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

Monday, March 19, 2012

Saddle Up

Yesterday, when I got bored scratching Bridget, I decided to go to the barn and fetch out the saddle. Bridget followed me, but when she saw me re-appearing around the corner with an armload of rattly, clattery tack, she was startled and skittered off to join the other horses.

I walked across the field, hung the saddle on the gate, and went into the kitchen to cut up carrots. I'd decided only to do something with the saddle if someone showed an interest. I looked up from chopping carrots and through the window I saw Bridget, having crossed the field and knocked the saddle off the gate, pawing at it as it lay on the ground. I stuffed the carrots into my pocket and scurried out to join her before the saddle met an untimely doom.

Having ascertained that Bridget was in fact interested in the saddle today, I resorted to the un-pc step of tying her to the fence. It would be nice to tack up at liberty, but lacking a smaller space like a picadero or round pen, it's easier to tie her up, and if she's already signaled her interest, I reckon it's ok. As time goes by, I feel less conflicted about stuff like this, as I become clearer in my mind that my intention is not to force her into the venture, but to use tying (or whatever) as a convenience. If she says, "No," I can, after all, untie her.

Anyway, she was quite fine with the saddle going on. I gave her treats liberally. It's amazing to me how quickly they catch on about not grabbing treats if you just use your words (or your clear intention) and tell them. It only took a couple of tries before Bridget learned to quiet herself when a treat appeared and wait until I gave it to her. We wandered down the drive, stirrups flapping, and she grazed a bit. Then my daughter called, needing to be picked up. For fun, we charged full-tilt back up the drive, with me whooping my best rebel yell as we ran, and Bridget keeping stride enthusiastically, moderating her pace to suit my elderly, bipedal version of a mad dash.

I took the saddle off. Bridget was not happy about this. She walked over to where the saddle was laying next to the kitchen steps and pawed at it. Here she is saying, "What do you mean we're done? We only just got started."

Today, while she was waiting for me to come to the field, Bridget thought maybe she could climb out over the gate. She put one foreleg on one of the bars of the gate and then put the other foreleg on the second highest bar. She stood there hindlegs on the ground, forelegs on the gate, obviously pondering her options. I think she must have recognized that there was no obvious way her hindlegs could follow along and further her prospects of egress. Or it could be that she was trying to use her "hands" to open the gate, as she sees me do. What a girl.

The other day she had another psychic episode. The always-rewarding Journal of Ravenseyrie has a new link to another interesting blog, Horses and Humans, which has a link to these cool Youtube videos by Eva Roematt. The horse in these videos performs a gesture where he sticks one or other of his forelegs horizontally out in front, and he also executes a bow, where he stretches both forelegs out in front of him, lowering his chest, and bowing his head down to the ground. Shortly after watching these videos, I was out in the field with Bridget, and - in quick succession - she did both of these moves. She's always very expressive with her forelegs, but she'd never so explicitly stuck them straight out in front before. More striking was her bow, which is not something she's done before. Sometimes it's a little freaky.

I know what all y'all are thinking.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Good Morning's Work

Golly, but horses love a project. When I was out trimming this morning, they all wanted to cluster around and participate. When I took a break, they followed me, as if saying, "What are we going to do now?" And when I finally finished and sat down on the grass, tired out from the unseasonable heat, they stood close by, dozing.

I'd decided that today I was going to trim Bridget, but as I drove home from mass this morning, I was aware of not feeling great at the prospect. There were two parts (at least) to this, and the first part I figured out pretty quickly. My plan had been to bring Bridget out of the pasture for trimming, and - in turn - anyone else I got around to doing. This plan was flawed: firstly, the extracting of each individual would involve several steps and a lot of patience. Secondly, whoever was being extracted would assume that I was going to put them in the field across the drive to eat. So I resolved instead to trim inside the field, putting some hay in a net for the trimmee, and some on the ground for the others. This plan made me feel better.

As I was setting things up, the second part of my discomfort became apparent. It's got something to do with me feeling too apologetic sometimes, or just not going for what I want. A feeling of swimming against the current or eating jello with a fork, I don't know what to call it, but I could feel it, and - feeling it - I could somehow fix it. I decided to be determined and unapologetic and to just, well, Git 'R Done.

And we did! All 16 feet in record time, and the horses all behaved like little angels.

George volunteered first, and he has never been so good about getting his feet done. Next Bridget came up to volunteer. She gave me cause to remember how important it is - even while Being Determined - to respect the horse's no. On one occasion I was fiddling with some last details on Bridget's RF. and she kept taking it away. I was beginning to get a little irritated when I noticed that she was waggling her RH in the air. No worries! Why should I insist on her RF, when she was so eager for me to work on her RH?! Also, when she - or one of the other mares - became a little restless and uncooperative, it was usually because another horse was inching into their space a little too closely for comfort. It was helpful for me to be notified of this, so that I could shoo the other horse away and prevent an Incident.

And talking of shooing away - as I wrote the other day, George and I have moved on to a new phase in our relationship. One characteristic of this new phase, I discovered today, is that I can shoo him away without making him angsty and without being stern. I had a handy branch beside me at the ready, and waved it at him whenever he crept too close. And he would back up, looking at me with an expression that seemed to convey a sense of humor. It reminded me of something like as if I were mixing up a batch of cookies and my husband - or one of the kids - kept stealing bits of the cookie dough to eat. And if I chased them away by waving the spoon at them, or even play-whacking them with the spoon, nobody would be upset or angry, but they would still back off, because they knew I really wanted them to. And that's how it was with George.

And sometimes he picked up the stick and waved it at me.

Can you see the humor in his expression? This is new!
It's taken George and I almost three years to begin to find a mutual sense of humor - patience, anyone?

