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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Asking George

Since George fixed my leg, I've been wondering. Maybe this is something he's good at. Maybe even something he wants to do. I asked this healer lady, and she said healers are vulnerable - George is vulnerable.

I have a friend with an abusive ex-husband. Her four kids have to spend every other weekend with this man. He can't touch them, but he's emotionally abusive, malevolent and frightening. One of the kids in particular has started shutting down emotionally, losing hope, and turning inward. His mother is worried about him.

I suddenly wondered today - what if? I texted my friend and said maybe the boy would like to spend some time with the horses, as sometimes they can help people.

It so happened that my friend texted me back right when I was with George. She liked the idea. I felt like I should talk to George about it and ask if it's ok. But how? I mean, like, how does this work? Do I use my words? Do I try and go all Zen and wait for something to come in? Do I ask for a sign? George wanders off.

Typical me - my mind is hip-hopping all around these questions like a restless child. George comes back, stops in front of me, and offers me his foreleg.

He's never done that before, except one time when I was sitting down, he put his knee on my lap.

George is so good at cutting through all my mental gyrations. Here's me looking for a Sign or an Inspiration or Words from Above. And George just comes over and reaches out to me with his arm.

So I guess it's a yes?

A Wrong Decision

Susie has gone.

Susie, the Westie, beloved of my oldest daughter, who came into our lives one rainy afternoon two summers ago.

We knew when she first arrived - a bedraggled, scrawny, half-blind, half-deaf, elderly castaway - that we wouldn't have her for very long.

There were ungracious people who took her dignity to denote a lack of personality, but by those who knew her best she was dubbed "deep thinker," "old soul," "Doctor of the Church," "Angel sent by God;" and to the other dogs she was a supreme being.

She was rescued several months ago from a severe bout of pancreatitis, but despite the home-made food and the doting care, old age became too hard to beat.

My daughter has been wondering for some time if it would be necessary to put her to sleep. She'd bounce back for a few days, showing a little more interest in life, and then fall back into a befuddled, weak state.

Finally, on Friday, both my daughter and my son-in-law called at separate times to ask what I thought. Susie was having a hard time breathing at night, she'd lost interest in her food, she couldn't really stand up by herself, she had become incontinent, and no longer lit up at the sight of her mistress.

I said it was up to them, and maybe they should consult the vet, but that whatever they decided, it would be ok. My daughter seemed to have resolved that today was the day.

I went to the Adoration Chapel and prayed. I heard nothing but a heavy silence.

On the way home in the car, however, I had a feeling of Susie, finding her own way toward death, as she found her way around the yard - not seeing, but sensing - a little confused, but not worried. I stopped the car. There was a text message from my daughter saying she didn't want to take her to the vet. I replied that she didn't have to.

But there was the fear of Susie's pain. She was such a stalwart little dog, a real soldier, never complaining. She must be suffering a lot. Surely it would be kinder.

Later, my daughter called me in tears. Susie had been euthanized. It had been a terrible mistake. My daughter realized when it was too late. Susie, the needle in her leg, had shown fear for the first time in her life.

I didn't try to say that it hadn't been a mistake. Because it was. I sensed beforehand and should have told my daughter clearly. She said she didn't understand why she hadn't known.

It was a mistake. But it wasn't a terrible mistake. We have learned something. Words are overpowering. They roll over you like rocks tumbling down a hill. They are noisy and pushy and brusque. But the truth is a still, small voice which enters your mind by stealth - you have to quiet down, stop speaking, and listen.

I know from experience that it's not always wrong to euthanize an animal. But in this case we knew. We knew, and we didn't listen. In our fear, we clattered and banged about with words, words which with their own inexorable, soulless logic lead us away from the truth.

Susie was sent in answer to a prayer. In her death she has also given us a gift - if I had followed my intuition, I never would have known how important it was to follow it. I might even have felt smug. But now, faced with the sorrow of having thrown something valuable away, I realize how important it is to push aside distraction and listen to the still, small voice. It's like the voice of the horses.

