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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Christmas Walk

On Christmas Day, after dinner, a few of us waddled out to enjoy the rest of the beautiful afternoon.

We took with us three dogs, one bicycle, and George.

Resolved to take the keenest volunteer out, I put the halter on Bridget first, as she was first to the gate, but George came up behind at the last minute and had something to say about that. I might have insisted on Bridget but allowed George to change my mind. As I stood by the open gate, with an alarmed Bridget pressing into me, while George pressured Bridget from behind, I realized that the situation was very much less dire and scary than a similar scenario would have been a few months ago. George and Bridget are more comfortable together, and I am less reactive.

The halter was put on George, and out he came, full of spirit and curiosity. He was very dubious about the bike at first and reacted dramatically every time it drove past. This was as close as he would go.

We wandered down the road a half mile or so and then turned up the lane toward the alpaca farm. The neighbor's two pintos came prancing over to their fence and stood whinnying at George. He was somewhat interested in them, but there were so many things to catch his attention, and - after all - he knows what horses are already.

Sometimes - in a burst of energy - we ran together. I discovered that if we synched the movement of my legs with his forelegs, we could run together quite comfortably. Usually the pace is either too slow for him or too fast for me, but somehow when we ran in step, it worked out for both of us. I found it easier to run farther (like, in my case, that means 50 yards instead of 15). When I run normally, I think I'm always trying to move my body forward, but running with George, I was only conscious of moving my legs, and my body just got moved in the process. Once we were in step, I could keep pace just by listening to the footfalls.

George overcame his fear of the bike and sniffed the front tire.

A beautiful sunset lit our way home. George stopped many times to look and listen into the distance.

We stopped for a little grazing as we came close to home again. There is still plenty of green grass out there - I wish I could turn the horses loose into great wide world to eat it instead of keeping them in their overgrazed pasture. Oh well, it's only in the last couple of days that they've been finishing their one bale of hay in less than 24 hours - so we've had it good so far this winter compared to last.

I  received a very welcome gift this Christmas - a new copy of Empowered Horses from my kind husband. I've already given two copies away, but it would be rude to give away a present, so this one stays! I'm looking forward to re-visiting the book in light of the things I've learned since last reading it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I started a draft a while ago - the start of a story which, I now realize, I can't bring myself to start writing until I know the ending.

I wish this Christmas would bring a happy ending to that story, which doesn't directly involve my own family or menagerie but which is close to my heart. However, Christmas will come whether or no.

The kids are all home, the horses are still eating grass at the end of December, and Lucy's dislocated shoulder is mending.  The whole family went to confession today, and now we're off to Vigil Mass. The larder is groaning.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Medicine Man

Lucy is very sad about her shoulder. It hurts, but worse is the feeling of panic when she can't balance herself, because one leg is up in a sling, and she tips over.  This morning, she cried out in distress whenever that happened, and would spin around in circles lying on the ground, unable to figure out how to get up. I could chivvy her into walking by putting a sling underneath her chest, straddling her, and scooting her along, but as soon as I'd stop, she'd keel over. And if I propped her into a sitting position, she'd stiffen her good leg and push herself over onto her bad side.

So I carried her over to George, who came up to the fence. He breathed on her right leg, touched her very softly with his nose for a minute, and then left.

I carried Lucy back into the house and put her down on the rug. She sat, well-balanced and unaided, for a few minutes, before lowering herself carefully on one leg into a controlled lying-down position.

Later in the day, I had her outside again. We're still waiting for her to pee, which is a little concerning, and I'm sure has something to do with the fact that she's unable to position herself. She seemed worried. I carried over to George again, who touched her again with his nose very briefly and wandered off.

I carried Lucy back towards the house. "That's all it takes, Lucy - just a moment with George is all you need," I said. I put her down into a sitting position and walked away a little. Before long she stood up and hopped a few sprightly steps towards me.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, she had managed a couple of unaided steps earlier in the day, but they were much less agile and controlled. And this time the steps directly followed George's contact with her.

So, is George actually helping Lucy? Or am I now officially going batty?

Assuming the answers to the above are yes and no respectively, I'm thinking that what George is able to do is to convey very clear and concise information to the patient - that he is able to infuse knowledge. I'm a big fan of Chinese herbs, and I read somewhere on the web that they work by imparting information to the body, allowing the body to figure out how to fix itself. Sounds reasonable to me.

This is interesting, because I trained as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, which works by providing feedback and direction (via the teacher's hands) to the student about his or her body use. George seems to be doing similar work, but he is able to remotely telegraph this information in a very clear and targeted manner. It seems that after he "worked on" Lucy, she was able to reduce the disruptive tension which was preventing her from balancing and controlling her movements. In the two cases where I've been aware of him working on me, there was a similar effect.

I feel like I need to raise George's salary.

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Stuff

George, as I have recently related, has been acting agitated at dinner time as the cold weather makes him anxious about food. He's too polite to try and stick his head in the bucket while I'm carrying it, but I've been feeling pressured by him. I always point to his bucket and say (hopefully), "Go on over to your bucket, George."

Today I went in when it was almost dark. George met me at the gate. I didn't say anything except, "Hi, buddy," but George went ahead of me to his bucket and nudged it with his nose.

Earlier today, Lucy the pitbull dislocated her shoulder. Don't ask me how she did it, but the dog gang is together for Thanksgiving, getting up to all kinds of energetic highjinks together. As I was carrying Lucy to the car to take her to the vet, George came to the fence. I carried her over to him, and he sniffed the bad shoulder.

Dog cousins
We have human family visiting for Thanksgiving too, including my oldest daughter and her husband. My daughter has a characteristic which her husband and I find at once admirable and galling: she is always right. She has never liked "ground work" with horses and has always said that you just tell them what you want them to do and they understand it. And of course I always used to extol the value of ground work and thought she was just being impatient. Well, I'm used to her telling me I Told You So.

(Having said that, and also having resolved not to do any more "training" with George, I yesterday discovered that I could get Rose to move her hind legs by doing something with the halter and leadrope and that in Rose's case this might actually be the sort of thing we enjoy doing together.)

Yesterday my daughter and her dog came out into the field to visit the horses with me. After interacting for a little while, she informed me that our horses are like children who have grown up in a household where they are treated as if their opinions are important. She didn't mean it as a compliment. She said, "They keep coming over and trying to tell me what they think about stuff." I reminded her that this was the way she and her siblings were raised, but she reminded me that at least they were shy with adults outside of the immediate family. She likes Rose the best.

It was amusing watching her and George. He wanted to put her into a position of his choosing, and she was having none of it. He didn't get irritated though, cos that's the thing about her - she's bossy, but you don't mind. I should know - she's been managing me for 25 years. Having failed with her, George plonked me into a position near his tail. When I moved, he turned around to look at me with the most comical expression on his face: "Excuse me? Where do you think you're going?"

Anyway, in light of my recent cogitations about George and the thoughts I've been reading from K at Song of the Black Horse, I wonder if his positioning maneuvers aren't perhaps in some way significant. I'll have to think about it some more. But today I was aware of a residual mistrust of George in myself as he put me near his hindlegs, and I know he used to not trust people to be in that position. So maybe he's trying to work on us both.

