Sometimes, even on very nice days, Reno has to spend a few hours during the afternoon in his stall because, um, just like his horse mom, he tends to overeat. He’s never happy when I tell him a few hours without food will be good for him. Just like my human kids, there’s a lot he doesn’t agree with.
Kids and Follow Through
It might surprise you how much horses are like children, especially in things like consistency and follow through. You know how when you get a new car and you don’t want anyone to eat in it and the day comes that you’re running late? You think, just this once won’t hurt, so you go through the drive through and forewarn your kids about dropping fries on the seat. A few weeks go by and you get into your new vehicle which is trying to give up that new car smell in favor of fast food and you discover a MacDonald’s bag behind your seat. You confront your husband and he says, “The kids told me you allowed them to eat in the car.”
Give an inch. Pay the price.
Reno has Rules
One of my rules with Reno is if he doesn’t do something right, I always have time to try again until he agrees, especially when he knows what to do, which differs from when he doesn’t understand.
He’s the Best
It’s not unusual for me to bring Reno into the barn or turn him out last. He’s the best-behaved horse we have, so I don’t worry about him getting in a frantic rush. I always tell him I save the best for last, but again, he doesn’t agree and he whinnies pitifully as if I’d forget him.
Last night I turned the two Thoroughbreds out first. Since Reno can see out from two sides of his stall, he watched them dash off to the pasture. He whinnied. Then he watched as I took out his best friend, Lewis, which had Reno whinnying multiple times. He was a tad miffed when I came for him and held his right knee up as I haltered him. Holding his right knee up is Reno’s way of asking—for food, for me to hurry.
I could feel his tension as we walked through the barn so I stopped. If Reno is paying attention to me rather than the rest of the world, he’ll stop when I stop. If he doesn’t he has to back up and stand quietly next to me. He knows this because we’ve done this exercise from the beginning. I tried a few more times on the way to the pasture without significant improvement, so I knew his mind was far from me. It’s kind of like when your kids give you lip service.
To make matters worse, his buddy Lewis, who always waits for him, had already taken off and was deep into the field. I knew when I took Reno’s halter off he’d bolt away, so I wrapped the rope around his neck for back up. With the rope around his neck, I could remove the halter and still keep him under control.
I untied his halter knot and eased off the halter. Reno jerked to the right to bolt after his friends and found I still held him. He showed no signs of remorse or repentance. In fact, he ducked his head several times trying to wriggle from my hold. This, combined with him never fully yielding on the way out of the barn, told me I needed to take the extra time for correction.
I slipped his halter back on and knotted it. I led him toward the barn. Twenty yards from the gate, he planted his feet telling me he didn’t want to go to the barn. He wanted to go out with his friends. I kept walking and the pressure on his halter increased until he stepped forward and followed me. I explained I wasn’t required to turn him out at all.
We walked through the barn and back into his stall. Rather than take his halter off and leave for a few minutes, which I would have done when he was younger, I stood with him. He knew this lesson. I waited until he relaxed and did the licking and chewing you hear people talk about, then we stepped back out of the stall.
On the way back through the barn, we did several practice stops. Each time Reno stuck with me like glue, stopping when I stopped, walking when I walked. When we entered the pasture gate he quietly faced me and positioned himself in a way that said he was with me and not with his friends. I took off his halter and stroked his neck.
Then he walked away, about fifty feet. Suddenly he burst into a gallop and raced through the field, looking like the Pony Express with a war party on his tail. He ran through his group of friends and they all greeted him.
I watched for a few minutes, thankful that I could have this conversation that included goal, motivation, and conflict with my horse. No one got loud. We respected each other. And we communicated.
It would be heaven on earth if we could do this with each other.
Barbara Ellin Fox