If you have known me long, you know that Mya the Wonder Pony is the equine who has set the standards for me as the ultimate working partner. We’ve herded cows, packed chainsaws, skid logs, placed in a driving show, ridden solo in all manner of places, and hauled a number of unusual things, including rattlesnakes needing relocation. Several years ago I had a horsemanship instructor challenge me to advance my relationship with Mya. While idealistically I could see his point, practically I didn’t see any reason. Though Mya does draw the line at carrying plastic bags and sleigh bells, she’s so good at everything else that finding things to improve has seemed like making unnecessary work for myself.
In the last year, as Rural Heritage readers know, I did decide to work on one small part of our relationship: bridling. My Norwegian Fjord Horse gelding OH Torrin was the motivation for this work. Whenever I go to put his work bridle on, he reaches enthusiastically for the bit. In this he has set the standard, not Mya. Putting the bit in her mouth, by contrast, has always been a matter of inserting my thumb in the corner of her mouth to encourage her to open up. I never liked this approach because it felt a little like forcing the bit in her mouth, though she never fought me. Last year I worked with Mya to the point that she would take the bit into her mouth when it was presented. It wasn’t a quick process, as during each session she took her own sweet time deciding that she was willing. Nonetheless, having her open her mouth when the bit was offered rather than me forcing her mouth open to insert it was an advance in our bridling relationship.
Because of an injury to Mya (she got kicked in the head), we had a break in our work routine for a couple of months. When we started back up last month, I was pleased to discover that we’d made another advance in our bridling relationship. She actually reached for the bit. I was amazed. She’s still not as enthusiastic as Torrin is, but after nearly thirteen years, it’s really something to experience this offer on her part.
When these ponies reach for the bit, when they ask to have a piece of metal inserted in their mouth, it’s really quite an extraordinary thing if you stop to think about it. It would take quite a bit of convincing for me to let someone insert metal into my mouth! When they reach for the bit, I can’t interpret it any other way than they want to go to work with me. There’s no force or coercion or reward system involved here. They are offering of their own free will. In the business that my husband and I own, we’ve had human employees who weren’t as interested in working as these ponies are, and they were getting paid! It’s stunning when I stop to ponder it.
When I think back to the recent advance in bridling Mya, there was a sudden change in our bridling relationship after a break of two months, from her taking the bit to her reaching for it. It felt to me like she’d missed working together. For me this change was more than just an indication of improved horsemanship on my part. It felt like a statement by Mya about our relationship. She’s twenty this year, and she’s still wanting to work with me. How cool is that?
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2011