My next plan is to take my daughter who doesn't like horses to visit George, hopefully tomorrow. My son-in-law yesterday was talking again about how when he was getting George ready to go for a ride, he felt that George was telling him what to do. Daughter-w-d-l-h doesn't like them because she doesn't want to have to be in control of them cos they're big and scary - but if she lets one of the horses take care of her, then maybe she'll have a different experience, and that's the sort of thing that George will like.

Why are you like that, Bridget?

George greets Roger.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Called to Heal

I'm writing this now, not holding back to "wait and see," putting it down before skepticism and the cold light of day get the better of me.

In my last post, I was wondering aloud whether George might not be a teacher/healer - whether he might, in fact, be wishing to exercise this gift.

If you read K's recent post about her  horse, there's a description of what I take to be an Epona procedure, where you, like, stand with your back to the horse and sense stuff and all, and then the horse gives you a message about this or something, and then you're all like "whoa" and have this big realization. Well, you'd best go over there and read it for yourself.

Anyway, I was getting ready to go out earlier today - I opened the kitchen door to let a cat in or out or something, and I saw George, who had perhaps heard the noise, standing in the middle of the field, staring at the house. So I thought, "What the heck." (I say that a lot.)

So I put on a sweater and went out in the drizzle, walked over to the fence, turned my back, and starting observing myself.

I noticed tension in my toes, in my hips, in my neck, and somewhere along the way I heard breathing coming up on my right side, breathing which I knew belonged to George. And my awareness was on the tension in my eyes. It drifted away and then back to the eyes. George stood, blowing occasionally through his nose, close to my side but not touching. I glanced at him. His ears flicked sideways, his head was relaxed, and he breathed. My eyes were letting go.

After a short time, George straightened up, looked into the distance for a minute, then turned and walked away, chasing Bridget in front of him as he went. He came back to a different spot along the fence and looked over, but this time his attention was off somewhere else.

For a long time, I've been getting more and more far-sighted. I started out with only reading glasses, but for the last maybe couple of years I've been wearing glasses all the time, as my middle-distance vision isn't so good, and I can't read road signs very well while driving.

I set off this evening in the dark to pick up the exchange student from a basketball game, about a 35 minute drive. For once, I didn't put my glasses on, but tried to remember what I'd let go when George stood beside me. As I drove, I realized I could see very well. Things seemed sharp and clear and lighter. Road signs whizzed past me in perfect focus. True, the dashboard was still fuzzy - but not as fuzzy - and once (just once), at a stop sign, I looked down and the fuzz was all but gone.

Now, I've dabbled in the past (half-heartedly) with the Bates method and eye exercises, but to no great effect - or rather, I felt that if I ever persevered and practiced diligently for months, I might get some good results. But this evening, there it was - handed over on a platter. I'm avoiding the temptation to try and preserve the effect with what I remember of those exercises. If the effect's real, it'll last, or return. It has faded over the last few hours, but I think I'll ask George for a tune-up tomorrow!

It's not that George did magic or a miracle or anything like that. But his presence somehow allowed me to feel exactly what it is that I'm doing to myself which is causing the problem.

One thing I have resolved: to stop training George. I'll still ask him to remember to be polite; and I'll still ask him to give people rides, as being taken for a ride on a horse is something which is dear to many people's hearts, myself included. But he doesn't mind those things. I've been thinking that I just need ever more tact in asking him to do things - but really, it's not the amount of tact, it's the mere fact of asking him to do things just to make sure he can do them - it's insulting, really. He's very polite and considerate about moving this way or that way when there's a real reason, but naturally he thinks it's an imposition to be asked to move in the interests of my demonstrating control. It's like at the end of Taming of the Shrew when Petruchio shows off Katherina's obedience. Later, if George decides that dressage-type exercises are something he finds valuable, well - hooray! but we can live without it.

Tomorrow I plan to tell him this, and to apologize for not coming to this conclusion sooner.

I didn't expect anything today from my Epona (or whatever it is) experiment. This was so much more than I could have imagined. I can feel my scepticism sneaking back up on me, and the Eeyore within re-awakens. I'm not a big Woody Allen fan, but there's a scene at the end of Manhattan when Mariel Hemingway's character is reassuring Woody Allen that although she's going away, she'll return and all will be well. Woody Allen looks up (y'know, cos he's short) at her, wanting but unable to believe her,  with this expression on his face that says it all. That's my expression most of the time when God is talking to me. Or George. Maybe George can fix that too.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Called to Teach

If you haven't yet met Little Love, the protagonist at Song of the Black Horse, you should cyber-scurry on over there and get acquainted. Hers is a fascinating and instructive saga in many ways, but right now I'm intrigued by the fact that this mare has begun to express an interest in educating humans. She seems keen to extend her circle of influence beyond her owner and immediate friends, even perhaps beyond the world of horsey people.

Lately, I've begun to feel that George also has a vocation to teach. Strange, perhaps, that one who came into my life as an irascible and possibly dangerous character, someone who apparently needed to be taught rather than teach, was all along a sort of frustrated guru - although in all likelihood he himself was not initially aware of this.

Why do I feel this? I'm processing.

First of all, I'm remembering when my son-in-law - a horse neophyte - rode George recently. George very clearly picked my son-in-law to be the person who would ride him. He looked extremely happy while he was tied up to the fence being groomed and readied for the ride, not his habitual attitude at such a time. My son-in-law was totally on board with the idea of always asking permission, and I believe George felt part of the process of educating him. My son-in-law later astutely remarked that George's initial engagement with him had given way to a more distant attitude as my son-in-law's confidence grew. This was not a negative thing, but perhaps next time I should aim to keep it 100% positive by consciously keeping George in the role of instructor, rather than one of the props.

When the vet came to (try to) give shots, George and I (after a false start) worked with the vet on "respecting the horse's no." I believe George was extremely happy about this, and very pleased with our results.

For the next few days, George was unusually affable, and one day - as a thank you? - out of his increased confidence?  - he taught me something extremely useful for myself. He showed me the habitual tension in my feet, and this knowledge has been of enormous benefit to me. Here is his face as he's telling me about my feet:

I began to wonder if he had a desire to be a healer/teacher, and one day I asked him outright if he wanted me to bring him a young boy I know of who needs help. He gave me his foreleg, which he has never done before or since. I now have a plan to get the kid over here. His mother and I have decided that we're going to rope the kids into a chore like picking up manure from the horse field or spreading crushed stone. I'll appreciate the help anyway, and while they're in the field with the horses, George (or any of the others) will be free to come over. I'll have a word with the horses first. Also, I think I'll have the boy's mother come over by herself first to meet George and discuss with him. He might want to help her too.

And now is when some people (myself a few years ago included) are saying, "Ok, crazy lady, you've gone too far now."

Going back over a year, when my niece rode George, I told her about "ask, don't tell." At first she was confused as to how you could ever get anywhere, but then she and George began to work it out. Looking back, I think George rather enjoyed that day too.

