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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Freedom to Refuse

On Saturday I went out on two last-minute trimming calls. Two different barns but, coincidentally, two recent rescues who needed trimming, preferably before Christmas.

The first call was to a new mini, adopted a few days before by a man who already owns three. He has a lovely, neat set-up for his pets and takes very good care of them. He's a softie when it comes to dwarf minis, and he heard about this little one who was being fostered by a dog-rescue lady until a permanent home could be found for him.

His name is Bashful, and he is the teeniest, tiniest mini you have ever seen. Five years old and fully grown, weighing less than 60 pounds. It was obviously a very, very long time since his last trim - perhaps he'd never been trimmed before. Both fore hoofs were growing out to the side, and he was walking on the side wall of both hoofs. Both hoofs curved to the left. These dwarfs can have distorted joints, but he has mobility in the fetlock joint, and I think if his hoofs could grow straight, he might be able to walk on his heels. But HOW to effect the transition? This will require some thinking and consultation with others more experienced than I. On Saturday we settled for getting rid of most of the excessive over growth to get things started, but I didn't want to take it all away, as it wasn't clear what would be left for him to land on.

He was so little, his owner just picked him up and plonked him on his side. He didn't seem to mind, and when we were done, he stuck around being curious and friendly.

The second call was to a newly-adopted pinto Shetland pony. When we started, he was very distracted by his absence from his pasture-mates, and he reared away occasionally while I was working on his forefeet. I encouraged him to "ask politely" and pretty soon he got the hang of doing just that, and we were able work on his feet, taking little breaks when he wanted.

The hind legs were a different matter. He turned out to be a kicker, and when it comes to kicking, ponies are champs. At one point, he kicked out with both feet at once, and the stand went flying. So - time to back off and re-group. Seemed like he had had a bad experience in the past with his hind legs being worked on, which is turning out to be a not-infrequent experience, with ponies especially. The first thing to do was to ask him NOT to pick up his leg. I put my hand on his leg and asked him to leave it on the ground. Kick. Try again. Kick. But after several more tries, he left his foot planted.

At this point, the pony became pensive, calm, and inwardly listening. He turned to look at me sometimes. I started asking him to pick up his foot, and each time he refused. I backed off, asked again, he refused, I backed off, asked again, received a refusal .... and so on. I've come to see this as a powerfully positive experience for both horse and human -  this opportunity for the horse to respond to a request with a refusal. Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling talks about obtaining an almost immediate "healing" in horses when he works with them. I've always found this very puzzling, but in this dialog of "Will you?"-"No, I won't," I'm finding there is a balm and a peace for both species involved. Perhaps this is akin to what KFH talks about?

After a while, I started to put a little suggestive pressure on to his foot - not trying to make him pick up his foot, but to illustrate what I was asking. We set up a little quiet conversation between my pressure and his resistance. I was saying "Do you think you might shift your balance a little so that your foot could come up?" He knew it wasn't going to escalate to an argument, and so he was able to respond with, "Well, maybe, let me see, maybe I could, just a little."

And then, with no fuss, he picked his foot up; I plonked it on the stand, and there it remained of its own accord until I was done trimming. Work on the other foot proceeded more quickly.

The thing is - for this to "work," it can't be about getting it to work. I have to be willing to walk away with the work unstarted or incomplete. I remember Lynne Gerard saying something to this effect (I believe it was in response to a comment I left on her blog). I had succeeded in "getting" a friend's mare to take her medicine (which she normally resisted) by holding her on a loose rope, politely asking her to take the medicine, and by expecting her to take it. Lynne congratulated me but wisely reminded me that if my intentions were sincere, I had to be willing to not succeed as well.

This is the way we should treat our fellow humans too, I believe. Unless someone is going to cause harm to themselves or others, there is no cause for coercion. That is why I admire the special ed school where my daughter teaches. The kids are given ample opportunity to act goofy and play, but when it comes time to teach The Basics (manners, sharing, anger control, arithmetic, reading, etc.), the teachers do the equivalent of me standing with my hand on the pony's fetlock, waiting. My daughter has been punched, bitten, kicked, and cursed at. But she and the other teachers don't react; they stand quietly, waiting and suggesting. These children, who have failed at (been failed by) all the other programs they have attended, gradually blossom and improve. I wish all school children could be treated like this.

I am thankful to the little pinto pony for being present, for trusting for listening, and for communicating.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Quantum Horses

Asher Crispe, who is a Jewish explicator of all things post-Newtonian and quantumesque, asserts that measuring a thing is equivalent to creating it, as - according to Quantum theory - measuring fixes the reality of something which before had been in a fluctuating state of mere potentiality.

Now, in the first chapter of Numbers, we read about the census of the people of Israel. Each of the 12 tribes are assessed as to each one's number of adult males fit for military service. The Levites were the exception. They were not counted - they were alloted a different role, namely to carry and tend the tabernacle and to camp around it.

As Christians (and by extension, ultimately all people) are considered to be Levites, a holy priesthood, this passage from Numbers tells us two things: 1) Their (our) calling is not to engage in warfare (violence); and 2) as they (we) are not to be counted/measured, we can infer that their (our) reality is not yet fixed and that they (we) are still in the process of being created.

Let's consider (thanks, Asher Crispe) the difference between Classical Ignorance and Quantum Ignorance. Classical ignorance refers to the not-knowing of something fundamentally knowable, but presently not known due to one's current viewpoint. For example, if I wake up in the morning and the curtains are drawn shut, I don't yet know whether the day is cloudy or sunny. The answer is potentially knowable, and the conditions for discovering the answer are also known or knowable - in this case, if I get out of bed and open the curtains, I will find out.

Quantum ignorance, on the other hand, refers to an ignorance the conditions for the remedy of which are themselves unknown and unknowable. In fact, quantum ignorance is lack of knowledge of something which does not yet exist and which cannot be predicted.

The current populist scientific mindset inhabits a Newtonian or classical world, where all ignorance is of the classical kind, and all things are potentially knowable if we can follow the cause/effect trail all the way. This is the default mindset with which we are all familiar and comfortable.

Lynne Gerard in her most recent post critiques this mental habit:
Ethological studies of equines define these aspects [the horse's gestures and actions] in ways that reduce them to behavioural and instinctual commodities - "fixed action patterns" which can be useful for us to gain familiarity with as we pursue particular activities with horses, but which have far too often the effect of stereotyping, pigeon-holing and distancing especially when they serve as a basis for training systems that exploit and subject these noble entities, further limiting our perception of what horses truly are.
Amen, right? Lynne is describing an approach to horses which treats our ignorance of them as classical ignorance and seeks to remedy that lack of knowledge by searching out cause/effect mechanisms. By, in effect, measuring or counting the horse, we fix and limit his reality.

I suppose what I'm trying to do is adopt an attitude where I await the revelation of the answers to things of which I am quantumly ignorant. For example how could I possibly have known that on two occasions (a trimming client and our own George) horses would speak directly to me information which helped me with the way I use my own body? If I imagine the horses and me doing something like dressage, or circus tricks, or whatever, I can picture the kinds of training, etc. we'd have to do in order to overcome our current ignorance. I'd have to "buy a book" and "practice" and so on. I can basically picture the process, although of course along the way there would be surprises. However, when I started out, I could not possibly have known that horses might want to speak healing words to me, and if you'd asked me, "What is it that you currently don't know about your horse and don't know you don't know?" what could my answer possibly have been except, "I don't know."

If I adhered too closely to my classical goals (and, believe me, I still have them), I would never receive quantum gifts.

