The type of horsemanship I study advocates a ‘pre-flight check,’ a routine to determine whether your horse is mentally, emotionally and physically fit to be ridden. I have repeatedly gotten a good laugh out of my Fell Pony mare Lily because she has her own version of a pre-flight check. The purpose of her routine, it seems, is to see if her human is worthy to work with on that particular day.
Here are some examples of Lily’s version of a pre-flight check. Will I let her toss her head while I’m haltering her or will I take the halter off and start over, repeating until she is respectfully still? Will I let her move her feet while I’m saddling her or will I make her stand still, backing her up if necessary and returning her to the original spot? Will I let her pick her feet up to distract me from tightening the girth or will I ask her to stand quietly, again backing her up and returning her to the original position until she complies? Will I let her turn her head towards the girth area when I’m working there or will I make her keep it straight forward until I ask for something different? When mounted, will I tolerate her doing her own version of lateral flexion without prompting or will I reward her for it only when I ask for it?
I’ve been working with Lily several times a week for the past five months. During that time I’ve worked with her on each of her pre-flight check routines. It was when she became pretty reliable at standing still while saddling that she starting lifting her feet when I tightened the girth, testing me as a leader in a different way. I know she’s inventing these things as I figure her out because for our first nine years together she never rubbed her head on me, and in the past month while I’ve been saddling, she’s started doing this.
When I think back over the past five months, I realize that Lily and I have made a lot of progress, and that progress has gone faster when I’ve been more aware of her pre-flight checks. When I have made her ‘behave’ more respectfully, she has complied, while at the same time coming up with new ways to see if I’m paying attention. Apparently on most days, I’ve passed Lily’s pre-flight check.
I will always wonder if, because Lily has known me her entire life, she is more able to and interested in testing me continually. Fortunately there’s been a benefit to Lily’s pre-flight checks; laughter is definitely good medicine!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012