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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

George Has to Muster Up His Courage

George has been acting all distant towards me. Can't blame him - the poor lad is probably feeling totally bored and neglected.

Today was a nice, relatively warm Sunday - with the snow still pretty on the fields, but no ice on the road -  so I took him out for a walk.

There's got to be some grass under here somewhere.
He set off at a fine pace down the road, veering off now and then to see if he could find anything growing along the verges, and stopping occasionally to survey the distant fields. At times, I had to run to keep up with him. Other times, I stopped and waited for him. And sometimes I said, "George, I'm bored, let's keep going."

Checking it out.
Wonder who lives here and if they keep any grass about the place?

Then terror loomed on the horizon in the form of our neighbor's flock of sheep. George has seen them once before, but once was not enough to convince him they are not a serious threat to life and limb.

Actually he looked much more alarmed than this.
From this point, he proceeded by prancing and jogging and circling. His attitude towards my ability to handle the ovine menace was evinced by his continually pushing in front and placing himself between me and the ghastly flock.

Here I am, safe behind George.
Hmm, what does that tell you about George's esteem for my leadership capacity? I can't even be trusted to fend off a few sheep.

We continued our walk down a lane, George very much on edge with the sheep now behind us. We came upon two horses in a paddock. George whinnied at them but remained much more concerned about the sheep.

After we'd turned back toward home, George's worry began to subside.  Finally I thought he was calm enough to practice a couple of things.

We practiced yielding his shoulder over at the walk. Quite good. And we practiced the duckling walk, i.e. I am the mother duck, and he is the duckling, and he walks nicely tucked into my shadow. Well, sort of. The deal is that he can walk a little ahead of me if he wants, but if I feel put upon and dragged about, I go on strike. As soon as I feel uncomfortable, I stop in my tracks and repeat, "Duckling!" in an annoying voice. After a couple of repetitions, George turns his head back toward me, quite kindly, and then we continue walking side by side. 

Back in the pasture, I realized our excursion had restored me somewhat into George's good graces. After I released George, Bridget came over and was very affectionate towards me. George returned to shoo her off. She crept back and was banished a few times. Finally George, almost grudgingly, put me next to him and stood with me by his shoulder.

She may not be good for much, but dammit, she's mine.
I guess our walk restored our connection a little bit. George is a mighty complex guy, who doesn't hesitate to show his annoyance, but who nevertheless does not wear his heart on his sleeve. I really think he feels things quite deeply and doesn't always know what to do about it. We need to go for walks more often.

p.s. Today Bridget mastered the technique of completely undoing my anorak zipper.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fun Among the Flakes

Sorry, I had to continue the alliteration.

Snow day - no school! First order of business for freed student: make a snowman.

Then we went for a walk and encountered some neighbors.

The horses were energized by the snow, swiping at each other and moving restlessly. Bridget and Rose enjoyed rolling.

Shaking off the snow

Bridget came over to play with me. Here is she is distracted by something in the distance after taking off my glove.

She insistently handed me her forelegs. Several times, she turned around and backed into me - not asking to be scratched, but telling me to pick up her back legs. Now, Bridget has a way of backing up to Rose and then cheekily firing off a couple of play kicks. So when she backs up to me in a playful mood, it makes me a little anxious. I know her intent is not to kick, as she raises her hindleg forward and holds it underneath her. But there is so much energy in this which I can't interpret, that I often ask her to move away. It's not clear that she actually likes having her hind leg picked up. Nevertheless, it seems that this is what she is asking me to do.

As I've said before, I wish I could run with her. But I can never feel the energy just right. In body surfing, if you're a fraction too late or too early, you don't catch the wave, and your ride peters out immediately. I feel that with Bridget I'm never quite just catching the moment. Plus, I don't think she's really into the idea either.

I took George out to graze yesterday. He's been very distant lately. I think he's rather bored. You can see in the photos of Rose and Bridget rolling that he is looking on in a benevolent, but slightly remote, way.

