Cooper is settling in nicely. He has excelled in his lessons and become a star pupil.
He doesn't mind being petted or haltered. He is learning to walk nicely on a lead rope, and to lift his feet up one at a time so we can pick and trim his tiny little hooves.
Cooper only becomes aggressive around food, where, in his greed, he loses all perspective, shoving aside and threatening to kick two much bigger horses. I definitely would not use treats to reward or train him; once he realized they were in my pocket, I think he would probably mug me.
The burden of Cooper's misbehavior has been entirely transferred to my Palomino Quarter Horse, Tanner. You may recall Tanner from earlier posts in which I waxed poetical about his many triggers and how I successfully addressed each one with great insight and compassion.
Yeah, well that all went out the window.
Psychologizing, ethics, and religiosity will only get a horse so far.
Tanner woke up one morning and decided that he would never allow me to put a halter on him again.
This put me in the exact same predicament with Tanner that we (the trainer and I) had just overcome with Cooper.
Dammit, Tanner! What about all the love and trust we built up over the years? What about the bit-less bridle? Where now that sweet soft eye? Did none of it mean anything to you?
I couldn't get near him with a halter in my hand. He wouldn't let me touch his poll or ears.
Of course, I had my theories about why this was happening.
I had used Tanner to get Cooper into the round pen. I had haltered Tanner, walked him into the round-pen, and when Cooper followed us inside, I promptly ejected Tanner and closed the gate behind him. Then I worked with Cooper exclusively--my star pupil! I had hurt Tanner's feelings by using him to get to Cooper and then rejecting him.
I tried to make it up to him. I spent time with Tanner and paid no attention to Cooper. Tanner stood nicely while I petted him, but at the sight of a halter, he turned tail and charged at Cooper, nipping and lording over the littlest herd mate, an easy mark outside of meal time. (Cooper's choppy trot reminds me of someone other than Sarah Jessica Parker running in very high heels.)
Not for the first time, I felt overwhelmed. Having such large and wild pets may have been a mistake. Maybe I was getting too old for this.
Not long ago, I had the impression that I knew so much about horses; but now, unable to get a halter on my main ride, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing.
All my pretty behavioral theories had gotten me exactly where? Outside in a field holding a halter in the rain.
For all my observations and surmisals, I could not outsmart a Palomino.
And that's when I called Jen, the engineer who trains horses.
She was not especially interested in hearing about my theories on how Tanner came to this hostile position via a path of betrayal and jealousy.
While the conflicts and insecurities of herd dynamics make nice conversation among horse people, at the moment, they posed a digression.
The way to get around Tanner's resistance was by a method of approach and retreat.
First, without the halter. Then, with the halter.
Jen broke down the problem, stripped of all embroidery, into its component parts.
Within forty minutes, the problem was solved.
Part of it may have been my method of haltering. Jen showed me a better way to do it that is nicer for the horse.
But that was not the entire reason why Tanner had stopped tolerating my technique. I believe it was all of the little insults that had added up, from face to ego.
Not that it matters.
Sometimes, I find that meditating on a problem is the key to advancing beyond it.
Sometimes, I simply need to accept my limitations.
Sometimes, all I want or need is empathy--a sounding board...A friend.
But last week, I had a problem that I genuinely did not want or know how to solve. I made up meaningful excuses and explanations for the problem, but they didn't change or solve it.
There are all kind of people. People like me start out writing a post about some small rescue horse and end up writing about terrorism or the utter pointlessness of theory without application.
And then, there are people like Jen, thank God! Practical and brilliant, they see a problem for what it is--with or without a gilded frame. They teach people like me, overwhelmed by my inventions, to focus on what's broken and how to fix it.