Susie the bridesmaid, July 2010
And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (Kings 19:11-12)

Sunday in the Yard with George

The horses were out Sunday afternoon, and I got to spend a little time with each of them.

George likes to rub up alongside me like a cat, very gently, and then stop, putting me into position next to him. Sometimes it's a brief interlude; other times he wants to stay a while.

I took Bridget for walk. She really wants to climb the gate, I think, so I took her to the pile of shale, which we ascended and descended a couple of times. Then she played with the empty, upside-down trough, getting her teeth on it to drag it along, and putting her foot up onto it.

I brushed Rose a little, and she came up to me and touched my arm, which I believe she's never done before.

I let Chloe out again in the evening, because she came over to the gate and Looked at me. When I went out an hour later to put her back, she was heading toward the gate, as happens sometimes - as if she knew I was coming.

But when I opened the gate, she didn't go through. I put the halter on her and persuaded her to follow me - inch by inch - down the drive a ways. Practicing, you know, for when we go on expeditions, which might happen one of these days. After she'd grazed for a bit, I said, "Time to go back now!" But she was having none of it. I tried pulling, I tried pushing, she refused to budge. Finally, at the end of her rope, as well as mine, I sat down in the middle of the driveway.

Chloe immediately walked forward, stopped next to me, dropped her head down over me, and closed her eyes.

We sat for about five minutes; then she gave me a purposeful nudge with her head, as if to say, "Ok, we can go now." I stood up, and she willingly walked back to the gate and into her field.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Playing with Chloe and Bridget

Chloe has been looking at me lately. And I've been thinking she and I should do something together.

Today the horses were out in the yard. I fetched a halter and rope and approached Chloe. A halter is always an invitation to dialogue where Chloe is concerned:

"Do you want the halter?"

"Yes, I do."

"Do you want to put it on?"

"No, I don't. I want you to follow me."

So I followed her for a little bit. She stopped. I asked to put the halter on again, and she agreed. After some hesitation, she also agreed to follow me toward a gate we don't normally use, but as we headed off, George et al came scurrying after us, making me feel a bit threatened.

Despite my determination to be calm and polite, I felt I had to be quite sharp with George to keep him off Chloe. Earlier today I saw him lunge at her, bite her, give a little kick, and then drive her off - and I wasn't going to have any such shenanigans while I was holding the leadrope.

However, to show how inept I am at reading situations, I was also determined to keep Rose away, whereas it turned out Rose was not threatening, and Chloe didn't mind at all when Rose came up and nosed her. Chloe and I made it to the gate, but as I was undoing it, I was reminded of the wasps who are currently residing there. One sting later, I decided we wouldn't go through.

Chloe was a very good sport, and more or less trusted me to defend her against George. After a certain point, it seemed like we weren't going to manage to exit the field and, besides, she'd put up with the situation long enough - so I cut her loose. She scampered off, with George and Rose in hot pursuit.

Cue Bridget, who came marching over to have a turn. I put a halter on her and took her out to graze on the driveway. Uncharacteristically, after a few minutes she raised her head and started whinnying for the other horses. She turned back and stuck her head over the gate. So I lead her back through, asked her to walk beside me toward the other horses without rushing ahead, stopped, called her back toward me, and then took the halter off.

She walked a few yards towards the others. Stopped. Thought for a bit. Turned around and came back to me and stuck her nose at the halter.

After we'd played around with a few things, I took the halter off again and stayed to hang out. Pretty soon I found myself hanging onto Bridget's neck, standing on my left leg, and putting my right leg up onto her back.

Took my foot down, walked a few steps away. She walked back up to me, we repeated the trick. She was quite interested.

Then it was time to go, but she followed me all the way to the house. She really likes activities. And I like this feeling of being able to be like a monkey with her, and sort of scramble all over her in a way that feels playful and comfortable, and seems to bear no resemblance to what I would normally think of as "training."

And now I must share a story about TIME. While all this horse stuff was going on, my daughter was busy getting ready for a soccer game, and once or twice she stuck her head out the door to call over to me that it was almost time to leave. I looked at my watch - 3 o'clock - loads of time, as we didn't have to leave til 3:45. Later, as I was leaving the house with her, she said, "Hurry up, it's 3:49." "What?! - It's only 3, isn't it?" It really was 3:49. Turns out my watch had stopped because I'd accidentally pulled out the button.

