The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I've recently had a little epiphany about collection.

The great desideratum of collection for both humans and horses, is release at the poll, aka the atlanto-occipital joint.

As an Alexander student, and teacher, I have spent many hours, days, and years attempting to release my poll or to induce others to do so.  I am all too aware that these efforts are often forced, and actually involve a stiffening of the neck and, rather than a dropping of the head from the atlanto-occipital joint, more of a pushing of the head/neck forward from the region of the seventh cervical vertebra (C-7).

A true release of the neck involves a dropping forward of the front of the head, while the back of the neck below the poll actually releases backwards.

The same is true of the attempt to collect horses. The horse's head should "nod" forward from the poll, while the rest of its spine should release toward the tail, allowing the hind legs to come under. When you look at photos of dressage horses, it sometimes appears that their necks are drawn forward towards their heads, in a misguided maneuver similar to the tendency of humans to push their heads forward from C-7. I have been guilty of inflicting this on horses myself.

The term flexion is itself a misnomer.  To flex implies muscular effort.  Whereas collection begins above all in a release at the poll.

I have been struck, looking at KFH's horses, how upright their necks seem compared to what I'm used to.  I believe this is because they are truly releasing at the poll, and their cervical spine is able to release back toward their tails, which allows their quarters to drop.  Another horse which has struck me in this same way is the amazing palomino bullfighting horse Merlin. (Not that I'm condoning bullfighting.)  He displays intense collection, and usually on a loose rein.

Many photos of competitive dressage horses suggest a horse pulled in two different directions - from the withers forward going one way, the quarters going another, and the middle lost in between.  They can't really "sit down," because their necks are being pulled away from their tails.

The other difference which strikes me is that while competitive dressage horses' profiles are typically vertical, or behind the vertical (nose behind eyes), Klaus's horses and Merlin have profiles which are ahead of vertical (nose ahead of eyes).  

I think it may be possible to use reins to ask for or suggest a release at the poll, but it is a contradiction to compel a release.

In Dancing With Horses, pp. 56-57, Klaus has some interesting observations about how we attempt to force the horse into a frame resembling collection, and in so doing lose the essence of collection. He believes that true collection originates in the hindquarters.  I'm not so sure, because I'm pretty certain that in humans it originates in a release at the poll. Either way, it can never be forced.

One of these days, I'm going to find myself on the back of a horse again, and I'm going to try to find a way to discuss these issues with the horse.

George Takes Charge

Remember how I said that George's teeth have never offered to make contact with the mares?  Never say never.

A day or two ago, I saw Rose nibbling on some black walnut leaves overhanging their field.  I believe black walnut is not great for horses (although we never had a horse want to eat it before), so I shooed her away. George picked that moment to chase her.  I thought it was a coincidence.

This morning, she went to eat some of the leaves again.  I shouted anxiously at her to leave them alone. George ran at her and gave her a definite, teeth-bared, bite on the rump (no damage done).

I was rather impressed and thanked him.

Rose Emerging?

Rose has taken to returning to the scene of breakfast after the others have left.  She goes to each erstwhile food pile and sniffs around looking for leftovers.

She is a very reserved horse and never puts herself forward.  She stays close to the herd and hangs back while the others come forward for attention.  But this recent show of independence got me thinking maybe she's looking for something else.

This morning, after snooping around for crumbs of breakfast, she was standing alone by the water trough.  I went out to see her, and she indicated with her head that she was interested in the grass on the other side of the fence.  As I had left my breakfast sitting on the counter where the kitten was sure to get it, I told her I'd just run in and get my plate and then be back to take her out.

Alas, when I returned a moment later, Rose had left.  Next time I'll just sacrifice my breakfast.

Monday, August 30, 2010

George is Super Awesome

Today I took George out, and he grazed, and browsed among the fallen apples, and tried to break into a bin full of feed.
Open Sesame.  Please.
After George was returned to the field, it was Bridget's turn to come out.  After a similar tour of the yard, also involving apples (although not attempted feedbin felony),
it was time to put her back.  And as usual, there was George, guarding the gate.

Recently, I've thought that George has deliberately been finding an excuse to leave the gate area in order to facilitate Bridget's re-entry.  So today I thought I'd consciously ask for his help, rather than telling him to get out of the way.  Bridget and I stopped at the gate, and I told George what our problem was. He stood for quite a long time, alternately pawing the gate, making faces at Bridget, and nibbling on grass. Whenever he crowded the gate too much, I pressed back on his chest with a feather-light amount of pressure, to which he responded.  Other than that, I let him be.  Bridget waited more or less patiently. Finally, he moved off slightly to one side, which allowed me to open the gate a fraction and resume a new waiting position in the opening.  More standing and waiting.

