The Sienna Waltz
Cheryl A. Crossan
The first time I saw her was the first time I understood the reality of having your breath catch in your throat. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Her partner handed her off to me and the dance began.
Beauty can be both misleading and the truest form of appraising anything, I realized, as our waltz started with her dragging me down the dance floor of gravel until I could regain her attention. When she finally turned to face me, thus preventing both of us from becoming road kill; her head was high and she tossed her long black locks out of her face. She found me lacking and I was immediately humbled. Still she graciously followed me to the new dance floor, hair tossing and her unusually big feet nimbly doing the Samba, Rumba and other forms of hot-blooded Spanish dances. It was impossible to believe her ancestors were from New England at that moment. I wondered if she knew how to waltz.
In seconds my family and hers were babbling, introducing, laughing so fast I didn’t even try and follow, but gazed at her. Black dreadlocks of Jamaica hanging down her neck, a healthy robust reddish brown face, I felt pale and wan before her. Coins changed hands and her family left and I felt sorry that she’d been stuck with me. I knew I had a lot to live up to before she’d look at me with anything less than derision.
I’d never purchased a dance partner for life and it felt both exciting and sleazy. Soon our instructor had us out on the dance floor to join up. A non stop flow of information was going in my ear about cultural differences, and respect, cooperative dancing, and what I needed to do to make this happen. Meanwhile my partner did the Calypso, Texas Two-Step and showed an impressive version of the Hustle as she ignored us both. I was both dejected and exhilarated as I watched her free form dancing. Until she stopped, and gazed at us both and I heard a word that stuck to my Teflon brain cells. Fear. I turned to face the instructor; my entire face a question mark. Fear? Why in the world would she fear me? Surely she could sense I didn’t have a harmful bone in my body?
I stopped and the instructor went on. She didn’t try to go up to Sienna. She made her go even further away. Again. And again until Sienna didn’t want to dance away from her but rather followed her back to me, licking and chewing.
If everyone had to work with a scared horse, I think they’d have a much better understanding of ethnic differences in humans. What seemed absolutely counterintuitive to me at times is what I needed to ask of Sienna. First I had to ask her to see me as an alpha mare instead of a predator. That’s joining up, and to do that you have to ACT like an alpha mare, not a human. If you want them to come to you and they won’t, you drive them away. Over and over until they realize you aren’t trying to eat them but rather make them use polite herd behavior.
They have two sides and two separate brains. Of course we have two sides and two separate brains, but ours connect. Theirs don’t. I’m not exactly sure of the physiology of that, maybe it has to do with their eye placement on the sides and the fact they’re prey animals. Day after day I would work on dancing with Sienna and wait excitedly to show Cherie, who was instructing me, mentoring me, and she’d say, ‘that’s wonderful!!!! Now show me the other direction.‘ I’d confidently ask Sienna to do something the other direction, and she’d shy, and fumble, and look at me asking me, ‘please, what do you want me to do?’ Humbled once again. Over and over until I’d get frustrated and want to quit. Not with Sienna who has never let me down, but with myself.
If you want a horse to seek out something that seems like a monster to them, take it away. I watched Cherie do this with plastic bags, bouncing balls and other things. Horses are not supposed to be very smart, but if you can speak their language you’ll find a curiosity in them that rivals any humans. You just need to show them you aren’t afraid of it first. My idea of ‘sacking’ was flapping a bag around until Sienna didn’t shy, and going on to something new. Cherie tied it to the end of a lunge whip and after rubbing it all over Sienna took off down the arena with the bag behind her, in between herself and Sienna. She flapped in from side to side until Sienna realized Cherie wasn’t afraid of it, so it couldn’t be a monster. Sienna and I danced with a big green ball that bounces after me in my nightmares. I was supposed to start bouncing, walking backward with it between myself and Sienna. HA. I can’t even WALK backward, much less hold lead in one hand and bounce a huge ball in the other. To me that’s like patting your head and rubbing your stomach.
Why was Sienna so frightened when she first came? Well the crop marks on her where the hair was just beginning to grow back certainly had something to do with it. Later what I thought looked like it might be a brand turned out to be fence scars. She didn’t know how to eat grass when she came, and wanted only hay, and water to wet it in. At least she understood some where in the back of her mind that her natural food was supposed to have moisture in it. One day we danced outside after a small shower when droplets of rain turn to jewelry on the vegetation. Sienna sniffed the bejeweled grass and I held my breath as she decided to nibble some. From then on Sienna would whirl and twirl by herself, caught up in her own dance of seeking the sweetest grass.
She was kept in a small dirt enclosure with hay and water, and ignored after the day a crop wouldn’t straighten her up. She saw the same thing day after day and as we danced she would do a lightening fast hustle away from anything new. And just about everything was new.
I had cut some birdocks and thrown them on the gravel path up from the pasture. Sienna’s first trip up from the pasture after that? Snorting and white eyed. She knew those weren’t there before so they must be monsters.
Horses like to do two things. Eat and rest. After a few white eyed, snorty trips, I danced her when she started. Head up, snort, and I asked her for a hips over. She looked at me like I was crazy. Hey mom, you KNOW I don’t like to move my feet, and you had me do it next to a monster? Next pile of burdocks, head up, snorty, and hips over. She looked at me again but this time quizzically. I could see the light going off in her mind, like one of those comic balloons. Hmmm, had to move my feet but I didn’t get eaten. What to do, what to do? Next pile, head down and a little blowing at it. No hips over. Suddenly I’m the most wonderful alpha mother in the world.
Horses are so uncomplicated compared to humans who seem to take forever to learn something simple. Well at least this human. I’d done ‘hips over’ in the arena a couple gazillion times with arena monsters. But it takes me four days to do think of doing it somewhere else? If it wasn’t for Cherie’s knowledge and Sienna’s intelligence I’d still be trying to figure out how to halter her when she was loose. Probably Sienna would be picking it up from the railing by now and trying to put herself in it.
I rode her one night for about 15 minutes in a halter with reins, and lunge line attached. Two steps, give me your nose. Two more, give me your nose. Oh, and Cherie had us do it both directions. Now the reason for the crop use before I got her was supposedly because she bucked. Well all she did with me was give her nose repeatedly until I was heartily sick of seeing those cute nostrils, and lick and chew. Yet I know how important it will be someday that I can get her nose in a millisecond out of the arena when she sees a monster. She did great, I was a lifelong klutz, and now older than dirt to boot. The wonderful thing about horses is they don’t even know when you do something stupid, unless it frightens them. They just assume you meant to do it.
We’re not waltzing yet, but we have the Texas Two-Step down pretty well. Does she still need work on ground manners? Yes, but she’s so much better. Do I still need work on ground manners? It appears for life. However, I have a patient instructor and dance partner so I’m content, and Sienna feels safe I think for the first time in a long time, but Cherie may need hospitalization soon. I’m not sure which will get her first, ulcers or a psychotic breakdown. That will be a whole new story.
The picture is her dancing at the rail