Here's the thing - I must have looked at my watch at least three or four times over at least a half-hour period, and each time it said the same thing: 3 o'clock. And that never struck me as odd. 

To resume:  The horses were put back in their field, we went to soccer, and after we returned, Chloe was waiting for me up by the gate, giving me the look. The other horses were safely distant, and so although it was getting dusky, I let Chloe come out.

She was actually not particularly interested in grazing and instead approached me to get scratched, and followed me when I stopped. I got the brushes and groomed her, which she enjoyed, and she even let me brush her mane and tail.

As I was about to leave her to graze for a little before dark, I thought I might ask her to shake hands, just for fun. I was turning toward her with the merest thought of this in my mind, and she immediately raised her foreleg and handed it to me.

When I went later to put her back in the field, she reluctantly agreed to put her halter on. Then we had to wait until George was properly positioned. She stood, refusing to move, until she saw George heading off toward one gate, whereupon she freely walked with me to the other one.

They're all just so full of ideas.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How Did She Get Through?

There are George and Rose, where they're supposed to be, on THIS side of the fence. There's Bridget, having somehow beamed herself through to the other side. Note sagging tape which used to be tight.

Having achieved this counter-Newtonian marvel, she whinnied to me that she wanted to come back the old-fashioned way. So I untied the tape to let her return. Having done so, as I was re-tying, she immediately turned around and proceeded to try and rearrange her molecules once more to get back to the other side.

Here's how I think it's done (although I may well be wrong): I think she backs up to the tape, feels it on the back of her legs, carefully lifts her hind legs over, and then keeps backing so that the upper strand slides forward over her neck and ears.

Knowing Bridget, it's more than likely that the whole purpose of this trans-barrier maneuvering is for entertainment, or for the sake of an interesting challenge.

Like I said before, she needs a hobby.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Today I returned to trim the former Canadian Royal Mounted Police horse. Her feet had grown a lot, but weren't in bad shape.

She has this one hindleg which gives her some trouble; she stands funny on it, and she doesn't like to pick it up. The other three legs are a little problematic too, as when you pick them up she has to balance on two legs plus the dodgy leg.

Anyway, long story short - she frequently took whatever foot I was working on off the stand. I made a decision early on not just to "put up" with this, or be tolerant about it, but to actively say - "It's absolutely fine for you to do that - I'm just going to leave my hand on your leg, and whenever you're ready, please pick up the foot again." And if she moved position four times in a row, and I had to pick up my bucket and hop after her, that was fine.

At first, I could tell she was sceptical about me, and her desire to retrieve her foot and retreat, although based in physical discomfort, was also a statement of non-cooperation. But as I persisted, she started working with me, and I was even able to work on the sore leg.

I'm getting more confident about talking about my approach, and I told the owner (a super-nice guy) that I think it's much safer to be patient and wait for the horse's cooperation, rather than forcing anything. I was talking about the mare's problem with her right hind, and as I spoke I put my hand on that leg, moving it from hip to stifle. I felt that she reacted a little bit when I rested my hand on the stifle area.

Anyway, I don't know if she felt I grasped the problem at that point, but a minute later, as I went back to working on the outside of her foreleg, she started licking my ears and head. Could be she just liked the taste of my hair conditioner.

I didn't want to do the outside of the hind hoofs, as I thought she'd cooperated long enough, but the owner rightly pointed out a crack in the RH toe, and after some adjustments, she picked up her foot and let me finish. When I was done, I went back up to her head to talk to her, and she licked my arms and shirt, which was sweet as she had been very distant at first. She's a sensitive, brave horse - and I think she really needed to feel that I was on her side.

This is all a lot about trust - trusting the horse, trusting that the horse will really help you in the end, trusting that the horse wants to help. There are no guarantees. Truth to tell, I'm just really impressed at these horses - how nice they are. What the heck? This is a strange, magical world we live in, no mistake.