Then he suddenly turned and deliberately walked away up the fence, far enough to let Bridget through comfortably.  When he turned back toward us, he didn't try to run Bridget off before her halter was removed.

I told him how fabulous he was and ran to get everybody more apples.  I thought George looked rather pleased about the whole thing.  After I left, the mares wandered off, but George stood up by the house for a while, waiting.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

An Old Friend

This is a pony I used to know at the rescue.  He found a good home and, in this photo, has just won a hunter jumper championship.  He is a friendly, outgoing, cheerful pony, and I don't like to see the expression on his face here - it looks like his bit is causing him pain. His rider looks very happy. For other photos like this, see Kris McCormack's blog entry Our Lyin' Eyes.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

George Takes Me in Hand

Ok, so you have 25 minutes before you have to leave and go to the Post Office.  So you could either fill and empty the dishwasher, or you could go visit the horses.  Let me see now .....

When I went out to the field, Chloe, being in heat, was extra frisky and kicked out at George right in front of me.  Earlier in the day, I'd been out in the field, and Bridget and George had stood about 10 feet apart looking at each other, while I walked back and forth from one to the other, scratching each one's head. But there was to be no such detente this time.  I was a bit flustered, and my energy was very scattered.  I thought to myself, "Oh gosh, I'm just in the way, maybe I should have stayed in the house."  Whereupon George came up and slid me into the cozy spot next to his flank.  As soon as I was there, my head immediately cleared.  I rested my chin on his back and slowed down.  We stood for a couple of minutes, and when I was relaxed, George sighed, chewed, and then walked over to get some hay, allowing Bridget to come up for some attention.

I scratched her hindquarters for a bit and then got sick of that.  After trying in vain to get me to start again, she and Rose followed me over to some shade trees, where we hung out for a while. Then George, at a moment deemed appropriate by himself (and possibly because Bridget had started asking me to scratch her hindquarters again), came over and shooed the mares away. He and I spent a little time together, and then I had to leave.  He followed me to the gate and stood looking at me over the fence.  I told him I wished he could come to the post office with me.  (Any of you who haven't yet seen Patches the Coolest Horse better go watch it now.  Sorry about the cheeseburger.)

I think George is drawing his own conclusions about what we're doing, or trying to do, whatever that is. My own view of things is very coloured by language, by linear thought processes, by "things I've read" and "things I've heard."  George has none of that.  He observes me, and his fellow horses, and other people, and probably things out there in the atmosphere about which I know nothing.  He is putting together his own viewpoint about our horse-human project.

One thing I just realized about George is that despite the menacing looks which send the mares skittering away, he has never made contact, or tried to make contact, with them.  He's never even opened his mouth.

That was yesterday.  Today, after they'd had breakfast, they were all standing by the fence for a long time, with George staring pointedly at the house.  I went out and fixed their water, but that wasn't it.  George pawed at the fence.  I told my daughter to go take her horse for a walk, so off they went.  There they are in the distance at the end of the drive:

However, when they returned and my daughter went to talk to Bridget, George resumed his post, staring at the house, waiting for me to come out:
So out I go.  Does he want me to come into the field with him?  No, as soon as I get in there, he moves over to the gate and sticks his head over.  Ok, he wants to come out.  So I put his halter on, and we go grazing down the drive and then up to the apple tree, about 15-20 minutes altogether maybe.  After I put him back, he gets a drink and quite happily goes off with the others.

It's funny that just when I was complaining that the horses didn't focus on me, George spends about an hour staring intently at the house, willing me to come out so he can ask me to do something for him!

Anthropomorphism is Not a Dirty Word

That's all.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Out for a Walk

Yesterday, I wanted to go for a walk, and I wanted to take a horse with me, preferably Bridget.  I must have been a little less tired than the day before, because when I walked into the field, halter in hand, and said to George, "No, I'm not taking you out right now, I'm taking that one," he didn't object. Maybe it was because they'd just been moved into the fresh (although still not very fresh, given the long drought) pasture, or maybe it was because I'd mustered up just enough energy to convince him.

As I haltered Bridget, George walked past, and she spooked back a little.  But he wasn't going for her - I think he just gave her a look which said, "Don't let this give you any ideas above your station, young lady."