I should add that we all love our fixed, classical world. Of course we do - it is the world of trees, of water, of sky, of mountains, of children, of horses, of flowers, of food, of hot baths, of color, of light. I love to come into a room and know that the painting I hung on the wall yesterday will still be there today.  Nils Bohr and Einstein were both right - there are real things, and reality is constantly being created. No one wants a world of endless fluctuation and total potentiality. Such a world is the formless void. But the void is the raw material of creation, out of which emerges new and higher reality.

At the sub-atomic level, if you measure the location, you can't identify the speed, and if you measure the speed, you can't identify the location. Doesn't classical ignorance try to identify both? In our final-stage every-day world of creation, of course this is appropriate - we need to know how long to cook the chicken and at what temperature. And we want our car mechanic to know everything there is to know about a car for the purpose of making it work. But as we have one foot in the infinite - inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te - we can't be satisfied only with roast chicken and reliable transportation. We must have the free spirit with which to enjoy them, and the feeling of enjoying them in an infinite universe which doesn't fence us in like The Truman Show. Coming into a specific existence is a form of limitation, but in the sense of giving a ground rather than a ceiling.

The attempt to impose classical knowledge answers onto a creature which possesses a spirit is to oppress, confine, and limit that creature. Yes, you can pin down one aspect of us, but the other remains unknowable, just as the particle's speed or location can be known, but not both. It's a beautiful metaphor for us having one foot in fixed reality and the other in not-yet-reality. The Cross itself symbolizes the cruelty of pinning a living being to both axes at once, essentially forcing it into being mere mechanism - that about which everything can be known, for the purpose of using it.

My daughter works in a special ed school, and she frequently sends me texts relating her adventures and the things the kids say. Two of her boys recently said things which are worth quoting here. My daughter was trying to get one of the kids to do his math, and he replied, "Stop trying to take away my imagination! I need that!"

The other quote is my personal favorite: "You teachers think you are sooooo powerful. But you'll never be able to stop me from dancing!" And he proceeded to dance, and indeed they couldn't stop him. (Although I don't think they tried to, as this is a nice school.) I think there are many horses who would second these childrens' comments.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Call Me Crazy Again

All right, here I am going off the deep end as per usual, so bear with me while I expound my latest crackbrained theory.

Ok, so I've done something stupid to my sacrum, and for the last two or three days I've been hobbling around like an old crone. What I've done, I don't know. It's not trimming related. It may be yoga related. It's likely to be hefting bales of hay related. Whatever, it hurts.

As usual when I'm hurting somewhere, I try to figure out how I did it and what bad habit of use has lead to the problem. So far with the sacrum thing I've been coming up blank. Until this morning, when I realized that there's a point in standing up or sitting down which presents a particular challenge to, and puts an extra strain on, the sacral spine.

I then realized that I could counteract this strain by - instead of trying to spread my weight evenly on my feet - putting extra weight into the ball of my foot. And I do remember learning years ago that there's some kind of standing reflex which is stimulated by pressure on the ball of the foot. I experimented more and discovered that it's not enough to just give it a cursory thought, but that I had to focus hard on allowing the weight to sink deep into the ground.

And then I remembered: Who was recently talking to me explicitly about just that very thing? The mare yesterday.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The other day when I was out with the horses, George came over. He didn't walk past and stop with me next to his flank as he does when he wants to be sociable. Instead, he sidled up, stopped a few feet away, stretched his neck out, and mouthed at my hand and arm. He interspersed this gesture with pointed looks back over his shoulder toward the fence.

Well, anyone with a toddler's command of language could tell he was saying: "Open the gate and let us out!" So, even though I hadn't been planning to, seeing as how he used his words so politely and clearly and cleverly, I had to do what he asked.

Today, I trimmed a donkey - a very sweet, gentle, helpful donkey. After I'd already worked on her in the barn, we moved to another area of the property to work on somebody else. While the owner was off catching the horse, the donkey came over to say hello to me. After a minute, she walked off and parked herself in a particular spot. She looked over at me, in what I'm coming to recognize as a characteristic donkey way. I suddenly thought: "Oh! That's exactly where she stood to be trimmed last time I was here!" I really think the donkey was reminding me of this. Apart from the serpent, donkeys are the only animals in the Bible which talk. I can't say I've ever heard a snake talk, but I think I heard a donkey talk today.

The Bored Game

I can't quite remember how or why I came up with the Bored Game. Leading impatient horses from one pasture to fresh grass in another may have had something to do with it. Waiting with Bridget while she makes up her mind to step backwards when I ask may have been another cause.

Be that as it may, the Bored Game is a very useful tool.

It goes like this:

Rule No. 1: We Are Both Bored. Sorry, but there it is.

Rule No. 2:  No Eating.

Rule No. 3:  No Moving Feet.

Rule No. 4:  No Getting In My Space.

Rule No. 5:  No Scratching Your Leg To Distract Yourself.

Rule No. 6:  I Suppose I Can't Stop You from Pawing the Ground.

Rule No. 7:  No Taking An Interest in Anything.

Rule No. 8:  No Chit Chat

Rule No. 9:  The Human Must Always Insist Politely and Display Good Manners.

Rule No. 10:  Like I Said: We're Bored.

The first reaction of the horse (especially if her name is Bridget) is: "What? Are you kidding me? You're kidding, right? I know you're kidding - here let me chew your arm a little bit. What?! No??!"

In the case of Bridget, she raises her objections in an upfront, communicative way. Other horses continue their quest to distract themselves and get away from being in-the-moment-with-the-boring-person by pawing, trying to graze, pulling, or - as in the case of a little mini I was working with the other day - rearing. Before long, however, a magical change occurs, and boredom settles like a gentle mist upon the scene. Only when the horse stops resisting it, it's not boredom - it's peace.

I've had occasion lately to ask owners to play the Bored Game before the horse would agree to cooperate with trimming. Once that blessed aura of peace descends, you can see how futile it was to try and work with the horse's mind constantly darting off in all directions.

Today, I was trimming a very bossy, smart, dominant mare. She's done fine with me in the past, but today her owner warned me that she's been very difficult lately and that we might not get anything done, as she's been refusing to let her owner work with her feet. Sure enough, when I started working, she would give me her foot but immediately snatch it away again. She was very distracted, fidgety and absent. So I introduced the Bored Game. She surprised me by not taking very long to subside into an almost trance like serenity. I caught myself talking too loudly and agitatedly - the comparison between me and the horse suddenly showed me in a bad light, and I slowed down to join the mare in her tranquillity. The owner was pleasantly surprised by the mare's mood.

Maintaining this restful state, I asked the mare to give me her hind foot, which she quietly did, and I was able to work on both hind feet. However, when it came to the front feet, whichever foot I asked for she would calmly press into the ground, at the same time leaning gently into me with her shoulder. I don't know where this new reluctance has come from - she is sound, and I don't believe she is physically challenged by holding up her front feet - but I would prefer that she politely refuse to give her foot than that she give it and then snatch it away. I decided that it would be "against the rules" for me to use any physical effort to try and pick up her foot myself. She knew I wanted the foot, and for whatever reason, she declined.

But this was a conversation, and a polite one at that - very different from the interaction we'd been having just a short while before - the mare listening to distant sounds, thinking about the other horses, reaching for food, pushing into her owner, giving her foot, snatching it away, moving her feet.

This mare lives on dry, stony ground; her feet are good; and her owner knows how to rasp hoofs in between trimmer visits. So we agreed to let her off the hook. For a fearful horse, it's very empowering to be allowed to leave the feet on the ground. Somehow, even though this mare is far from fearful, I felt it was important to give her the same consideration we'd give to an anxious horse. Who knows - perhaps her hyper, pushy behavior might be a form of anxiety. This mare was an unlikely candidate to embrace the Bored Game, but she did, and perhaps she was thankful for it.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to work with owners like the owner of this mare, who not only shares my "liberal" views about horses but is relieved that I share hers. We both agreed that "letting the horse get away with it" does NOT make things worse the next time, but can often make things better.  I'll be curious to see how the mare will process her experience today. Today I feel I really learned (again! - seems a lesson that I must repeat many times before it really sinks in) the importance of working from a place of peace and focus. Hempfling says (something like), "Everyday chaos accumulates to high danger," and I think this is a wise observation.

