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

Monday, February 20, 2012

Changes, etc.

George has undergone a metamorphosis over this past winter.

Whenever I used to go into the pasture, George would commandeer my attention, coming over to stand next to me for long periods of time. Once, he parked me by his side, and there we stayed for an hour and a half, both of us just standing still, nothing happening. He used to let the mares take a little turn with me, but then he'd come over to shoo them away again.

These days George gives me a glance when I go into the field, or he'll come over and briefly say hello before wandering off again. He has no interest in chasing the mares away or spending any time with me. At first I thought maybe he was mad at me for some reason, but now I've decided it's because he feels more secure.

Another change is that he is not longer attached to Rose's hip, which I think Rose is glad of. It frees her up to please herself, which sometimes takes the form of herding Chloe around the field. I think she looks more relaxed.

Since George first came to stay with us, I've observed a gradual change in his face. He used to have a Jekyll and Hyde look (to complement his personality!). Sometimes his features looked sweet and babyish; other times, he had a rather coarse and brutish look to him. Nowadays, his look is, well, just more .... bland. I'm hoping we're back to a tabula rasa here, and that the Real George will eventually appear on the page. Hempfling says that the "type" of horse, as described in his book What Horses Reveal, doesn't emerge until a youngster reaches the age of three or so. I'm wondering if George, even though he's much older than that, has yet to reveal himself. (By the way, WHR is out of print and costs at least $225 used on Amazon! Why did I give my copy away?!)

Yesterday, I took George out of the pasture and asked him to stand quietly next to me for a minute before proceeding to grazing or whatever. This is something I used to practice with him but haven't done for some time. On first emerging from the gate, George immediately became a little agitated and started casting around for what yummy things he might find to eat. I reminded him that before we do anything else, we first have a quiet moment.

His reaction was instantaneous. He completely relaxed and stood next to me with absolutely no resistance or resentment. What a change from the last times we did this, when he used to say, "All right, I get it, I'll do it if you insist, but it's dumb." He stood so completely without thought of moving on to the next phase that there was no point in prolonging the moment, and I said, "Ok, George, what shall we do now?" .... which turned out to be going into the other pasture.

Chloe has changed too. When she first came to us, she had a permanently sour expression, even when she was out in the pasture unmolested. This gradually changed, but only really began to improve when I instituted the Chloe Rule: Chloe Never Has To Do Anything She Doesn't Want To. But the look would come and go still. This winter, however, the look has GONE! Whenever I look at Chloe, she has a contented, curious, smiley, sometimes impish, expression on her face. When I feed the horses, Chloe is the last, and we run together towards her bucket, Chloe tossing her head at me, her upper lip stretching forward in a playful expression.

I've started feeding Equipride in buckets in the morning. The horses like it, but they wish it was Real Food, and they won't each settle down to their own portion until they've checked out everyone else's bucket to make sure it doesn't contain something more delicious. Because of this instability, Chloe was ending up on the perimeter, afraid to sneak in to any of the buckets. So yesterday, I stayed to guard her while she ate.

Chloe is very wise. Normally she moves away from the approach of another horse, even if I'm there, but yesterday she must have decided it was time for me to move to the Next Level, and she kept eating when Bridget came over expecting to move Chloe off her bucket. Bridget found me barring the way. She was unwilling to believe this and tried to barge past me, first on one side and then the other. Frustration mounted, and she even reared up a little. Meanwhile, Chloe is munching peacefully a few feet away. Finally Bridget came to a stop and just looked at me. After a while, I went over to talk to her, and we chatted quietly until Chloe was done eating.

Today, Chloe knew the drill. Bridget and Rose left their buckets almost immediately after being served and started following me and Chloe towards Chloe's bucket. This would usually be enough to send Chloe away, but she knew what we were going to do and she went confidently to her bucket while I fended the others off. Rose left right away, while Bridget stopped a few feet off and looked at me for a couple of moments, before turning and walking back to her own food. George came over after finishing his and waited at a little distance. Chloe was satisfied before her portion was all eaten; she walked off, and I then invited George over to her bucket to eat the rest.

This was a very useful exercise for me, as it gave me a real reason for asserting myself to Bridget. She is very smart and good-natured, and once she saw that I was in earnest about defending Chloe, she was a good sport about it. If I had introduced an artificial scenario to "practice" asserting myself, it would not have had nearly the clarity of this real-life situation.