Bridget was full of curiosity as we walked down the road.  She stopped for frequent snacks but was always ready to continue forward when asked.  When we got to the corner of Garlands' lane, I asked her if she wanted to go straight, go home, or turn down the lane.  She chose the lane.

In the distance, the other horses were whinnying - but Bridget ignored them.  Why do the left-behind ones always get worried, while the one going out doesn't seem to care?  We stopped for more snacks. That's our barn in the distance.

On the way home, Bridget displayed a little reluctance, sometimes, to proceed.  Having not "trained" her to move forward on command, I resorted to my usual tactic, namely walking briskly in the direction I wish to go and hoping she'll follow me.  Mostly she did, and I only felt a couple of tugs on the leadrope. 

This kind of interaction represents the sort of haphazard progress we're making, and the kind of compromises inherent in our way of doing things.  Ideally, I suppose, we would dispense with tack altogether.  But then she couldn't come out on fun outings. She probably would not have followed me without a leadrope, but she knows the leadrope represents some sort of temporary bond between us that kind of makes us a team.  KFH has his horses trained to reliably respond without tack, but he doesn't start out with no tack, and he initiates the horse's movement using a helper-with-a-whip.  I just can't see going out and following this, or any other, program  - following a set program seems to be a non-starter for me these days. With both George and Bridget, however, I have started to teach them to stop when I raise my hand.  I think it will be appropriate, as time goes by, and we become more attuned to each other, to introduce more deliberate cues of this kind.

What I find is that the horses' attention is very diffuse and mobile.  When I think of a horse who is working with a person, I think of that horse's attention being very focussed on the human, very on-task.  Our horses are not like that.  They seem to hold me in suspension somewhere in their attention, amidst a host of other things.  I am most certainly not the hub of their wheel.  Sometimes it's hard to accept this.  But I'm becoming conscious that this is an ok place to be, a place which traditional horsemanship would say is dangerous because the horse is not instantly responsive to my commands.  But it's not just bad-old-days horse trainers who have focussed horses. Horse people whom I respect - Spilker, Resnick, KFH - do have horses who are very focussed on the work they're doing together.

It's just where I'm at, and there's not a thing I can do about it except go with the flow.  Any time I wanted, I could throw in the towel, get me a round pen and a long whip, and have those horses paying all kinds of attention - I'd even be sweet and kind about it.  But that would be a shortcut to the wrong place.

When Bridget and I got back to the pasture, George was, of course, hovering by the gate.  I asked him to move off a few times, to no avail. Then he decided to go get a drink, which gave Bridget the opportunity to nip in. I think he does stuff like that because he really does want to be helpful but it's just difficult for him to admit he was wrong, and by going to get a drink he could allow her to come in and still save face.  Am I crazy?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More Learning

This evening, I took George out to graze.

After a time, I felt that I should put him back and let Bridget have a turn.  But I was tired. Today was the first day getting up for the school bus, and I had run out of energy. For the first time I was struck by my complete, utter, and debilitating lack of conviction. Am I like this all the time, or only when I'm tired?

How could I accomplish the task of putting a reluctant George back in the pasture and extricating Bridget when I lacked all conviction?  If he were "trained," I could just push a button, and it would happen.  But that's not how we roll these days.

I wondered how I could ever summon up the energy and conviction to perform such a task. Or ever get the horses to do anything at all. It gradually dawned on me that I could in fact just let it slide, that in this moment, maybe it was ok to just traipse along lackadaisically beside George.

And then I started thinking about how while we applaud horses for "being in the moment," it is so very difficult for us to be like them.  If I were truly in the moment, I would have unclipped George's lead rope and gone for a nap in the hammock.  But I couldn't do that, because George (unlike Chloe) might go out onto the road. And besides, it was getting to be 5:30 and I really had to start dinner, because we have to go to bed by a certain time, because the school bus is arriving at a certain time tomorrow.  A string of abstractions was going to have substitute for real motivation.

Finally it really was time to go back in the house. I couldn't conjure up the will to do anything energetic or clever to make George follow me, so I resorted to the simple expedient of walking toward the gate without looking back. He followed me with almost no resistance (apart from a couple of tugs on the lead rope as he snagged some last bites of grass en route).

Dinner is in the oven. Tomorrow is another day.

George Makes Me Not Cross

Inspired by a very interesting blog entry from Ponies at Home, I put aside my plans of a domestically productive afternoon in favour of visiting George and Co. in the field.

