Last Saturday I knew a storm was due at some point. It was a warm, quiet morning at the barn; Halo and I were alone.
After a successful longeing session I brought her into the covered round pen for some in-hand work. Glancing at the sky I noticed that the clouds were darkening in the west. They began to roll angrily on the horizon as I took off her saddle, and I decided to make the walk back to the barn to put it away in case of rain. When I got back up to the arena, the wind picked up. The balmy morning turned suddenly cold as wind sliced through the pen. The clouds were closer now and I could hear horses whinnying in the far pastures. And before we could get out, then came the rain.
From the first strike of water against the aluminum roof, Halo blasted around the pen, whinnying, bucking, and carrying on. We could see her friends in the mare pasture running for cover as sheets of rain poured out of the sky. Halo was clearly agitated that she couldn't be with them as they jostled for positions under the run-in shed in their field. I started to worry that she was going to hurt herself. She paced the fenceline at a trot, rolling back at each end and whinnying her distress. Her face got pelted with rain that streaked down over her shoulders and back when she paused to press herself against the gate. I knew I had to stop her.
I picked up her lead rope and stepped out of the center of the arena, shivering a little in my thin t-shirt. Halo paid me no mind but a flicked ear in passing as she continued to call out to the other mares. I hoped her training would hold as I stepped square into her trot path, cuing her to stop with my body language. Neither of us could hear a thing over the deafening crash of falling water all around us. She passed me once, twice (slowing), and then stopped. Her eyes were wide and her head held high as she braced against the rope to look back at the mare pasture. Preparing for the worst, I led her off at a walk.
We slowly circled the pen. By the second circle I felt her relax into the familiar pattern of footfalls that our boot prints and hoofprints made in the sand. She flicked an ear toward the mares, but lowered her head to walk on with me. The rain showed no sign of letting up, and the arena where we'd longed minutes ago was already an inch deep in standing water. Hoping for the best, I stopped Halo in the center of the arena and petted her neck. My shirt was damp with rain and I was truly shivering now. A fine mist of water was making its way into the arena, and the wind drove the rain several feet into the pen behind where we stood. Halo turned her tail to the wind and cocked a back leg. I followed suit, and hunkered down to the ground for warmth. The horse that had been charging around out of control a mere five minutes ago stood quietly over me, shielding me with her body.
We stood there for an indeterminate length of time, turning slightly over time as the winds shifted from the west to the north. Despite the thunderous onslaught from the sky, Halo stood quiet and vigilant above me, unmoving and rock steady.
In many ways, this was a turning point in our horse-human relationship. By choosing to stand quietly with me, she accepted me as part of her herd for the duration of the storm. And by kneeling down in front of her, I trusted her to stay quiet and protect me from the worst of the rain. I am not usually one to get overly anthropomorphic with my horse, but I do feel that she trusted me too. I don't expect that she always will (especially when confronted with scary horse-eating objects on the trail), but I do hope to earn her continued trust over time. We have many obstacles ahead, but this was a good, if unexpected, start.