I think they could all use a change of scenery and that perhaps Bridget is grasping at straws to entertain herself. She is an optimist and likes to make the best of things. Whereas I fear George has gotten a little discouraged and feels neglected and doesn't quite know what to do about it.  Hmm. I don't know.

Later on, it snowed a lot more.

The horses became quite frenetic. I put hay out in a sheltered corner on the other side of the barn. They came over to look but refused to stay there. Maybe there were strange windy noises in that spot. They calmed down for dinnertime. Now it's dark, so who knows what they're up to.

I think it's fair to say that we're officially snowed in at this point. Tomorrow no doubt we'll be ploughed out. Hay is scheduled to be delivered on Saturday, but I don't think the truck will be able to get up to the barn. Oh dear. I may have to go and buy a few bales at a time until this clears up.

Never mind! Hoping for another snow day tomorrow!

Monday, January 24, 2011


I recently returned from a family wedding in Scotland - an extended feast, held on a remote estate in the Highlands of Scotland.

A shared bravado united the guests - we had all dared threats of blizzards and ice to journey to this faraway spot, divided from the outside world by the sea on one side and by miles of snowy mountains on the other.

For four days, we guests moved from room to room in shape-shifting waves, like a flock of starlings - from the downstairs drawing room, to the billiard room, to the main hall, to the subterranean kitchens. At times, we splintered into smaller groups, swooping away to walk up the snowy hills or to drive to the local shop to buy sweets. Our numbers "gathered to greatness" at pivotal moments - the whisky-tasting, the cabaret, the wedding itself.

Food magically appeared - a roast chicken in our kitchen, a fruitcake and pots of tea after a walk, beer on tap in the front hall. We gathered late at night and rustled up spontaneous eggs and toast. Everyone was a host, everyone was a guest.

Family members, seen only at weddings and funerals, reappeared as if they had never been gone. Dead faces came to life again in sudden resemblances; new children recalled past children. Strangers became familiar.

I had a feeling, there, that my being did not end at the confines of my body, that I was part of an organism - a living, breathing thing with a life of its own. I was smaller, but - being a part of that thing - larger too.

After the wedding, we gathered in the hall to dance. The skills of most of us were rusty, but as each dance progressed, our confidence grew; with each repetition of the form, the dance became stronger, and a single pulse seemed to vivify us all.

After it was all over, and we reluctantly departed, our hopes for a major snowfall having been disappointed, I set off to fly home with my own little splinter-flock - two daughters and a son-in-law. As we arrived in my old home town on the way to the airport, I looked for a feeling of loss - a sorrow for those who live there no longer. But the feeling eluded me - I had my home with me, in the presence of the little group who travelled alongside me. Again I was not certain where I ended and they began.

It was a good feeling. I wonder if horses feel like that all the time.

Photo by Sam  Short

Fun Below Freezing

I woke up to the exciting news that it was 5F. And of course, in keeping with my habit of resolving that the horses have to be moved just as it's getting dark, I picked one of the coldest days of the year to decide that Rose's feet had to be trimmed.

I went over to the barn to set the scene - i.e. lay out some hay on the inside of the fence for George and Bridget and on the outside for Rose, as well as put the trimming things in place.

I also took out a broom that I was retiring from house use to barn use. As soon as Bridget saw me with it, she came charging over to investigate.

What is this peculiar object?
I dragged it along the ground, and we played cat and  mouse.
Trying to pick it up.
Maybe this way will work better.

Now here's a really good use for this thing.

As I was finally heading across the lawn to go trim, Chloe (who was at liberty again) saw me coming with a halter. The alarming prospect of a premature return to the field made her scurry away. I dropped the halter and ran after her. I didn't stop when I reached her, but passed her by and kept running. She ran after me, and we ran together for a little while, then walked together around to the back of the house, where she resumed grazing.

Then it was time to catch Rose.

A typical Rose expression and stance. Sweet and curious, but reserved and cautious.

