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Breakfast With Mama - part 11
By Kathy Johnson, Executive Director, MHP
Of Light , Space, Mothers and Daughters
Late in the summer, in the early mornings when I had breakfast with Mama, the moon stayed in the sky as the sun came up. In this in-between time, I felt a transition or a passage. The stables, the arenas, the horses' coats took on a sort of earthshine. The golden light of dawn seemed to deepen with each day. I felt out of place. It was not quite day, not quite night, not quite summer, not quite fall. Some mornings dawned chilly and bright, sweater weather. An hour later we were roasting, as the Colorado temperatures rocketed between 40 degrees at night and over 90 degrees by noon. Some mornings broke quiet and still. An hour later, the winds whipped up the trees, branches lashing, leaves falling, buckets of dust and sand sailing. The cottonwood trees were yellow and parched, not quite green, not quite gold. Already mid-September, we were waiting out the end of a hot, dry summer, still rainless, still on high alert for fire. For the horses, we called it "colic season" as the abrupt changes in temperature and barometric pressure sent the horses' metabolisms and digestive systems into uproar.
Mama's blood bay coloring became richer and deeper as she began to shed her summer coat to prepare for a winter coat. She was also in an in-between place, not quite wild, not quite tame. The days spun faster, my time with Mama limited by an increased workload, and more horses to work, including Mama's daughter Sasha. Sasha was getting bigger, almost as big as Mama, big enough to do some real damage. She wore a halter and allowed some petting, but that was about it. She did not lead; she had never been in the roundpen or on a longe line. Mama still kept an eye on her. Sasha was still attached to Mama, but they began to seem more friends than mother and daughter. As for a teenaged human, this rite of passage was normal for an adolescent horse. Sasha was separating from Mama, going off on her own, and asking for more space.
Sasha didn't seem to like me much. She approached other people more readily. She had two human "mentors", Jennifer and Shelley, whom she liked and trusted. She moved away when she saw me coming. Jennifer and Shelley could pet her; Sasha turned her nose up at me. I thought perhaps I had not spent enough time building a relationship with Sasha. I could put her halter on, and that was it. I tried to spend more time with her. She rebuffed my advances. The more time I tried to spend with her, the less she seemed to like me. From her run next door, Sasha watched almost all of my training sessions with Mama with vague distrust. I wondered if she was jealous of my time with Mama. Clearly, I had inserted myself in the middle of their relationship. Mama broke from Sasha's side whenever she saw me coming. She greeted me with whickers usually reserved for a foal. When Sasha saw me coming, she went the other way. Despite my efforts, Sasha remained aloof, unafraid but skeptical.
On one of those in-between mornings, I turned Sasha out when I called Mama to the roundpen for her breakfast. Mama came running. Sasha followed, but slowly and at a distance. When I closed the gate and began working Mama, Sasha ran back and forth on the outside of the fence, trying to follow Mama, as a young foal might. Nothing in Mama's whole training process had been normal. I was always working outside the box. I let Sasha in the round pen with Mama, a place she had never been. I threw them more hay and left them alone to eat, as I sat outside and watched, as I had sat with Mama so many times before. I decided to try something new.
I put on my suit of armor and my helmet, steeled my nerve and entered the roundpen. Two mustangs were certainly twice as dangerous as one.
But Mama was a rock. She loved the circle game. She moved quickly to her place in front of Sasha. Sasha immediately moved into the foal's place, nose at Mama's flank, slightly beside and behind her mother, where a mare could best protect a baby. Because Sasha was in a new and scary place, and I had entered the ring to traumatize her further, Sasha regressed. She was a baby again, obediently following her mother without question.
I used her bond to my advantage, because Mama and I shared our own bond. When I said trot, Mama complied and Sasha trotted quietly behind her, learning my language and the movement from her mother. More importantly, she learned that I was not only a member of her herd, but a leader whom Mama respected. Her fear began to melt away. Usually a young horse's first time in the roundpen involves bucking, galloping, shying and bolting. But Mama would not allow any shenanigans.
As Sasha became more comfortable with the work, she made a bid to dash to the front. Mama blocked her and put her neatly back in her place. They trotted in single file, matching tempo and stride. They changed direction, they stopped, they walked, all at my command and with Mama's help. As Sasha learned the routine, she became braver. The distance between Mama and Sasha grew, as Sasha dropped back behind Mama. Becoming more independent, she fell a length or two behind. Sasha began to dance, somehow balancing animation and relaxation, listening to my voice and following Mama's lead.
As the sun rose and the waning moon set that morning, it became clear that Sasha's relationship with her mother changed. And Sasha's relationship with me changed as well. By the end of the session, Sasha was listening to me and looking to me for direction, not to Mama. I let Mama out of the roundpen. When Mama walked away, Sasha stayed focused on me. She continued to work obediently. Thanks to Mama, Sasha made her first steps from sullen, incommunicative teen to responsive adult. The transference of trust was complete.
Chapter Index - Don't Miss The Other Episodes
Breakfast With Mama copyright 2011, 2012, Kathy Johnson
Photos copyright 2011, 2012, Tony Johnson
If you are interested in helping to sponsor Mama, please contact Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org