I practiced some tricks with Chloe yesterday. She is now extravagant with her gestures when "shaking hands" or putting her foot up on my knee.

Here's something I've been wondering about: Bridget is very curious about my hands. She's always nibbling and mouthing at them. I wonder if it's because she sees that I can do all sorts of things with my hands and wonders how it's done. She tries to imitate what I do sometimes, and perhaps she's aware that her "hands" can't do all the things mine do. She's not after treats, as I rarely have treats.

Despite my not "doing" much with the horses over this winter, it seems that we've all taken strides in the right direction. And .... I was very excited to meet with my horsey friend the other day (George's former owner), who says she is coming around to a different way of thinking about things - a more Spilkery kind of way. Hurrah!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Letting off Steam and More Fun with the Wheelbarrow

Maire recently wrote an interesting post about an incident where something triggered anxiety in her gelding. His response was to buck his rider off and gallop away in a panic. In processing this incident, Maire felt that if a horse in this state of mind is restrained, the inability to release stress can cause panic and ultimately affect the horse's mental health. There needs to be a way for the horse to safely discharge the emotion.

This ties in with something I've noticed with George. When I bring the feed into the pasture at dinnertime, George is very polite about not crowding me and not trying to get at the food until I've scooped it into his bucket. However, on very cold days when George is extra-hungry, it's all a bit too much for him. On those occasions, he will vehemently charge at the nearest mare and see her off, before returning to my side, his good-boy manners restored. He has figured out how to release his frustration without frightening me.

Yesterday, Bridget and I were hanging out in the pasture. I decided to work on some proto-dressagey type stuff. Bridget stuck to me for a good half-hour as I tinkered with her, asking her to bring her head towards me, to put her leg under her, to pay attention to her shoulders and so on. I did all this without a rope or halter, and she was free to stay or go as she chose. She chose to stay, except at one point - knowing I was trying to communicate something and not knowing what that was - she felt a little frustrated, and spying the dog sitting nearby, she ran at him - something I've never seen her do before. The dog was alarmed, but Bridget was clearly restored to good humor, and she walked back to me to resume our mysterious activities.

If she had been restrained - unable to leave because I was holding her by a rope and wouldn't let her go - I doubt very much if she would have been able to resolve the issue to her satisfaction and resume working so willingly. Imke Spilker talks about the horse's willingness to work voluntarily - what a priceless thing that is, and all too easily damaged.

When I was "working" with Bridget (in quotes because I'm a neophyte when it comes to this new way of working and am feeling my way forward like a toddler learning to walk), I had a stick which I used to point to and touch different parts of her body. She reacted instantly to each touch - turning to look, raising a leg, twitching. Sometimes Bridget wanted to hold the stick. I avoided trying to control her head, as she resists that. We are trying to find ways of communicating, things to practice, a modus operandi. It's ok for me not to know exactly what I'm doing, because Bridget is free to express her opinion. We can take the time to work it out, because Bridget is willing to stick around while we do. Spilker says that horses are very interested in movement - so I hope that by working on movement, we are doing something she finds rewarding.

Something she definitely finds rewarding is playing with the wheelbarrow. After our "practice," I did some more manure-shifting, and once again Miss Bridget wanted to help.

Here she has tipped the barrow towards her.
But the manure doesn't spill out when you tip it that way. Bridget knows it's supposed to tip sideways, and she got a little sad when she couldn't figure out right away how to do that. So she walked away. After a few moments, she turned around and saw me still standing by the wheelbarrow, waiting. She walked back over and tried some more.

That's how it's done!
Then she wanted to work on setting it upright again.

She got a little sad again when she couldn't manage and stood looking sleepy for a few moments. Then she got back to work.

After her success, she amused herself by rocking the barrow towards herself, chewing the rim, letting it go, and rocking towards herself again.

I used my foot to rock the barrow forward, by stepping on the handle and pushing it to the ground. Whenever I let it go, Bridget nudged my boot to get me to do it again.

Finally, Bridget went back to join the others at the pile of hay. But she'd sacrificed a lot of good eating time on a cold and hungry day to participate with me in our joint ventures.