Rose does not like these things to be rushed. Often, I confess, I am impatient and resort to the old throwing-the-rope-quick-around-the-neck trick before putting the halter on. Today I resolved to take however long it took to have Rose willingly put on her halter. So I went up to her and stood beside her and showed her the halter. She thought about it, said no thanks, and walked off. I walked after her, stood by her again, asked again. We repeated this a couple of times, until she didn't turn her head away from the halter and let me put it on.

I tied her up on the other side of the fence with a pile of hay to nibble and got started. She was very cooperative, and I got a lot done. I discovered a big horizontal crack on the inside of her RF, which I think may be an old abscess fissure, which is now showing up due to having worked its way down the foot to where there is a greater amount of torque forcing it open. I quit trimming before I was quite done, as I didn't want to push our luck, and then let Rose go exploring as a reward.

She was very keen.
Chloe came too.

I moved so much, what with running around with Chloe and working on Rose's feet, that I didn't feel cold at all - instead I glowed with my own energy. What a lovely feeling - maybe that's how horses feel all the time.
Jettisoned layers, shed during the course of trimming.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What Does Chloe Think?

Today Chloe persuaded me to let her out to graze the lawn.

She stayed out there til dinner time. As I was fixing the feed, she came over, considered going in the gate, thought better of it, and wandered off again.

After setting out the other feed dishes, I planned to lure Chloe back into the field with her bucket. Not going to work - she preferred the lawn. So I put her bucket down inside the open gate and proceeded to try and push her through in a very slapstick fashion - me pushing her tail end, only to have her turn around and face me. I put my arms around her neck in an attempt to lead her, but she ended up leading me.

After a minute or two of Laurel-and-Hardy shenanigans, it occurred to me that Chloe was actually enjoying this. She was making no attempt to leave the scene, offered a trick spin or two, and seemed to like pushing back when I pushed her.

At the moment when the thought occurred to me that this might be a fun game, Chloe marched off toward her open gate, allowed me to deflect a last-minute attempt to return to the lawn, and settled down to her dinner bucket.

Fun Before Food

Saturday, and so the horses' breakfast is late.

George is standing around, looking Eeyore-ish and muttering to himself. Bridget meets me at the gate when I go to fetch out last night's dinner dishes. She says, "Breakfast can wait! First I want to play the Glove Game, and the Zipper Game, and the Leg Game!" Then she discovers that the drawstring of my anorak hood is elastic, and she can pull it and let it go poing.

George comes over; she leaves. George pulls each of my gloves off and then stands there looking put-upon. I gather the feed dishes, throw them over the fence, and on my way out, Bridget meets me by the gate to play some more. Once more she leaves when George looms. George says, "All right, I want to do the glove thing once more too, and then for heaven's sakes, woman, are you going to feed me or not?"

So I feed them.

p.s. It was 11F (- 12C) this morning, but there was no wind, it was dry, and I put on so much long underwear and so many layers that I was actually too hot outside.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Scene from the Bathroom Window

George chases Bridget away from the water and goes back to eating his hay.

Bridget moseys over to her pile of hay.  I think to myself, "Bridget, I can't wait til you take over. George is a paper tiger - you should go for it."

Bridget starts creeping over to George's pile of hay, one step at at time, yawning all the way. She arrives at the edge of the pile and starts nibbling.

Every time George gives her a look, she backs off a little or turns her head away, but then resumes eating. George doesn't move, but after receiving one sour glance too many, Bridget leaves and goes back to the hay pile she's been sharing with Chloe.

Tag team - Chloe leaves and walks over toward George.

Nah, that's far enough. She turns around and goes back to the girls' pile.

They'll wear him down yet.

p.s. I know the water trough shouldn't be in a corner, but it's the only place the hose will reach.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Was It a Fluke?

I was standing by the gate, and Bridget stuck her head over so she could play the pull-the-glove-off-June's-hand game. After removing the glove and waving it around for a while, she dropped it on the ground on her side of the gate.

I leaned over, reaching my hand toward the glove, making pathetic noises.

Bridget picked it up again, put her head back over to my side of the gate, and let me take the glove.

Needless to say, I waxed ecstatic in her praises. She probably thinks I'm a complete nutter.


