Lauren is in Utah this weekend for a conference and asked me to watch over Marley by myself for a few days. She said it would be a good time for Marley and I to bond and I was glad to accept the challenge. I know a thing or two about male bonding.
I showed up to the barn after a full day of work completely set on building my relationship with Marley. I came equipped with a large supreme pizza, a twelve pack and a copy of Superbowl XXIV (Broncos vs 49ers). To my surprise, Marley didn't want anything to do with it. I had forgotten that he is a vegetarian and I guess the sting of watching Denver lose in one of the biggest blow-outs in Superbowl history was still too fresh for his young horse heart to take. It was time for plan B, oats and carrots.
The wind was blowing cold air in from the mountains and the barn was deserted except for my car. All the horses were restless and there was a noticeable tension in the air as soon as I stepped out of the jeep, perfect conditions for my first solo session.
I walked up to his run and noticed Marley's blanket was really dirty on one side. He'd been rolling in the mud created by the rain and melting snow. I entered the pen and approached him, hoping to put his halter on and remove the blanket. Marley let me approach and pet his nose and face but was apprehensive about me touching his neck. His body and blanket were out of the question. I could tell he was uneasy so I decided to make him comfortable by talking to him and giving him some carrots. He would step to me, but remained unsure about me touching his neck. After a few minutes it became apparent that getting his blanket off would be very difficult without a change in his demeanor.
I prepared his grain and placed his dish in the middle of his pen. He greedily gobbled it up and had no problem with me standing right next to him. On the other hand, whenever the neighboring horses came close to the fence Marley would pin his ears back and charge them. Lauren and I have noticed the other horses nipping at Marley on several occasions and I think the wind and cold and strange conditions finally pushed Marley to his boiling point.
After several exchanges with the neighbors he finally finished his food. I again attempted to remove his blanket but Marley was so wound up that he wouldn't let me move my hand past his neck. On two occasions I had to move quickly as Marley turned around suddenly and looked as if he was going to give me a nice hoof-shaped dent on my chest. I remained unscathed and Marley was never upset with me for very long.
I knew that this was a tough day for him. The wind was cold , the other horses were acting strange, and to top it all off, his best friend was off gallivanting in Utah and he was stuck with the B team sub. Up to this point my role had been poop cleaner and occasional carrot jockey. He needed someone to comfort him today, not a new trainer.
I stayed with him for over an hour. At the end he was following me and eating carrots from my hand. Marley was as relaxed as he was going to get today and was letting me pet his face and neck. I ended there on a good note and hope to build on that feeling tomorrow when I go back in the afternoon. The weather should be better and I hope to lead him to the arena so he can run around and get some exercise. I'm still coming with pizza, except this time it will be just veggie and we can try to watch something a little more neutral. Maybe Hidalgo?