The owner and I drew the mare into a state of peace, but once she was there, the mare drew us in even deeper. The hyper mare teaching the humans a lesson in tranquility. Horses are perennially amazing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Third Time's a Charm

Today I returned for the third time to trim a little herd of three horses (and a yearling, who doesn't need to be trimmed yet). The first time I went, the horses were pretty much all basket cases. The last time (Passing Go, 9/13/12), things went rather more smoothly.

Today, the horses were all perfect.

We started with the original runaway gelding, who behaved like a complete angel, permitting his front feet to be completed inside and out. He has stringhalt and is a little funny about his hind legs, but he was very cooperative while I worked on the undersides, and I let go of the idea of prettifying the outsides on the grounds that he'd been very good and I didn't want to push it.

The nervous gelding was also a total mensch. He found it hard to lift his RF, as his RH leg has problems, but we figured out that if his owner provided a leaning post at his left shoulder, he was able to give me his RF foot and let me keep it long enough to work on. He had to hop around a little and figure out out to brace his back legs in order to accomplish this, but we had enough trust established that he was fine with me gently keeping his LF while he tweaked his balance.  As his LH was still obviously giving him problems, I feared that - like last time - he wouldn't let me touch it. Again, I asked permission before even approaching the leg, and this time there was no reaction from him. When I touched the leg, he gently picked up the foot. As his hind feet have been wearing very nicely and evenly, I just settled for picking up both hind feet; and then we were done.

The dominant mare was a poster child for good behavior, and all the work on her feet was completed in a timely manner. As with the nervous gelding, I felt we were now on a footing of cordiality and trust, so when it was a little tricky to find a good angle/position/height to rest her hind feet on the post in order to rasp the outsides, we were able to fiddle about and try different things without anyone becoming stressed.

Then the owner asked if the Percheron yearling could be introduced to the concept of future hoof trims. He's very friendly, but not used to being handled by anyone except his owner. When she clipped on a leadrope, and he saw me looking purposeful, he became anxious and wanted to leave. I could feel myself acting too assertive and even menacing, but didn't know how to stop. I figured that if I took the leadrope, I could interact with the yearling in a way that felt more normal to me. That did help, and then I remembered my manners and - giving the leadrope back to the owner - stood back and asked permission before approaching. That mollified the youngster, who was then comfortable enough to give me his feet, one after the other. And that was enough for one day. He has beautiful round, well-worn feet with huge, healthy frogs.

The "guidelines" I established at the last visit for working with these horses seem to have proved very helpful. Instead of the nervous, mentally absent, annoyed, resistant, fearful, and reactive creatures which I met at my first visit, the horses have become cordial, helpful and focussed. These guidelines are not a magic formula for every horse in every situation though. I still have a lot to learn and figure out. For instance, the other day I was trimming a good-old-boy buckskin gelding who absolutely-no-way-forget-about-it was going to let me work on his RF. Last time I got him to lean against a wall, but this time he'd been shut inside for three days because of a storm (thanks, Sandy) and was just too stiff and sore on his left  hind stifle. (Why is it that sometimes that makes the same-side foreleg hard to work on, and sometimes the opposite-side foreleg?) My daughter was with me, and she said she'd never seen a horse rear so politely! It was true - he didn't want to make a scene or hurt anyone or run away - but if I held onto his RF, he just, politely, reared up and took his foot away. So we just had to give up and hope that next time he's not so stiff. And buckskins, I'm finding (call me racist), are a stubborn lot. Well, not stubborn - strong-willed and sure of themselves.

I'm more and more convinced of the incredibly cooperative nature of The Horse. I used to espouse the pressure/release approach to training: put a little pressure on - increase it if the horse resists - release it if the horse cooperates. Nowadays I prefer to just ask.

No relevant photos, but here is one of Bridget from the summer. (Ah! The summer!)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Oh Me of Little Faith

I came home this afternoon with good intentions. There was just enough time to fetch the lawn mower from the barn and accomplish half an hour's mowing before going out again.

However .... I looked out of the bathroom window and saw Bridget knocking on the gate. This morning she'd done the same thing - had separated herself from the herd to present herself ready for some action. I'd only had time to run out and give her an apple and a hug (plus a quick spot of backing-up practice), and now here she was again with the same request: "Take me out!" Yard work could not be as important.

Yesterday, Bridget and the others were out on lawn-mowing patrol, and I thought she wanted out so that she could continue this important and nutritious work. However, once she was through the gate, she decided to set off for a bit of a walk.

Our very short "training" interaction yesterday - which I thought she'd found slightly irritating - may have in fact rekindled her desire for human/horse activities.

We had a nice, short, convivial walk, stopping for snacks and snooping. A couple of times we enjoyed a run together, with Bridget moderating her pace to stay not too far ahead of pokey old me. When we run, I hold the very end of the leadrope in order to give her plenty of space.

When I returned her to the pasture, Bridget immediately cantered off, whinnying, to rejoin her buddies, but for a little while she'd cast her lot in with me, asserting her independence from the herd and exploring the world on her own terms. I hope that one day - soon? - we can explore further afield with Bridget carrying me on her back. Wow! Could such a thing happen?

Wind in machine make scary sound


Running with Bridget

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Getting Serious

Bridget is growing up.  Physically, she has all but lost her adolescent disproportion and gawkiness and is returning to the beautiful conformation which made her stand out as a baby. Mentally, she is becoming more serious - and more challenging.

She is still curious and affectionate and goofy. But there is an increasing air of imperiousness about her, and a sense that she is becoming someone who demands respect.

Today, as I was working with her, she became impatient. I insisted, by being stubborn rather than by applying pressure, that she pay attention and work with me. She did, but when I set her free, she left immediately - which is not like her.

She doesn't yet have Chloe's wisdom, nor does she have the immense reserves of kindness and courtesy hidden behind George's gruff facade. Or the great sweetness of Rose.

What she does have is intelligence, boldness, enthusiasm, charm, good sense, playfulness, optimism, communicativeness, and cordiality.

I hope that if I work with her regularly, she will learn that there is something to be said for this activity. Going for walks may be a good way of working together. I think I may suspend the privilege she currently enjoys of swinging her tail towards me so that I can scratch her hindquarters. I don't know. I feel a need now to set some boundaries - at least temporarily - and to discuss with her the reality that as she grows into her new role as an adult, I will not allow her to add to her status by trying to lord it over me.
Enjoying a little home-grown alfalfa on the first day of autumn

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Couple of Hoof Notes

1.  An Arabian mare with a dodgy LH - she finds it hard to keep her RF up as a result of the issue with her LH.

I notice that before she lifts her RF, her LH - which she likes to keep parked well in underneath her - has to be set out to the side in order to accommodate the change of balance. After a few moments, it gets to be too uncomfortable, and she moves the LH back in underneath her. Then - and only then - she finds it impossible to keep her RF off the ground, and she takes it away.

I think it's significant that she moves her LH in order to be able to raise her RF, and when it's too much, she doesn't snatch her RF away but only does so after moving the uncomfortable LH back into the position she favors, whereupon she finds that she has to put her RF back on the ground to keep her balance.

She and I develop a little routine. I ask (and do not require) her to lift her RF. She paws the ground a couple of times with the LF in complaint. Then she re-arranges her LH and picks up her RF for as long as she can stand it. When it's too much, she moves the LH back into the more comfortable position, and I'm ready to put her LF down.

