Good Feet, Stubborn Grump!
But things were not perfect, in fact, this past week with Merlin had been kinda rough. I told Dave I started graining Merlin, giving him some sweet feed in the morning since I was worried at his age (19) and his amount of everyday physical work, told him I thought the horse could use the extra calories. Dave is too polite to say anything that contradicts an owner's statement, unless you ask. I took his lack of comment for disapproval, and was right. Dave kindly explained that most sweet feed was nothing more than sugar. I would see energy, alright, but maybe not the kind I wanted. He then offered some more mild feed suggestions if I felt inclined to grain my horse. Turned out, Dave was absolutely right. Just one week on sugar and Merlin was a totally different animal in cart and saddle, and not in the way I wanted.
Merlin and I have a lot in common, a whole lot. But the thing that we both have stamped on our souls is a streak of determined stubbornness. When Merlin doesn't want to do something, he just doesn't. And when I want to do something, I just do. Both of us are certain as angry gods and don't give the tiniest shit what anyone else thinks about it. So, when Merlin was hitched up in a cart and about to trot up an easy, dirt road, he just stopped. Stopped. A thousand pounds of nope. He didn't want to do it, would not step forward, and instead headed into a farmer's field to our right. After half an hour of circling, backing up, and refusing to give in to his hissy fit, I won that argument. We trotted up the hill and he was back to normal. All it took was zero quit and a lot of gentle patience. I can thank Dave for that.
I have learned how Merlin presses my buttons. He knows he out weighs me, he know's he is the mightier beast, but he also has to deal with the fact that out of all the predators known to his kind, only human beings can talk to horses. And I don't mean actually talk, I mean communicate with an equine the way horses communicate with each other. Using a halter and a plastic bag on a stick I can do astounding things with a horse. Dave taught me some fundamentals of Natural Horsemanship, and it has done wonders. I can make him move his feet and that matters! Moving each other is something dominant horses do to lesser ones. We all know dogs have a pack order, but so do mares and geldings. When I show Merlin over and over again that I can move his feet (be it on the ground, saddle, or cart) he eventually sighs, snorts, and farts and does what I ask. It just takes a lot of dance steps and a total removal of frustration (which I am working on).
I think his week of sweet feed was too much. He is usually solid as a piece of granite and predictable in the saddle, but three times since he was grained his attitude went back to testing me after months of being totally okay. Yesterday it took 15 minutes to get up onto the trailhead we have ridden a thousand times. The day before in the cart it took us a half hour to get up a hillside. Once I win the argument all goes back to normal, but starting any work seems to be met with some serious butting of heads. I blame our natural vice: sugar.
What do you guys do with your stubborn horse friends when they don't feel like doing what you ask? For me it is a lot of deep breathes, ground work, circles, and fuss. I make it so the easiest and most comfortable option is to just do what I asked in the first place. So, for example: I want him to trot down the road and he won't budge, I have him trot in a circle and then release his head and praise him when he just goes forward like I asked. There is no crop, no kicking, no yelling. Just the simple lack of annoyance when he does what I ask instead of being made to work harder standing his ground. But I know some folks have different methods, or get off and go back to ground matters, or might not have a Dave around to help? So share your horse stories - acts of patience over stubborn grumps appreciated!