This must have been what she looked like in her glory days.

Bridget Needs a Hobby

Today Bridget pulled the cushion off the swing. Having accomplished this, she put her foot up onto the swing, where it got slightly stuck. (This was all witnessed through the window by my daughter). She gave a tug, the foot was freed, and the swing was thereby set into animated motion. At this point, I happened to look out - Bridget was standing admiring the swinging motion, and when it subsided a little, she went over and tried to put her foot up on it again.

She knocked over the recycle bin again. She reached over the porch railing and managed to get hold of a bucket and lift it up. And I found her playing with the old karate punching stand.

All this after she managed to break my car door by barreling past it while it stood open, in an effort to quickly get away from George. I drove (holding the door shut with one hand and steering with the other) along the road to my long-suffering and skillful neighbor/car mechanic who managed to get the car door to open and shut again (without charging me anything). Only serious body work will restore the door's former state of perfection, however. Bridget was completely unscathed.

She also bumped into me today, as she ran past on her way out of the field, and nearly knocked me over.

Yup, Bridget needs some structured activities. Maybe boot camp.

Bridget as a baby. She liked garbages cans back then too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bridget and the Gate

Bridget has a fascination for the gate which I use to cordon off the driveway when the horses are loose in the yard. This attraction is a new phenomenon, coinciding with my new hobby of hanging out with Bridget while perched a-top the gate.

Of course, the gate is a portal to the world of longer grass on the other side, and yesterday when I saw her pawing at it, I assumed she wanted to go out to eat.

After her grazing excursion, she parked herself beside the gate again, but this time she wanted to have a nice nap, resting the entire weight of her head and neck on my arm.

I have never known Bridget to be so peaceful and pensive.

After her rest, she started putting her foot on the gate again, but when I held out the halter and opened up the gate a little, she turned down the offer. What did she want? Did she want me to climb up the gate? It seemed so, as she stopped gesturing once I was up.

But after a while, she pawed at the gate again, and again turned down the offer of going through. Here's what I think - she really wishes she could climb up there too.

p.s. When I was bringing George back from a little grazing, Bridget was waiting by the gate. When they touched noses over the top, Bridget squealed and struck out. Her left foreleg ended up stuck between the very top two bars. My moment of panic evaporated as Bridget pulled her foot out in a calm and capable manner. I'd no idea she could strike so high - that girl could be a Rockette.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


George has been affected by the visit of the vet. Despite being walloped for biting the vet tech, I think it was a powerful and positive experience for him. He has been very warm and kind since.

Yesterday, I was going around the yard with a wheelbarrow and a shovel, picking up manure for the compost pile. As I passed the swing, George made a suggestion - he came over, shooing Rose ahead of him, and - for all the world - seemed to say, "Let's all rest here for a while."

I sat down on the swing, with George and Rose close by.

Now, to digress for a moment, my legs have been bothering me for a while - nothing serious, just leg cramps at night, a sore foot, stiff knees, the feeling (as a former Alexander teacher) that I'm "doing" something with my legs, that I have some long-standing bad habit which after many years is finally bringing problems home to roost.

As I settled myself on the swing, George came up next to me. At the moment that his head passed by my feet at the end of the swing, I was suddenly was aware that I was pushing down with the ball of my feet, as if standing on tiptoe; I knew right away that this is something I do all the time, and in that moment I let go of the pressure and felt instant relief.

Face of a healer
After a short time, George backed up and gently pushed Rose to the fore. She came right up to me, in a most unprecedented way, and rested, with George quietly standing behind her.

A little later, the two wandered away to continue their nap by the picnic table.

There are more things in heaven and earth .....

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bridget Discovers the Joys of Single-Stream Recycling

She has figured out exactly how to take the lid off the bin. And if June scurries over to remove the glass, everything is good for playing with.

She then pried the lid off the regular garbage and lifted the bag out.

I intervened at this point and put the garbage somewhere safe from prying jaws.

Meanwhile George wanted to come in the house.

