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Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang are two complementary principles of Chinese philosophy: Yin is negative, dark, and feminine, and Yang is positive, bright, and masculine. Their interaction maintains the universe's harmony and influences everything within it.

Physically, Anna, or Little Miss as I affectionately call her, loosely aligns with Yin as defined above. Her coloring is bay, and she's female. However, I do not think of her as negative in any way. Her only undesirable behavior is typical mare grouchiness when she sees her reflection in the mirrors in the arena. Otherwise, she is one of the sweetest horses I know.

There is little known about her background. I have drawn conclusions based on her behavior. She was sick with shipping fever when she arrived and emotionally shut down. She communicated minimally and tolerated maximally. I know this way of being only too well.

Quick movements startled her and resulted in her flinching or moving out of "harm's way." For example, I casually flipped the saddle pad over her once, and she shied. I made a mental note and moved more slowly to not scare her. From this behavior I assumed previous mistreatment by humans. Meanwhile, her outward demeanor was one of calm stoicism.

She is not the slightest bit pushy on the ground, and when she is in your space, it feels like a privilege versus an invasion. She willingly follows you around like a puppy. You don't have to beg her. She just does it.

This trait was helpful in the first few months we worked together when she pooped no less than three times a session. Stressed in her new environment and unsure of our expectations, she was hyper-responsive to any request. Relieved when the session was over, Little Miss would let out a half sigh (I have yet to hear her sigh fully), drop her head, and follow me around the arena to clean up poop piles. She never once refused to go or strayed.

She was tense under saddle in the early days, and her answer to all cues was to go faster. Our response was to ride her quietly with soft hands and praise the heck of her. As the weeks wore on, she began to understand what we were asking of her. She eventually relaxed and started following the bit down to stretch her back at the walk and trot. She no longer poops when we ride her.

Ten months into our relationship, we understand each other better. I see trust that wasn't there at the beginning on both sides. Anna nickers to me frequently, and when she sees my car pull into the driveway, she strolls over to the gate until I come to get her. Little Miss now knows what a treat is and does a great job requesting one. It's hard to deny her between her cute face, nicker, and gentle manners.

The fact that she has started to show me opinions brings me joy. She frequently tells me she wants to graze. She does this subtly with a nose tip and a step toward the grass. She occasionally is grouchy about where she is touched, and I heed her warning. Anna has brought me to the arena door several times, suggesting our ride is over. I am happy she feels safe enough to express her desires.

In a world of opposites, if Anna is dark, Rudy is light.

Rudy has a big, in-your-face personality. He is expressive and charismatic. He's playful and rarely misses the opportunity to grab the lead rope, play with my water bottle, or throw my bag on the floor and go through it looking for treats. Rudy is hard to ignore. He all but demands attention and engagement from both humans and horses.

This trait gets him in trouble from time to time. He loves playing with his pasture mates. The problem is he frequently ignores communication that they have had enough. When this happens, Rudy ends up with battle wounds—cuts on his face, a bite to the rump, or a kick to the leg. These wounds are usually superficial, but occasionally, they warrant human intervention to save Rudy from sustaining a serious injury.

He's an "in-your-face" or "in-your-pocket" horse. He doesn't understand the concept of personal space. I know it's crucial to maintain physical boundaries with horses, especially pushy horses, but this has been challenging. In part because he repeatedly tests the limits, which requires relentless consistency.

His need to be in your space, in contact, filled my need to feel loved. There's nothing quite like a Rudy snuggle. He drops his head low and rests it against your chest. He often will stay like that for minutes. He earned the nickname of "snuggle bug" at a former barn.

Rudy has an opinion about almost everything. I tease that his operative word is, "Why?" When faced with this day in and day out, it challenges human patience. Occasionally, I hear my mother's voice say, "Because I said so!" This sentiment means nothing horses and doesn't work with Rudy.

Rudy has a strong sense of fairness and demands that humans respect him. He will correct your thinking if you believe he should comply because you're a human or because you asked. Rudy insists on a partnership, a 50/50 relationship. Once you figure this out, he has a lot of "try" in him, and he will trust the human to lead him forward. When you're in sync with him, it is magic. His willingness and heart shine through.

Rudy is sensitive and expressive. He isn't shy about showing his feelings about what affects him. I like this about him. I know what I'm dealing with. There are no hidden agendas, unlike people. If Anna is introverted, Rudy is extroverted.

There's nothing about Rudy that's easy, predictable, or usual. He is one of a kind. He will give you his whole heart and his best self. You might be lucky enough to get one of his deep-eye stares if you are present. They are captivating. For those moments he holds you in his energy you are one.

The love he gives and the tenderness he shows are more profound than I have experienced with most humans. He has cared for me better than most people when I needed it.

I adore Rudy with my whole heart. He has emphatically made me a better human and horse person. But with growth comes pain. Meanwhile, Anna is comparatively a walk in the park. She is willing, while he is often resistant. As I mentioned, Rudy’s response to most requests is “Why?” while Anna’s is "Okay."

I love working with them for different reasons. I've always liked a challenge, and my relationship with Rudy is complex, deep, and multifaceted. He inspires me to be a better version of myself, to find new ways of being, and to examine outdated or untrue beliefs. He rewards me when I am present and when I see the truth. And there is no doubt that he loves me, and I know he feels loved.

Anna receives me as I am. I think she appreciates being handled by someone kind and gentle. I suspect Anna knows what it is like to be treated as an object for human pleasure. She tolerates mistakes and doesn't require a rock-solid, confident rider. She is sure enough for both of us.

In these two souls, I am fortunate to experience the duality that the universe serves up.

By Diane R. Jones

September 23, 2023

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