Saturday, April 11, 2015

She's Got Personality

by Meghan Namaste

In my book Training Harry, the main characters bond through the trials and tribulations of reforming a so-called "problem horse". Harry is a young polo prospect with good breeding, who's never known anything but the best of care. His athletic ability and potential to succeed is mind-boggling, but his brain is not on board with the proceedings. He's firmly stuck, fighting with all his keen intelligence and athleticism to avoid conceding to a human agenda. It takes quite a bit of persistence, creativity, and a stroke of luck to uncover Harry's demons. Behind the storybook upbringing, he's harboring a deep-seated fear.

When writing the "horse behaving badly" scenes, I stayed far away from the tired trope of a rearing, snorting, nostrils-flaring animal. Not that Harry didn't rear (he did just about everything a horse might resort to when resisting), but I felt it was important to get down into the nuances of equine behavior. Sometimes, resistance isn't all that dramatic. It could mean simply that Harry gave a dirty look, or set his head a certain way, or went along in a lovely, cadenced rhythm while carrying enough tension to detonate a nuclear bomb.

The acknowledgment in Training Harry is dedicated to my horse, Sofie, "who appears all over this book in equine characters both brilliant and devious". It's a true statement. I stole it all, and I used it at will: her moods, her ups and downs, our path to bonding as horse and rider.

In one pivotal scene, Lawrence & Erica's quest to unlock Harry's resistance comes to a turning point when Erica sees Lawrence is feeding into Harry's fear and compounding it.

I pressed Harry’s sides. He trotted off rigidly. I knew what had to be done. I looked left, and tightened my hand against the rein.
Harry seized up. He came to a quivering halt, sinking down on his hocks. I pushed him forward. He scrambled sideways, terrified. I stopped thinking, just like him. My hands crept back toward my body, closing Harry in.
"Drop the reins!" Came Erica's frantic yell.
Harry's heart pounded through my boots. His eye rolled in his head. White foam covered his lips and fell onto his chest. He couldn't swallow. My hold was too strong.
"Give him the reins!"
I couldn't look at Erica. I couldn't look anywhere but Harry's neck. We were both locked in our fear patterns, and I was the only one who could end it.
Harry was thrashing desperately in my grasp. I realized, sickeningly, that he was trying to be good. He wasn't running us into the fence. He wasn't flipping over on me. He was trying. I felt a warm bubble of emotion in my throat. I was proud of him. And I absolutely hated myself for being incapable of the same, simple thing.
Erica's voice cut into my toxic mix of emotions. "Drop the - " she paused suddenly. I listened hard. She started again, decisively. "Reach down and pat his neck! Right now!"
That did it. That got through to me. I couldn't drop the reins in the heat of the moment. It seemed drastic, insurmountable somehow. But I could pat Harry. That was doable. I put my hand on his neck, rubbing the glossy, sweaty hair, feeling the concrete muscle under my fingers. The reins went slack. Harry's feet sank into the ground again. His head flopped downward. He was relieved, exhausted. I knew how he felt.
I set the reins on his withers and just sat there, rubbing his neck with both hands. He melted under my caress, and I realized how I had condemned him. He was crazy, he was a jerk, he had no work ethic. I had done what everyone does. I had blamed him so I could be blameless. I had only thought about the behavior, not about the why.

When I started working with my horse, she had a light mouth but could be bullish, and she carried a lot of tension. She'd rush at the trot or canter and build up speed, and if I pulled back on her mouth to try and slow her down, she'd brace into the contact and simply keep going faster. Through trial and error, we learned that if I softened the contact (a completely counter-intuitive approach) she would relax, soften, and slow down. Therefore, a lot of our rides ended up a bit like the scene above, with my horse racing around in a field and my mom yelling "Drop the reins!" at me from afar.

Sometimes we're on the bit, sometimes we're not (same day, btw)

No comments:

Post a Comment