The owner is not sure what's wrong with her leg, but says the mare has been having mastitis or something, and perhaps she's holding her leg funny in order to protect a painful udder .... ?

2.  A buckskin gelding, a retired school horse. He has a stifle issue. It's always a stifle issue, isn't it? Everyone wisely pronounces this, and I find myself doing the same thing whenever there's a leg problem: "Hmm, looks like his stifle." In this case, however, it really is his stifle, according to the owner.

The day before seeing this horse I'd been musing on our old Appaloosa mare, an extremely cooperative and intelligent character. She had soundness issues which made it difficult for her to stand on three legs.  When the farrier came to trim her feet, however, she helped us to figure out a way to accommodate this problem. She would rest her head on one person's shoulder, lean her hip against another person, and lean her tail against the wall. I'd been thinking that I hadn't yet come across another horse who so cleverly and obligingly figured out how to help in the trimming process.

Until this buckskin gelding. He was having a hard time letting me work on his RH, as this required him putting weight onto his painful LH. I suggested to his owner that she stand by his left hip to prop him up. He must have understood something of what we were trying to do, because lean he did - but onto me. Not a good plan. I thought it was clever, though, and suggested that we try standing him with his left side against a wall.

Right away he got the idea of using the wall to lean against, and I was able to work on his RH with no problems.

He's a very nice character, and it was pleasant to work on a non-reactive, mild-mannered, tolerant, wise, been-there-done-that kind of a horse. For a change!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Chloe has decided - for now at least - that I'm not allowed to sit on her back.

If I try to climb aboard, she politely but firmly slides away and swings her tail around to face me. Not threateningly or as if to kick, but to definitively put me into a non-mounting position.

It's such a different "no" from the one she used in the days when I insisted that she be trained and ridden. Back then she was irritable and wanted us to go away and leave her alone. Now her refusal is gracious; while denying my request, she remains kind and sociable.

She is training me well.

I was sad when she wouldn't give me a piggy-back ride. But then I remembered that Chloe is generous and gives good things. I never anticipated she would want to give me a ride - yet she did. Why should I be grumpy that she has withdrawn the privilege? Why not assume she has something different, or better, in store for me? Why not trust her?

And it seems to me that this is what obedience is - to be like a child, trusting that while one gift may be withheld, other gifts will be forthcoming, and to wait in confident anticipation for the future to divulge what those gifts may be.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Kicking Banshees Revisited

My mother used to say that the reason my brothers and I hated school was because we were treated so nicely at home that school seemed extra nasty in comparison.

I wonder if something like this is the reason why the four ponies and donkey I visited today were extra-sensitive to the former farrier. They are doted on immensely by their humans and never really have to do anything they don't want. If along comes a gruff, no-nonsense, pick-up-your-foot-and-behave-yourself farrier, it might be too much for their tender nerves. Similar to the way I used to feel about Mrs. Lindsay, God rest her soul. Whatever the reason for their sensitivity (and I was told that the donkey did not appreciate having her beautiful ears pinched), on my first visit there was a good deal of kicking, struggling, rearing, and trying to escape. However, I tried to be nice to everyone, and the owner was happy.

I returned today, resolving to adhere to The Guidelines. I explained my plan to the owner, warning her that we might not get all that much trimming done, and she gave her approval.

Things indeed went better this time - there was no kicking or rearing, and with the policy of choosing a spot and quietly leading the pony back there if it moved forward, there was no struggling or trying to escape either. The ponies remained engaged, upbeat, and friendly. We did not achieve 100% trimmage, but that was ok. The last mare up was a POA - bossy and friendly. By the time I was working on her, there were two other humans milling about, and the owner was feeding her from a bucket. It was very noticeable how all this added distraction detracted from the pony's ability to engage and cooperate. Or maybe from mine.

The last time I was here, I allowed my git 'r done focus to lead to some ends-justifies-the-means tactics, such as holding on and not letting go. This time, feeling confident that the owner was on the same page as me, I was able to relinquish some of that ego-driven desire to succeed. It's remarkable how much time is needed to really work things through with horses and how we're always trying to get to the goal fast. I think about the time George wanted to stand quietly, with me standing next to him, for an hour and three quarters. About the other day, when I stood for half an hour with Bridget until she became patient and then until she agreed to back up for me. About the first time George freely moved out of the way of the gate after I stood there expectantly for at least fifteen minutes. I managed to remember some of this today and reminded myself that if the hoof is not coming up as quickly as I want, then that's probably because I want it to come up too quickly.

Because, truthfully, I don't have anything better to do with my time.

You'll notice I haven't yet mentioned how things went with the donkey.

Let me just acknowledge right now that I am no match for a donkey. Immediately the owner fetched the donkey over, I knew my precious little "Guidelines" were going to be about as helpful as wearing a silly hat. One thing another client told me about donkeys is that you can't pull them but have to drive them from behind. So when I saw the owner having a hard time leading the donkey, I came up behind and helpfully clicked or flapped my arms or something. This worked twice. The third time, I could see the donkey react by deliberately not reacting: "I'm on to you and your little driving game." We got a small amount of trimming accomplished by dint of vast amounts of bribery and then decided to repair to a tiny grassy pen, secluded from the other ponies, who kept crowding around trying to get in on the bribery.

We didn't fare better right away, but during a pause in the action, I looked over and saw Miss Donkey coquettishly lifting her left foreleg off the ground. What's this? Do you want to give me your foot? "Why, yes, I do - why ever would I not!"

After this, I was emboldened to ask to pick up her hindfeet, which she did, briefly, and - more to the point - there was no kicking, and let me tell you, that donkey can kick.

However, she became restless, and I thought she might want to roll, so I asked the owner to cut her loose. Whereupon Miss Donkey walked to the corner of the pen and looked over at me with an unmistakably inviting expression on her face.

So - what the heck - I walked over with my nippers, and the dear donkey stood there, quite free and untied, while I quick nipped the toes of her hind hoofs. And I then I quit while I was ahead. Plus also I had, by this time, been there for over three hours, and while I don't think I have anything better to do, my family members occasionally disagree with me on this point.

Here's what I think about donkeys - I think they're plugged into Somewhere Else. Horses are too of course, in the way they are so intuitive and telepathic, but you always feel like horses return to meet you in the here and now. While I was working with the ponies, I felt we stayed connected and that they were happy to be drawn into the moment in a shared activity. But the donkey did not want to join me if I was setting the terms, and she patiently worked around my stubbornness. The first connection I felt with her was when she looked over at me and invited me to come and work on her hind feet. Up until then she was just doggedly resisting my resistance.

It reminds me of Balaam's donkey, in Numbers 22:21-34, who, on seeing an angel blocking the path, refuses to go forward and as a result is beaten by Balaam, to whom the angel is invisible. The angel is then revealed to Balaam and tells him that if he had proceeded to go forward, he would have been killed but the donkey would have been spared.

Next time, the owner and I are going to start out with Donkey free in the little pen. I hope she lets me do her feet, but she may have something else in mind.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Passing Go

The last time I saw these horses, things did not go well.

The dominant mare was not at all interested in cooperating, and I had to resort to taking the lead rope and making her back up before she'd let me finish. The allegedly "good" gelding was extremely nervous and cowkicked at me whenever I tried to pick up his hind feet. I never did find out what the other gelding was like, because he broke free before I even started and ran off, refusing to be caught again.

By the end, the owner was embarrassed and apologetic, and I felt like a complete loser.

Before returning yesterday, I gave some serious thought about how to approach these guys. This time, the end of the visit found both the owner and I both feeling very good about how things went. And the horses felt good too.