I have a new hobby. It's called watching tv. Before bed, I've discovered it's nice to pick up the knitting, fetch a cup of Rooibos, and plonk yourself down in front of a good, educational PBS show. You can learn a lot.

Last night, for instance, I learned about what makes a Toucan's beak so light-yet-strong. I also learned about splicing spider DNA into goats, thereby producing spider-thread-infused goat's milk, whence high tensile fibers can be extracted. Yikes.

One programme last night, however, was particularly interesting - a National Geographic special called Killer Stress.

The programme (oh stop with the red underlining - I'm using British spelling) concerns two longitudinal studies, one carried out in England on civil servants in Whitehall and the other in Africa on baboons. Both the baboons and the civil servants live in hierarchical social systems, wherein the "top dog" can, and often does, terrorize his subordinates.

The lower-ranking individuals are subject to constant stress, brought about not only by persecution, but by lack of control over their own lives. Among the baboons, the persecution takes the form of physical abuse - among the civil servants, it takes the form of verbal abuse, lack of respect, and micromanagement. The higher-ranking individuals also have greater access to pleasureable activities.

Periodically, baboons of varying rank are anaesthetized, blood is drawn, and other health markers investigated. The researcher, Robert Sopolsky, displays stunning skill with a blow gun to achieve the prerequisite KO. Unfortunately Michael Marmot, the English researcher, didn't use this technique on his civil servants. I would have enjoyed seeing him lurk behind a telephone box with his blow gun, waiting for a be-suited clerk to come out of the Underground. However, despite this deficiency, the civil servants were also tested regularly.

The discoveries show that the Alphas - human and baboon - have much lower levels of stress hormones in their blood. They also have a significantly lower incidence of high blood pressure, clogged arteries, heart disease, and other illnesses. Surprisingly, findings also show that fat is gained more and distributed differently in the case of lower-ranking individuals. They are more likely to have belly fat, which poses a greater threat to one's health than fat accumulated elsewhere on the body. Furthermore, studies on rats show that stress can shrink brain cells and damage memory.

The plot thickened when one of the baboon troops suffered a reverse after a large number of their members died from eating contaminated meat in a garbage dump. Because the amount of meat was limited, only the alpha males were able to take possession of it - and only the alpha males died. After this, the troop was composed of females, and a reduced number of meeker, lower-ranking males. The culture of the group changed completely The females assumed a greater leadership role, setting a Summer of Love tone, with mutual grooming and other peaceful interactions replacing the former dog-eat-dog ambience. The health of the lower-ranking troop members improved as their stress levels decreased.

What is most interesting is that other young males who subsequently left their natal troops and joined this group (as is the custom among baboons) learned this new culture, gradually adapting their behavior to the more peaceful, passive modus vivendi of their adopted troop.

Stress causes damage at a cellular level, bringing about premature aging, as well as a host of other health problems. But the programme also touched upon the healing effects that positive interactions can have. Getting together with family and friends in an accepting, supportive atmosphere can actually repair cell damage.

Which of course brings us to the horse.

There does exist a dominance hierarchy among horses. However, a horse's place in the hierarchy doesn't play all that much of a role in shaping its daily life. Food is plentiful - or, if not, at least ubiquitous. A dominant horse might shoo a lower-ranking horse away from a nice patch of grass - but there's always another patch over there. Horses don't amuse themselves by bullying each other. They might get snarky in order to quick get what they want, but then it's over and done with.

Moreover, dominant horses don't have greater access to that wholesome cell-repairing activity known as mutual grooming. Nobody so far has offered to groom bossy old George, and it's only lately that the mares have started letting him buddy up to them a little. He can force the respect, but he can't force the love.

If we go among horses determined to impose our will on them, then we increase their stress and damage their health. If we go among them willing to wait and listen, then we allow them to decrease our stress and heal our bodies.

In the synchronous manner of the universe, an email appeared in my inbox this morning: the 252nd prohibition in the Sefer Hamitzvot is that Jews are forbidden from causing emotional distress to a convert. This negative commandment is in addition to another prohibition forbidding one to cause distress to any Jew. Therefore, the convert is doubly protected.

