Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Author Spotlight - Friendship learned with my horse by Delores Goodrick Beggs
It would be easiest to start this with saying "Friendship I learned FROM my horse,"
but that is not the way it works. Learning, between a human and a horse, is a shared experience.
In Place in the Heart Book Two: Substitute Lover, Tennyson at last learns what her older sister Mauranie has known all along, how to make friends with a horse. Or rather, the horse befriends her, and she is enthralled and eager to expand her friendship with horses.
My father, known as "The Old Cowman" in our rural Wyandotte County, Kansas farm area, first taught me to make friends with a horse. When I met Snowball, his 14-hands-tall white mare, she ended up becoming my faithful riding companion. I moved close to her head, lifted her nose a bit, took a deep breath, and breathed into Snowball's nostrils several times. Dad told me that our horses remembered the smell of our breath and thus labeled us "friends." I have observed that horses in a herd share breaths this way in the process of selecting friends they graze with, groom each other's necks, and generally stand around with.
I could be grooming Snowball in preparation for a ride when she would sometimes raise her head, ears pricked forward, and I'd feel her skin rumble with vibrating sound.
Horses do communicate. A quick nicker alerts me something caught her interest. A neigh when she sees me coming for her in the pasture is a greeting to me, or a call to her wandering foal to come back to Mama. A snort may be caused by a tickle in her nose. The first time I saw one of our horses curl her upper lip in a "horse laugh" when I haltered her, I was shocked. It happened again the next day, the open mouth and curled upper lip. The Old Cowman asked if I was using a new hand lotion; I was. He suggested not using it until after I rode, so I followed his suggestion, and the horse laughs stopped. Something in the scent of my particular hand lotion caused the "horse laugh."
Horses learn fast and in my experience remember very well what they learn. The most important word to teach a horse is "Whoa." I usually combine this with "Easy now," rather than repeat "Whoa" over and over when a horse is panicky. Horses sense my emotion in the stiffness or relaxation of my hands, in the sharpness or calmness of my voice, in the smoothness or jerkiness of my motions. An important lesson I learned, growing up, was if I remained calm, they will calm, but if I get panicky, they gather themselves ready to bolt and have to be held back.
It is the "Whoa's" and the calm emotions that can make all the difference when I'm horseback and the unexpected happens.
For example, in my teen years I rode my equine friend Snowball on the road going uphill and down, between our house and my best friend's house several hills away rather than walk it. It would have been a long, tiring walk under the hot Kansas sun; Snowball cantered it smoothly and quickly and the exercise of regular visits with my friend helped to keep her in good shape. Besides, I loved to ride horseback, given the slightest reason.
But one day Snowball jumped straight up in mid-canter, all four hooves off the ground. I was riding bareback with a saddle pad as I often did, and when she jumped I tumbled forward over her shoulder, onto the road, still clutching the reins. She managed to land just on the other side of me, missing me with her hoofs, as I called "Whoa," and then she stood perfectly still, lowering her head to nuzzle me. I was confused by her action, but the mare seemed calm enough so I grabbed a handful of mane, and jumped back on, and we continued to my friend's house without further incident.
A few days later the same thing happened again. This time my younger sister was riding a bicycle beside us while I rode Snowball, and when I stood up from my tumble over Snowball's head and dusted my jeans off, she asked me if I'd heard that.
"Heard what?" I asked. I have a hearing impairment.
"There was a loud bang," she said. "Then Snowball jumped."
That evening, after I told Dad about it, the Old Cowman introduced Snowball to simulated sounds by banging on a metal pan and calming her so the sound no longer startled her.
Also, when we'd returned home after the visit to my friend earlier that afternoon, I'd praised Snowball again for having avoided stepping on me when I fell and gave her an extra handful of oats. She never startled on me again.
Friends watch out for friends, after all.
Find Substitue Lover at:
Also available at Barnes & Nobel, major e-book publishers
Also available by Delores Goodrick Beggs:
Place in the Heart Book One: Breaking Point, May 2012
Charming Champion, August, 2012, Contemporary single title
Coming June, 2013 - Place in the Heart Book Three: Perfect Tenderfoot