This summer, while we were sitting on the lawn, George came over to visit with my brother-in-law.  Here's the photo I posted then:

You can see the sweetness in George, and the discomfort in the human. At the time I just thought George wanted to be part of the company, but maybe there was more to it than that. Perhaps I should have asked the human to identify his discomfort and engage in the dialog that George was trying to start? Or maybe that would have been totally annoying and inappropriate?!?!

I think George really is not interested in me teaching him the usual stuff - I mean, how boring, right? Backing up, and turning, going forward, stopping, blahblahblah. There may come a time when he becomes interested in how it makes him feel. But for now I think he wishes I would kindly provide him with more important work.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Buck Pt. 2

As you may have noticed, I've found the stallion episode in the movie Buck to be a source of much reflection.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe there's a place in our dealings with horses for righteous anger. These creatures are not cause-and-effect Pavlovian automata who ineluctably respond in such and such a way because of their treatment and training.

We live in a world where the creative principle is a preference for good over evil, order over chaos, life over death, health over disease, cooperation over conflict, love over hate. Every living being knows this, and although all are caught in a web of necessity where death and destruction must be tolerated or even meted out, none are satisfied with this condition. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail until now. (Romans 8:22)

There is a community of morality (as it were) which subsists, not only among humans, but among all creatures, and especially among creatures who live together ostensibly in friendship, such as humans and horses.

When a horse steps radically outside of that community, one can treat him like a passive conglomeration of species-specific characteristics, shaped by experiences, and powerless to direct his own life. "This horse is this way because he has never been taught respect, etc."

Or one can say, "Damn it, you bastard, I hate you, what did I ever do to you? So what if you're all so instinctive and quick, I can't help it if I'm a measly pathetic human and stupid as well, and I don't care what anyone did to you in the past, that doesn't give you the right to turn around and terrify others." And then you can throw things at him and shout a lot. Which is not in the least tiny bit like the 2x4 treatment.

No one got angry at the colt when he attacked the cowboy. It was all, "Well, no wonder, there you go, that's what happens when you have a horse like that." Say you were a criminal who had been orphaned and then raised by a gang on the streets and taught that aggression was a virtue and retribution a duty - what if you then murdered a boy because he was wearing the wrong colors and looked at you wrong. Who's telling more truth - the person who says, "Well, there's no way he could do any better, he's a dud because of his background - it would be kinder to execute him"? Or the person who rages, "How could you? How could you kill my son who never harmed you? Would you like it if I killed you? You have destroyed my life!"?

I'm making the claim that horses understand righteous anger. And maybe they understand an angry person a lot better than they do people who seem to go randomly from calm to predatory, from fearful to  hostile, from passive to controlling. We are not angry with our prey, only with our fellows.

I'm saying that, for all their terrifying strangeness, horses occupy the same moral sphere as we do. And by "moral," I don't mean a set of rules - I mean our shared inheritance of a world fallen from paradise, and a shared desire to in some way, as much as possible, return there.

I absolutely don't blame anyone for not taking on responsibility for the horse in the movie. I would not be willing to do so. But it's an eye-opener to me to see how profoundly that horse was treated as a mere product of its circumstances - how there was no expectation that an appeal could be made to something inside the horse, something which has nothing to do with training or usefulness. If that horse had to be destroyed, as it did unless someone was willing to make it a huge priority in their life, then please don't let him go down as a "good little horse" manqué, but as a brilliant, misguided, desperate criminal who could have been a contender.

That horse got me rattled about George again. I was out feeding last night, and George - who gets very bent out of shape about food when it's cold and wet - was crowding me. I didn't like the way he was acting and told him so. I may have stamped my foot. I said, "Why don't you go vent your frustration by chasing the mares like usual?" So he did. And I was given space and peace to put his food in his bucket.

Circumstances prevented that horse from amounting to much in his life, but through the movie, he'll reach many more people than if his life had gone smoothly. Perhaps he'll end up fulfilling his potential in this way.

One thing I've learned is that we're klutzy and clumsy and slow-witted, and that if horses give us a break, it's not because we've learned to be smart, it's that they've decided to be kind.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Ok, hands up everyone who's seen the movie Buck Brannaman. Cos I'd really like to know what y'all think of it.

Thanks to my internet having been fixed (fingers crossed), so that the download speed is now like 2.65 megawotsits instead of only 0.14, I was at last able to view the movie all the way through.

Buck is a documentary about Buck Brannaman, a real-life "horse whisperer," who helped Robert Redford with Redford's role in the eponymous movie.

Buck Brannaman is a real likeable guy who has some fine things to say about horses. For example: Don't be critical - Don't discourage them or they'll shut down. There's some other cool stuff in the movie, such as the lady who works cows with her dressage horses, as she says it brings "meaning and purpose" into the dressage training because the horses know it helps them with their cattle work, which they love.

There's a sad incident, however, involving a three-year old orphan stud colt, who had been bottle raised and then, when his owner had a bad accident when he was three months old, had been left to his own devices for the next three years. After his difficult birth, he had lain without breathing for some time until he was revived, and there was some thought that this oxygen deprivation had left him mentally impaired.

This youngster was extremely aggressive, to the point where he would attack vehicles and charge fences to bite people on the other side.

Nothing daunted, Buck brings him into the round pen to see what can be done. From his horse, Buck ropes the colt's ankle and starts to be able to control his movements. From there, Buck's cowboy assistant is able to go up to the colt, sack him out, saddle, mount, and ride him. So far so good.

But on the ground, the horse continues to be a menace. Buck blames the owner, for allowing the horse's behavior to escalate to this point, and for not having had him gelded sooner. Buck says orphan horses are the worst, because they're spoiled and not taught respect as they would be if they were with their mothers. He's in a pen with the colt and has to continually fend off his aggressive charges by flapping sticks at him.

Later, they bring him back to the round pen. The colt has a halter and rope on, and the cowboy is holding the rope in one hand and a blanket in the other. It's not clear whether he's using the blanket as a kind of goad to make the horse move forward or whether he's trying to sack him out some more. They move around the pen a little, the cowboy apparently having a little success in getting the horse to move forward on command.

Then - seemingly out of the blue - the colt leaps forward, bites the cowboy's head, knocks him to the ground, and leaves the scene to go over to the other side of the pen.

The cowboy is bloodied and needs stitches in his head. The owner is distraught and realizes her only option is to have the horse destroyed. Buck doesn't disagree. Someone - sooner or later - is going to get killed.

The horse's death sentence is sealed, and he is hauled off in a truck. The next day, Buck talks to the other participants in the clinic about what happened. He says that human beings let the horse down. He says that perhaps the horse was a little retarded after being deprived of oxygen, but that this doesn't mean he had to end so badly. With the proper training, he could have been a good little horse, quietly "packing" someone around, leading a life which would have been of use to himself and to others.

Life doesn't have the option of instant replay, but Netflix streaming does, and so I replayed these scenes over and over until I got a sense of what really happened.

First of all: Buck in the pen with the colt. He has driven the colt off to the far side of the pen, using his flag-ended stick. As Buck talks to the owner, the colt sidles up behind him, chewing and licking. Buck senses his approach out of the corner of his eye and instead of engaging the colt and acknowledging his pacific intent, immediately turns round and starts aggressively flailing the air with the stick to drive the colt away. The colt instantly reacts by returning the aggression, rearing, striking, and trying to get at Buck.

