Thursday, November 14, 2013

What About Horses' Emotions

Howdy Folks,
I'm often asked about how I feel about horses' emotions. Surely horses don't have emotions on the same level as humans, some folks say. Some say to try to project human emotions on horses is folly, foolish. Some say we simply want to believe horses feel emotions like we do. Some folks don't even think about it.
Kessy edits my stories with love.
Are emotions the same as caring, connection, bonding, or even the ever popular, joining up? I believe you can't have any of those without emotions, and we all know our horses care about us, bond with us, and yes, join up.

What about respect? Some will ask. To gain respect from a horse we must first give it. Isn't that the same as with our human peers?

What about love? Can they love us the same as a person can love us? What would be so wrong about accepting and believing that a horse can love a human as deeply as they can another horse, or we can another human? When I'm gone a few days doing clinics, Kessy nickers and loves on me when I get back something silly. Robbie says if I'm gone more than 2 days she even gets pouty. When I get home I want to get right into the house to Robbie as soon as I park our geriatric Tahoe, but Kessy will carry on so much I often need to hug her first! Then she'll follow right to the back door!
For a long time Kessy had a fear of circles, from things in her past. So for a long time, months, we did this important spine limbering exercise in a straight line. Now she has the confidence to walk slowly in any size circle.
Oh their just acting that way because they're trained, or looking to you for food, or any other of the many standard explanations of how horses act and react. When I watch Lesson and Therapy Horses gently teach and heal, I see a blanket of love and emotion guiding every step.

Emotions play a huge part relationships. Any relationship. Human to human or horse to human. In relationships with my horses over the years I not only considered what they required when learning new things, but also their emotions while learning too. In the time I spent rehabilitating horses I noticed a wide range of emotions – from fear, to mistrust, to need, to shut down, too confusion, to seeking advice and leadership. Rebuilding their confidence meant understanding their emotions, on a level equal to mine. And it meant seeing them as equals. I really dislike the, "You gotta be in charge" theme. If we're equals we can achieve cooperation, support, loyalty and love. In true partnerships, partners do things for each other because they want to, not because they're "trained" to … I see Kessy as my equal.
Kessy stands like a statue for me to mount & dismount. It is difficult for me to dismount but her understanding of that, and our emotional bond, guides her in helping me.
I'm not a trainer but in all things, I believe love, honor, respect and understanding and feeling emotions make any relationship strong, lasting and sterling. Including a relationship with horses. Sure training is important too, of course. But I submit understanding and honoring the emotions of the horse makes training smoother and more lasting. And actually I'm not even fond of the word, "training." I like education or teaching better.
We'd been out fooling with some exercises, and I had to sit down. Whenever I do this Kessy stands with me. What's more, she'll offer her neck for me to use to pull myself up.
In my heart I believe if a lot more folks projected human emotions on horses … A lot fewer horses would suffer.
Just lovin'
So go ahead, project your emotions onto your horse, and remember to let hers, touch your heart, and guide your hand as you teach, and learn together, too.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day Ride With Grandpop

Howdy Folks,

This is the Sixth in my series of Grandpop stories. I began writing about Grandpop, June 27, 2013, with what at the time I imagined what would be a stand alone short story, "Perhaps I've Just Lived Too Long." You can read that story (and find links to go on) (HERE)   Folks said they enjoy visiting with Grandpop, so I wrote more. Frankly, I enjoy him too. I hope you enjoy this Veterans Day Ride with Grandpop. 

Veterans Day Ride With Grandpop 

I'd missed a few years of Grandpop's Veteran Day rides. Those years when I was all self-assured that whatever I had to do was the most important thing. I'm sorry I missed those years. I'm happy Grandpop waited for me to come to my senses. I'm not sure when he started his daylong treks to the highest point on the ranch, but as long as I could remember, each Veterans Day, he saddled up and rode to the knob of, Rattle Tree Mountain. The view there, among trees misshapen by fierce winter winds of the altitude, went on as far as the eye could reach. And was worth every minute of the three hour ride to get there.

Everyone was welcome to ride along, and some years, back when I was young, we had quiet the caravan of friends, relatives and sometimes strangers. For a few years, after the local newspaper wrote a story about it, folks pitched in a few dollars each to be part of it. Grandpop always gave the money to the local VFW.

We rode pretty much in silence today. Three days ago Grandpop gotten word that his friend Buck Clayton had passed on. They'd served in Germany together, part of what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. I remembered meeting Buck a few times. Once he even joined Grandpop on his Veterans Day ride. I missed that one. "He was a fine man, loved his family, God and country," Grandpop said when he got the news about Buck. "Stood strong to defend them all." He and Grandpop had been together for three of the four years, "over there," as he puts it.

It was just Grandpop and me today, riding through the flats, on up to the foothills and then along the narrow ridge to the bald knob. Some of the mares had followed us for a while down on the flats, their steamy breath floating up and away on the cold air. Grandpop had tied his hat down with a red scarf, covering his ears, neck and most of his face, but I could feel his smile when the lead mare trotted beside his horse stride for stride.

We sat our horses at the edge of the crest on the high knob, wind whipping around us, doing its best to blow us away. Even in the bitter cold it was easy to get lost in the majesty of the view, the place, the meaning. "I suppose God gave us this view, so we could come up here every now and then, and realize how important and beautiful life is. How precious and fragile it is." I remember him telling us as children one Veterans Day decades earlier. I never truly got his meaning until today. Looking out over that splendid vastness sitting beside him on my horse.

I looked at the little flags in his saddlebag and realized for the first time, he was talking about the precious lives so many risk – and loose, assuring that others can live theirs, free and safe.

Grandpop stepped down and planted three small flags in the garden of tattered, faded flags. One for each of his friends, and friends of friends, who had served – and passed since last Veterans Day. For years now Grandpop has been planting flags in the garden honoring servicemen and women. At first it was just a few, close friends he'd known, then as word spread, and especially after the newspaper story, there were many more little tiny flags to raise on the windy mountain knob's flag garden. I heard one year there were 50 riders to the garden, carrying 200 flags. Some mailed flags from as far away as Pennsylvania. Sadly that was one of the years I thought I was too busy to make the journey. In recent years fewer people sent flags. 

I held our horses as Grandpop struggled to push the short stakes in the hard ground. His hands shook, his shoulders quivered as he unfurled each flag. The ride had become tough for him in recent years. I wanted to help, or plant the flags for him, but he'd not hear of it. He spent an hour on his hands and knees straightening the faded, tattered flags, as best he could, then stepped back, stood tall and saluted. He held his salute, his shoulders rocked, tears streamed down his face, and mine.
I rode down the trail ahead of him, as is his way. He always stayed behind a while, a few private moments. I would wait for him at the old camp a mile down the mountain. I paused, turned my horse to look back up to him. Sitting his horse at the edge of the knob, looking out over the land, he made a striking silhouette. My eyes wetted again. Without words, I promised I'd tend his garden … when the day came.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry  

To read the 7th Grandpop story "Christmas and Grandpop" - CLICK HERE