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08 June 2005 @ 11:52 am
In days gone by  
Long ago, back in my riding days, we occasionally we would get Thoroughbreds straight off the track. Extremely fit animals used to a high pressure environment. Horses which had been treated more like commodities, expected to be pumped up a great deal of the time, and throw their hearts into their high stakes, frenetic, and somewhat crazy job (racing). Generally they had not received a lot of patience, kindness, or individual attention, so they tended to be a pretty faithless, untrusting lot. Most of them were quite workmanlike when it came to their job and associated activities, but once one stepped outside of the boundaries they had become used to at the track things became a little more exciting for and with these sensitive animals.

Gaining and reinforcing their trust was always the Holy Grail. I can remember spending a lot of time out in the hot sun in a dusty paddock, allowing them to gradually become comfortable with me. To gain a bit of assurance. Just sitting, reading a book, ignoring them, and being as indifferent and non-threatening as I could be. For the trick was to get them to come to me. I could chase all I wanted to no avail, and such would merely reinforce their existing attitudes and fears. Nothing was going to happen until they chose to come.

Hours a day, sometimes for weeks I would sit out there. Always with some grain or cut apples in my lap. Often I would read aloud, just so they would hear my voice. Some would come sooner than others, but eventually come they all did. In the beginning I would not be able to stroke their soft muzzles nor run my hand through their silky manes – they would come not for companionship, but only for a morsel of sweetness. A quick movement or raised hand would send them skittering to the far side of the enclosure, head thrown up and nostrils flared. Slowly, gradually, over time they would come to trust me and we could move forward with other things. Occasionally we would have a set back and I would have to return to the paddock with my camp chair and book. Patience was the key. Patience, understanding, consistency, and gentleness.

Only now I'm not the one with the treats.

-the chestnut-