We have been reading Margrit Coates' book Connecting with Horses, which makes the claim that horses are here to be our teachers. Ben, one of the Ponies at Home horses, taught his owner the lesson today that she needed to "wake up."  As this advice arose in a context which I encounter frequently - namely keeping a bossy, dominant horse out of the space of a less dominant one - I gave it some serious thought.

George is often unpleasantly assertive toward the mares.  He won't share attention, or food, and he doesn't like to allow them to get in and out of the gate.  Rather than penalizing this behaviour, however, I have been indulging him.  It had become clear to me that George needs large helpings of affection, intimacy, attention, and unconditional acceptance.  That this was more important for him than discipline.

Yesterday,  however, George actually ran Chloe off while I had her on a lead rope, and when I read the latest Ponies at Home blog entry, I realized - You know, maybe we've moved forward a little, maybe we've established enough trust that it's ok to start setting some boundaries. 

So thinking that maybe there was something I needed to learn from George today, I headed off to the field with a pocketful of treats and a stick, not exactly sure what we were going to do, but intent on finding something out.

At first I tried getting George and Chloe to share the same space with me and take turns having a treat.  Not really working.  The stick made zero impression on George.

The mares, interested at first in the possibility of treats, soon left us in favour of a less Georgey environment. Which left me and George and the treats.  He kept nudging me and trying to chew my pants.  It didn't take him long to figure out that what I wanted was for him to not nudge me or try to chew my pants, so he started turning his head away, whereupon he would get a treat.

Then he made the suggestion that maybe I'd like it better if he stood me next to his side and relaxed for a split second, before bringing me back into prime treat-donating position.  Well, I liked it a little better.  But he continued to be rather agitated.  He was either trying to grab a treat or else intently doing something he thought would earn him a treat:  "Look, I'm turning my head away, now do I get a treat? Huh? How about now?"

I found myself repeating, "George, compose yourself."  And then of course, it hit me:  I needed to compose myself.

So I pulled myself together and tried to become strong and still, tried to deepen and slow my voice, and to draw George into a space of not-reacting. His head stopped seesawing back and forth, he stood quietly.  I didn't wait too long, but gave him a treat.  We practiced once or twice more, and then I was so pleased with him, I couldn't help jumping up and down and doing a little dance. He must think I'm really weird.

He then helped me out by noticing that the dogs were in the field across the road.  So I called them back and stayed with George for a bit longer.  He kept suggesting that there might be another treat in store.  I was, like, "George - they're all gone."  But as I sit here typing, I find there is one left in my pocket.  Maybe it's just as well I didn't give it to him.

Chloe Takes an Interest, and George Makes Me Cross

Today, when it was time to coax Chloe back from her true home - the Lawn - into her pasture, I put her halter on and asked if she'd care to do a little practice.  I asked her to move her hindquarters in each direction, and ditto her shoulders.  I only asked for each maneuver once, as the other day she made it quite clear that asking twice was greedy.  Then came time to proceed toward the gate to her field.  She inched along.  And then, all of a sudden, she was standing in a funny way:  what on earth is she doing?

Strangely, it only dawned on me later that she was offering to "park out," something she had been trained to do by her previous owner, and which we have not asked her to do, lo, these many years. I should have been more appreciative.  However, we did ooh and aah a bit, which perhaps she found gratifying.

I think maybe Chloe might like to practice stuff, as long as I'm very deferential, of course.

When we reached the gate, George was talking to my youngest over the fence.  But as soon as we entered, he came over. He was polite for a short while and then lunged at Chloe, causing her to take off with the lead rope attached.  No big deal - she didn't go far, and I went over and took the halter off.  But it sent me into full passive-aggressive mode, and I refused to talk to George, gave the rest of the treats to Chloe, Rose and Bridget, and harrumphed out of the field.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Food for the Journey

Now who says this is a journey without a map?  Obviously they haven't read:

If You Give a Pig a Pancake or If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Don't You Sometimes Wish

that when you woke up in the morning, your horses would be lying on your bed like this?

(Excuse the mess .... )

For the Record

I have to record this, although it's not particularly interesting, as I've come to rely on this blog to keep my memory straight.

Today, when I was out in the field with the horses, Chloe approached me, chewing.  I believe this is the first time she has done this.  She very much wanted to come over, even though I was still with George.  Normally she waits until the coast is all clear.