In light of the research above, it is clear that to cause emotional distress is to inflict damage on the health of the victim. We should refrain from causing emotional distress to anyone, but I think the horses are our "converts" - who have come to live in our land, whom we are drawing in to our way of life. As such, we have a double duty to protect their emotional and physical health.

I wonder what's on tv tonight?


I think I'm about to take the plunge. I think it's time to buy a saddle for Rose and my husband.

A couple of years ago, I bought a big ol' used hybrid Australian/English saddle for my husband. It was comfortable for him once he was settled in it, but he found it difficult to navigate around the horn while mounting and dismounting. The weight is also a problem. My husband is quite heavy, and Rose doesn't need the additional burden of a hefty saddle.

Seems like whenever I do something, there isn't necessarily a very logical progression as to when and in what manner the thing occurs. An outcome crystallizes around the seed of an idea, and the result happens by some mysterious process of its own.

This applies to the mundane, but nonetheless important, matter of saddle purchasing. I've decided to try a treeless saddle. To be honest, I think the idea of it appeals to me more than any particular justification I can think of. I like that the saddle (allegedly) fits multiple horses (or the same horse at different weights). I like that it's light, that it doesn't bridge, that there's no point of tree interfering with the shoulders. Mostly I just like the idea.

There are many treeless saddle choices out there these days. For some forgotten reason, I have lighted on Black Forest Treeless Saddles. They may have been recommended by someone, or then again maybe I just happened upon them. I've looked at other websites, but having lit upon Black Forest, I believe I'm going to give them a try.

The saddle they recommended is the Oak Town & Country. I would get it without the horn.

On the other hand, I'd rather have English billets, so maybe the Aspen would be better:

Looks like a rider would feel pretty secure in one of these saddles. The saddles come in sizes up to 18" English/19" Western - a good size for my husband, although not for anyone else. I hate riding in the big hybrid saddle, as I feel I'm sloshing about all over the place - and in fact that's the reason its previous owner got rid of it.

There's another motive precipitating the saddle purchase. My husband is feeling wistful about his only child left at home. Three and a half more years, and then off she goes too. He wants to spend time with her in activities that they both enjoy. They're thinking: Sailing. And of course if he and Rose become an item, the foursome can go on trail rides together.  Also, when it's just us two left at home, it will be nice for us to have a shared activity. And there's that mountain sitting on the horizon, just waiting to be climbed.

My husband has always said that he would enjoy riding more if he had a groom bring him a ready-to-mount horse. I hope he comes to enjoy building a relationship as much as being taken for a ride. Rose would love to have her "own" person, and it's time for me to start facilitating their friendship. A first step is getting a saddle that they both are comfortable with, as my husband still sees horses more for their value in recreation than for companionship. However, he loves dogs, and I hope that he will gradually come to recognize horses too. Horses are a little like "Magic Eye" pictures. You don't necessarily "see" them at first - you have to let your focus become diffuse, and allow the image to come in.  I will try this metaphor on my husband and see if it persuades him! He did sound quite keen when I told him I was planning to get him a saddle.

I've also ordered a bitless bridle. I may put off ordering the saddle until we have slightly warmer weather. Will update.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


A good quote leapt out at me while I was browsing in Barnes & Noble recently. It's from a little book by Germaine Greer in the Barnes & Noble "Brief Insight" series. Although I'd probably disagree with her about loads of things, I believe Germaine Greer is one of the smartest people around today.

Her book, which is a "brief insight" into Shakespeare, is an excellent book from any standpoint. But I particularly liked this quote, which I thought expressed what some of us have been trying to say about the insights gained from our horses.
It may not be possible to extract a nugget of thought, which we usually think of as a series of interrelated propositions, but part of the reason for that is that Shakespeare knew, as we have forgotten, that feeling is as intellectual as thinking. His is, as Eliot would argue, an intact nondissociative sensibility. (p. 180)
So there you have it - what I'm learning from my horses is an "intact nondissociative sensibility," which although feeling-based, rather than thinking-based, is nonetheless intellectual.

