breakfast peacefully. This time, not wanting a confrontation, I threw a carrot in Siete’s bucket to distract her. While she wolfed it down, I opened the stall door. As I walked away, she came charging out, all fired up again. I ignored her and headed back inside for more coffee, but it worried me all day. What would Tom Dorrance do? Or Mark Rashid? Or Carolyn Resnick? And why does my little horse feel the need to challenge me? Spring fever or is she just pissed off about all this snow and ice? Really, who could blame her for being annoyed.
Since the day she was born, Siete has known how to push my buttons. The first time she reared up at the end of a lead rope, she realized that I was a wimp. I believe that her purpose on earth is to teach me to not be afraid and to stand up for myself. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a very sweet, usually well-mannered little horse until unexpectedly, she gets a wild hair up her butt and does something frightening to confront me. In our little herd of three, she is low man on the totem pole, and her mama never lets her forget it. So, it’s only natural that she tests me every once in a while to see if she can get away with it and improve her standing.
This morning, I was in no mood for a fight. I gave Siete her breakfast and opened Silk’s door first as usual. Then, I just stood in front of Siete’s stall, leaning my elbows on the bottom half of the Dutch door. She ate her hay, but I could feel her energy building as she waited for me to open the door so she could bolt out. Instead, I talked to her. I explained that I was getting old, didn’t move as quickly as I used to and that it was scary when she tried to push me out of the way and if something happened to me, who else was going to get up this early and bring food out here? So, she needed to re-think things a bit and give me a break. She gave me the evil eye as she continued to chow down. I told her that I understood how annoying it was that the pasture was too icy to run around and that more snow was coming today just when we thought that we were through with this stupid cold weather. But guess what? It’s the Spring Equinox at last, and we have to have faith that sweet green grass is coming soon, along with soft warm breezes.
Then, I just stood there and breathed and emptied my mind and stopped worrying about what would happen when I opened the door. Siete settled into eating her hay, and the muscles in her front legs and neck relaxed. I waited a moment longer and slowly opened the door. She lifted her head and I said, “Whoa. Just whoa, baby.” She looked me right in the eye and didn’t move. When I got the door secured and I stepped out of the corral, I told her, “Okay.” Shaking her mane emphatically, my charming adversary trotted out to seize the day.