Life with horses accustomed to “Love, Language, and Leadership” is so much easier and more rewarding than I could have ever imaged. Holly is a beautiful black and white Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) mare. Holly was raised by a family with a long history of breeding TWHs. She had been trained with some homegrown natural horsemanship techniques, and my young daughter Cody could safely ride Holly bareback around the pasture. We bought Holly when she was 4 years old and about a month after she had been bred to have a foal.
Once Holly came to live with us, I quickly realized she was a Left-Brain Introvert. After my experiences with Rocky, I wanted to make sure that Holly and I had a solid relationship. I created a simple plan to develop our relationship. The first part of the plan was to spend as much time with Holly as possible and find a way to integrate the Seven Games into our daily routine. The second part of the plan was to end each day by putting Holly in a stall for the night and spend undemanding time with her in the stall.
I normally spend time in the pasture with the horses as part of our Friendly Game. Anytime I go outside, I walk through the pasture and spend time with the horses. All of the horses love getting their itchy spots scratched and their ears rubbed. Each horse has different areas they enjoy being scratched, and eagerly approach me for attention once they realize I will scratch those itchy spots that no one else can reach.
I watched Holly in the pasture. Holly loved to back up to a tree and rub the area beside her tail to the point that her long tail was being rubbed off. I would wait in the pasture until she started rubbing on a tree and I would scratch those itchy spots for her. It wasn’t long before she started watching the house; when I came out of the house, she would run to the closest fence and wait for me to scratch her itchy spots. In the stall at night, Holly really enjoyed getting the special itchy spots on her belly and under her tail scratched.
Holly was already a safe horse on the ground and in the saddle. Now, she enjoyed our Friendly and Porcupine games in the pasture and stall. Holly was not familiar with the Carrot Stick and Savvy String, so I started carrying the stick and string with me. Gradually, I started using the Carrot Stick to rub the itchy spots on her belly. I started putting the string around her neck to separate her from the herd and lead her to the barn stall at night. I still have nightmares about my early experiences with Rocky and was amazed at how easily she accepted my use of the stick and string.
I added the Driving Game to our activities. We practiced backing up and yielding her front and hind end. Backing up was a challenge for Holly, so I started backing her out of the stall each morning. I began with Porcupine on her nose to gently guide her back out of the stall. After a few days, she responded to light Yo-Yo phases (wiggle a finger, wave your hand) to back her out of the stall. Backing out of the stall became natural. Holly would stand by the stall door ready to back out and wait for me to open the door so she could calmly back out.
Over the next few months, we played various forms of all seven games as part of our routine. As our nightly routine, I would put Holly in her stall to eat her feed while I took care of all of the other animals. After the other chores were done, I would spend time with Holly in her stall. She enjoyed the attention and getting scratched. For me, it was quiet time away from other chores.
One night about two weeks before the foal was due, Holly didn’t eat her feed when I put her in the stall. She was pacing around while I took care of the other animals. There was a storm brewing, and I thought she was being bothered by the weather. Holly was whinnying at me every time I passed her stall so I stopped to give her some attention. She swung around to show me her tail and there was a tiny pinkish white hoof peeking out from under her tail!
The foal was coming two weeks early! I ran to the house to get my daughter Cody so she could witness the birth. We spent the next two hours in the stall with Holly. I remembered all of the stories we had heard about people being hurt by horses giving birth so we kept a close eye on Holly’s behavior to make sure there weren’t any indications she would hurt us. I scratched and rubbed her favorite spots. She would get up and stand for me to scratch her belly and then she would lie down again. I called several people to make sure her behavior was normal and the foal wasn’t taking too long to be born. We started petting the little foal the minute her nose appeared. Whenever that cute little nose disappeared with the contractions, we held our breath until it reappeared. It seemed like an eternity before the whole foal appeared.
Sheila was finally born. We stayed in the stall until she stood up beside her loving mother. Our family watched mother and foal for most of the night. We had talked to a lot of people who said they had never seen a foal born; they had tried for years to see their mares give birth but mares always wait until people aren’t around to give birth. During the pregnancy, I had assumed Holly would have her foal when we weren’t around. Holly gave our family a rare gift because of the relationship we developed using love, language, and leadership.