Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bratty Bratty Brat Brat

Starbuck's been a nasty little brat for the past two days.  Yesterday, she didn't want me to put salve on a little scrape she had on her face and kept running off, and on Tuesday she even kicked out at me in her paddock (luckily her aim was off) when I made her hustle a little.  I know she's in heat, that her best friend has been sick and that the weather's changing, but you'd think she'd give me a little break.  After all, I've had to get up an hour early every day due to daylight savings' time, work three 10 hour days this week where I missed going to see her at lunch and could only go to the stable in the evening, my favorite barn kitty was bitten by a dog and needed some serious wound treatment, I've been superbusy with and on top of everything I've got the world's worst and longest case of PMS this month.  So here I was hoping that she would be the bright spot in a murky week, and she let me down.  I've been going over and over this all in my head all week, worrying about her "backsliding" and starting to question her recent progress.

Until today, I thought, "wait a minute"...

There's so much talk in Natural Horsemanship (and other training philosophies for that matter) about "putting the relationship first".  We work so hard on making sure that our horses are happy and trusting little followers and that we confidently fill their every need.  But a relationship is about so much more than being a leader.  According to the almighty Google, a relationship is "The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected."  That bears repeating.  A relationship is the state of being connected.  If one of us is emotionally distant due to stress, hormones or tiredness, the connection weakens and the relationship suffers.  Especially with an animal as imitative as a horse who we specifically train to take their emotional cues from us (head down, breathe deep, relax girl...) and who is going through her own hormonal changes.

How many times have I snapped at my husband for no good reason and he's graciously let it slide?  But every now and then both of us are in a bad mood at the same time, and this is when we have to be really careful not to get in a stupid argument.  If what I truly want with Starbuck is a friendship, a meaningful relationship where we are both willing partners, then I have to have the same consideration for her.  I can't expect to come stomping into the barn throwing stuff around and rushing to do everything and hope for her to be thrilled to see me.  As Carolyn Resnick so aptly puts it, I need to remember that this is a courtship.  Just as I always manage a pleasant greeting to my husband no matter how stressed out I am, I need to manage a pleasant demeanor which encourages Starbuck want to be around me, or prepare myself to accept whatever she's prepared to give back.

This is by no means an excuse for her kicking out at me which I promptly roundpenned out of her (she had a lot of excess energy she needed to work off anyway and we were able to practice her canter), I still think she was trying to assume the lead and that it's something I need to keep a close eye on.  But I'm 100% sure that if I had been slightly more pleasant and focussed on her instead of complaining about my workweek to my barnmates when trying to put the salve on (or put her halter on first so she couldn't get away in the first place), she wouldn't have run off, I wouldn't have had to hustle her and she wouldn't have gotten defensive.  An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.  And the next time I get "nasty little brat" responses, I need to make sure I'm not making "nasty little brat" requests.

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