vendredi 11 octobre 2013

Pas de tout ou pas de deux?

Still our first day, September 3, 2012

Yesterday was one of those days when you wonder what you've done, and whether your horse will miss you when you find him a farm in the green pastures of the farthest, rainiest part of Normandy for the rest of his life without you, and how you could have thought you had a relationship at all, let alone a close one of particular understanding and intimacy.

I stepped from the car and into the wind under a sky the color of what's left of the braise from your barbecue after the chicken is burnt black beyond recognition, the lightest gray. The sort of sky that promises nothing but more of the same, and sends wetness that isn't rain and isn't mist to cover everything. I grabbed the halter and lead, and stuffed a bag of carrots and apples into a backpack with a towel and some antibacterial soap, just in case the fly bites were still runny, and opened the lock to the gate.

The path the owner had cut in the hay field leads along the edge of the field, where it borders the village water facility, probably once part of this property, shown a brighter green against the taller grass across which their new fence runs across the field Fibs now shares with Noble, Prune, in foal, and Ida, a palomino pony who takes refuge in Fibs, and possibly he in she. He is not a dominating sort. He prefers quiet, although he also seems attached to Unabelle, their young mare, and is capable of sending a message of annoyance with a rear foot. Usually Noble or Prune raises their head first, but yesterday it was Fibs. He watched me approach for a moment, and then lowered his nose to the grass again.

I opened the electric gate, closed it and crossed to where he stood, now on the far side, near Unabelle and the old pony, a mare, and the châtelaine des prés. He flattened his ears and pulled his head back. I thought I detected a curl of the lip.

"Fibs, mais, qu'est-ce que c'est ça?" What's this about? 

I reached a hand out, and touched the crusty spots on his flank, where fly bites had festered and were healing over and noticed that his coat was standing straight up. He was keeping warm. The wind blew around us. I raised the halter toward his head, and he pinned his ears, rolled his eyes around to fix me, and turned on his heel, lifting both front legs from the ground. He was one nerve away from kicking me. I moved around behind him when he turned away and appeared on the other side, back and forth. If nothing, I'd annoy him. Eventually, I'd win. Back and forth, we moved in little three-quarter circles, and his ears told me, "No."

My heart sunk. We were supposed to have ridden, but it was late. Later than I intended to be up there. The grass at home had already grown high again, and up past my ankles in the bottom garden, and it was wet every day, with rain constantly in sight. If I didn't mow it then, it might never be possible again until spring. I was cold and retreated across the field to the new shelter, turned to face a group of trees the bark of which he and his friends have made history. I pulled out my cell phone and tapped out a message to my trainer.

Well, maybe not. The wind seems to be making him nervous. It's blowing hard. His coat is puffed up. Not easy to get the halter on, not usual. 

An answer came: Don't worry. Lunge him and that will be good for today. It'll get him back on track.

Easier, I thought, standing there in their shelter, feeling the wind against my down vest, and feeling rejected and forlorn, said than done. But, maybe he'll wander in, wondering what I'm up to. 

Pas de tout, mais, pas de tout!

He wasn't thinking of me at all, and I was fighting the panic of losing the love I thought I had won. Horses are not for those lacking in self-esteem. I inventoried my own, and I went back out into his field, dismayed to see him ignore me diligently, and I danced a little more with him, and thought of Franklin Levinson and Monty Roberts. I would not give up. Instead, I walked away, indicating my lack of interest in him, and I paced the length and the width of their day pasture, to check my impression of its size. 3.25m between fence posts on the long side, and about 2.25m between them on the short sides times so many fence posts. I was right.

I walked back over to him, where Unabelle was making little noises in her throat and Gamine was fixing me with her authoritative eye. He looked at me. I decided it was too cold to hold out for a join-up, touched his flank and thought, You are going to accept your halter. I lowered it to the ground near his muzzle, and he pushed his muzzle deeper into the grass and moved it away to the right. But, just a little this time. I am going to put on your halter, I thought. He raised his head and swivelled his eyes to look back at me, standing at his left shoulder, and I slipped the halter on and buckled it. He dipped his cheek to my shoulder, "Hello."

"Well, hello, Fibs."

We went for a walk near his old home, in the woods where we took our first walks, and then we went and got the lunge line and headed to the riding ring. I concentrated and tried to call to mind the things the owners' daughter had taught me one afternoon, some months before, noticing that I perhaps didn't know enough about lunging a horse. I shook the lead line in my hand to push him off into a larger circle and kicked myself for not having watched more videos, and for not having lunged him more regularly. He moved in a circle around me.

"Trotter, Fibs." His eye flicked back toward me.

"Do I have to?"

"Fibs, trot." He shifted his pace, half-trotted, half-walked a few steps and then settled back into a walk. I really wished I'd prepared better for this. "Fibs, allez, trotter!" I moved the stick toward his hind quarters, and he reluctantly moved into a hesitant trot.


He is not supposed to change pace until I tell him to, and I am not supposed to have to keep saying "Allez, trotter... trotter, Fibs... trotter!" to keep him going. I am supposed to cluck, with my tongue between my molars, that sucking thing in one's cheek, and he is supposed to understand that this means to put more peps into his movement. Somehow, I don't think they did this in his racing training. I cracked the "natural horsemanship training whip" back behind his hindquarters, and he picked up the pace.

20 minutes later, and we changed hands. I shook the lead line to push him off again away from me, and he trotted. I asked for the gallop, and he took off, digging into the sand, finding his traction there, leaning into the circle, mane flying, and my heart soared. Having 1000 lbs of thoroughbred power and energy at the end of one's lunge line accelerating in a circle only a few meter from one is an incredible thing. He kicked his heels out, farted, and he flew for a few more paces before he slowed.

"Allez, Fibs, au galop!" and off he went again, and again before I said, "Whoah, whoah, au trot, mon Fibs. Trot-ter." He snorted and blew, trotting around me in a circle.

"Au pas, Fibs. That's a good boy. Au pas," I said, looping the lunge line over and over my hand, drawing him close to me, and he leaned his head into my shoulder and blew.

This is when I unattach him, like the first time I took him out to the round pen, almost a year ago, and I realized that he was following me, step for step and thought to release him and see what he would do. Yesterday, like that day, he followed me, sometimes his head against my back, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, stopping with me, turning with me, walking with me, turning in tight little circles together, our little pas de deux.

Like Christiane Head-Maarek, Criquette, said the other evening after winning the 2013 Qatar Arc de Triomphe with Trêve, maybe the mare of the century, with Thierry Janet up, "c'est pourquoi qu'il faut perséverer et jamais arrêter en cours de route."

Always persevere.
Us and our shadows, March 2013
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