I wonder why.  Today she was into the fallen apples and peaches, and I shooed her away from them three or four times.  And today we also had that long conversation about whether or not she was going back into the field.

Anyway.  There it is - that's what happened today.

Running the Gauntlet

When it's time to put Bridget back in the field, there is a large George-shaped obstacle standing at the gate, looking decidedly unwelcoming.

I open the gate half-way, but it's too scary for Bridget to venture in, as George is waiting to pounce on her.  She stands and waits.

George and I have a discussion where I explain to him that he needs to keep the way clear for Bridget's re-entry.  He moves off a few feet to one side and pouts, then crosses to the other side of the gate and pouts some more.  He doesn't stay in one place long enough or far enough away for Bridget to risk coming in.  She stands and waits.

Finally, for some reason (I like to think it's because he's actually trying to cooperate), George moves off further. Bridget says, "Aha, here's the moment" and scoots in through the opening.  Quick off with her halter, and then it's George's turn to come out for a walk.

Bridget can read George a lot better than I can, so it's helpful that she can observe him too and take advantage of the right moment to dodge past him.

Conversation with Chloe

Me: It's time for you to go back in the field now, Chloe.

Chloe: What bizarre ideas you do have.

Me:  No, really, it's time to go back in.

Chloe: Nonsense, I don't live in the field, I live on the lawn.

Me:  Chloe, come on, it's time to go.

Chloe: It is fruitless for you to insist, I have made up my mind.

Me:  Ok, how about we play the game "Moving Your Feet"?

Chloe:  All right, you start.

Me:  How about you move your back legs thataway?

Chloe:  All rightie.

Me:  How about moving them the other way?

Chloe:  Very well.

Me:  Let's try that again, shall we?

Chloe:  Don't push your luck.  Once each direction is enough.

Me:  Ok, how about you move your front legs thataway?

Chloe:  Ok.

Me:  How about the other way?

Chloe:  Sure, why not.

Me:  And again?

Chloe:  I thought we discussed this already.

Me:  Oh, all right.  How about you take a step backward?

Chloe:  Fine.

Me:  And ... how about forward?

Chloe:  Do you think I'm stupid?  I know this is a ruse to get me to go back into the field.

Me:  Ok, how about I sit down here on the ground beside you?

Chloe:  Excellent idea.  [chews]  As a matter of fact, this would be a good time to take a little nap.

Long interval during which June becomes bored.

Me:  All right.  I'm going to feed the OTHERS.  In the FIELD.

Chloe:  Hey, give me that bucket.

Me:  Nuh uh, not til you get back in the field.  Look at George eating his yummy dinner, and Bridget and Rose, and here's yours - look I'm putting it down on the other side of the fence.

Chloe:  There must be some mistake.  I'm supposed to be served dinner on the LAWN. Goodness me.  Where is it?  I can't find it.

Me:  Chloe, you are making me CRAZY.  I'm putting this rope around your neck, and I'm going to stand here until you follow me.  I am not even kidding.

Chloe: I am a lawn-dweller.  I do not speak your language.


Chloe:  Oh whatever, I'm coming, where did you put that food again?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Not to Wear While Riding

My daughter and Rose were out grazing the lawn. My daughter is going back to college in a couple of days, and she remarked wistfully that she hadn't had a chance to ride Rose this summer, as Rose "wasn't ready." She's been popping into the field over the summer to visit Rose, so I said, "Why don't you ask her if she minds if you hop up?" So she put her hands on Rose's back and jumped up and down a couple of times.  Rose continued placidly grazing.

So then I bent one knee to make a mounting block, and my daughter climbed onto Rose's back.  Rose remained unperturbed.

Very different from last time we tried this.

George was out with my youngest daughter today.  She is much stricter with him than I am.  She is very strict with me too.  My oldest daughter says we ought to get Super Nanny in to get her back under control.  However, I have vetoed this, as for sure she and Super Nanny would gang up together and try to get me under control. Anyway, she insists on George behaving.  This, on the other hand, is how George is with me these days:

"WOMAN!  Open this gate!  WOMAN! What do you mean I can't go over there?  WOMAN!  I'm bored! Come get me!  WOMAN! Bring me treats! Now!  WOMAN! Get over here and pay attention to ME! NOW!"

So, yeah.

