Barb is a little bay lightning bolt, electricity on four fuzzy legs. I see Barb every day, but it was not until spending a few concentrated hours with her over the course of a few days that I was reminded how much personality lives in that petite body. Some might call a horse like Barb silly (on a good day) or frustrating (on a bad one), but the truth of it is that singular adjectives do not do her justice. Indeed, Barb can be silly, as she skates her nose along the ground on the walk to her stall, like a bloodhound following a scent (she’s scenting alright, sniffing for any errant hay she can inhale). She can also be frustrating, flinging open the window of her stall in order to make nasty faces at her neighbor (we have had to bungee her window shut to ensure no hijinks ensue when the HOA isn’t around to police her). But where Barb really excels is in something all horses do, which is being a mirror for us humans.

Barb wears her heart on her furry bay sleeve, and is not afraid to tell it like it is. Were Barb a human, she would be your painfully honest friend who delivers hard truths. Blunt? Maybe. But necessary? Yes.

This is really a post about the three consecutive days I worked with Barb, an update about how she’s doing and what we did, but it is also a reflection on the joy of horses and what they can tell us about ourselves.

The first evening that I let Barb out into the round pen, the intention being to send her around a bit to get some brain and body exercise, she took advantage of the few seconds I needed to hang up her halter and grab a flag to stop, drop, and roll. There was none of the spot-searching some horses do when looking for the best place to have a roll. No, Barb knew her time was limited, and got immediately to business. Popping up off the ground, she exploded into a canter, sending a buck in my direction to let me know exactly how she was feeling about the idea of having to ‘do work.’ From there, it became an exercise in trying to get her to hook on. Please note, this is not Barb’s first rodeo. While an injury waylaid her for a while, Barb was going well under saddle, walk trot lope in and out of the arena, on and off the property. She is no novice to being pushed around a round pen, and either because of or in spite of that fact, she does not make things simple for the human who is working with her. She races around, changing direction at will, kicking out, her body bent outward as though she is determined to not make any sort of eye contact. It is then an exercise in proving to Barb that you are actually worth paying attention to. Here is something that is both respectable and, yes, frustrating about this mare: she really is one to make you prove your credentials. She would like to know why it’s worth hooking on to you before she does it — running around willy-nilly with one’s own agenda is tremendous fun, after all. Even after you manage to get her ‘with’ you, the bond is tenuous. She demands you remain the most interesting, or she will find something else that is (and that, in a crushing blow to the ego, can sometimes even be dirt). Horses really ask you to be present, but Barb might as well demand it.

So when Barb does get ‘with you,’ it is quite rewarding. You also realize that, beneath that explosive surface is a horse who is somewhat dull. It seems impossible that she with so much life can be slow to respond, but it makes a bit more sense when you remember that life is on her own terms. When it is you asking Barb to go, she is much less enthused about the idea. Helping Barb through the dullness is about releasing her for the life you are requesting.

Once she was with me in a loose setting, we worked on the line. You might think that because we left on such a good spot loose that it would carry over, but such is not the case. On a halter, Barb immediately wants to trot off. She swings her head around, and you occasionally get the sense you are on the other line from a balloon that is quickly deflating. But like in the round pen, she needs you to prove to her that you are both worth paying attention to and reasonable. She is a horse who is quick to tell you if and when you are asking too much. The immediacy in which her ears fly backwards might as well say in plain English “you’re nagging.” But if you manage to time your releases appropriately, Barb transforms into a very chill little pony. It is a very cool opportunity to be able to work with a horse like Barb, for whom relaxation is something to be earned, not merely a default setting. At the end of day 1, Barb walked back to her stall with her head hung low.

On day 2, I was expecting the same sort of explosiveness I had seen the day before when I set her loose in the round pen, but she merely walked off calmly. It wasn’t until I pushed her up into a lope that she showed off her athletics. It still took a moment to turn her mind towards me, but it happened much sooner than the previous day. Day 3 followed a very similar course to day 2, but it took even less time to hook her on. Working on the line was a similar story, with her willingness to be present with me decreasing in the time it took from day to day. One of our core tenants when working with horses is to ‘observe, remember, compare, and adjust.’ It was very neat to be able to see the changes in Barb over the few days and work on having them appear sooner in subsequent sessions.

All horses are unique, but Barb has to be up there with one of the coolest gals I know! She is going to be a fun horse for someone who likes a big personality (and a cute face to boot!)