Later: in the pen with the cowboy. The young horse repeatedly gives the cowboy a chance. He turns to face him, stands his ground, expresses his displeasure at the blanket onslaught. Finally, the cowboy approaches him directly. The horse takes a step backwards and stops, looking at the cowboy (who incidentally is wearing dark glasses). The cowboy ignores the horse's gesture of retreat, as well as his intentionality to connect, and moves in closer in an unmistakeably predatory manner, holding the blanket like a weapon.

Faster than you can blink, the horse leaps forward, mouth open and lunges toward the cowboy's head.

The humans present at the clinic, observing the terrifying attacks, presumably saw what I saw on my first watch-through of the scenes - chaos and fury being unleashed with no prior warning. It took me many re-plays until I could see more clearly what was going on. I imagine horses are able to see at that speed all the time. 

The first thing that comes to mind is that you can see the limitations of technique here. Any one method is going to come up against a situation where it is not the best method. This young horse was clearly far too dangerous to work with in a confined space, never mind at the end of a short rope. John Lyons would have fared better with his liberty work in a 60' round pen, working the horse from a safe distance. Mark Rashid's "Old Man" would have done even better with his technique of leaving the horse - for weeks if necessary - alone in a large pasture, visiting him twice a day only to feed him and dictate the terms under which he may eat. And where is it written that you must go from three-years-with-no-handling to sacked-out-and-under-saddle in one weekend clinic?

Secondly, far from being weak-brained, this horse is clearly extremely intelligent, extremely proud, and extremely courageous. Many times he expresses his willingness to work with Buck or the cowboy. But he has zero tolerance for any show of aggression on their part, meting out retribution with lightning speed. He tolerates the cowboy saddling and riding him on their first encounter, because the cowboy's behavior is very different when he knows that Buck controls the horse by means of the ankle rope. Because the cowboy is reassured that someone has control of the horse, aggression is absent from his demeanor.

Thirdly, I don't buy the orphan horse theory, which I have heard before. Here's my theory, or rather my working hypothesis: the problem with orphan foals is not that they are spoiled and fail to learn respect from their mothers. The problem is that they learn fear-aggression from being turned out with older horses without the protection of their mother. The two dozen nurse mare foals at Twelve Oaks in Mississippi were mollycoddled and coochycooed like you wouldn't believe, but they all turned out mild-mannered and pleasant, without anyone having to "sort them out." And here - according to my hypothesis - is why: they were all babies together, with no mean old grownups to chase them or steal their food.

The colt in the movie fit the bill - he had been turned out at the age of three months in a field with a bunch of adults and left to fend for himself. He could have become a wretched doormat, but because of his strong personality, instead he became a spitfire. If Buck or the cowboy had acknowledged his pride and his sense of self, I think they could have ended up working with him. 

Now, that's not to say I'd ever be willing to work with such a horse, or that it would have been safe for his owner to take him home. But, as Buck himself said in his post-incident talk to the clinic, your horse is a mirror of yourself - and Buck, for all his kindness, is unable to see something in the horse, perhaps because he can't see it in himself. 

This renegade colt was close to my heart as, of course, Bridget is an orphan foal, and George was/is fear-aggressive and studdish. I believe that given a large paddock, a lot of time, and a willingness to stand down, someone (not me, thanks!) could ultimately have turned that horse into a super star.

I turned to Youtube to see Hempfling at work with aggressive stallions, to compare that with what I'd seen on the movie. Two things stick out - Hempfling's willingness to stand down and back off, and his laser-like awareness of the horse as a unique individual in that moment. Compare that to Buck's cowboy's approach to the horse as a dangerous object.

Finally, I think, it all gets down to still - despite the kindler, gentler ways - treating the horse as an object of use to be controlled. When you look at the faces of the horses in the movie, you don't observe the stress, the anxiety, the pain, the sorrow that are so often seen in horses who are supposedly doing magnificent things. But neither do you see anything in the way of sparkly-eyed engagement.

(OK, yes, Buck's horses can canter side-passes, and I can get on my horse, period. Thanks for pointing that out.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Next Step with Bridget?

Today, when the horses were all out in the yard, I fetched saddle, bridle, and an assortment of girths, and walked back to the house, wondering who would come forward for a bit of a saddle-up experience. Bridget didn't hesitate - she came over, nosed the saddle, and was ready for action. I didn't bother with grooming - just put the bitless on (which actually she didn't like too much as it involved fiddling with her ears, but it was ok), and then plonked the saddle on and did it up really tight. Which she didn't object to, especially as there were peppermint treats involved.

Actually the peppermint treats were more of a distraction than a help, I think, as she kept nosing me for more.

Having gotten the tack sorted, we headed off, and Bridget stopped half way down the drive to scrutinize the distance. And there she stayed.

So I thought: Ok, maybe this is a good moment to practice mounting.

As I turned to contemplate the ascent, my old nemesis showed up: nerves. Just a tiny sensation of butterflies, but enough to bring back all those years when nerves were my constant companion when riding. Definitely don't want to go back there.

Deciding that my hesitation stemmed from past worries rather than present reality, I went for it. The stirrup hung invitingly; Bridget stood steady as a rock. And then there I was, laying across her back, scratching her far flank, and no longer feeling nervous. Although I did kick the stirrup off my foot, just in case.

Another try, and then we stood some more, Bridget showing no inclination to either advance or to graze. She gave me her forelegs, which I decided meant I should do some more mounting. So I did. This time, she turned her head back to sniff my legs. After a couple more times, when I went to have another go, Bridget moved out of position. So - ok, that was enough.

Next time, I'll probably put my other leg over and sit, but I didn't want to do that all by myself - I'd feel better if there were someone else standing by her head.

Despite the fact that Bridget is only about 14:2,
and I'm about 5'10", the stirrup seems to hang
 at a respectable position by her side.

We went for a short walk. On the way back, briefly, Bridget showed some impatience at being in some way restricted by me, as she had also the other day when we were returning from a longer walk. She didn't pull away or panic or become aggressive. But she plunged and reared up a few inches, as if to say, "Dammit, I'd rather be doing things my way right now."

I try to not react much - but to just stay peaceful. It's not a moment of disconnection, but it's a moment when she realizes she is confined - not so much by the rope and halter (as I'm not pulling) as by the agreement we have that when we're out together, she has to be patient and polite, even at times when she'd rather rush ahead.

I've never bossed her around or demanded. Everything's always been done by agreement and collaboration. I want it to stay that way. She is inherently so cooperative and willing to participate, it would be terrible to get my way by shutting her down. 

Is she beginning to assert herself more as she grows up? She's still so young - only three - and her assertiveness is wound up with youthful impatience. I think I just have to keep being patient and calm and keep setting high standards for manners, while at the same time not asking for too much seriousness from her yet.

She's really grown lately - maybe even a couple of inches since mid-summer. Here she is with her head in the trough. I'm afraid she's a bit of a fatty at the moment. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hormone Havoc

Two mares in heat. Even Chloe prancing and galloping. George going off into corners to stomp the ground and kick the air. Everyone madly charging around the field, squealing and bucking.

