Tuesday, March 11, 2008

M'Lady, If You Please: The Respect of Horses

It has been said that there are horses, and there are horses.

This mare is one of the latter. Her papers say she's called Consolation, but in our private conversations, I address her as M'Lady. As in royalty. Whatever you call that certain something -- style, presence, sheer class -- she has it.

A five year old Barb mare out of Dove by IBHR foundation stallion Arivaca, Consolation (IBHR 238) is lead mare at In the Night Farm. She's been a tough nut to crack, training-wise. There's nothing wrong with her mind. She's practical as a housewife, smarter than most fifth graders, and possessed of a generous work ethic. She is grace incarnate and carries herself at liberty in the self-possessed frame of a schooled dressage mount. She has no shortage of courage nor sense. No, the problem with Consolation is the very trait that makes her attractive. She's regal.

Regal doesn't snuggle. Regal isn't intersted in closing its eyes for a poll rub. Regal is all about business, which is a challenge when I am all about bonding.

Many trainers say the key to the horse's mind is its feet. A horse in motion is a horse that can be taught. I've found this to be true, even of m'lady Consolation. Certainly she is learning. She arrived at In the Night Farm completely ungentled, never having worn a halter or had her withers scratched.

Now, she catches, catches, leads, and ties. We can trim her feet, deworm her, brush and tack her. Before the weather shut down my training last November, I swung aboard for the first time and was pleased that the great event was decidedly uneventful.

And yet...and yet. Still I search for the key to her heart. Instead of following me around the round corral as the other horses do, she prefers to stand at quiet attention, watching me with bright, intelligent eyes.

But let's not anthropomorphize. It seems to me that horses don't understand love in the way a human or a dog understands it. In the horse world, respect is the closest emotion to love. If respect is giving to pressure, watching for cues, seeking the right answer when I ask for something new, Consolation has given me respect.

Perhaps respect, by a queen, is offered subtly. Perhaps it is simply going where I lead, turning when I turn, stopping at my side. Perhaps it is admitting, by the faintest twitch of her lips, that a scratch beneath her mane feels pretty good, after all.


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Mrs Mom said...

Its funny how the occasional mare will have that royalty present... It sure makes things interesting, and they are always amazing to observe. They are also, once loyal to you, loyal to you for life and will give you their all.

Grey Horse Matters said...

My mare Dusty (quarter horse) sounds exactly like this mare. She is not very loving at all, but will let her mere slaves groom her and feed her treats. She is very bright, trains easily, goes anywhere you ask, but still she doesn't give her heart away lightly. I'm hoping that the day will come when she is actually happy to see me. For now I'll just take the respect.