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She was a two year old filly. Wary of humans in general. Wicked with her back end. Couldn’t be caught. Lunged at you over the fence line of the paddock. Mean. And I had decided to take her on as my personal training project. Why? I have absolutely no idea.
That was months ago when she had first arrived at the farm. Her name was Rose. But I used to think of her as a Thorn. She definitely acted like one. It wasn’t until recently that something had changed in her. It was during a thunderstorm. A bad one. It had come on so fast, and my mom, my sister, and I ran to get all of the other horses inside. Rose had been out in many storms before, but that morning when I was feeding her, she let me run my hand down her sun bleached neck. That was the furthest I had gotten so far in forming a relationship with the pony. So being the brave person, or idiot, that I was, I talked my mom into coming out in the streaking lightning and sheets of rain with me to try to bring her in. After an hour and a half of standing in the downpour, water saturating through our jackets, we finally got a halter on her.
That was when I noticed the change in her behavior. After the halter had been put on her, she was no longer aggressive towards you. I made the decision to start working with her every day. It started out as just her coming up to me. I would feed her a cookie. Then I could pet her. Another cookie. Then I could run a brush over her neck and sides. More cookies. After I had gotten a lead rope on her, she would stand still and let me groom her. Lots and lots of cookies.
This process had been going on a while, but I had only been brushing her about a week. One day, I went out to the paddock with my jar of cookies, box of brushes and the lead rope, just like normal. She was at the opposite end of the field. I whistled to her. “Rosie! Come here!”
That pony pricked her ears and trotted over to where I was standing, under the large oak tree. “Good girl,” I whispered, giving her a treat. I no longer had to be cautious about her galloping away from me as I clipped the lead rope to her halter. She stood frozen as it clicked on.
I deposited my supplies down on the base of the tree trunk. Rose followed to investigate all my artillery. I dumped the brushes out of the box, scattering the contents on the breaching roots. She jumped a little, but stayed put. I picked up the curry comb.
“So Rose,” I started. “It’s really hot outside today. Though I bet you already know that because you don’t want to come inside yet…” And so my conversation with Rose for that day began. She stood still, for the most part, as I rubbed the curry comb all over her body, except her legs. She still didn’t like her legs to be touched. If you tried, she would try to kick your head off. As I brushed her, I continued my conversation.
“So this morning, I got up and rode some ponies… Avery and Harriet came out this morning and they rode Shorty and Bo. They were really good. I did Calvin, Cop, and… someone else… Oh! I also rode Lavantos. Those guys were really good too.”
My mom always says when riding, to talk to the horses when they get worried. If you can develop a relationship with the animal, they will recognize your voice and immediately settle down. I had started a similar process with Rose, always talking nonsense random stuff to her. Sometimes I thought she actually listened. Sometimes.
I finished with the curry comb and laid it down in one of the crevices between the roots. I picked up the stiff brush and ran it over her neck, flicking away the dirt I had just loosened with the first brush. She whipped her head towards my hands.
“Don’t bite me! And no, I have no more cookies for you.” She wasn’t so certain though. She flipped herself all the way around to see me and sniffed for food. Smart move, since I had a few more hiding in my pocket.
“Bad pony…..” I readjusted my position and started working again. I remained silent for a bit as I continued; while Rose had started trying to clean up scraps from her breakfast that she made a mess of this morning. I finished with the stiff brush, and switched to the soft brush.
“I have to see my dad tomorrow,” I said. She cocked an ear and listened. “I don’t really want to. But Rylee and I have to go to breakfast.” More silence. My brushing had slowed down a notch. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him. A couple of month’s maybe? Two? I’m not sure.”
I crossed behind her to brush the opposite side. “It’s not like I’ve been ignoring him. I just don’t really have time… summer is always the busiest out here. I have lots of ponies to do, just like you.” I smiled and patted her neck. “Besides, it’s not like he makes the time for us. He has Robin and Gabe and Zach, and I just don’t need him, honestly.” A little more silence passed.
“I haven’t even met Zach yet,” I said quietly. “Not that I want to. It’s just strange thinking about it. I have a half brother that I haven’t laid eyes on, and he’s almost a year old!” I exclaimed. “Although, I thought, that probably doesn’t mean much to you. You have lots of half siblings that you’ve never met." I sighed. “Maybe it would be better to be a pony.”
I put the soft brush back in the box and gave Rose another cookie. Tenderly, she took it from my hand as I petted her soft muzzle, long whiskers and all. She really was a stunning pony. She had a dainty head and nose, large dark eyes, very leggy and athletically built, and incredibly talented, with perfect coloring too. She had four tall white stockings, a broad white blaze that started at the top of her forehead, and continued all the way to her nose, under her chin and back up to her throat. When not sun bleached, her coat was a rich, dark, copper shade of chestnut. Eventually she would become a superstar. But for now, she was my personal therapist.
“Thanks for listening, Rosie,” I whispered. I un-clicked the lead rope, patted her neck, and walked towards the gate. I heard the sudden pitter patter of hoof beats on the dirt, and I turned around and saw her trotting over, following me. I got a crazy idea.
I quickly discarded all of my supplies right there by the gate with a slight crash, and took off to the other end of the field.
“Rosie! Come here!” I whistled. “Come here, girl!”
She slung her head and took off after me. Laughing, I ran around the paddock in circles and random patterns, Rose following in hot pursuit. I stopped on a dime, and turned, sprinting in the opposite direction. She stopped as fast as she could and slung her head again as she picked up speed, blowing past me. I laughed at her.
Finally, finally, I had officially gained her trust. And I think she gained mine too.