Having been out all day, I walk into this maelstrom all unawares and park myself in a corner of the field with a grooming box and halter, waiting to see who'll come up.

George comes over and enjoys some brushing. Then I ask him if he'd like to put the halter on, and he agrees.

To George, a glance of the eye is like a taser shock, and so I figure I'm going to work with him for a while without actually touching him, although communicating through the leadrope is ok.

We get a little back relaxation, but George is touchy. I back off every time he looks like he might be getting cross. So he doesn't get cross, although he expresses his anxiety by grabbing my sleeve and chomping the rope.

When I let him go, he walks away but returns shortly, driving Bridget in front of him. They both stick around for a minute, and then the wild rumpus begins.

I enjoy watching them caper and reflect that for a gelding over-endowed with testosterone, in a field with two mares in heat, George was really quite polite when I was working with him.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Running with Bridget

I've not been posting or reading online much lately - partly because of other things (also of interest) going on, and partly because I've realized I have adult-onset ADD, brought on by excessive computer use. I'm trying to find a happy medium.

This morning, as the big horses munched their hay, Chloe decided she would prefer to come out onto the lawn, and she managed to sneak away before the others cottoned on.

When it was time for her to go back in (and she obligingly decided she wanted to return right when I decided she ought to), she planted herself by one of the gates. She didn't want me to put her halter on and walked off when I suggested it. But she let it be known that she was ready to go back in under her own steam as soon as we got the George situation figured out. After standing by the gate for a short while, George courteously moved himself around the corner from the gate to a safe position. I opened the gate wide, and Chloe strode in.

I was giving treats to Bridget and George (who stood about a foot off from me, one on my left and one on my right, politely taking turns receiving carrots), when Chloe lead Rose at a gallop down into the adjoining pasture. Chloe was not happy to be followed, and kept looking back at Rose, daggers drawn.

Anyway, all that running looked like fun, so I said to Bridget and George, "Let's go!" and I set off after Rose and Chloe.

George was a little slow to follow, but as I ran, Bridget came up beside me. I felt myself caught up in a shared surge of energy and ran as fast as I could, while Bridget trotted at just the right speed to stay abreast of me.

I ran out of breath pretty quickly and stopped. When I turned back up the field to leave, Bridget followed me. She didn't want to run again, but when I paused to talk to her, she gave me one foreleg and then the other - Bridget's gesture of enthusiasm and connection.

For a moment, when I was running beside her, I felt as if something other than my own strength was carrying me along. I wonder if horses always feel like that when they run. You know that feeling when you smile so wide your face hurts? That's how much fun it was.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wee Stormy

One of my mini horse clients, who is also a neighbor and friend, has a new addition to her little family - five-month old Stormy, full brother to one of her other minis. The breeder gave away this youngster, hoping just to find a good home for him, and a good home he has certainly found.

I met Stormy for the first time last week, when I took the foreign exchange student and my daughter over to visit, and then went back a few days later to see about trimming his hoofs - they're looking decidedly duck-billish. But on arrival, it transpired that this was only Stormy's second time ever wearing a halter (the first time being when he was moved), and he didn't think too much of the idea. In fact soon after the rope was put on, he flung himself backwards and ended up flipping over onto the ground. As he is a smart little guy, as well as spirited and stubborn, he did not repeat this.

I trimmed the other two for the first time at his age, but they were more accustomed to human handling. Stormy didn't want me even touching his legs, never mind picking them up, so rather than work on trimming, we worked on being-with-the-humans-while-the-rest-of-the-herd-is-out-of-sight, and leading.

Initially, rather than trying to convince him to be lead by me, I let him lead me for a while. I kept hold of the rope and followed him. You could see him thinking, "Wait a minute, that's not what I meant - I meant to get away from her, not have her come along too." But, hey, connected is connected, no matter who's got the lead.

After a while, he began to get the idea, and we even managed some semblance of "leading." The owner and I also practiced sitting with him beside the mini barn (oh, so cute!). He settled down and started grooming me a little, so I guess he's on his way. He even started letting me scratch his legs, and a few times when I touched his leg, he picked it up in a reflex kind of a way, whereupon I got enthusiastic and praised him a lot. He must be all, like, "What is up with the weird lady?" Here's where a clicker and treats might work wonders.

We decided to shelve trimming for another day. I think Stormy definitely experienced being with humans in a new way that wasn't so bad after all; hopefully he'll mull it over and be ready to let me have his feet the next time or the next.

Little Stormy on the right.
Playing that perennially favorite game - "Follow the Lithuanian."
(You can just see that Stormy's dorsal stripe goes right down his tail.)

p.s. These little horses are very intelligent. Their owner tells me that they enjoy playing the game "Put the Ball in the Bucket," which they figured out all by themselves.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hoof Update

On Tuesday, I went back to trim the Navicular and Splat feet which I trimmed back in June. Before starting to write this, I went back and found my blog entry for that day, and I realize I should have read it before going up to trim this time.

First of all, I would have read that the navicular horse had had a weird "flick" in the fetlock joint when walking, and therefore I would have seen that this time, he did not have this flicking action. I would have seen that last time, he stood with his forelegs parked out in front a bit - and this time he didn't. I would have read that, after the last trim, he noticeably avoided landing heel-first on his RF (the worst foot), whereas this time after the trim, he was landing either heel-first or at least flat-footed.  It would have been nice to know that last time, pre-trim, the ratio of back to front of the hoof was worse than 20/80, and about 50-50 post-trim. Knowing that, this time, I would have bothered to actually measure the ratios - I know it was a lot better than 20/80 pre-trim.

The splat-footed horse was way better than last time. Again, if I'd remembered I had these extensive notes in my blog, I could've checked and reminded myself that last time the extreme flare started a couple of inches below the hairline, whereas this time there was straight growth to within about an inch of the ground. I would have remembered the interesting fact the there was a prominent sole callous growing all the way in a complete arch around the frog. This time, I noticed a bump of sole callous to one side of the frog in a couple of the feet. Other than that, there was a discernible, if still very shallow, concavity and nothing left of the arch callous, except these last couple of bumps. Post-trim, there was no flare left except at the sides.

I keep very minimal notes in a logbook after trimming, but I can see how valuable it would be to have more extensive notes - and with my poor handwriting, that's not going to happen in a logbook! I should probably keep some notes on the computer, as rummaging around in the blog to find where I put things is too haphazard.

My trimming friend is on a mission to have all her clients have their horses' hoofs trimmed every four weeks. She has got religion about this, and I know for some horses frequent trimming can make all the difference. But ain't nobody want to pay the hoof trimmer that often. These two horses both had significantly bad feet, and when I saw them this week, it had been almost four months since their last trim. Yet both of them had continued to improve without intervention. This is probably largely because they belong to a herd of six horses who roam 24/7 on 19 acres of varied terrain, including rock.

The other four horses (two of whom I trimmed last time, and two of whom I have never trimmed) seem to be getting by fine without any help from me or anyone.