Here is Rose making a funny face while chewing an apple -

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Anyone who has been through labor knows there is a particularly grueling stage of that delightful process known as "transition."  Transition is the last stage of labor before pushing starts and is characterized by a desire to just call the whole thing off. They tell you in childbirth class that when you get the feeling you can't stand it a minute longer, that's when you know you're nearly there.  I remember actually calling this to mind when I was having my first child.  I remember thinking, "This really sucks.  Oh good, that must mean we're getting close."

With the horses, I've found that whenever I become frustrated or discouraged, a transition of some kind is usually just around the corner.

Today I was just feeling a bit grouchy about the whole thing.  I was just getting a bit sick of Bridget turning me into a non-stop butt-scratching machine and wondering if we were ever going to move forward. But in the midst of my Grinch mood, I did remind myself that this frustration was probably not such a bad sign.

This evening I went to get George out of the field to take him for a grazing walk, because he was so sad and jealous earlier when Chloe got to come out and eat the lawn. We went on a large, leisurely loop, passing [yhhhhu7yrfu34 - I left this in, because it was made by kitten feet] many juicy green plants for the eating of. After I'd returned George to his field, we hung out.  He wanted me to stand by his tail and scratch him.  Every now and then I'd move, but he'd always return me to the same spot. After quite a long time (with what I'd have to call a flourish), he spun around, plonked me into a spot touching his neck, and stood still.  I suddenly felt very warm towards him.  And then he Chewed.

The blog, Ponies at Home, talks a lot about The Chew. It's from Jenny Pearce's book Zen Connection with Horses.  Here's how Pearce describes it:
They give us The Chew when they understand us - they give us The Chew when we understand them. ....  It's a physical signal of understood communication.
I can't recall George ever chewing before, not without food in his mouth that is. I've read about The Chew, and "waiting for The Chew," but this was the first time I've consciously experienced it. In the last couple of days, I've been becoming more and more aware of George's need for intimacy and unconditional acceptance.  I guess, I hope, that the rush of warmth I felt was a shared warmth and that his Chew was an acknowledgment of that.

When I embarked on this journey with George, I had no idea it would be so long.  When I first took him out of his pasture after reading Empowered Horses and said, "Buddy," (because that was his name back then) "you get to decide now," I had no idea that over a year later we would only just be taking the first, tentative steps toward mutual understanding.

After George and I had stood for a while, he turned his head toward the other horses, who had drifted away from us.  I asked him if he wanted to go and join them, and we started walking in their direction.  After a few steps, I stopped, intending to leave, assuming he would continue on his own.  But after a couple more steps he stopped too, with his back to me, and waited until I started walking again.  We joined the others.  Bridget came over to me, but George gave her The Look, and she left.  I stayed with George a little longer, said goodnight, swung by Chloe to say goodnight, and headed back to the house.

Here are Bridget and Chloe and Rose coming over to check me out sitting in the lawn chair again earlier this evening.  I only sat for a minute, because the wee tear in the seat which George made with his teeth yesterday quickly grew into a gaping hole when I sat my dainty self down.

In the Hot Seat

Yesterday, feeling rather sleepy, I took a folding lawn chair into the horses' field, plonked it down, and sat in it to admire the view.

Before long, George came over to see what was up.  He chewed the chair a bit, and was all for chewing my knees, which were much more accessible than usual, as well as my hair, which ditto. He and Bridget took turns examining the strange phenomenon of a seated June, Bridget circling back as soon as George left, and leaving again when he returned.

I felt quite vulnerable sitting so low compared to the horses, especially when they started pawing me. (Yes, even George thought he'd give that a try.) But I also noticed that, for me as a human, sitting is more relaxed.  I felt a little like I'd brought a piece of my human world into the field - Here's what we humans do, we sit, and we just kindof chill.

After he was done trying to munch various parts of me and my chair, George spent some time standing next to my chair in a companionable kind of way. Bridget, however, was much too curious to settle down. At one point, when both George and Bridget had finally wandered off, Chloe saw her chance to come over.  I was looking forward to some quiet Chloe time - she would not try to chew on me - but George soon returned.

I gave George and Bridget each a chance to inspect the chair without me on it.  George wanted to pick it up in his teeth and shake it.  Bridget wanted to paw it.

Speaking of Bridget pawing - I don't know what originated the practice - but we've got a little routine going now.  She reaches out a leg; I catch it and stretch it towards me.  She seems to like this and sometimes gives a little groan or grunt.  She'll often end up opening her mouth and stretching her jaw wide.

