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Heartland #2: After the Storm

Raisin was a pretty, young chestnut who panicked and tried to bolt every time a rider attempted to mount her. In all other respects — being groomed, handled and led — the mare was obedient and responsive. Amy was sure that her problem could be cured.

As she led the chestnut up to the circular ring by the turnout paddocks, Lou came jogging into the yard. "What are you doing with Raisin today?" she asked with interest.

"I'm going to join up with her," Amy said. Joining up was a way of establishing a relationship of trust and understanding with a horse. It was a technique Marion had taught Amy.

"May I watch?" Lou asked.

"Sure," Amy said.

When they reached the circular ring, Lou leaned against the fence. After shutting the gate behind them, Amy rubbed Raisin's forehead with the palm of her hand and then unclipped the longline. She tossed one end toward the horse's hindquarters. With a slight jump of surprise, Raisin trotted away. Moving quickly so that her shoulders were in line with Raisin's, Amy pitched the longline again. With a snort, the chestnut broke into a high-headed canter.

By keeping her shoulders square with Raisin's body and her eyes fixed on the mare's eyes, Amy urged the mare on. After seven circuits she stepped slightly into the horse's path, blocking her movement and sending her at a canter in the opposite direction.

"Look," she said to Lou after Raisin made a few more circuits. "See her ear?" Raisin's inside ear was pointing into the circle in Amy's direction. "It means she's ready."

She urged the mare to circle the ring a few more times, waiting patiently for the next signal. At last it came. Raisin slowed to a trot and started to lick and chew with her mouth. This was the way a horse showed that it wanted to be friends. Then came the final signal. Raisin stretched out her head and neck so that her muzzle was almost on the floor.

In one swift movement, Amy turned her shoulders sideways so she wasn't facing the horse and dropping her eyes, concentrating entirely on Raisin and forgetting about Lou's steady gaze on her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Raisin slow to a stop. The horse stared at Amy and then decisively walked into the middle of the circle up to Amy's back, stopping by her shoulder and snorting softly. It was the moment to join up!

Amy slowly turned and rubbed Raisin's forehead. "Good girl," she murmured before walking away. Raisin's instinct told her that humans were predators, but now Amy was trying to tell Raisin that she wasn't a threat — by moving away with nonaggressive body language. For the join up to be a success, she wanted Raisin to voluntarily choose to be with her and to follow her. To Amy's delight, as she walked across the ring the young chestnut did exactly that — she followed, with her nose by Amy's shoulder, her warm breath on Amy's neck. When she was certain she had Raisin's trust, Amy stopped and rewarded her with another rub on the forehead.

"Now that we've got an understanding," Amy told Lou, "I can start working on getting her used to being ridden. She'll be much easier to handle now."

To prove her point, she ran her palms over Raisin's back and then eased her weight onto her hands. Raisin didn't flinch. "See, Raisin, I'm not going to hurt you. You'll be just fine." Amy stroked her and gave her a pat. "That's enough for today," she said.

Lou's eyes shone as she opened the gate. "That was incredible!"

Amy smiled. She had watched her mom join up on numerous occasions and understood exactly how Lou was feeling. Mom always said that no matter how many times she did it, it never felt any less amazing.

"So, are you going to join up with Spartan?" Lou asked curiously as they led Raisin back to the barn.

Ty, who was walking past with a water bucket, stopped. "It would be crazy to try and join up now," he said, looking at Amy. "There's no telling what he might do."

"He's not that bad," Amy protested, but she knew deep down that Ty was right.

"He could be dangerous," Ty said, his dark eyes serious.

"He's not," Amy retorted, seeing the look of concern on her sister's face. She turned to Ty. "Look, relax. I wasn't thinking about joining up with him yet. He'd probably try to jump out of the ring at this point."

"Or worse," Ty said.

Amy ignored him. "I thought I'd just try to get him used to me first. Go into his stall, brush him." She swallowed. "I'm going to start this afternoon."

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