Few people know how frustrating this last year has been feeling like I don’t have a space or place to work on my relationship with my horse Dancer. It has been a year full of big changes for both of us. When we moved to Texas September 2017 we had just finished a summer where we were spending at least 90 minutes together 5 days a week. We had completed two weeks on the Colorado Parelli campus riding with some of the best horsemen around, including a week-long Master Class riding with Pat himself. We were riding bareback and bridle-less and enjoying a deeper connection than we had ever experienced.
Then in September, Dancer, and his brother from another mother, Perry, loaded into our blue trailer and
headed south with me. New climate, new pastures, new herd, new grass, and a slightly more stressed me made for a lot of change for these guys. I started a new business that has made it even harder to prioritize spending time with my boys. We moved onto a property that was wholly undeveloped. Slowly over the year, we have added a new well for water, 3 round pens, and just in the last month, a make-shift arena.
Because of our history of shared trauma (see our History), Dancer and I do not do super well inside a round pen. Just being in a round pen is a significant amount of pressure for Dancer and with his tendency to comply when there is too much pressure, it doesn’t end up building our relationship but instead hurting it. On the other hand, working out in the 19 acres of pasture with 10 other horses and 12+ cows has been a little too much to ask from our relationship right now. As I have tried to work in the pasture, Dancer has developed a ignoring/dissociating pattern that has left us both deregulated. We needed a space that wasn’t too small and Dancer felt free to have all his choices, but also gave us room to focus together.
So, spending some time together today was a long time in coming. I did have to ask several times for Dancer to follow me away from the fresh round bale of hay to the arena but he did come, only calling for his friends twice before finding connection with me.
Knowing my tendency to sometimes expect too much of Dancer too soon, I focused on just enjoying the connection today and alternating my requests with undemanding time together. We spent the whole 45 minutes at liberty with no halter on. I was so pleased at his willing attitude the whole time. He kept a solid connection, even keeping up with me as I ran full tilt and then stopping and backing with me as well. He seemed to really enjoy a full body grooming and I spent extra time on his favorite spots. He stayed so regulated and connected as I did some crazy things with the carrot stick. He seems to have developed some regulating skill without me and I am so proud of him!
My favorite thing from today was the last couple minutes where I put a song on for us to walk together to. Dancer has done lots of rhythmic riding with me and enjoys working to a rhythm. Within only a few seconds we had both found our swinging step to the music and kept right on beat for the duration of the song.
Last week as I was saying hi to Dancer he walked up to me and put his head against my chest for a moment. It was as if he was saying, “I’m still here, and I still love you, even though we haven’t spent much time together.” I have felt so much guilt at having seemingly neglected this relationship. But I will never stop being awed by how forgiving these animals are. Today was beautiful evidence of that. Dancer wanted to be there and was happy to enjoy connecting with his old friend. I loved every minute, even when he happily trotted back off to his friends at the hay bale. He has found a new family here and it doesn’t include only me and Perry anymore and that makes me so happy.
This next year is going to be a whole new experience for us in our relationship and I can’t wait to enjoy the ride.