There’s a horse I work with named Janie. I like Janie. She’s big and beautiful and sensitive and likes to move. Sometimes I feel like we have similar personalities. We are both high energy girls. Sometimes I feel like I could jump on her back and take off running, and she would welcome the ride.
Today, she ran away from me.
I was assigned to work with her as her horse leader for a riding lesson. She was in her pasture, happily grazing with her pasture buddy, Bandit. She is often hard to catch in the pasture to bring in for lessons, and today was the first day in 3 the horses hadn’t been confined to their stalls due to bad weather. All the horses were a little more keyed up than usual, none in a working mood. And who can blame them? Man and beast alike were grateful to see the long lost sun.
Janie usually has to be bribed to be brought in, but she and I have been working together for weeks now, and I thought we had a rapport. She watched me closely as I approached her pasture gate, and when I held up the halter to show her it was time to work, I swear she narrowed her eyes and looked for her usual treat. When she didn’t see one, she gave the horse equivalent of a “yeah, nice try” and trotted away.
I walked towards her. She backed away. I moved faster. So did she. I tried approaching her from a different angle, and she responded by going into a full gallop in a circle around me. At one point, she even galloped full speed TOWARDS me, as if to say, “Are you going to get OUT OF MY WAY?” But I stood my ground, and she came to a full stop about 2 feet from my face. I then held up the halter and said, “Are you ready to work?” As I reached for her, she darted and trotted around me again.
I gave up. I went back to the barn and got a bowl and put 3 peppermints in it. I gave one to Bandit, thinking that Janie would be tempted by jealousy. She wasn’t. I dropped the second peppermint on accident, and left it on the ground, but put the third in the bowl and set it in the hay near Janie. She rambled over, sniffed, and grabbed that peppermint faster than I’ve ever seen a horse eat. I threw a rope around her in a frantic way, she reared, pushing the rope down her back, and dang it if that horse didn’t BUCK that rope off her legs with a violent kick, and again went into a full gallop away from me.
By that time, I had another woman in the pasture to help, and she looked at me and said, “Well, now you’re screwed.”
It was true. I retrieved the third peppermint from the dirt, but Janie wouldn’t come near it. She was too wise to my shenanigans.
In the fullness of time, another volunteer came out to retrieve Bandit for his lesson. Horses don’t like to be left alone, and Janie is no exception. She watched nervously as Bandit was haltered and lead away, and then looked at me. I stood motionless, willed myself to exude calmness, and held up the halter again.
She walked towards me, and put her face right into the halter. I cheered a silent cheer of victory and congratulated myself inwardly on being such an awesome horse whisperer.
It was while I was clipping her halter on that I noticed she was desperately digging into my friend’s coat pocket, having detected the carrot hidden there.
So much for horse whispering.
Janie finished the carrot, and she walked contentedly along with me as I got her into the barn and brushed her, getting her ready for her student rider.
So here are the life lessons to be learned from Operation Catch Janie:
Don’t make sudden movements, especially with a rope. Animals don’t like it. People probably don’t either.
Avoid poop, but wear shoes that won’t be ruined if you step in some. Because life, it’s full of poop, both the metaphorical and actual.
Never chase something (or somebody) who can outrun you. You’ll just look stupid.
Nobody likes to work on a sunny day. If you have to make somebody work on a sunny day, be prepared to do some cajoling.
When all else fails, offer them a carrot (or a chocolate cheesecake. You know, whatever they’re into.).
And at the end of the day, everything can be forgiven with a good back rub.