I started keeping a new journal about my time with Raven, for a purpose. That first week of November, after she had moved to her new home at the barn, I wrote:
In writing down our journey here, I hope to keep myself accountable – to record our successes and challenges, and urge myself not to quit when things stop being easy, which is a bad habit of mine. I also want to work on relaxing myself and becoming calm – not getting frustrated or angry, and not clenching my jaw or tensing my body anxiously. I want to do this right. I want that bond and communication with Raven. And I want to set a goal, which I never do, and follow through with it.
My goal starting out was to work through and finish Level One of the Parelli program with Raven. While she was still in quarantine at Tinstar Ranch, I’d read the theory guide and the first pocket guide (little books that outlined different horse behavior/psychology points and detailed guides to using the techniques with your horse). I’d practiced at home with the carrot stick and rope, and watched the DVDs up until that point. I had also started using the rope halter and long lead line with Raven, practicing one of the communication games with her when she was invading my space and being pushy on the ground, while she was still in quarantine. It was a little out of order, out of necessity. But now that Raven was home, settled, and improved heath-wise, I had decided to start the program seriously.
While still in her field pen, before the move to her permanent, larger paddock, I had begun following the program and going slowly, not asking or demanding anything from Raven, but for days it didn’t seem to have much effect. Mostly she had been standoffish, not engaging, and more concerned with eating her hay.
On a late Sunday morning, my one day off after working a six-day work week between two jobs, I went to the barn. She had eaten all of her hay, so it wasn’t there to distract her. I went about my normal routine, first sitting quietly in her pen for a while. This time she seemed curious and came right over to sniff me and the stick as I sat reading a pocket guide. She wandered off afterward, but when I got up to practice with the stick, she again came right over to see what I was up to. I let her sniff the carrot stick, then I backed off; she approached again and I would let her sniff, then walk away or take a few steps backward, and she would follow me! After this repeated several times, I would start to pet her body and legs with the stick and with my hand. I had the rope halter and lead line with me as well, so I let her smell the halter, rubbing her nose with it and retreating, knowing she was wary of being caught and haltered. Every time I retreated, taking the pressure off, she would always look or follow me when I walked away. If she didn’t follow, she would allow me to approach her slowly and touch her with the stick and halter. Sometimes she would start to walk away, but I would continue to pet until she stopped, then I let her alone for a few moments. She never went away where she “escaped” or felt uncomfortable with me in her space; she would stop herself. She seemed very willing and interested in our interaction.
Eventually, I was able to toss the rope gently over her back, neck, and hindquarters, slowly bringing it back to me, and she became very relaxed, licking and chewing (a sign of the horse’s nervous system “resetting” to parasympathetic, or “rest and digest”, a sign of calm), and standing still with her head lowered. She let me do this on both her left and right sides, and if I backed away a few steps, she would immediately follow. At one point, she walked up so close to me, her head lowered in front of me while I faced her, just calm. I stroked her face and it was magical. I felt like we finally had a moment where she trusted me, and it was so quiet and sweet. She wanted to be near me, without a halter and lead rope to make her stay. She chose to stay near me.
Encouraged by this new interaction, I tried to take it a step further and offered to put the halter over her nose. She wasn’t interested in that, so I didn’t push it. I left it on a good note, since we had made leaps of progress that day. I had been a bit disappointed the first few days when she was showing little to no interest in what I was doing at all, but I was glad I hadn’t tried to force it – that would have been counterproductive and against the whole point of showing her that our new system of communication would now be different. I was trying to show her that I’m not some predator coming to hunt her down and make her do what I want. I had to prove myself and earn her trust and respect.
Later, I wrote about this day with real joy:
You know, when she finally chose to come to me, when she put her face near my chest, low and quiet, I was just smiling – she made me smile and made my heart fill up. To have an animal trust you and choose to be near you – this is the silent magic in this crappy world. It’s the beauty that’s there if you’re willing to see it, listen to it, and share it with another being.
Raven was already showing me what patience and calm could do for a soul – both hers and mine.