The reason for this happier outcome? .... I adhered to the following guidelines:

1.  Do not try to work with any foot that is not freely offered.  Wait for the foot to come up.

2.  Be willing to not pick up the foot at all.

3.  If necessary - if working with one particular foot seems to bother the horse - ask permission before even approaching that leg.

4.  Always return a foot when asked.

5.  If the horse snatches, it's ok to hold on a little longer - just long enough to gently place the foot on the ground, thus demonstrating how to politely take one's foot back.

6.  Start with the front feet, because horses are less reactive with their forelegs, and you can demonstrate to them that they're in control of the situation before moving on to the twitchy hindlegs.

7.  Designate a particular spot for trimming and stick to it. We picked a shady patch behind the house.

8.  The owner should hold the horse on a loose rope.

9.  If the horse pushes forward out of position, the owner should quietly walk it in a small circle back to the original position.

10.  Don't allow the horse to change the subject: the subject is hoof trimming. The horse can decide that no trimming will take place, but the conversation must continue to be about trimming or the lack thereof, and not about eating or leaving.

Following all these guidelines made the experience completely different from the last time. None of the horses received a complete trim, but they have good feet which wear well on the rocky terrain, and the owner and I agreed that actually completing the trim was not our No.1 goal.

The nervous gelding became calm and focussed. He began to offer me his forefeet and allow me to work on them. When he - literally - put a foot down and wouldn't pick it up again, that was ok. He allowed me to do his LH but was reactive with his RH, picking it up and using it to to shove me aside. This was my cue to step back and ask permission to approach the leg. Permission was denied (by means of head turning, eyes narrowing, and ears flattening) every time. So we left it alone.

The runaway gelding was helpful with his front feet but very reactive with his hinds. When he saw I was headed towards a hind leg, he exaggeratedly and nervously lifted the leg way up in the air and hopped about. I responded by stepping back and waiting for a minute or two before touching his leg gently to ask him to pick it up. This time he didn't move and didn't offer to pick up his foot. So I said ok and stepped back again. I can't tell you how empowering it was for both me and the horse to open up this beautiful avenue of not-having-to-achieve-the-goal. I asked a couple more times and accepted his refusal a couple more times. Then he started offering to pick it up, ever so slightly. I settled for a quick look at both hinds and let it go at that. When he was set free, I swear he gave me a hug.

The dominant mare came last, and the owner had a job catching her. Horses and human disappeared on the other side of the house, and I stood waiting, enjoying the beautiful afternoon. Finally the owner reappeared leading the mare, with her equine entourage clustered around, and we got started.  At first, every time the mare took a front foot away, she would use that as an opportunity to walk forward. The owner would then quietly lead her back into position. After a few tries, she stopped. When it came time to work on the hind feet and I approached her LH, she swung away. So I stepped back. After this was repeated three or four times, she allowed me to approach and offered the foot. She was reluctant, however, to lift up her RH - I think perhaps she was finding it a little difficult to balance without that leg. Something made me decide to step back and, not touching her, to just wait confidently for her pick up her foot. Sure enough, with me standing a couple of feet away, she figured out how to balance and lifted up the foot.

What was striking about the whole procedure was the way the horses each became calm and centered. Instead of trying to escape, both mentally and physically, they settled down and were present. Last time, after each one was was done, he or she made a quick getaway. This time they stayed. And when I was trimming the mare, who was last to be done, the geldings hovered around, nosing my hair and nibbling my clothes. Last time they said, "You're on your own, Madam Mare, we're outta here!"

I told the owner I was appreciative that she and I could work together like this. Last time, I put pressure on myself to get the job done, but we agreed that the work we did together this time was more valuable than getting hoofs trimmed.

Attending the proceedings also was an adorable yearling Percheron colt with adorable, round, perfectly self-trimmed feet.

Tomorrow I'm returning to the kicking banshees, and I will try following the same guidelines. Wish me luck.

p.s. We are homeschooling again. One of the perks - Latin at the picnic table with Bridget.

Mentum equae a puellae pede scabitur.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


I have recently adopted a new pursuit - yoga. The main snag with this is that our local yoga class meets at 6 a.m. So we'll see.

However, I do have Chloe to help me as well. When I sit on her back, I find myself constantly tipping forward. It is extremely hard to tilt my pelvis in such a way as to allow my sitting bones to sink securely onto Chloe, and at the same time to allow my legs to rotate outwards so that I'm not pinching myself up off her back. I would have these same difficulties sitting on a regular-sized horse, but on Chloe they're magnified on account of her narrowness.

If I can't sit safely on Chloe, then any feeling I've ever experienced of having a good seat on a larger horse is probably an illusion. I flatter myself I'm getting a teeny, tiny bit better at sitting on Chloe, who is extremely patient with my wiggling and jiggling.

My current rule is that I can't get on Chloe unless she actually tells me to. I can't ask her and then get up if she says yes; I have to wait until she suggests it of her own accord. Of course, if hanging around expectantly, like a little kid waiting for its turn on the swings, counts as asking, then I guess I'm a hypocrite.

Today we had a very nice time together on the lawn, with some scratching, some "riding," and some quiet companionship. I think I need a few more hours of sitting Chloga, with a few short walking intervals - and then maybe I'll be ready for some trotting Chloga, if she ever feels like it of course. Perhaps then I might be ready to ride a big horse.

p.s. Today, I was out and my husband wanted to put Chloe back in the pasture so he could leave too. Chloe was near the gate, and he opened it. She didn't react at first and just stood, waiting. He waited too, and after a little while she walked in. He told me that if we hadn't had the conversations we've had lately, he'd've probably tried to shoo her in. Instead he waited and allowed her to wait, and it worked out.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


This morning, during Mass, I wondered about "fear of God." I like to think of God as a positive, kindly, on-my-side kind of a guy. But as I knelt in my pew, I remembered that "fear of God is the beginning of wisdom," and I wondered if I had become a little too comfortable in the face of His providence.

On returning home, what should I find waiting for me in my inbox but a message from Chabad.org Magazine titled, "Are We Supposed to be Afraid of G-d?"

Following the link contained in the email lead me to an article by Aron Moss. In his understanding, "fear" is not an apt translation of the concept contained in the phrase "fear of God." The idea is better conveyed by the word "respect."
The difference between love and respect is that when I love, I am preoccupied with my feelings toward you; when I respect, I am focusing on your presence rather than mine. Love is my desire to approach you. Respect is my deference to your otherness, your right to be who you are. When you love someone but do not respect them, it ends up being all about you. The other is simply an object of your love; their opinion is not taken seriously, and they are not treated as a real being.
This certainly rings a bell for me. I have always been drawn to horses, and my love for them has always made me want to approach them. But their allure often ended up causing me to try and possess them, to make them in my own image, to force them to validate me - instead of allowing them the space to be who they are.

In the last couple of years, I have begun to learn to step back and be willing to not approach. To forgo a physical approach - and also to refrain (often) from approaching the horse with my plans, my program, my agenda.

In turn, the horses have begun to approach me. As I have stopped prodding and pressing them, they seem to have gradually, in front of my eyes, assumed a shape and character to which I was blind as long as I tried to control them.

As I suggested in a recent post, when Moshiach comes, no doubt the horses will help tell us where to go, and when, and I like to think Chloe and friends are teaching me to get ready to listen up good. The immediate answer I received to my question about the fear of God, and the way the answer had so clear a relevance to my relationship with the horses - how can I not believe?

In the meantime, however, that Bridget still needs to be a teeny bit more polite about backing up.

Evening on the Lawn

Monday, September 3, 2012

Training June

Chloe spent some time out on the lawn this evening, grazing in the gathering dusk - with me sitting on her back.

Chloe has raised the bar a little. She expects me to be quicker climbing onto her back. Today, she came over to collect me, waited while I tried to get up, stopped briefly when I failed, and then walked off without me.

