Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mr. Beau's Requests and Requirements

Mr. Beau has a mighty long list of preferences, all of which he makes perfectly known. He is nothing if not opinionated, as several trainers have pointed out. After four years together, I know him as well as one does a spouse; and, frankly, I wouldn't put up with those kinds of persnickedy demands from a partner. Then again, women are notoriously inconsistent when it comes to horses and husbands--and you don't have to think very hard to figure out which one comes out ahead.

Some of the little desires I find quite charming, a sign of Beau's individuality. He likes carrots but not apples; tepid but not cold water; chin but not ear rubs; and massages on his left but not his right flank. After we ride, especially if Beau has taken good care of me, he likes his efforts to be acknowledged with lots of pats, hugs, and endearments. After I dismount, Beau lowers his head to bring his ear near my mouth so he can hear me murmur loving inanities. His eyes droop to half-masts and his lower lip goes all blubbery, indicating pure pleasure at my sweet talk. Sometimes he simply tucks his nose under my arm and sighs contentedly.

Less charming are the days when Beau is just full of blue meanies. Sometimes it's the weather--his majesty doesn't like heat and humidity--sometimes it's just life. Horses, like people, have moods, and I'm sure Beau's pasture mates infuriate him every bit as much as my academic colleagues sometimes annoy me. When the blue meanies hit, Beau gets sullen and grumpy, refusing to go forward and ignoring my leg aids. On trails, he'll bolt ahead or, if I ask for a quicker pace, slow to a snail's pace. Worst of all is when we're trying to do flat work or have a lesson. "Get that horse to move forward," yells the instructor, or "put some leg on that horse" (usually when my legs are close to numb from exertion). I console myself with the thought that she just doesn't understand my complicated horse.

One day an instructor, exasperated with both Beau and me, launched into a lecture on the differences between requests and requirements.

"He requires," she explained none too patiently, "food, water, medicine, and protection from the elements. Everything else is a request, which you are not obligated to honor."

"Try telling him that," was my defeated reply.

I was not a little heartened two weeks later when this same instructor explained how she had backed off during a training session because Beau wasn't quite in the mood. I was about to refer to her earlier lecture but thought better of it. Clearly, yet another human had fallen victim to Beau's outlook on life, which sees requests and requirements as one and the same.

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