When I got Cassie this spring, she was very green and she was young and, as it turned out, still growing, so I took things easy with her. I wanted to get to know her and build the relationship. That was my first priority. I quickly found out that Cassie had a few issues and was not the easiest, but we got along well. I didn’t really push her though, Cassie is very sensitive and reactive, so I decided it was more important for her to trust me. Over the last two months, Cassie has matured. She is coming out of her shell and she has gained confidence. This has led to more dominant behaviour, especially towards Minnie, but I did notice at times that she was very subtly testing me.
Today, all subtlety went out the window and what I got was a serious challenge.

It was a fine afternoon and when I came home for work, I didn’t have to go anywhere, which is exceptional, because living in the countryside with two teenagers means one tends to spend a lot of time functioning as a totally taken for granted taxi driver. Today, I had an unexpected free afternoon, so I decided to take Cassie into the picadero and try some liberty work.

We walked into the arena and I took off Cassie’s head collar and let her go. She ambled around a bit and went for a roll, and when she got up she walked up to the fence. I slipped in behind her and indicated for her to walk on, just like I do every morning when I drive Minnie and Cassie from the yard to the field. Cassie shot off like a bolt, so I stepped more into the centre to slow her down, but Cassie turned without slowing down and ran straight at me. Now, I am used to Cassie running up to me at top speed, she is a high energy horse and why walk if you can run, but this was a bit different. The expression on her face told me clearly to “get out of the way or I’ll run straight through you”. I’m not sure if I managed to stand my ground, she had run past me before I had time to do anything and my heart was hammering in my throat. Cassie is not a small horse and an imposing sight when she runs straight at you.

Cassie kept this up a few times and I almost felt like a toreador. She was not frightened, what she was doing was very deliberate. If I did nothing, she stopped and I could walk up to her and stroke her entire body. She was calm. If I asked her to move on again, she would explode once more. This was not fear. This was a challenge. A test. I decided to not let her get in the gate area. She could have most of the arena, but I would keep that quarter and block her access with my driving whip, which I use instead of a lunging whip.
The first time she came round, I was too late. She struck out at the whip with a front leg, then extended the motion to jump across and galloped on. I didn’t give her a chance the second time. Before she reached me, I struck the ground with my whip, Cassie turned and tried the other side. I stood my ground and after a few more attempts, Cassie stopped and looked at me and chewed. I turned and walked off. Cassie followed. However, after a few paces I felt the quality of her following change. She was trying to drive me! I changed direction and so did she, trying to slip in behind me again. Clever girl.

When Cassie and I had walked the perimeter in both directions side by side, I felt it was a good moment to stop and opened the gate. Cassie waited for me and calmly walked beside me to her stable and food. 

For me, this was an interesting experience. It showed me that Cassie is far more dominant than I had originally thought and how sensitive she is to my feelings, more so than my actions. For when Cassie flung her challenge at me, there was a seed of fear in me ready to bloom. I wasn’t sure if I was fit enough and fast enough to meet her challenge and Cassie recognised that immediately. It is so easy to forget how powerful horses are and that at the core of their being, they are in essence still wild.  


3 thoughts on “Challenge

  1. They are endlessly challenging, in different ways, aren’t they? It sounds like you passed the test. That “seed of fear” you speak of is always lurking, at least for me, when it comes to us dealing with these creatures who weigh 5 or more times our weight. Sometimes that fear leads me to act petulantly rather than assertively. Or makes me give a little when I shouldn’t. It must be confusing for horses to sense that tentativeness in us – and then have us refuse to give way. A horse that gave off a wavering vibe like that would probably be easy to dominate. There has been a big change in George lately. He has backed off challenging me. (I’m sure not for ever!) He’s just so easy-going these days. I don’t really understand why, but maybe it has something to do with him figuring out that I really mean it even though I give off these contradictory wimp vibes. He’s just a different horse. I hardly know what to think.

  2. I find that with Cassie it is not actually assertiveness that I need. Cassie is extremely sensitive and I think there is a fine line between assertiveness and aggression. When I ground myself I have a core of stillness inside me that enables me to just deal with whatever she throws at me matter of factly, and it is the ‘matter of fact’ attitude that works. The hard thing is finding that core of stillness.

  3. Yes! That’s it! You hit the nail on the head there. I never thought of it quite like that. And now that you point it out, I find that that stillness can even be very fuzzy around the edges and not at all perfect, but it still works, as long as that’s where you’re basically coming from.
    I think you’re right that there’s a fine line between assertiveness and aggression. But part of the stillness, I think, comes from maybe not assertiveness, but maybe from confidence and clarity. Sometimes I find things go better if I’m very clear about what I want – not to the point of obstinacy (because sometimes my plan is misconceived) – but not being afraid to state what I want. I can get too apologetic and uncertain, and that doesn’t help either.

Your thoughts..

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s