“I leaned down to really get into a face rub, and she closed her eyes blissfully. When my fingers were coated in hair and dirt, I stopped and asked again for her to step forward. She just looked at me. And that’s when I realized she said no. Not today.”

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Photo courtesy of Leah Braman

Last Friday, I finally snuck out of the house, free of mom-duties and school-duties and ready to spend more than just chore time in the barn. I know – it’s July, and as a teacher on summer break, I should have all the time in the world for my horses. Hilarious. Life still manages to get in the way, and it had done so all week. So there I was, excited to finally get back on my greenie, Raven, and see if we could get a few strides of a 4-beat gait.

Chores proceeded as normal, no injuries to tend or fence to repair. Raven noodled her top lip while I groomed her and stood quietly for saddling. We meandered out to the arena, pausing to survey the horizon for deer and other monsters. None noted. In the arena, our pre-flight check-in went well. We walked the perimeter (must always check for new ground squirrel holes), moved in sync to pivot from all 4 quarters, backed, and side-passed in hand. I visualized our perfect, short ride in my mind as we walked to the mounting block and stepped up to wait for her consent.

I should probably back-track to explain that when I first sat on Raven’s back, it was at her invitation. I hadn’t started a youngster since before my daughter was born, and I was admittedly being more cautious than needed. Having watched me ride her pal Snappy and apparently getting sick of waiting, Raven started to present her back to me every time I stopped one day. Taking the shouted hint, I walked her to the mounting block, where she placed herself in the right alignment without being asked, and that was that – I was on. Every ride since then, I have climbed the steps and waited for her to align herself when she was ready, which was usually only after a moment of still contemplation (and perhaps a few ear rubs).

Back to Friday – I waited for her to step forward, rubbing a hand over her poll. She leaned into the rub and sighed… Stomped away flies… Stood where she was. After a moment, I quietly asked her to step up, promising a short ride. She leaned her head into my leg. I rubbed her ears, visualizing a short, smooth ride once again. Still no movement. The fly presence around us increased, buzzing around her repellant-covered body and landing to bite not-repellent-covered me. I put soft pressure under her chin, asking her again to step forward. Once again, she put her head on my leg. I leaned down to really get into a face rub, and she closed her eyes blissfully. When my fingers were coated in hair and dirt, I stopped and asked again for her to step forward. She just looked at me.

And that’s when I realized she said no. Not today.

It hurt. I won’t lie, I felt rejected. Part of me wanted to just force the issue – hop on from the ground and still get my ride. After all, we hadn’t been out ALL WEEK, and this was probably my only chance for the whole weekend. But the other part of me–the part I’m working so hard to grow–realized that Raven had made a choice, one she had never made before. Maybe she was too hot, maybe the flies were bothering her, maybe she had cramps–I didn’t know, and she couldn’t tell me. But for whatever reason, she said no. And for the sake of our relationship, I needed to say okay.

I stepped down from the mounting block, gave a deep sigh, rubbed her neck, and walked with her back to the barn. As I untacked and groomed her, her head drooped and she gave several big sighs and snorts. I rubbed her head again, and she leaned into me like the big puppy she almost is. We would ride happily another day (and we did 😉).


About Leah Braman:

I’m Leah Braman, a 30-some-year-old mom, teacher, and lover of all things horse. I grew up with horses, learned the basics of riding from my horse-crazy mom, taught myself how to show with help from 4-H, and worked my way up to showing at Tennessee Walking Horse breed shows (sound, flat shod shows only). I am currently horse-mom to 4 critters: Snappy, my 19-year-old heart horse whom I have had since he was 5 months; Raven, a sassy 5-year-old who is helping me rediscover how to teach and learn from horses; Emma, a late teens rescue mare who has taught me more than I can ever put into words about being present and the power of forgiveness; and Cricket, who is really my daughter’s [sometimes naughty] one-eyed pony of unknown origin. [What feels like] long ago, I was focused on showing to win, but these days, I’m all about the relationship with my horses. I would love to show the world that putting the relationship first doesn’t mean you can’t be a success in the show pen, but mostly, I’m just a woman trying to balance her home, work, and horse life successfully.

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