Later, I managed to mount up, and we wandered about the yard eating grass. When it finally became quite dark, I hopped off Chloe and shooed her towards the pasture gate. She declined and instead went through an open gate into the empty field. She stood waiting.

When I came over to her, she pawed at me and shoved me with her head. I moved into mounting position and was waiting for her to signal with her head that I should get up. But then I realized that I was standing in mounting position in obedience to her pawing and shoving, and that there was no point in waiting for further permission. She was obviously standing there waiting for me to get up; so I did.

With me back on board, she set off again to graze the lawn. I sat on her back for a while longer before finally dismounting. As Chloe refused to take the hint and head for the gate, I fetched the halter and leadrope and managed to convince her to rejoin the others in the pasture.

I wanted to sit on her this evening until she told me to get off. I don't know what she might say to get me off, but I expect it would be quite clear. At one point, she knocked my leg with her head, but it was a clumsy bump, and I think she was trying to get rid of a fly. In any case, she didn't repeat it. One of these days I'll have to set aside a long period of time and stay on as long as she wants. Maybe I'll bring a book.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lead, Kindly Chloe

                                               I loved to choose and see my path;
                                               But now lead Thou me on.
                                                                    John Henry Newman

                                               He may have his little thoughts.
                                                                    Celia, Middlemarch, Chapter 50

There is a tradition in Judaism which teaches that when Moshiach comes, the established order will be reversed. Instead of man being the head of woman, woman will be the head of man.
It is taught in Chassidic and Kabbalistic literature that the polarities of masculine and feminine will eventually invert. There will come a time, blessed and welcomed by all, when the feminine will have greater access to transcendent consciousness, and when she will bestow and man will receive from her.1                                                                      
In a world thus transformed, the body will no longer be subject to the head, but rather the body will become a conduit of light for the head. Material creation, presently distanced from the spiritual realm and dependent on receiving light indirectly, trickling down through more elevated levels, becomes instead directly connected to and inhabited by the source of light itself.
So Moshiach, who represents the ultimate fulfillment of Torah, himself rides the donkey of the material. For he heralds a world in which the material is no longer the lower or secondary element, but an utterly refined resource, no less central and significant a force for good than the most spiritual creation.2
And so it is with Chloe.

She stands by the fence, waiting to be let out. When she is released, her first order of business - before setting off to graze - is to load me up onto her back. Why? I don't know. Perhaps she's training me.

The other day, we had a party at our house, and two of the guests - little girls aged 6 and 8 - wanted pony rides. Chloe was reasonably gracious about allowing the little girls to sit on her back, but she made it quite clear that she was not going to cooperate with any such nonsense as being lead around in the direction of someone else's choosing. She wasn't cross, or mean, or anxious about it. She just said no. She always used to start by saying no back in the days when I would have insisted she obey, only in those days she would have been anxious and cranky. Nowadays when she says no, she just looks at me quite kindly as she refuses. And I say, "Ok, you're the boss." Well, sometimes first I say, "Oh, please, pretty please, couldn't you please, just this once ..." And then I give up.

The next day, the effrontery of my behavior towards her with the little girls apparently had not left too bad a taste in her mouth, because she put me on her back as usual. If I'm slow in getting up and she starts moving with me only half-way into position, she stops, waits, and starts again once I'm properly up.

I realize I just absolutely have to totally give up trying to make Chloe behave anything like a "normal" pony. When a little girl asks for a pony ride, I'll tell her that George (who has a mild, avuncular interest in being helpful with children and beginners) will oblige. But if the little girl insists on Chloe, I'll tell her she's welcome to ask Chloe for a piggyback ride, but that Chloe only goes where Chloe wants, and that's the way it should be.

I love letting Chloe be in charge. When I was little, my dreams of being on a horse did not consist of riding dressage exercises, or sailing over a round of jumps, or riding in the circus - I dreamed of being taken on the back of a magic horse to places I never knew about before.

Chloe waits by the fence.

1. Sarah Schneider, "Voice of the Bride," Moshiach101.com 
2.  "Moshiach's Donkey," Moshiach 101.com

Friday, August 24, 2012

Further Adventures with Chloe

After my little ride earlier today, I was out with Chloe again, and she seemed to express a desire for me to climb aboard. With which wish I dutifully complied.

After a few moments' reflection, she set off through a gate which I'd left open to the other pasture so that she could have access to water while out on the lawn. She stopped for a drink, turned to face the other side of the field, and thought some more.

I said, "Chloe, do whatever you want, as long as it doesn't involve any rapid changes of direction or fast speeds."

She headed down toward the creek. The horses always cross the creek (whether dry or muddy) at high speed, so when Chloe stopped at the edge of the mire to evaluate the situation, I slid off.

She immediately became very imperious and demanded that I get back on. How did she express this? She looked exasperated, and shoved me with her head. So I remounted.

After a few more minutes, during which time she listened to me explaining the extreme precariousness of my situation, she set off across the muddy creek. She speeded up a little, but not enough to make me lose my balance.

Up the hill on the other side. Where does Chloe want to go now? Aha. The shelter. So in we went, and I got off. I don't think she was frightfully pleased about me getting off, but it was ok, because I scratched her a lot, and she dozed.

After a while, I think we both were thinking it might be time to return. We weren't sure (at least I wasn't) if I should ride or not. As I seemed to be going in the direction of her choice, Chloe decided that she could just walk beside me.

At the creek, we both stopped and looked. Chloe came up right beside me to assess. I found two dry hummocks to place my feet on, and made it across semi-dry. Chloe followed.

She was ready to go back into the other pasture. After I let her in, she waited for me to come in with her. The other horses were out of sight, so I walked with her until she could see them, and then she was happy to set off towards them without me.

So - the ability to make someone get on your back gives you the ability to command the services of a built-in buddy, who will accompany you wherever you go when you want to set off by yourself away from the other horses.

Yee Haw

Driving home today, I hoped that Chloe would be by the gate so that I could let her out without the rest of the gang. As I turned in the drive, there she was, waiting by the gate. So I opened the gate, and out she came.

When I come out with treats to work on Chloe's tricks, she'll often walk away after a short while, or even before we've started. Today, I had no agenda and, leaving the groceries still in the car, I went over to crouch on the ground in front of Chloe.

She plonked a forefoot on top of my knee, which is one of her tricks. I expressed my appreciation, and then went to pick an apple off the tree for her. She ate it without much enthusiasm and walked off.

As I was starting to gather the groceries from the car, I saw that Chloe had stopped grazing and was parked in the middle of the driveway, apparently waiting.

I walked over, scratched her for a minute, and then stationed myself in mounting position. Chloe gave what I have come to recognize as her "up you get" signal, which is turning her head around and pointing at me with her nose.

So I kicked and flailed myself up onto her back. She is so small, there is no excuse for the kicking and flailing - I should be able to leap up like a gazelle; however, Chloe stood like a little Rock of Gibraltar throughout the process.

Once I was settled, she essayed a step. I wobbled precariously. She stopped. Another step, another wobble; she stopped again. Finally I was stable enough for her to set off towards a good grazing spot on the lawn. I sat comfortably while she ate.

So, what am I learning from Chloe?

I'm learning that tricks can be fun for horses too, and that perhaps they don't always want it to be a mercenary transaction - perhaps sometimes for them it can be that offering a reward takes the heart out of it.

I'm learning that having a plan is not always a good idea. But I'm also learning that sometimes a crazy plan can pop into your head and it might just be the right thing to do: Hey! You know what? I think I might just climb on top of this pony!

I'm learning the importance of trust. When I clamber onto Chloe's back, what allows me to do this is not training or practice but the fact that Chloe has decided to make it safe for me. The trust I feel in her far surpasses the trust I have in a horse whose training keeps it standing still.