Sorry about the mess in the back hall
My daughter thinks the horses are getting out of hand and should not be allowed to make a mess. I remember telling my mother something similar when she allowed my little niece to take liberties with property for the sake of keeping the little dear amused. My mother paid about as much attention to me as I did to my daughter. I could argue with her that in the wild, horses have thousands of acres to roam and explore, and failing that, the least we can offer them is a toy chest full of plastic bottles and cardboard. I could argue, but I'm the mom, so I get to just have my way.

Peace & Quiet with George, and a Bit of Fun with Bridget

When George is not busy biting people, he is the sweetest, most peaceful creature in the world. Yesterday, he wanted to spend time with me standing by his side - not asking to be scratched or anything, just resting with his eyelids drooping. Even me pretending to be a vet and jabbing sharp objects into his neck did not ruffle his beatitude. I have a really cute photo of him, but my computer refuses to listen to my memory stick any more, and my phone has decided to quit sending photos.

This morning, I sat on the kitchen steps drinking my coffee, and George parked himself beside me again, with his little ears lopping out to the sides.

Also this morning, I was standing by a gate when Bridget came over to have her tail scratched. I've always thought that when we start riding, it should just be an extension of the close-contact physicality which Bridget enjoys. I climbed up on the gate. She backed up towards me, and I was able to sort of sit on her butt like a chair and scratch her at the same time, while holding onto the gate with the other hand. Then I held tight to the gate and lifted one leg onto her back, and scratched her with my foot. When she was facing me, I could lift my leg up to her head and scratch her neck with my foot and let her chew on my shoe. It all felt very natural.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Challenge

Well, just in case we were getting all too complacent and comfy around here, we had a good old shake-up today. Did I say, "If that means half an hour has gone by and nobody has their shots yet, and [the vet] has to leave and come back another day, then that's ok"? What I obviously meant was "an hour and a half."

As reported in my last entry, I invited the vet to come to my place to discuss the possibility with the horses of their receiving shots. I told him in advance that we were going to be willing to relinquish any and all tangible accomplishments of a veterinary nature.
This morning, I had the horses confined to the yard, and had Bridget ready with her halter and leadrope. The vet arrived, introduced his nice new young assistant, and produced cookies for the horses. Bridget was quite willing to be swabbed, and to have her temperature taken and her heart listened to. Foolishly, I then let the vet prepare three shots for her - rabies, eastern/western/tetanus, and potomac. Foolishly, because I should have said to get only one ready, and we'd see.

Bridget was positively, no way, don't even think about it, totally not willing to be stuck in the neck. I was very careful that we gave her space, paused, left the rope loose, etc. But when she felt that needle, she was pissed off. The vet got the rabies stuck into her, but then she pulled away, and hopped about until she shook it loose.
We backed off and then worked on familiarizing Bridget with the capped hypodermic. Her curiosity kept bringing her back to see what the vet was holding in his hand, and she finally allowed the vet to touch the syringe to the scary spot on her neck. At this point (which, I might add, took quite a long time to get to), George hove into view. I decided to take this as notification that we should quit while we were ahead with Bridget, cut her loose, and start with George.
I think at this point, I was losing my focus (or hadn't found it yet) - after a brief introduction, we started right in with the vet tech swabbing George's neck, which - sorry to say - lead to George reaching round and biting the poor girl's arm. Without waiting to see the damage, I got
really mad at George, and whacked him several times with the lead rope. I'm sorry, I just want George to be quite clear that serious bites will cause me to attempt equicide. Maybe it's not fair, but that's the way it is. Actually, I whacked him precisely the right number of times, plus one. Because he stood there and let me whack him, until the last time, when he said, "Nope, that's enough, you made your point," and sortof bucked. So I stopped, and he calmed right down and came back to me, physically and mentally.
Fortunately, the vet tech had on long sleeves and a sweatshirt and so was unharmed. She's a horsewoman and remained cheerful and unfazed. I must say George's outburst brought us to a more focussed place, which was needed. Up to this point, I really wasn't very specific about what I wanted the vet to do, and all of a sudden there was a lot more clarity to the situation.