Merriam Webster defines "intellect" as "the capacity for knowledge." I think Greer is right to distinguish between a process of thinking which involves moving from one related proposition to another and the process, equally rational, of grasping the totality of an experience.

When Greer uses the word "feeling," I don't think she means "emotion" but something more like "sensing." When I think of sensing, it seems obvious that this is a bona fide way of perceiving truth - I can sense that it is cold, for example. It may, in fact, be the only way of perceiving the truth.

Ina May Gaskin, in her classic book Spiritual Midwifery, talks about the newborn infant's "original face." Mothers, on meeting their babies for the first time, have an instant, intuitive grasp of the personality of the child. I experienced this myself with each of my children - I received immediate, valuable, accurate, and detailed information about them in a manner which could not be described. The information was somehow sensed (although not by one of the five physical senses) and was, as Greer describes, "intact" and "nondissociative". Once I had the information in hand, I could put it into words, but the process of acquiring it was ineffable.

Post-Enlightenment, we seem to have gotten into a confused mindset whereby we believe that truth is accessible by developing propositions which theorize the nature of truth, based on hypotheses we have formed on the basis of other propositions based on previous hypotheses.

Logical thought, which pretends to serve the search for truth, runs amok and spews out meaningless propositions whose only claim to truth is that they are connected to other propositions. I believe the doctrine of the evolution of species is one such excrescence. Another is the belief that horses are robotic, soulless entities. In the quest for Reality, reality is not consulted.

As G.K. Chesterton wrote, "The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason." (Orthodoxy, Ch. 2)

p.s. We have snow today.

Chloe enjoys her breakfast.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


George and the mares moved in together in June. Apart from the gas colic episode, it wasn't until November, when I found George snoozing with the mares standing nearby, that I saw any of the horses lying down.

More time passed, and it is only in recent days that I have regularly seen one or more of the horses lying down in the field. This has coincided with the advent of another new phase in George/mare diplomatic relations - they now can occasionally be seen actually touching one another in a non-hostile manner.

Today, I looked out and saw George and Rose resting companionably, a short distance away from each other. Later, George wandered up to Rose, and they had a peaceful interaction. His approach seemed rather shy and hesitant, but he looked happy.

Afterwards, I thought he looked rather goofy and pleased.

I think he must be glad that he finally has some friends, rather than merely companions to live with. He is definitely less anxious these days. His worry over the cold and over food has diminished. He's more subdued. He also may be rather bored, as I don't take him out much these days. (Cold weather and short days.)

It's taken about six months for George and the mares to build up enough mutual trust that they are comfortable touching each other and sleeping in each other's presence. It makes me realize how much patience we as humans should have in allowing horses time to develop trust in us - not presuming they'll be instantly comfortable with all the intrusive ministrations we expect them to routinely put up with.

p.s. Today Bridget was very keen on practicing her zipper technique. She seizes my zipper pull in her teeth and zips it up and down at a great rate. She also enjoyed giving me her foreleg, and playing with my gloves - pulling them off my hands and shaking them and rubbing them on the ground. I keep trying to get her to play moving games, but she won't. She's, like, "Nope, we're just going to stand right here and play." One of the dogs almost inveigled her into a chasing game today, but not quite. It took a long time before she'd run with me on the leadrope - maybe one of these days she'll agree to run with me at liberty.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Yesterday, my horse friend came over to help me trim Rose. She was cheerfully optimistic that good trimming will be able to correct Rose's dropped pasterns, aka coon-footedness.

It is always thought-provoking when my friend is here. As I have documented before, her approach to the horses is slightly different from mine.

We had Rose tied up at the fence inside the field. Bridget and George immediately left their piles of hay and came over to investigate what we were up to, trying to insert themselves in the middle of things.

My friend said that it was a dominance thing and that George was put out because we had taken "his" mare. I think George was saying the following:

a) this is where the action is, so I'd better be over here;
b) sometimes Rose lets me say hello when she has a halter and leadrope on - maybe she'll let me speak to her; and
c) but why do you have the halter on Rose anyway? You ought to put it on me - I'd like to draw your attention to some long grass over the fence there which looks like it might still be edible.