I'm learning that "training" is a two-way street, but that, while the cues humans use are often arbitrary, horses state their meaning by simply using their words.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Finding a Balance

Sometimes it's hard to find a middle point between the two extremes of being confrontational and being a milktoast.

There are certain horses whom I find particularly challenging in this respect. Ahem, did I say "appaloosas"? Surely I wouldn't say something as racist as that?

Today, however, the challenging horse was not in fact an Appie but a buckskin Quarter Horse mare, about seven years old.

The owner has four horses and a donkey. She saved the buckskin mare for last, after the other equids had proven themselves to be gracious and cooperative. I was warned me that the buckskin was occasionally aggressive and often not cooperative and that I shouldn't worry if I couldn't get much done.

The owner was really nice to work with, because she knows all her horses very well and has a good relationship with each one, as well as helpful insight into both their character and their physical condition. It was no different with the "difficult" mare. The owner really loves her in spite of/because of  her strong-willed nature and was able to help me with her, rather than just standing there randomly saying "Whoa! Steady!" and apologizing for the horse - which is what some people do.

I think it was because of the very good relationship this mare has with her human (who understands and appreciates her character, while at the same time insisting on certain improvements in the behavior resulting from that character) that the horse was able to help me figure out how to "deal with" her.

It seemed that the following were good approaches to adopt:

1. not to be bossy or confrontational;

2.  not to be intimidated;

3.  to allow the mare to express a certain imperiousness - e.g. allowing her to snatch her leg away; but at the same time

4.  to keep asking for more help and cooperation;

5.  to ask and expect her to give me her leg of her own accord; and

6.  to remind her - if she forgot and became too engrossed with her haynet - that I was standing there waiting for her to pick up her foot.

By the time I was working on the hind legs, she was picking up her foot freely and leaving it on the stand.

The owner was relieved, as there have been some tussles in the past with this mare and the farrier.

As I drove away, I reflected that I felt it really was the horse who had been the instructor somehow, that she had firmly and kindly shown me how she wanted things done, and had rewarded me when I figured it out.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

And the Next Time ...

Yesterday, Bridget and I had another try at backing up. This time, things went a lot quicker, and she backed up almost immediately when I asked her, even when I repeated the request a second and third time.

After that, it was time to go for a walk. It was a beautiful day, my daughter accompanied us, and we set off along the road, turning up the lane toward the alpacas at Bridget's request. (I think she chose that route because it lead away from the sheep.)

A caravan of three scary farm vehicles - the kind which suck up corn and spew it out over their shoulders into giant wagon trailers - went by, and Bridget looked hard but didn't become anxious.

We stopped to chat with some neighbors on the way. Bridget always gets impatient when the grownups waste time talking. After a couple of minutes of perfunctory politeness to the new humans, she nudged me forward.

Bridget set a personal best in her distance-from-home-without-wanting-to-turn-around. We were a mile or more from home, approaching the alpaca farm, when Bridget decided it was time to turn around. Don't know what made her choose that spot, but she may have gotten wind of strange new creatures ahead. Maybe next time we can venture close enough for her to inspect them.

Here's Bridget indicating that it's time to turn around.
On the way out, she wasn't interested in eating, but on the return journey she wanted to graze. I just kept walking, and clever Bridget figured out that if she ran ahead of me, that would give her a moment or two of eating before I caught up.

Here she is ahead of me, catching a couple of bites before I come alongside.
Today, around eight o'clock in the evening, Bridget wanted to come out for some grazing. There was still enough light, so I gave in and brought her out. Before letting her eat, I asked her to back up, and she responded with speed and lightness.

On another note, here is George spotting his reflection in a window --

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Battle of Wills

But it wasn't really a battle. More like a summit.

After George's little incident the other day, I decided we'd better do some more regular work with the horses. So I fetched George out of the pasture and decided to do six minutes of work. (Six, because it was like 12:34, and I planned to work until 12:40.) George did everything I asked politely and immediately, so I reduced the work time to four minutes and then let him graze on the lawn for a while.

Next up was Bridget. She walked forward and stopped and backed up once. After a minute, I asked her to back up again. The answer was a very definite no.

So, we stood.

For ten minutes, she nudged and nibbled at me. I kept pushing her head away, and if she came across as too aggressive, I bopped her (in a friendly way) on the nose with the end of the lead rope. After ten minutes, she stopped the nudging.

Just standing.
She became quite peaceful, and snuggled her nose up to my hand.

But every so often, she took a step forward with one foreleg. At which I turned her in a circle and resumed standing. The mood remained calm and cordial.

As the flies were bothersome, Bridget lifted a foreleg sometimes to swat at them. After 20 minutes of standing, she began replacing her foreleg into the same position, rather than taking a step forward. I clicked a "yes" every time she did this.

Up comes the leg.
Down goes the leg.
(Why is her chest so uneven - I hope it's just cos of the way she's holding her neck.)
Every few minutes, I repeated my request for her to step backwards, and every time I felt myself up against an immoveable object.

Finally, after half an hour of standing, Bridget began to place her foot just a teeny bit behind its original position whenever she picked it up. There were a two or three incidents of backsliding when she couldn't help herself and stretched one foreleg out and didn't replace it (at which I would lead her in a circle again). But there were also a couple of times when I said, "Ahem," and she put the foot back.

At last, she took a few steps backwards. So I gave her a treat and let her graze.

Bridget is, as my daughter would say, "Miss Sassitude." She is a dear, loving, warm-hearted, companionable creature. Also bold, brave, and strong-willed. Most of the time, she'll do what you ask without any fuss, but every so often, the bossy and dramatic side of her personality will emerge. In those moments, she is not always very ready to listen to my opinion or the opinion of any other human who happens to be around. So it was, I think, very helpful to have this difference of opinion, highlighting what great resources of stubbornness and determination Bridget has. It was good to be able to settle this disagreement without drama or rancor.

Most people, in my experience, resort to whacking the horse with the rope if it doesn't immediately step back when asked. This is pretty effective, and also takes much less time than 30 minutes. Also, it must be said that a dominant horse does not wait half an hour to exact compliance from a lower-ranking herdmate.

However, I feel it was a half hour very well spent. We explored the reality that I, in my humble, bipedal way, can be even more stubborn than Bridget. Plus we had a nice long stretch of just standing together serenely. And Bridget's acquiescence was not an outcome forced upon her, but a conclusion reached by her.


Monday, August 13, 2012


After I left Charlie a few days ago, the idea occurred to me that perhaps he had been saying goodbye. Not liking this thought, I pushed it aside, telling myself that his calling to me as I walked away was just part of a new-found friendliness.

When I saw there was a voicemail from his owner today, I knew immediately what had happened. I returned the call, and learned that indeed Charlie had passed away on Sunday morning. When I told the owner I thought Charlie had said goodbye to me the other day, she said she had felt the same thing the day before he died. I congratulated her on giving him such a nice long peaceful retirement.

I was glad that it had been easier for him to walk in his last few weeks and months. A man who was there the other day observed that when Charlie's feet were overgrown, he used to just mope in his shed  but that lately he was usually out and about, pottering around his clearing in the woods with the goats and rabbits.

Forty years old - glossy-coated, well-fed, and as agile as one of his goat friends until his very last day.

A clear image remains in my mind of Charlie looking after me as I left last week - a calm, kind, cheerful, reaching-out look. I feel his gaze following me still, like a blessing. I count it as a great gift.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


The horse world has been giving me fits lately.

George bucked my daughter off the other day. After not doing anything with him for months, my daughter decided to take him out for a walk one day. The next day, she saddled him up and took him for a ride. He looked happy to set off, balked a lot at the end of the drive, and then settled down. Eventually, well into the ride, something scary in the bushes set him a-bucking. Girl was dumped, and George took off. Girl was not amused and accused me of having no "dead-broke" horses for her enjoyment. Harrumph.