And then here's something else he did - I'd finished trimming Bridget and was brushing her, when up sidled George. And Bridget didn't move away, so clearly there was something in his demeanor which signaled peace. And he moved into our space, with a sweet expression on his face, and there we three stood, with nobody making a fuss.

When it was time to trim Rose, she walked away from me, driving Chloe in front of her. I followed, and she kept walking (not running) away. After maybe a minute, however, she stopped, turned to me, and put her nose out to the halter. That's the way it is with Rose - she's just a little suspicious at first. Maybe she's what KFH calls "The Sceptic." And then she was really nice about having her feet done, even leaving her foot resting on the stand while I walked away to fetch something.

And speaking of walking away to fetch somethings, that would be because those somethings were strewn all over the ground. Because I always start out with the best of intentions, with everything neatly attached to the magnet on the hoof jack or in the bucket, and then by the time I'm done, everything's been dropped in the mud and left all over the place. I always spray my tools liberally with WD40 when I'm done, in hopes of minimizing the damage.

After we were done, I let the horses out to play and eat in the yard. They were so nice today, it just put me in a really good mood.


I can't figure out how to upload photos from my new camera phone via the USB cable, and my Outlook Express won't accept text messages containing photos, although it always used to from my old phone. But I discovered gmail will let the messages in, so here is the photo I wanted to post last time of all four horses napping together:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

George and the Gang Move Forward

The other day, I thought I'd stick a saddle on George - first time in a while. As I went to pull the girth up underneath him on his right side, he gave an angry look and kicked up underneath him. This is the Old George.

But not really, cos I'm not exactly the Old June. I decided we didn't actually need to saddle up, so I just spent a little while asking him to let me put my hand on that oh-so-sensitive spot behind his right elbow at the girth. Then I let him eat grass.

I've been moving the horses into a different pasture on the other side of the drive every day and putting them back at night. The move back in the evening is easy - block off the driveway, open the gates, and put feed in their buckets - they come careening through and settle to eat. In the morning, though, I lead each one across individually, which affords a good opportunity for a little one-on-one conversation.

George and I have been working on Not Minding When June Touches the Funny Spot on his Right Side. The second day, when I put my hand there, George pinned his ears and kicked straight out behind him. This caused me to growl ferociously and stomp my feet. Whereupon George composed himself, relaxed, and stood serenely while I rubbed the funny spot.

This deliberate self-control is a new thing for George. I've seen him become resigned and just put up with stuff, but now it's almost as if he takes a deep breath, and tells himself: "It's ok."

A few more days of this, and yesterday I reached out (I always warn him first and tell him what we're doing) to touch the funny spot. I began scratching him there, and was taking my hand away, thinking that he'd done well and that was enough, when I saw that his neck was stretched forward, and his upper lip was twitching. So now he actually likes it! Shedding time is a good time to use scratching as a motivator.

George and I have also been working on backing up. We get real relaxed and make sure George's neck is loose, and then I just gently point at him and very softly and politely ask him to move back, and he steps back without tensing his neck. He's getting quite good at bending on a circle too (I think ... !)

Bridget and I have been working on what - if she were a dog - would be a "sit-stay," only she's a horse, and it's a "stand-stay." She gets it really well. She stands so alert, looking at me, like "Now can I move? How about now?" We practice it also when I'm visiting with Chloe and don't want Bridget to drive her away. Bridget and I have been working on Not Fixing Our Shoulder. This has been an abject failure so far.

Rose, on the other hand, totally gets the shoulder thing. I've also been working on kissing to her and having her turn towards me, even when her mind and eyes are leading her elsewhere. Rose really wants her own person, and as my oldest daughter is hopefully moving this summer to be only 1 1/2 hours away, maybe they could be a match. I've had hopes for my husband, but while he might enjoy the occasional ride, I can't see him going out into the field much to schmooze. This morning I was brushing Bridget, and Rose came to within a few feet and let it be known in her sweet subtle way that she would like to be brushed too. I fended off Bridget for a while, and Rose had a turn.

Chloe, I've been asking to back up - this is not something she generally approves of, and she does have a tendency to swing her hindquarters to the side as she goes, so as to not capitulate 100%. I mean, let's be fair, she's got to hold a little back for herself. But again, I'm trying to be super polite about it, and I think it's ok.

George and Bridget have finally begun to make contact without an intervening fence, and I've seen them standing quite close together. George and Rose continue to be comfortable with each other, even though George has given up his puppy-dog attachment. George and Chloe still have no contact, even when there's a gate in between. The other day, George reached over the gate to bite Chloe while she was on the leadrope, which made me yell at him. Which made him pause and become pensive - the New George.

Having backed off being bossy with George and Chloe for so long, I suddenly find that we're in a different place, and that I can start to insist on some things now. Between George and me, there used to be a certain fear and mistrust. This could only dissipate on the basis of my giving him huge amounts of leeway, except when I felt really pressured by him. I feel now that in some sense we're connected; when he becomes stressed or annoyed, I don't feel threatened, but feel as if I can be in that anxious space alongside him, sympathizing, but at the same time demanding a different kind of behavior.

Similarly, having long ago instituted the Chloe Rule - Chloe Never Has to Do Anything She Doesn't Want - which has made Chloe a much happier pony, I now find that I can take liberties again, and Chloe doesn't mind. For example, if she doesn't want to be caught and put back in the field, sometimes I jump up and down and whine like a petulant toddler - "Chlo-o-o-eee" - which makes her roll her eyes and come to me, going "Omg, fine, if that's what you want." Whereas for ages, I tried to be reeeeally tactful.

The other day I saw all four horses lying down together, which I've never seen before, as there's always at least one left standing guard. I don't know what made them all feel so relaxed, but it was a nice sight. I would post the photo I took, but my new camera phone is giving me fits.