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The Hazel Tree by Julia Debski

The Hazel Tree

by Julia Debski

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Belonging to the Herd

Parelli people now often refer to their group of horses as their herd. I say it to a few trusted ones because when I say, I mean it. I’m not saying that other people don’t mean it but I don’t take it for granted.
What very few people experience- though the numbers are growing thanks to Natural Horsemanship- is the genuine feeling of being part of a herd. To be accepted by the horses as one of them and to be shown some of their most guarded secrets. 
It has only happened to me twice.
Back near the beginning of last year.
And the other day.
The first time was when I first began playing with Casper, those two months where I was  familiarizing myself to him and allowing him to grow in confidence to the point of where he wanted to be caught. 
Casper belonged to a herd of about 8. 
- There was the wise old leader Doc who already considered me to be his friend and trusted me not to harm him. There was no horse that could win against him.

- Casper was second in command. 

- Then there was Chico, an overenthusiastic ambitious horse who was constantly trying to climb to the top of the dominance ladder.

- There was Comanche who is always at the very bottom of the herd, probably due to his cribbing. However he is a very sweet soul.

- There was Jasmine, one of only 2 mares in the field. She was a sweet girl and did as told, but was known to be mean to dear Comanche.

- Reo was rather the outcast but was very intelligent. That’s why he was so difficult to be caught, he knew better.

- Thunder was just under Casper when it came to dominance for the most part but there were a few moments where he was 2nd in command. But he was rather a tyrant and no one apart from Chico ever liked him. However with humans he had a rather docile nature.

    • And then towards the end of the 2 months Sharlie was moved into the field, making the 2nd mare and the 8th horse. 

This was the biggest herd Mercy had ever had before and it did indeed only last for a few months. However at the time it would be one of the most educational experiences I would have. 
As I have said before, I spent a lot of time in that field, usually away from the other horses waiting for Casper to come to me. Then as he grew more familiar he would begin to invite closer to the herd or invite another member over to be with me and him. It  was usually Sharlie, Doc and sometimes even Comanche if we were able to convince him to stop cribbing id only for a moment.
After about a month it got to the point of when I entered the field all of them would look up from whatever they were doing and greet me. Several began running or walking towards me. Often it was Sharlie, Casper, Comanche, Jasmine, Reo and Chico. Doc would wander over to me in his own time and welcome me back once again to the herd. These were horses that had never been exposed to Parelli nor had I ever worked with them (as in with a halter, lead rope, etc...) and they still were coming to me like Sharlie and Casper did.
Which brings me to a quick side note. I was once told, a while back before my journey with Casper had even begun, to not do any Parelli with Casper. Of course it was meant to mean don’t catch him, don’t train him like typical trainers do. But when it comes to Parelli, or maybe just Natural Horsemanship in general, you don’t need a stick and string to teach a horse something. You use your attitude, thoughts, energy, and body language. And they wondered why I could catch Casper when I didn’t even “train Parelli on him.”
On warm days when the horses grazed together I would lie down in the middle of them and close my eyes and soak up the sun, sometimes humming a slight tune. Casper and Sharlie would often stay close to me but no one ever stepped on me or came close to hurting me.
A couple of weeks before Casper was moved out of there (that is when it ended) it was to the point where the horses would follow me around the field. We went on long walks in a field they already knew top to bottom but we still discovered new things. That is when the herd counted 9.
It is rather sad that nobody at the stables ever noticed the things that happened during this wonderful time. Maybe if I told Susan about it now, she wouldn’t believe me. That doesn’t matter to me. Because the 9 of us know it happened. Though maybe if they had seen the magic that Natural Horsemanship can bring...they would think differently of it. No matter.
Of course things have changed since then. Doc has been moved to live happily in a lush field until his time to move on arrives, Reo has found a new home with his owners. Thunder has lost most of his docile nature due to inexperienced hands and lack of training, consistency and calm. (His rider is very nervous but he won’t face his fear because he rides with the big tough cowboys. And lets be honest here, they say they are afraid of nothing so they won’t ever face fears nor address their horse’s fears. )
Not to be side tracked here but a few months ago one of them (the ‘tough’ cowboys) fell of off his Tennessee Walker and wouldn’t ride for a bit afterwards (I don’t know if he is back in the saddle now or not) but his buddies kept bugging him and bugging him to go out riding with them. Gosh you guys! He isn’t that young anymore, he could have easily broken something and the TN Walker can be a handful! They don’t address fear. And it will cost them something serious one day.

Things have changed. Casper and Sharlie have changed. I have changed. All of the horses from that herd have changed. 
So I had always thought that none of them would ever remember.
Little did I know...

Comanche has recently started sharing a field with Casper and Sharlie. Even if he is an extreme cribber (I hope to help him some with permission. If only for the sake of saving fences. He tears them apart!) he can be gentle. However I find that he is usually in the background, forgotten for the most part because of his cribbing. Both horses and humans push him away, leaving him alone. (I believe this is part of the reason he cribs. He is rejected by the herd for his cribbing thus the stress of it drives him to crib. Its a vicious circle. Of course this is only one of many causes.) Doc was the only leader that still accepted him as part of the herd.
Comanche also has a reputation of being stupid. Now of course that is not true at all. He hides his intelligence behind a veil of what seems to be ignorance and idiocy. I don’t know why he does it. Maybe some experience in his past has taught him having an opinion is bad. I don’t know...
Anyway. I started my walk towards the field and as usual I saw Comanche cribbing. I sighed, thinking I would have to try and move him away from it again (he is so numb...Porcupine Game with my fingers, elbows, whole arms doesn’t work) But then something surprised me. When he saw me, he pricked his ears and left the fence to come meet me by the gate. Sharlie and Casper were still way in the bottom so I spent a few minutes just standing with him by the gate, stroking his large face. He held his head right by my side and started to fall asleep.
I wanted the moment to go on forever but we were in somewhat of a rush. Mom and I had just come down to do Sharlie’s medicine before we left for vacation. I called Sharlie and Casper up and they came cantering up to me neighing at me. Comanche followed me until Casper chased him away (sad face) but he did not go back to cribbing.  Not until I exited the field. (And we are talking about an EXTREME cribber here. Almost 24/7, you have to DRAG him away from the fence. No joke.)
  Comanche showed me that he remembered me as part of the herd and even better in our little herd of 4 now- Sharlie, Casper, Comanche and I- I am the leader. 
I realize there is a possibility that Tom, Susan, maybe even the ‘tough’ cowboys read this. They know about my blog. To some degree, I hope they do read this post. Maybe it will help Thunder’s rider or the Tennessee Walker’s rider to realize that it is okay to be scared and unconfident sometimes and that you don’t have to repress it. You cannot just ignore fear and expect it to go away on its own. If that worked, Sharlie and I would be cantering through the fields without a care in the world. No, instead it transmits to your horse who becomes nervous and afraid as well, making the situation worse. 
The first steps to moving on is to acknowledge it and find your thresholds and slowly work through them. I will be the first to admit I am not the most knowledgeable when it comes to dealing with fear. But I do know first hand what it is like and so I can relate.
 Directly to the ones who it concerns: Do not be afraid of fear. Come find me if you wish to know more.  Also it is true, Comanche is smarter, much smarter than he lets you think. Ask me sometime and I will show you.

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