Bridget kept sneaking over and trying to interfere with Rose. When I wouldn't let her get into our bubble, she proceeded to charge around the field, looking very glamorous with her tail high. My friend said again it was a dominance thing and that Bridget was like a toddler having a tantrum. Whereas to my mind, she was just letting off steam because she got a little frustrated. After she'd had her fun, she walked over and stood quietly a couple of horse-lengths away.

When my friend wants a horse to get out of her space, she acts aggressive and drives them out. My approach is more to make contact with the horse and make my desires clear. My friend can make George and Bridget leave completely. For me, they will respect my desire to keep out of my bubble, but they'll keep hovering and looking at me, like "Are you sure? Can we talk about this some more maybe please?" My way is not as immediately effective a way of clearing the area, but it works for me, as I'm willing to wait for us all to learn and agree on behavioral etiquette - like waiting for George to cede the gate to allow the mares to enter.

When my friend spoke about George and Bridget, I found myself getting anxious, starting to feel that old emotion of fear, as if the horse were an adversary to be overcome. I had to remind myself: "No, this is Bridget - she is not trying to dominate me, I can trust her. And I don't need to dominate her either." Refusing to be a doormat is a very different thing from becoming a pair of boots.

And once again, I must remind everyone that my friend's horses are outgoing, confident, friendly, charming, and communicative. So what she is doing can't be bad. It works for her. I have to be willing to learn, but at the same time not be swayed from what experience tells me works for my horses and me.

New Theory

Ok, so I have a new hypothesis about why Bridget likes to gesture with her forelegs. She never seems to want anything in particular - she enjoys it when I pull on her leg, or scratch it, or hold it up, but none of these appear to be her goal.

Two things got me thinking.  One was that wee Islay of Ardtornish did exactly the same thing. And the other was an incident that happened a couple of days ago. I was out in the field, and Bridget came up.  I was happy to see her and gave her a big hug, followed by much vigorous rubbing of her head and neck. (So gratifying to have a horse who enjoys that kind of thing!) She responded by going into overdrive with her leg gestures - throwing her foreleg at me repeatedly with great gusto, matching the enthusiasm with which I'd greeted her.

So then it occurred to me:  they're doing this in imitation of a human using its hands.

That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Friends

The West Highlands of Scotland were lovely, the wedding perfect, the company delightful, the ceilidh thrilling, the food delicious, and the liquor plentiful.

One thing, however, was extra-special. Take a wild guess as to what that might be.

Meet Glen Bruar Fern, a Highland Pony mare, and her foal, Islay of Ardtornish.
While coming back from a long walk up the hill on Friday, my brother and I found a yard with ponies in it. The one I liked best was a two-year old Highland pony gelding named Corran. I thought he had a rather Sorraia/Tarpan tint to him. He greeted us very cordially.

His future is to be the estate's stalking pony, bringing the stags off the hill for the hunters (aka stalkers).

The next morning, I got up and went out in search of more ponies and found the aforementioned Fern and Islay in another field, sheltering in a horse trailer. Fern was busy eating hay in the back of the trailer, but Islay came right out to say hello. She was spectacularly muddy.

Islay is the full sister of Corran. The estate factor told me that Islay and her mother are to be sold together, and that there is a woman in Germany who is interested in buying them. I was glad that he wanted to keep them together.

Over the next three days, I spent more time with Fern, Islay, Corran, and the other ponies. Here is a large skewbald pony who I thought looked rather peevish, but who came over and greeted me kindly. Maybe she looked grumpy because her feet hurt.

There were seven ponies in the yard. They seemed very equal to each other in terms of pecking order, jostling each other out of the way in turn. The one pony who seemed to have a slight advantage was this white pony.

He/she greeted me and then took a little swipe at my nose. I tend to always trust horses when they stick their noses in my face. Maybe this one wasn't really going to bite.

This pony was shy.