Chloe is getting good at getting in and out of the field without clashing with George.  Today, I caught her looking at me meaningfully.  We sneaked down the fence to the gate, and she got through smartly before George noticed. When it was time to go back in, she waited outside the gate while I fiddled about, making the others back off.  As soon as the gate was open and the coast was clear, she quick dashed through. Poor George was quite put out that she had a chance to go out and eat more grass than him.  Last night, and again today, we finally got some good rain. You can already see the new green shoots of grass.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Follow the Leader, etc.

I think maybe a more descriptive term than "passive leader" would be "followee."

The passive leader horse doesn't actually intend to lead his or her fellow horses; at least that's the impression I get from reading Rashid.  It's more a case of the leader horse going about its business, with the other horses tagging along.

So when a horse follows a human, the human can emulate the leader horse and just be like "Hey, you're following me, that's cool, I'm over here eating grass, it's fine if you join me."  Or I suppose the human could start making suggestions for the horse to follow.  And because the horse is in following mode, it might go along.

KFH doesn't leave it to chance.  In Dancing with Horses, he describes how to lead a horse. (p.78)  Now it's a known fact that one whiff of Klaus's Celtic soul is enough to make all horses instantly follow him.  However, for mere mortals he has a trick to help you get started: you have a helper walk behind the horse, carrying a whip.

The condition I'm in at the moment is that the horses will follow me some of the time, but not all of the time, when we're in the field.  If we're out on a leadrope, I can always cajole them into following me, even if they're not immediately inclined to do so.  I usually do this by turning my back to them and sending strong thought waves down the leadrope, saying "Come on."

(These comments do not apply to Chloe, who never follows me in the field, even though she often wants to spend time with me there, and who has to be 500% convinced when out on the leadrope that there's no way she can dissuade me from putting her back in the pasture.)

Today, Rose followed me for the first time.  I was hanging out with the horses and moved up the field to another spot.  To my surprise, the first one to follow me was Rose.  Bridget often follows me.  But the one who follows me the most is George. Who is the alpha horse and the one whom the others don't like to follow.

So far I don't "do" anything much with the followeeship bestowed on me.  But there's a certain level of trust that I guess we could work with, which might lead to something sometime. You never know.

On the subject of not-letting-the-horse-move-your-feet, a taboo which I now officially spurn - Bridget often bumps into me to get me to scratch her butt.  It feels rather too intrusive, so I move away from the bump and then reach over and gently touch her hip and ask her to move toward me again, but more softly this time.  Whereupon she moves over more slowly, without bumping.

George, I feel, is kind of lonely sometimes.  So I always pay attention to him first, if he wants, and wait until he's ready to let me talk to the others.  I feel that driving him away and being tough on him, as he's been treated in the past, isolates him emotionally.  He often wants to tuck me into his side.  He's taken to placing me by his tail also.  At first I thought he wanted me to scratch him, like Bridget - but I feel perhaps he just likes to have me stand there.

Here's where he usually likes to put me:

but sometimes he puts me here:

Here he is nudging aside my be-wellingtoned leg so he can get at the grass underneath:

I thought Chloe was having a hard time getting up after rolling, but she was rubbing her tummy back and forth on the scratchy grass:

See the drought we're having?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Connecting with Horses; Horses Never Lie; Zen Connection with Horses

These three books, which I have read in rapid succession (and partially on the beach), are getting dangerously jumbled up in my head.  However, they share certain important things in common. Which gives me the confidence, once and for all, to reaffirm (sing with me, Jen-ska): "Dominance shmominance!"

The flip side of dominance, of course, is submission, and something from Connecting with Horses really says it all:  "A horse that is submissive due to being fearful or dominated is not the same as a trusting horse." (p.62, emphasis mine)

Zen Connection with Horses makes a distinction between dominance and leadership. Pearce points out that "horses don't co-operate willingly with the dominant horse" (p.88) whereas a horse "just simply does what the leader wants, smoothly and easily."  (p.89) She describes leadership as the ability to control speed and direction without force (p. 90) and also lists 22 ways to "give leadership away."(pp. 93-96) However, she believes that it is not necessary even to be the horse's leader; if you have trust and co-operation, that can be enough.  She describes a boy, Asbrandt, and his horse, Harry:
Eventually there will be much more stuff that they do together that Asbrandt will be the leader in, with Harry still the leader in other areas.  Sometimes they'll even swap leadership, without need for argument, just because that's what the day brings them.
If Asbrandt gets to be a truly brilliant horseman, if that is his dream, he may become Harry's leader in everything that they do together.  BUT THAT MAY NEVER HAPPEN. So who cares? If he reaches his dream, whatever that is and he's safe and enjoying himself, who cares if he's not the leader?
I feel that although KFH talks a lot about dominance and submission, he is actually demonstrating leadership.  However, most of us (especially me) are simply not up to being the leader the whole time.  Pearce's comments about Asbrandt and Harry are a reassuring reminder that most leaders are not made overnight but must gradually learn the necessary skills and confidence.  We're not in the army here, and it's ok to take turns being the leader. It won't lead to our horse taking advantage of us.

