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

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.