The other ponies took turns coming over to say hello.

Little bay pony

Little dapple pony

Large dapple pony

But my favorite was still Corran. He has the same look as his sister - and the same sweet mischievous expression.

Corran (like his mother and sister) is pure Highland; the white pony looks to be Highland too, and maybe the large dapple pony. The others are a mix, I think.

Every morning I went out to visit Fern and Islay. As long as there was hay in the trailer, Fern kept munching and ignored me. But the last morning I went out before the hay arrived, and Fern came out to say hello. I scratched her neck, and every time I stopped, she turned round and gently touched my hand with her nose.

Islay reminded me of Bridget in her curiosity and desire to interact - especially when, to my surprise, she initiated the Bridget leg game, shoving a foreleg at me and happily letting me pull on it and scratch it. And of course she enjoyed backing into me to make me scratch her hindquarters and tail.

There is something about horses that makes you feel you're with an old friend, even if you've just met. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

OK, so I lied

Well, I said no more til I got back from my trip, but since the last entry, I discovered pictures of the horses on my non-horsey daughter's Facebook. She and a non-horsey friend went in to visit with the horses, taking their ever-present cameras to document the continuing saga of their lives as daily updated on FB.

I was struck by George's expression in the photos - he was clearly delighted to have these visitors and followed them around the field. Here is a sample:

The ever popular arial foot shot

I had to take time out from packing to post these. See you next week!

Nap Time

Over the extended holiday season,  the horses got used to being fed rather later than usual. However, after her excursion yesterday, Chloe was up by the fence, alone, staring at the house, early this morning when my daughter left for school. So of course I had to let her out.

The day started off very cold - 16F - but warmed up to a balmy 48F by the middle of the day. Wearing only a sweater, I went into the field to spend time.

Bridget indulged in her new thing, which is having me hold her foot up underneath her chest. She pushes her foot at me and then emphatically pulls it back, relaxing when her leg is safely tucked up beneath her. She'll stay in that position for several minutes.

She also enjoy having her leg stretched out and held securely between my knees.

Today, deciding that maybe she could do something with her hind legs too, she kept picking them up and poking them at me. She didn't enjoy having her hind leg stretched or held up, but she persisted in trying again - perhaps hoping for a more satisfactory experience.

George was lying down in some hay. Bridget and Rose dared to get quite close; he gave them peevish looks but didn't move.

Later on, when he was standing up, I really wanted to go and stand near him. Here was an example of when my feelings clearly did not coincide with his. Sometimes I feel like I'm a little kid wanting attention and a hug. I sidled up to him. Everything was ok up to about two feet away. But when I took the next step, it was as if he'd been given an electric shock. I stood back again. A little later he reached out and touched me gently with his nose. I moved in closer, and he was ok. But when I touched his neck, he pinned his ears. I stood nearby a little longer, and then went over to be with Chloe, who was lying down.

I sat down nearby, wondering if she'd mind if I got closer. She answered my question by reaching out toward me with her nose. I moved in close and scratched her, and we were comfortable.

When Bridget came over, I got up to deflect her so that Chloe would be left in peace.

While talking to Bridget, I  became aware of Rose being aware of me. A few moments later, I was standing near Chloe again, when Rose walked up to me and plonked herself down on the ground for a rest.

As she lay, she made the same little grunts and groans as the recumbent George and Chloe. She rested her nose on the ground and drifted into quite a deep sleep for a few minutes, twitching - REM sleep?

Bridget finally came snooping over in a mischievous mood, banishing Rose's peace and quiet. Rose made the meanest faces she was able but finally got up. She continued with the mean faces, but Bridget was, as usual, totally unimpressed. She doesn't even bother to get annoyed in return. Rose gets very cross when Bridget interrupts quality time she's having with a human being. I thought it was very sweet that she came and lay down next to me.

Tomorrow I'm off to Scotland for a niece's wedding. Unless my destination offers a) Internet and b) horses, this is it until I get back. I'm leaving a horsey daughter and non-horsey daughter in charge until my return - hopefully everyone will get along beautifully.