The other day I went out and just sat with Billy. I offered him the chance to go into the playground and he happily trotted straight through the gate, eager to get at “the grass on the other side of the fence.”
I had my bamboo stick and a brush. I sat on a log and just soaked up the sun while Billy grazed. Finally after a few minutes, Billy eased his way over to me, eating and pretending not to look at me. When his nose bumped into me as he was grazing, he lifted his head and gave me a quick scan, gently, with his nose. As soon as he got to my cast he danced away and went back to grabbing at the grass.
He was moving with tight jerky movements, eating quite frantically, ripping at the grass (and the dirt), walking stiffly, head high. The whites of his eyes were showing. I sat and watched him. I was hoping to use this time as a reconnection as I haven’t been able to get out to do anything with him since I fell off and broke my arm. Nor have I wanted to do anything with him. I wanted to keep this session short and sweet, but found it very interesting to see how tight and upset he was.
He finally made his way back to me again, gave me a quick scan and just as before, when he got to my cast he danced away, back to frantically grabbing at the grass.
When he is eating normally he nips the tops of the grass off, moving slowly from one green patch to another. When he is eating frantically he rips the grass from the ground, getting grass and dirt. He moves from one green patch to another quickly, barely taking the time to eat, just snatching at the ground. This is one way that I can tell how he is feeling about a session. Is he relaxed and taking this time to eat as a reward or is he feeling pressure and upset?
I got up and gently asked him to face me. He spun his butt away, facing me immediately. He walked up to me, but when he smelled my cast again he danced away. I let him leave and just quietly followed him. I didn’t want him to move faster, I just wanted to mirror him. He turned and faced again, but left before I could offer him the brush. I just calmly and quietly walked, then bent at the waist and asked him to come to me again. As soon as he turned and faced me I turned and walked away, he followed. This time I offered the brush before he saw my cast and he blew out, lowered his head. The whites of his eyes were still showing, but he wanted me to brush.
I started at his chest and he was so happy. He really got into it. I brushed and brushed. I brushed his neck, his shoulder, his tummy, his butt and then asked him to turn so I could brush all the itchy spots on the other side. He was blowing out, licking and chewing and I could no longer see the whites of his eyes.
When I was done I asked him to walk with me to the gate. He waited while I opened it and then he followed me through.
It felt like a good first connection.
Today I asked him to come with me into the playground and he happily did. He was calm and eating normally. I sat and read my book, spending a little undemanding time with him. He ate all around me, just relaxed and quiet. He was checking in with me and then wandering back out to eat.
After a little while of just hanging out I thought it would be fun to play a little. I picked up my stick and string and waited for him to notice me. It didn’t take long and he was looking at me while he was eating. I asked for a little more connection and he came right to me. When I asked him to walk with me he stuck by me, climbed on the pedestal and made the cutest faces. When I asked him for a little more he started to run around. Sometimes he likes to kick up his heels a little bit so I allowed it.
In just a few canter strides it went from fun to scared. He was racing all around, whinnying to Chloe, something he has literally NEVER done. He was bouncing off the fences like a ping pong ball racing from one end of the playground to the other. I wasn’t sure whether I should match him or just wait. I tried just waiting but he got more frantic so I matched him, but that didn’t help either. He would not look at me nor would he connect. Luckily I had the video camera on so I was able to watch what was happening. Thank goodness for that. What I saw was a complete and total PREDATOR out there with him! My stick was frantic and my body language was absolutely predatory. It didn’t FEEL like that when I was trying to help him! What an eye opening moment for me.
Once I was able to interrupt his behavior then he was able to see me and connect. Once he connected we were able to go around the playground and have a very sweet little play session. Ending with a lovely little lay down. I would love to see myself getting quieter and quieter. Something I have been saying for 4 years. I think I have gotten much better, but I can always be even better. I would like to look and feel less frantic. No wonder Billy acts that way. I think I am constantly trying to stay ahead of him, think ahead and BE ahead, but instead it looks like I’m frantic. Not cool. So much to work on all the time.