And speaking of the other horses, this herd is very friendly. The owner is a nice combination of kind and disciplined. So the other horses crowd around while you're trimming and chew your hair and things, but you know there'll be no trouble, cos they're all well-behaved. They also like to empty the tool bucket. So I'm thinking I should bring a toy bucket with me. Of course they'd probably still prefer the tools. Just like a toddler who, no matter what fancy age-appropriate toys are on offer, still prefers to empty your handbag.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The View from on Rose

When I emerged from the barn today carrying saddles, Bridget and Rose both clustered around - "Me! Me!" they seemed to say, and Bridget nuzzled the saddles.

Rose was first. I plonked the tack on a gate outside their field and went back in with the halter and rope. Rose was hovering expectantly by the gate, waiting to be caught. Despite a little interference from Sir George, we extricated ourselves pretty smartly, and I gave Rose a quick brush before tacking up. She now has no initial reluctance to accept the bridle, as she knows that there is no bit involved.

I mounted from the picnic table (Rose is so nice to mount - so patient and solid), and waited to see what we had today.

Rose's first notion was to walk around the yard a little and check things out.

She headed back to check on the the other horses, stopped about 20 feet away, and then walked off again in the opposite direction.

All told, she returned about five times to check on the others. The third time, she and George had to have some nose-to-nose reassurance.

The fifth time, Rose also went up to the fence to smooch, only this time George started pulling on her bridle. At which point, I put a stop to the interaction.

In between each return to make sure the others were still there, Rose wanted to go around to the other side of the house, out of sight. Sometimes she wanted to graze.

Sitting on a grazing horse is a very good exercise - I found I had to concentrate hard on keeping my seat dropping onto the saddle and my heels dropping while my hand and arm were pulled far forward as Rose lowered her neck to graze.

I found quite a big improvement in communication since yesterday. As I'd hoped, the hamfistedness of the bitless began to give way to a little more subtlety. We did a couple of much nicer halts, using the seat and a much lesser amount of rein. The turning was greatly improved too.

I gave Rose a lot of latitude in choosing where to go. But each time she up and moved, I made sure to connect with her and establish a collaboration - asking for a little faster walk, or reminding her to lighten up, or asking for a slight turn. I think she gave some nice responses.

One time (my mistake), we were grazing under a tree, and the other horses hollered for her. She suddenly decided to go over to say hello, and there was much crackling of twigs on my back and helmet as we exited from under the tree. Startled, she started trotting - but quickly relaxed back to a walk when I asked.

A couple of times I suggested returning to our tacking-up spot to dismount, and she emphatically disagreed. I think she enjoys the independence of being away from the others, choosing where to eat, and having the security of a built-in buddy who magically accompanies her wherever she decides to go.

Finally, I decided it was time to quit. I must have in fact made some sort of stronger inner determination, as she agreed this time to return to the tacking-up spot. I think horses know the difference between "Oh well, I suppose it's time for .... " and "Right, gotta go."

Once she was untacked though, she didn't want to go back in the field.

You can't make me.
But I insisted, and back she went.

Bridget was next. Put a saddle on and thought maybe she'd like to graze for a little while. Not a bit of it. She was quite clear that we were supposed to be doing weird things - preferably in return for treats, or - failing that - at least to the accompaniment of loud praises from June. So that's what we did.

We even practiced stopping in position by the kitchen steps in preparation for some potential future time when I might want to, I don't know, do something crazy like maybe mount.

When the time came to stop, it was Bridget's turn to refuse to walk back toward the field.

Can't, won't, shan't
I felt very happy about what we did today.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Positive Reinforcement

My husband is reading a book called Dog Sense, by John Bradshaw. He shares interesting snippets as he reads along, but the main gist of the book is as follows: We have all been sold a bill of goods with this idea of the dog as a sort of domesticated wolf, whose social life is rigidly controlled by a dominance hierarchy, and who will feel most comfortable if you "show him who's boss." Firstly, the latest research shows that wolves aren't pack animals who live within a military-style pecking order - they live in family groups, where trust and cooperation and flexibility are the norm. Secondly, dogs aren't really at all like wolves anyway. Thirdly, forget dominating your dog - positive reinforcement is where it's at.

Our first exposure to serious dog training was with a Koehler method trainer in Hyde Park in Chicago. All the neighborhood dog owners took this guy's class, and let me tell you we had a neighborhood of dogs who behaved with Teutonic precision and orderliness. Everyone came when called, everyone could heel off leash, everyone sat at the kerb. Oh yes, we were an impressive bunch, and for me the Koehler method has always been the gold standard of dog training. As Koehler himself said - reliability off leash is the standard by which you should judge training methods.

There was only one naysayer in our neighborhood - a Hungarian professor, whose family had been wiped out by the Nazis. He just couldn't stand all this barking of orders and rigid discipline. He was known to dive in to the middle of a training session, scoop the trainee up into his arms and commiserate loudly.

Now it looks like Hungarian Guy was right, as along comes the "latest research," and we find that all this yanking and yelling and pinching and showing who's boss is just not an effective way to train your four-legged friends. Sounds familiar.

Anyway, my husband and I have been on a campaign of playing Mr. and Mrs. Nice Guy to the dogs. And we've seen quite impressive results. Malcolm likes to run after trucks, and he's fond of heckling the horses. Since I've started lavishing praise and sweet talk upon him for everything he does, there's been a big improvement in his response if I call his name when he's off yelling at a horse or vehicle. You can see him trying to withstand  the magnetic force of my voice; but he can't resist it, and he turns and comes over to me. My husband has also noticed that the dogs come over to elicit affection more often - which is especially noticeable with Malcolm, as he is not a particularly outgoing dog.

Now, I can't compare this to a full-blown course of Koehler classes, which I'm sure would yield much more impressive results. However, the off-leash part of the training culminates in using a "light line" to fool the dog into thinking there's no leash attached when in fact there is. The dog disobeys - yikes! - and (barring Hungarian intervention) wrath descends. But the positive reinforcement also seems to set in place a force of action-at-a-distance. You can see it reeling the dog in, and it never gets tangled or caught on bushes.

Good Dogs
So ... I had occasion to think of all this today when I was riding Rose. Which I was doing because my husband and daughter started to complain that we have NO horses who are dead broke (as the unfortunate expression goes). Plus also, I just really had an urge to get up on a horse. Rose was very sweet about getting tacked up and seemed to enjoy the process. Plus also she's a lamb about mounting.

Once up, however, I realized that what we do in fact have is GREEN. This is only the second (I think) time I've ridden her, and the first time was with a halter and two thick, clumsy ropes for reins. This time I had the bitless and was prepared to be a little more fine-tuned.

I rode her in the yard with the other horses milling about - usually at a distance, although they did come over and interfere a couple of times. Rose was quite willing to listen, very blocked in the shoulders, and got a little irritated sometimes when I wanted her to do something she hadn't planned on. She's used to just riding out with George, which involves very little in the way of steering or direction on the part of her rider.

Whatever it was or is that people are supposed to do when they're training horses or whatever it was that I used to do, well all of that is kind of out the window for me these days. I started out not knowing exactly how we were going to proceed.

The positive reinforcement thing came into play, when I realized that the little tap on the horse behind the girth was no longer a resource I could fall back on. A few times Rose refused to move forward. And became a little cross at the idea, as it involved moving away from the other horses. So I just asked her to wait, pointed in the right direction. And eventually she moved forward, and we didn't come to an argument, which is the main thing.