First of all, we started discussing George's past, and his personality. I had not originally wanted to bring any of this up, as I don't think it's fair to throw a horse's past in his face if he's moved on. However, George is obviously still very, very protective of his body, and I felt we really needed to talk about it. We talked about how sensitive he is, how his aggression is based in fear and defensiveness. I told the vet how far George has come, how it's taken him a year to let the mares into his space, and how he's only recently taken to enjoying being scratched, etc., etc. I said I thought he had been weaned too early and turned out at a young, defenseless age with larger, meaner horses.

Then we started working in earnest. We stood with George, and the vet asked him if he could listen to his heart. The vet's first approach was to raise his arm with the stethoscope and hold it out towards George and wait for his pinned-ears/stinkeye look to subside - a sortof desensitization approach. But I asked him to try something different - namely to look for the "no" and retreat immediately upon seeing it. So he raised his arm and then retracted it as soon as George looked askance. Pause, ask again. Retreat, pause, ask again. In this way, the vet was able to listen to a few seconds' of George's heartbeat. Importantly, in the process the vet became very tuned in to George. 
Again, we quit while we're ahead - the vet could hear all he needed in a very short space of time.
Then George did something quite remarkable. He swung around and turned his rear end to face the vet and began grazing. For George to do that shows a lot of trust. I told the vet that all George's aggression is at the front - for George, it's all about the crosshairs and the head-on offensive, whereas Bridget will stake her claim with her hindlegs too - for George to turn his back on someone shows he is comfortable with them. I began scratching George's tummy, and he began to stretch out his neck and do the happy nose-waggle, and I told the vet he could scratch George too. Lo and behold, George did the happy nose-waggle for him too. After a while, the vet leaned on George's back and remarked that sometimes he hated to gain the horse's trust and then "betray" it by jabbing him in the neck with a needle. I said, Let's just quit for the day, and we cut George loose.

We talked some more. The vet was interested to hear about Imke Spilker and wants to check out her website. He had quite a brilliant idea for George - some dogs are greatly helped with anxiety issues by the "
thunder vest" - a sort of swaddling jacket, which hugs them tight and enables them to deal emotionally with thunderstorms and other slings and arrows of that sort. The vet said that there's this post-colic surgery band which is wrapped around a horse's torso to protect the incision, and that maybe it could function like a horse thunder vest.
I tried to explain my approach. I said it is an approach, not a technique or a method but that it might help to say the main tenets are "the horse is allowed to say no" and "ask, don't tell." I said I used to be into natural horsemanship and John Lyons and stuff, but that the mantra of natural horsemanship - "Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard" was not something I followed any more. My intention is to win the full, free cooperation of the horse simply by asking. I told him one or two anecdotes to suggest that this is possible.

I told him that George had really opened up to him at the end, and he agreed that he'd
 really felt that.
Here are some other points of note:
1) I was actually nervous when the vet first arrived.
2) When we were intially working with George, Bridget was getting in the way, so I put her through a gate into the field. Chloe and Rose were out of sight around the house, and Bridget started going crazy. When she slipped and fell, I decided I'd better go let her join the others, but as the vet was holding George, I didn't want to just open the gate and let her charge through. So I went in with a halter to fetch her out. She refused to let me catch her - which has never happened before - to the point of starting to rear up or strike at me when I attempted. So in the end I did just open the gate, and charge she did. However, it didn't rattle George. There must have been a Strange Disturbance in the Force for Bridget to act like this.
3) I found myself able, as we went along, to become more articulate and more authoritative toward the vet, which helped him understand the situation.

4) When we started working with the vet and the stethoscope, George several times "nipped" my arm - but not really a nip, more like just a little tug or something. Each time, I just said "No, I really don't like that." But it was a gesture of communication, not aggression.

5)  Despite our differences, Bridget and George stayed engaged with us and did not attempt to leave.

 Afterwards, I kept finding myself tempted to say to the horses, "Well now, you got off lightly today, but next time he comes, you'd better behave ...." Nuh uh, not the point of the exercise.
7) This has made me realize how deep in this I am. I don't even know how to explain this.

8) I am $220 out and no shots. This could happen again, and again, and .......

9)  When George bites, the universe unfolds.