The Horses, My Teachers
It was a beautiful early spring morning in southern California. I had a full day of work ahead of me, hoping to get at least nine horses worked. Today was my first day working with a three year old stud colt named Nico. Nico was a handsome red chestnut Colonial Spanish Horse. He was small but big boned and elegant. What a stunning stallion he would become some day!
Nico hadn't had much handling at all up until this point. The young stallions at this facility lived with their family herd as long as possible before being separated into bachelor bands to prevent the colts from covering mares. The herd teaches the youngsters the rules of living in close quarters with one another. At his age, Nico had already learned much about life from his family herd and it was time for him to begin communicating with the people that would inevitably play a major role in his life from then on. Little did I know at the time, I was the one who would learn the lesson that day - one that would refocus the rest of my life.
I knew it was going to be tricky. I had to move this rambunctious little colt from his paddock around the stallion barn to the round pen on the other side. Nico was comfortable in his paddock as he had been living there with three other colts for a few months now. He understood and respected the halter to a certain extent, as well as how to follow me without invading my space. I led him over to the round pen without too much difficulty and turned him loose so that he could investigate his new surroundings. He put his head down and began trotting around the pen taking in all the new sights and smells. I stood patiently outside the gate as he pranced around with his tail up, snorting. He was no doubt about to lose his mind with excitement! He took off running and bucking, screaming at the mare herd that he could see off in the distance on the other side of the adjacent area. The round pen was placed next to four small pens, each of which homed other young stallions that were currently in training. On the other side of the round pen sat the main barn that housed the older stallions. Each stall had an attached outdoor run where the horses could go in and out of as they pleased. All eight stallions on that side of the barn were out in their runs watching that colt run around the round pen. Lots of testosterone in the air! Needless to say there was a lot going on for Nico to take in at that moment.
I gave the colt some time to unwind, but after about fifteen minutes or so I decided to enter the pen and begin my work. Nico was still totally distracted. I tried to send him around the round pen but even as I did he was still looking out over the arena fence at the distant mare herd screaming. As he came back around the side of the pen where the older stallions were watching him, he would squeal and let out a few bucks. In other words he was paying attention to anything and everything ... accept me. After about ten minutes of fighting for his attention I put down my training stick and decided to just observe him for a bit. He started pacing the fence on the side closest to the mares and sniffing the manure that one of my other boys left behind in the previous session.
How do I get him to engage with me? ... I thought. At this point I had already tried out pretty much my entire array of techniques and tools for working with colts. Sending him around the pen was taking too long and besides, I didn't want to flood him with any more adrenaline. I wanted him to think. Hmmm.
It was a beautiful day, and after a few moments, I let my thoughts drift a bit. Nico at this point was standing alert, twitching his ears around, sniffing the air. He looked spectacular. At that moment, a soft warm breeze blew in, completely consuming my attention. As an east coast girl, it was easy to appreciate such a sensation during the early spring here on the ranch. It felt amazing as it wrapped its warmth around my body. The breeze carried with it the fragrance of newly bloomed flowers and fresh grass recently sprung from the earth. I opened my mouth and tasted the fresh air as it blew in from the south. I heard the horses from the nearby stallion barn munching their morning hay peacefully, and listened to all the birds singing different songs around me. God, it was such a beautiful day. For that moment, there was not a thought in my mind, only the sensations of the world around me. I felt chills run through my body and feeling full of presence and joy, I smiled, spun around on my heel to turn back towards Nico ... and wouldn't you know it, that colt was standing right behind me looking at me as if to say, "There you are!" The tears started steaming and I placed my hand on his neck, feeling every hair and vibration beneath my hand. That was the moment that changed the direction of my horsemanship forever.