I realized she's very blocked in the shoulders and that we could profitably have a very short ride, focussing on that issue. She's hard to "steer", and I discovered that rather than going straight to working on the bending while moving, it was helpful to come to a halt and draw her attention to her withers, which seemed to be all out of synch with her head and back. Once she felt herself a little more connected at the halt, she was able to move off into a more comfortable walk.

We worked for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and then I let her go again. I think she sort of liked it and that she is so very clueless that any amount of work we do together will make a big difference. Right now, the idea that I'm communicating with her and making helpful suggestions is a totally novel concept to her. Hopefully as she becomes more accustomed to working, she'll start out with the expectation of a conversation.

The bitless does feel like rather a blunt instrument, but on the other hand, I can afford to be hamfisted and blunt, as I can't cause nearly as much discomfort as I could with a bit. Once Rose is tuned in more, I think it'll be possible to be quite delicate with the bitless bridle. The only other problem with the bitless is that you have to have a noseband, and I can see that, even loose, it constrains the movement of the jaw.

After untacking Rose, I left the saddle hanging on the gate. Bridget came over and knocked at it with her nose. So I put it on her, and then realized - hey presto! - I'd saddled her at liberty, which was something I'd been berating myself for not doing yesterday. It fell off again before I got the girth on, and I didn't bother putting it back, but Bridget and I worked (with treats) on backing, turning, and standing still while I move away from her head.

Then it was George's turn, as my daughter got him to take the foreign exchange student for a ride. Or I should say tried to get him, as he wouldn't be caught - most unlike him. She finally asked for my help, and I went over to him with my arms spread wide, halter dangling in one hand, saying, "George! This is your lucky day! You get to take the girls out!" He came right up and dropped his nose for the halter. Go figure.

He then adopted a rather resigned, martyred, but gentlemanly demeanor, and my daughter got the foreign exchange student situated on his back, and off they went for a nice long walk, nice for the girls at least.

And later, in the beautiful golden evening, I went out to visit with all the horses.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

In a Mood

Today I took Bridget for a saddled walk. Before the walk started, things went rather well, I thought. First of all, she was on the lawn and saw me coming across the field carrying the saddle from the barn. I disappeared around the corner of the house to put the tack on a gate, and then came back around to find my husband in a state of some consternation as Bridget was hitting the house with her feet. I, in my naive optimism, think maybe she wondered where I'd gotten to and was trying to attract attention.

I've shelved the clicker for her and worked on standing still without the clicker, but still offering a treat reward. For example, every time I tried to move down her side to fiddle with the girth, she moved to keep me by her head. It took very little time and effort to show her that I was asking for her to stand still while I moved away from her head and back again, a little longer each time, giving her a treat when I returned to her head. I really don't think the clicker would have added anything.

We started out on our walk fine. But Bridget is in heat right now, and her behavior got more and more pixellated as we proceeded. First, she was all bent out of shape about a fly. I was sure it had to be a jumbo-jet horsefly, but it proved to be a couple of very regular-sized ordinary flies. Then when the cows came into view in the distance, Bridget became more and more agitated, to the point where she was plunging a little and contemplating a small rear.

And then there was the fact that I'd spaced out and put the wrong saddle on her, and it kept slipping out of position, and it was probably quite annoying for her.

When we turned for home, she would not walk beside me and wasn't interested in anything I had to say about it. We stopped about 1,000 times to re-arrange ourselves. Then I remembered that on our very first walk at Raintree in Mississippi, I'd had the notion that I should insist that she walk politely beside me, a notion which I quickly abandoned without regret. It's just that lately she has been quite happy to walk nicely, and I was getting frustrated at her refusal to cooperate.

Then we reached the pasture fence, and I let her go up and greet George and Rose, which involved a great deal of squealing.

And then we went home and I let her go.

As I walked back to the barn with the tack, Bridget followed me and kept nosing the saddle. Which I guess meant she hadn't had a totally horrible time. But I was feeling a little downcast. When I emerged from the house a little later, however, Bridget marched over and gave me a Bridget-hug. This involves her extending the Foreleg of Greeting, which you grab, and then she puts her head over your shoulder and then you squeeze her round the neck as hard as you can and rub her neck with your head while she rubs her head on you. The human can initiate this interaction by squeezing her neck, but this afternoon it was Bridget who started it. Which definitely made me feel better.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Operation Bridget

The good news is that Bridget is flat-backed and so Kelsey's (R.I.P.) old saddle fits her. The bad news is that Bridget is flat-backed and so, no matter how tight you fasten the girth, when you put your weight in the stirrup, the saddle is guaranteed to slip.

I've been looking over my journal from last year, and I realized I was spending a lot more time doing things with the horses last September. Having the horses loose in the yard on a regular basis means I can pop out for a minute or two here and there to say hello; I can sit on the porch and have a cordial chat with whomever happens to stick their head over the rail, or hand a carrot out the kitchen door. However, I think this interaction has meant I haven't felt the need to devote more time just to the horses.

So I decided Bridget and I have to get going with whatever it is we're going to get going with.

Today, I got out the clicker, filled a pocket with tiny carrot pieces, and fetched a saddle and bridle from the barn.

The first trick was learning to wait for the click, as of course once Bridget got wind of the pocketful of carrots, she was intent on getting as many as possible as quickly as possible. Anyway, she got the hang of that, and then we tried backing and turning. Maybe I shouldn't do so many things all at once, but Bridget's smart, and I'm impatient!

I'll need more time to work with the clicker to decide what I think of it. Having read on Song of the Black Horse that using the clicker creates a fast track in the learning process, I decided it was worth a second look.

Then I tied Bridget to the gate and put on the saddle. Hopefully one day we'll have a small space where we can tack up at liberty. I put on the bitless bridle, and it fits Bridget better than Rose, as Bridget's head is deeper, which means the cheek pieces are well away from her eyes.

We went for a walk. I was just determined we were actually going to go for a walk. Bridget stopped a few times, but she resumed walking each time, as I was clearly on a mission. I got fed up with being pushed off the dirt lane and onto the grass so she could eat, so I pushed her back and kept going.

I promised her a grazing break when we got to some shade trees at the bottom of the hill. She grazed for a while and then saw the COWS. She marched further down the lane to get closer to them, and they came scurrying over to the fence check her out. (Fence = 1 strand of wire, not electrified.)

Bridget was breathing fire and levitating, but happily she kept in touch with me and showed no signs of taking off. In fact she reallyreally wanted to say hello to the cows, but it was all a bit too scary. They were two-year old Holstein heifers. I know this, as their DOBs were on their ear tags, as were their names. Some of them had normal names, like Cayla and Caren. Others had weird ones, like Portage and Vision.

After the exciting cow interlude, we headed home. I asked Bridget to walk next to me without forging ahead. Whenever she got out in front of me, I stopped and waited for her to put herself back in position. And we practiced going real slow and then picking up the pace. I figure that if we're going to go out riding together, we'll need to have a sense of doing things together, listening to each other, being a unit. Walking together is a good way to start.

We stopped for Bridget to eat some particularly yummy grass.