Then I've had a series of extremely uncooperative trimming clients. One horse recently broke free before I even started on the first foot. He took off, and his owner couldn't catch him again. The next one simply refused to have his hind legs done. There were others. None of this is necessarily my fault, but it definitely has the effect of making me feel like a complete loser.

Then the sun comes out.

Yesterday I went to trim six new horses at one barn. They outdid each other in politesse and noblesse oblige, and I was able to complete the trimming with my dignity intact. Later that day, I went to give the mini horse Charlie his fourth trim. This little guy has not had much time for me in the past, but yesterday he allowed me, and not his owner, to catch him. When we were finished and Charlie was set free, instead of making a bee line for freedom as he has always done in the past, he stuck by us, and we all enjoyed a few minutes of peaceful companionship. When I started to pack up, he walked off and stood in his little shed. As I was leaving, I called out, "Bye, Charlie!" and he whinnied after me. And his feet (which were miles long and curled up like jester shoes when I first saw him) should finally look completely normal after the next trim.

As a further antidote to the horse blues, Chloe has stayed very sweet about encouraging me to scramble up onto her back.

George needs a lot more attention if he's going to be a safe riding buddy. I have to refine my skills in dealing with stroppy clients, but .....
When in this state myself almost despising,
Haply I think on Chloe and Charlie, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate.
For their sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
(With apologies to the Bard.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chloe Takes It Up a Notch

I used to think two conflicting things about Chloe. The first was that maybe if she were 15 or 16 hands, she might just be my dream horse. And the other was that if she were 15 or 16 hands, she'd be way too scary to deal with.

Today, after the horses had eaten, they charged back across the field into their shelter to escape the relentless and bloodthirsty horseflies which are out in force at this time of year. Chloe, however, stayed outside with me.

She pressed up against me and followed me whenever I moved off. Out in the open field, with the pesky flies and the other horses nearby, I felt too vulnerable to climb onto her back. I leaned across her, and scratched her, but couldn't quite summon up the gumption to scramble aboard.

Chloe kept pressing me and following me. I saw a tire lying on the ground and said to her, "If I stand on that tire, it'll be easier for me to climb onto your back." I duly walked over to the tire and stood on the rim. Chloe followed and positioned herself next to me so that it was easy for me to hop on. Once I was settled, she walked forward. This was ok. However, she suddenly quickened her pace when Bridget appeared behind us, and I thought it prudent at this point to slide off.

Bridget and Chloe followed me to the gate and demanded to know why they couldn't come through as well.

Stop that, Bridget!
Later in the evening, I was sitting on the porch with a book and a g&t when Chloe came up to the fence and looked at me across the lawn. I called out a greeting to her. She walked round to the gate and waited. It was twilight and too late to be taking her out, but I went over and pulled handfuls of grass for her.

I don't know where the scary horse went, but the one that stayed behind might be my dream horse after all, even if she is only 12 hands high.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

All Aboard

Today Chloe pretty much told me to climb on her back. She was pottering about, loose on the driveway, and I walked over to see if she wanted to go back in the pasture yet. She came up to me but didn't put me into scratching position as she often does. Scratching position is on her right side, near her neck. She put me on her left side, half-way between front and hind legs, and she waited. So I flung myself into potato sack position onto her back, and carrying her precariously loaded burden, she walked over to the gate.

At the gate, after I slid off, Chloe decided she didn't want to go back into the field after all. Once more she put me into what I can only assume is "mounting position." So this time I thought, "What the heck," and I scrambled onto her back until I was sitting astride. She stood immobile while this was going on and continued standing still after I was up there. Which is just as well, because it is very easy to fall off Chloe. I sat there for a while scratching her neck, while she stood relaxing, ears drooping sleepily.

After a little while, I dismounted. But she turned and looked at me and seemed to want me to get back up. So I did, in a manner as inelegant and unathletic as before. And once more she stood stock still during and after the maneuver. We stood/sat quietly for a while, Chloe every now and then turning as if to say, "Hey, those dangling legs of yours could be good for scratching my ribs."

When I slid off, Chloe seemed a little disappointed. She went back into the field when I opened the gate but then made as if to come out again right away.

I should make it clear that she wasn't wearing a halter or rope or anything while this was going on. How far we have come. What a lovely, secure feeling to know that your horse is standing still while you climb on, not because of your skill or agility or training, but in spite of your lack thereof - standing still because it's her decision. This is the little horse who always signaled loud and clear that she wanted no part of the foolishness of riding. It's not that she particularly minded carrying someone on her back; her disapproval was of the rider (or anyone else for that matter) telling her what to do. Now that I've pretty much given up that bad habit, she's willing to entertain the idea of carrying me.

We'll see what happens if and when Chloe decides to take a step with me on board. It'll be very good balance practice, that's for sure.

Later this afternoon, I took Bridget out for a graze and a wander. I found this birds' nest lying on the ground and told Bridget it looked like her mane had come in very handy.

P.S.  I am not in the habit of making 12:2 hh ponies carrying great gallumphing adults like myself - Chloe was ridden by lighter people back in the day. However, if she tells me to get up, I hear and obey.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Riding" Chloe

After Chloe had spent a couple of hours out on the lawn, it was time for her to return to the pasture. She came over to me to have her neck scratched for a little while, and then I heaved myself up onto her back, potato-sack style. She waited until I was in position and then set off to the pasture gate.

Not being very securely positioned, I slid off. She waited while I got up again. Again I slid off after a few steps. This time, she stopped, turned around, and nudged me. I loaded myself up again, and we made it to the gate.

Maybe next time, I'll try for astride.

Sancho Panza, here I come.

Respecting No

I was very glad I answered the call to travel over an hour to trim one little miniature horse. Of course, I'm always glad to meet a new horse and new people and see new places. But the main reason I was happy? ..... Miniature cows!

Who knew that such creatures existed? I knew there were smaller, heritage type breeds, such as the Belted Galloway. But bona fide miniature cows? Never knew about them. The owner had a four year old Western Heritage miniature cow, about to calve. She was about the height of a Shetland pony, although much longer and stockier looking, and possessed of a pair of magnificent horns. The other mini cow was an adorable Jersey yearling heifer, whom I thought at first was a spring calf from this year. The owner said she would probably only grow a couple more inches in height.

It was fascinating to talk to this woman, as she has experience riding cows, and teaching them tricks. She plans to teach her Jersey calf - who already knows how to bow - to pull a cart. She said she finds cows easier to work with than horses, and quicker to learn.

The miniature horse was a pretty dark brown mare, four years old, who had been sold away for a while and then returned. The owner told me she often looked grumpy but was in fact a sweetheart.

She was pretty good about her front feet, but when I went to do the hinds, she started kicking. The owner was surprised at her behavior and said she'd never acted like this before. My first thought was to hold on and make her put her feet down politely, on my terms. But then it came out that this was her first trim since returning home. Looked like probably the farrier at the other place had given her a bad experience with her hind legs. The owner said the little mare had never been one to tolerate rough handling and that another farrier in the past had caused her to be temporarily difficult about trimming.

So, rather than insisting on anything, I set her feet down immediately if she wanted, even if she was "rude" and kicked or snatched. Within a few minutes, she became cooperative, allowing me to handle her hind feet without any fuss. A very intelligent, well-intentioned little horse, but with a zero tolerance policy for bad manners!

Look - seven years old, and this bull is only waist-high .....

From the International Miniature Zebu Association website
Full grown cows ....

My daughter-whose-favorite-animal-is-the-cow happened to accompany me on this trimming expedition. So now guess what she wants for her next birthday.