My big, bold and beautiful BLM mare, Remi, has an issue.
This simple act eludes and frustrates her to the point that it has become an issue.
HOW I INTERPRET THE ISSUE.
Remember how it was when you were first learning how to jump rope and you had to ENTER an already moving rope with your friends on either end and a crowd watching?
When should I go? Now? Should I go now? NoNo! Wait! Now! Go Now! No. Wait. Go GO!
And somehow raising and moving your hands, palms out, in an orbit seemed to help organize the rhythm.
Sometimes it worked… but most of the time it didn’t – until you got the hang of it.
And then it was no trouble at all.
Like riding a bike or snow skiing or getting up on water skis. The first few times were a total disaster and then you either kept at it until you ‘got it’ or… you gave up and stored the rough and tumble memory forever.
It think Taking Treats is like that for Remi. She’s trying, but. she. just. isn’t. there. yet.
Often, I will buy Orchard or Timothy Grass pressed into cubes. To the horses, those cubes are little square pieces of heaven! Actually, I don’t know why grass cubes are such great treats because they eat Orchard grass daily… but maybe it is just the shape of it, or the concentration, or just that they feel special when being treated. I don’t know. But, generally mid-afternoon or at night when I put Tess to bed, they all get a treat.
This is how it usually goes… Everyone clamors into their feeding positions, craning their necks and puckering their lips to await the upcoming blissful interlude with TREAT.
Remi, being the biggest and boldest of the ladies, will also bang on the gate to the barn. Remi is in the poll Treat position. She is first.
But, as soon as I come near her with the cube, I can see her starting to tense up. And just like it was for us so many years ago when we were jumping rope…
Remi’s brain goes on hyperdrive: When should I go? Now? Should I go now? NoNo! Wait! Now! Go Now! No. Wait. Go GO!
She works herself up with so much lip flapping and teeth chomping that I have to calm her down and tell her, “Nice! Remi, take it nice!”
Still, her coordination is off and she misses. The treat falls on the floor and she shakes her head in disgust.
Remi (despondent) : “I should be able to get this… I don’t know why I cannot get the hang of it.”
Me: Don’t think about it so much… use you lips more. It isn’t a ‘teeth’ thing.”
Remi: Then how do I grab it?!
Me: Use your lips. Here, let’s try again.
We do this over and over. The treat drops, I pick it up. She gets part of it, I pick it up. All the while, I’m telling her ‘softly’, ‘shhhh’, ‘nice’…
Eventually, after some foot stomping and gnashing of teeth, Remi will very gently grab the end of the cube, with her teeth, narrowly missing my digits – and pull it into her mouth successfully.
She still doesn’t get it.
IS IT A MUSTANG THING?
At first, I thought that maybe treat taking was more of a domestic horse thing since most horses are given some sort of treat from an early age… on up… so they get a lot of practice.
However, if I was to prove that theory here with my Mustangs, I’d have to say that my other two – Sam and Rojo – have no trouble taking treats softly. In fact, Rojo has the softest mouth of everyone here except maybe my very ladylike donkey, Norma Jean. Rojo is a treat taking aficionado. And he is still mostly wild… Same with Sam.
So, I doubt it is a Mustang thing.
Today, having been Sunday and a day of leisure (kind of), I decided to work with Remi on her Treat Taking Skills.
During the morning, at an odd time when all the others were milling about the grazing pastures, I called to Remi.
Me: I’d like to practice our Treat Skills. How about it?
Remi: Sure! If I mess up 30 times, will I get 31 treats?
Remi: OK! Sounds great!
And so we began.
I had my pockets full of treats and there were no distractions. No other horses. No body else in line. No pressure to hurry up and do it right!
Me: OK, now SLOW-LY. WAIT for the treat to reach your lips and then just lip it into your mouth.
Remi: Uh. Like this?
Me (picking up the treat): Easier. Go easy. We have all day. No worries.
Remi (dreaming of a day’s worth of treats….): Oh Good!
As I protected my fingers by using my knuckles close to her mouth, we worked on it. Over and over and over again.
After about 10 minutes, Remi stood back and prepared to listen. Or asked, really…
Remi (chagrin): OK, I totally suck at this. HOW am I supposed to do it? I’m willing to listen now. I give up on my way. So, I’m all ears. What do you want me to do?
Me (holding the treat almost hidden behind my knuckles): VERY. SLOWLY. And only use your lips. It won’t fall. I’ve got it. So just use your powerful lips and nibblegrab it until it feels secure – as if it was a piece of apple in the grass – and then I’ll release it to you.
Remi: OK. Like a piece of apple in the grass… OK.
And with that, she shut her eyes and did a Karate Kid total concentration Wipe On Wipe Off type of Zen move… and lipped the treat perfectly.
That girl was so proud of herself!! And as the Mr. Miagi in me turned to walk away contentedly, I thought about how rewarding it is to have that “Aha!” moment with your horse.
“Ohhhh, that’s what you meant, Little Human… I get it!”
And just like those moments we all remember when we finally hit the jump rope timing right, or rode our bikes without training wheels or got up on water skis… after that, it all gets easier.
Mentor and Student. Which is which, I never know.
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