At this point, Bridget was standing in a conveniently located ditch - hmm, good opportunity .... so I stuck my foot in the stirrup and hoisted myself up so all my weight was in the stirrup and I was leaning over her back. And - yes! - I clicked, then doled out a treat. We did this two or three times (putting the saddle back into position each time), and Bridget remained largely uninterested due to the profusion of herbage at her feet.

So, well, we're getting there.

Later, I went out for a dusk social call to the pasture. First Bridget came over for a visit, then George, then Bridget again. When George came over for a second time, he carefully placed himself into position behind me and proceeded to nudge me over to the gate. So I put the halter on, took him out, and let him graze all the way down the driveway and back up again before I turned in for the night. I thought it was very clever and cute of him to figure out how to tell me what to do.

George enjoying the fruits of his maneuvering.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


We've been having much-needed rain, along with unseasonably cool weather. But today looked like this:

So after church, and before taking the girls to the mall to look for Homecoming dresses, I took my coffee and a lawn chair into the field and plonked myself down under a tree.

Pretty soon I had company.

George and Rose didn't stay long, but Bridget wanted to hang out. Mostly she wanted to eat my chair. Having been dissuaded from that, she spent some time practicing putting her foot up onto my lap.

Chloe wanted to come over, but nobody would let her.

Then George made everybody go across to the other side of the field by the trees.

 I stayed put.

Yesterday, I came home in an antsy mood. I went in to the field with the brushes, and George came over to be groomed. Pretty soon, though, he nudged me over to the gate with his nose, so I put the halter and rope on, and we RAN down the drive and up the road. Whereupon I was completely out of breath. And moreover realized that I'd forgotten Chloe was out and that she'd followed us out onto the road. Retreat up the drive, jogging. Bridget and Rose galloped around the field and up and down the fence line, encouraged by the madly barking dogs who ran up and down in pursuit.

George and I ran around a bit more, then he grazed. After he was back, I took Bridget out and worked on asking her to move and stop. She is electric and is apt to react quite strongly to signals. I'm experimenting. She's very stolid about being climbed on and pushed and bumped, but if you come at her with a sharp intention, she responds sharply.

I'm thinking I really want to get riding.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Replace Your Divots

Today the horses went totally bonkers and galloped around the house about five times and around each of the fields at least once.

I don't know what spooked them, but the condition in which they left the lawn makes me fear that certain other family members are going to demand that their yard privileges be revoked.

One day, I might want to have a proper yard, and then what's to become of us?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bird Whispering

We returned late this evening from a long day in Washington, DC with my daughter, her friend, and the exchange student, to find the dogs in a high state of pent-up agitation from their lengthy confinement. There was blue ink on the paws and nose of one of them, traceable to a mangled pen and further ink stains on the carpet of the downstairs bedroom. I hope that stuff I saw at Home Depot the other day works.

There was also a bird in my daughter's bedroom. My daughter and her friend went up stairs, and immediately came screaming down again. My fears of Something Gross were allayed when the cause of her alarm was revealed. She doesn't like birds at all - hence the over-reaction.

The exchange student, who displays an admirable and gratifying animal-craziness (she even tried to pet the DC squirrels today) ran up into my daughter's room, and I heard her say, "Cool!"

I grabbed a towel, which usually works really well for subduing and removing panicky birds, and went in to the room to catch the bird, which turned out to be a starling. We don't know how they get in the house. But they do.

I made several attempts to put the towel over the bird, but it kept evading me, and it began panting. So I decided maybe I could just treat it like a horse.

It was perched at the back of the bookshelf. I reached a finger up towards it, saw the bird tense, and removed my finger. I kept talking in a high voice, as I think birds are quite attuned to the sound of voices.

I kept this up - advancing, and retreating at the first sign of anxiety, and I kept up the baby talk. The bird moved position maybe once or twice, but it wasn't long before it was letting me pet it and scratch its chest. At first it drew the line at me touching the top of its head, but then I was able to stroke its head and beak and back. Finally it let me pick it up without struggling.

I called to my husband to immobilize the dogs, and to the exchange student to come and see the bird. We took it outside onto the kitchen steps, and I opened my hands. It sat quietly for a little while before flying away.

I didn't take any pictures, as I didn't think the bird would like that much. But here is one of its relatives.

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Friends for Rose and George

As this was Labor Day weekend, we had the pleasure of the company of my oldest daughter and her husband. My son-in-law has only been on a horse a handful of times, all when he was very young, but he's keen to learn to ride.

We formed a plan to take the horses out on Sunday afternoon. As often happens, when the hour arrived and we were heading into the house to get ready, the horses came over to us. George approached my son-in-law and nudged his back.

When we came out again, Bridget and Chloe were off in the field, and George and Rose were at the ready in the yard.

I'd planned to have my daughter ride George and to lead my son-in-law on Rose. But I thought I'd better check with George, especially as he'd already expressed an interest in my son-in-law. My daughter went to catch Rose, while I caught George and lead him over to my son-in-law. I asked George what he thought about who should ride whom. Sure enough, George walked up to my son-in-law and stuck his face in his chest. Pretty clear.

My son-in-law was captivated by George, who behaved very sweetly and meekly as we brushed him and tacked him up. I've been talking up the Spilkerization of our little household, and my son-in-law (a recent convert to dogs, and by extension to all animals, and with something of the convert's zeal) volunteered the astute observation that it might be better to just hang out with the horse for a few weeks and not bother about riding. I applauded this noble sentiment, but clearly George was already anticipating a ride, so I said it'd be ok to go ahead.

Meantime, my daughter was a little puzzled by exactly who Rose is. When I told her she was a Thoroughbred, but not a racehorse, for some reason everything became clear to my daughter, and she took a great liking to Rose. Rose again turned her head from the bridle, but as soon as she felt it heading straight towards her ears (meaning no bit), she relaxed her head toward my daughter.

The two riders mounted at the picnic table. I love the Wintec Endurance Cair panel saddle on Rose, which meant the saddle I put on George was much too small for my son-in-law. We made do, however, and set off. When we got a little way down the road, George decided we should turn off into the fields, which was fine by me, so we did.

My son-in-law, having felt a little trepidation in advance, found himself enjoying the ride, as well as the view from his higher vantage point. My daughter found Rose very green but willing to listen.

After a while, George began to express a disinclination to continue. The saddle situation was very much less than ideal, with - I imagine - some quite uncomfortable localized pressure. I suggested to my son-in-law that maybe George would prefer if he got down. He agreed with alacrity and was happy to lead George the rest of the way.

We continued home, and after the horses were untacked, the two riders and the two horses spent a little time together on the lawn. Rose always feels very bonded to the person she's been riding with, and she closed her eyes and kept close to my daughter. George's ears lopped out as he stood beside his new buddy.

Later, my son-in-law observed that George's attitude toward him changed over the course of their time together. He felt that at the beginning, George had sensed his uncertainty and lack of confidence and had been making a special effort to put him at his ease. Later, as he was leading George along, he felt that his confidence had grown and that George was not bothering to reach out in the quite the same way any more. I'd say that was true. I think my son-in-law will be good at this!

I also think George made a good call in choosing to ride with my son-in-law and having Rose go with my daughter.