Mark Rashid's book Horses Never Lie specifically deals with the difference between the alpha horse and the passive leader horse (called "passive" because he does not seize power on his own initiative but is appointed).  The alpha horse is always causing a commotion, driving his subordinates around, and making them anxious.  The passive leader, on the other hand, is a quiet, consistent horse, who is both tolerant and confident. The  most telling story Rashid relates, I think, is about a horse called Buck. (pp. 58-62) Buck, on being introduced into a new herd, was unfazed by the dominant horse's aggression and gradually wore him down until he let Buck join him at the feeder.  Buck himself, however, never ran another horse off.

The way Buck wore down a dominant horse - and this ties into something I'm sure many of us have been warned about - was not by refusing to let the dominant horse move his feet. When the aggressive alpha charged at him, he would move away - but only as far as necessary to keep out of harm - and then he'd proceed to move forward again.  He did not react with anger or fear but with patience and persistence. On one occasion, an aggressive alpha mare ended up following him around like a puppy.

Margrit Coates, in Connecting with Horses, is willing to step forward and make some very radical and poetic statements:  "Horses are willing to trust when offered unconditional love.  Then the heart of the horse will be light." (p.62) This, of course, is no particular help at all to someone looking for concrete advice, but Mark Rashid, in his more down-home cowboy tone says something similar when he declares,
[O]ne of the most important parts of horse training really has nothing to do with training at all.  It has to do with being able to look at, and understand, the possibility that our horses just may have a different perspective on life than we do. (p. 81)
Margrit Coates reports one of her students saying, "Being with the horse is about creating a feeling space, not a thinking space."  (p. 69)  I think this is key, if we are following a way which has "nothing to do with training at all" and which involves throwing away the desire to dominate the horse. There is no road map - which is what we've all been discovering.

It's not that Coates, Pearce and Rashid don't train their horses.  They do.  And - especially in Rashid's case, it seems - their horses follow more or less conventional lifestyles.  But I think the thing is that they don't start with training.  They start with relationship.

The most challenging thing for me to think about after reading these books is Coates' and Pearce's belief in inter-species communication - not just the ability to trust and cooperate with each other, but the ability of the horse to communicate (by images, words, or ideas) specific information directly to the human's mind, such as past events in the horse's life, or suggestions for the horse's training. To be honest, I've always thought of "animal communicators" as a bit on the flaky side. However, while I remain dubious, I've decided to open my mind to the idea.  We'll see.

So - here's what I've learned:

It's ok if your horse moves your feet.
It's true - you really don't have to dominate your horse.
You can try to be a leader, but don't worry if you can't.
Never get mad.

There's other cool stuff too - such as Pearce's "Chew".  But those are the important things for me.

I think next stop on the Book Train has to be something by Resnick.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Out and About

When Bridget comes out of the pasture, she often goes on a quest to sample different plants, such as wisteria:

Before she'd eaten very much, I told her we'd better check with Mr. Google to see if it's poisonous.  Which it is.  I called the vet, who wasn't particularly concerned, and Bridget was fine.  I wonder if there's something in wisteria which might help her leg wound?  Mr. Google couldn't help me there.

Here she is enjoying the leaves of a tree.  It looks harmless, so I've been letting her tuck in:

Sometimes she just eats grass:

She tried to eat this tablecloth - I just missed catching the moment on camera:

She had a nibble of the bicycle:

When George goes out for an expedition, he's more interested in inspecting the property. Here he's checking out what's on the other side of this fence:

He seems to think the compost bin smells bad (funny, I didn't notice that expression until I looked at the photo):

The hammock is sort of interesting:


The porch is positively fascinating:

We definitely have to find out what goes on up there:

Here's Rose out for an amble with my daughter:

When Chloe goes out, she likes to graze the lawn while I sit in the hammock.  There's probably a gin and tonic in my other hand.