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

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Good Morning

My twin daughters graduated from college last weekend. One of them returned home with us for the summer, and yesterday - her first morning back - she was awakened by someone knocking on the window. That someone was George.

So she got up and sat on the kitchen steps, sharing an apple with the horses. After that she thought it would be nice to have a little pyjama ride on George. She added a helmet and a pair of boots to her ensemble, while I fetched the halter and leadrope. I was getting ready to give her a leg-up, when George backed away.

My daughter, who works with children a lot, spoke to George in what she calls her soothing voice: "Would  it be ok, George, if I had a little tiny ride - just while you eat grass? Could I just climb up for a little bit - maybe just two or three minutes - would that be ok?"

We tried again, and George stood quite still. My daughter said, "I guess we just had to ask nicely." True.

George was a little confused at first. There's someone on my back, but we're not doing anything - what's up with that? Then he cottoned on that we just wanted to hang out while he grazed. And he puttered about while my daughter lolled on his back.

At one point he went to investigate the electric strand on the fence. I've noticed before that he'll check it out with his lips to see if it's on. This was the first time I witnessed him discover that it was on. He was only a little startled.

My daughter, who had been feeling rather blue at the closing of her halcyon college days, said, "You can't get up in the morning and ride a horse at college." So, good job, George.

Time to get up, young lady!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Inspired by Maire and Ben, I decided to have another go at some clicker "training." I put the word in quotes as it's a rather fancy-sounding word, implying all kinds of fancy results. In my case, it would be more accurate to describe it as clicker-messing-about.

Anyway, I loaded up with some chopped apple and headed out to find George. We've done a little of this in the past, but for one reason or another, I haven't pursued it. Today, I practiced having him be polite-while-knowing-I-have-treats - and then clicking and treating.

After a while, I started working with backing up. George will back up up when you lean forward, point at him, and whisper, "Back." So I just added the click-and-treat. But George doesn't like backing up very much, and after a treat or two, he'd get a bit sad and say, "Well, it's just not really worth it" and wander off.

This was ok, because 1) he learned that he could leave when he wanted, and 2) when George walked off, Bridget would present herself, saying, "I don't know what's the matter with him - I'll walk backwards all day for you if you keep the apple coming." But of course Bridget is a princess and can do silly things for the humans without losing self-esteem. Noblesse oblige.

Then I thought - why should we work on a behavior which goes against the grain? Why not work toward establishing an understanding of clickering by working on an enjoyable behavior?

So I worked on kissing to George and having him walk towards me. This went much better, as he didn't get sick of it. Sometimes he came over and parked me near his hip (presumably hoping for a scratch), but I wouldn't give him the treat until his head was somewhere near me. He stayed relaxed and engaged. 

I wouldn't normally want to keep asking him to do the same thing over and over just to practice. It's not so much that the treats function as bribery - more like they make it into a game, so that it's not boring or demeaning to keep on repeating the same exercise. And I think repetition could be helpful in order to establish a certain reliability of response to cues, rather than always relying on the moment-by-moment mutual responsiveness which we have at present. I am grateful for this - but it might be nice to be able to say "ho" and have the horse reliably stop.

To a Daisy

My son-in-law (who sometimes reads, and has appeared in, this blog) recently sent me a book called Animals and Christianity: a book of readings. In an essay by Edward Quinn, there is quoted this poem by Alice Meynell, which could, with a few adjustments, equally be titled "To a Horse."

To a Daisy

Slight as thou art, thou art enough to hide
Like all created things, secrets from me,
And stand a barrier to eternity.
And I, how can I praise thee well and wide,
From where I dwell--upon the hither side?
Thou little veil for so great mystery,
When shall I penetrate all things and thee,
And then look back? For this I must abide,
Till thou shalt grow and fold and be unfurled
Literally between me and the world.
Then I shall drink from in beneath a spring,
And from a poet's side shall read his book.
O daisy mine, what will it be to look
From God's side even of such a simple thing?

And then Quinn finishes his essay thus:
Shall we understand even better the lovableness of the animals we have comforted in the present world and grasp the mystery of the wild glare in the eyes of those we could not tame? If we are to see the tiger's Creator, shall we not also penetrate the distant deeps and skies, the forests of the night, and face without fear the burning eyes of the creature now forever free?

Animals and Christianity: a book of readings, ed. Andrew Linzey and Tom Regan. New York. 1988.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The High Chaperone

George and Bridget's relationship is still very iffy. There has been considerable rapprochement of late, and the two of them can share the same, oh about, 15-foot-radius space in peace (especially if Rose is there too), but there's no companionable touching - only the occasional nip (from George) or kick (from Bridget). And of course Bridget still fears George's outbursts, his I'm-in-charge-and-you-will-move-NOW attacks.

This evening, I went out to spend time in the pasture with the horses. I climbed onto the trunk of a fallen tree, giving me a comfortable perch about four feet off the ground.

The horses followed. Here is Bridget investigating.

George came over too, and pretty soon he and Bridget had stationed themselves, one on each side of their elevated chaperone, and proceeded to cautiously work their way towards each other, all the while pretending to be only interested in sniffing the bark or chewing my shoelaces.

They nibbled the grass still clinging to the roots of the tree, chewed on the dirt, pulled at my shoes, pawed the ground, inched their noses close to each other, retreated, and sometimes George snuck around behind me and reached over the tree trunk towards Bridget. Everything was very quiet and tentative, except for one moment of scuffle when George reached over the tree trunk and tried to bite Bridget. Then he decided to have a little rest.

I'm just going to stand here, k?

Here is Bridget trying to climb up with me

The upended roots are providing a safety barrier between them.

Finally George turned away from Bridget and stationed himself lengthwise along the tree trunk, parking his butt where I could conveniently scratch it.

(My new camera phone is not good, especially in poor light.)
Here are two pictures I took earlier today, which have no particular story attached to them, but I just kindof like them.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Riding George

I still haven't quite figured out how this goes. The power-sharing thing, that is. George hasn't figured it out either.

If I say stop, and George says go, that's not ok. I guess. If I say go, and George says no, that is ok. I'm sure of that. We can just wait. If I say go this way, and George says, let's go that way, that might be fine. If I say go forward, and George says go back, that's ok-but-not-ok - in other words, I'll let him go back, but with an expectation that it's temporary.

It's ok to eat, but mostly that should happen when I decide. Mostly. If George decides to trot, that's fine, but he has to let me control the speed.

On Sunday, I felt like going for a ride. So, as is my new custom, I announced my intention by fetching out a saddle and hanging it on the gate; I then waited to see who would come over. Well, they all came, and I think they were actually hoping that I'd let them out to play in the yard. However, George touched the saddle with his nose, which is the signal for "Take me out and let's tack up!" It is highly likely that George didn't in fact know that this signifies any such thing, but if he'd objected to being tacked up, I'd've put him back in the field. In fact, he was a little angel, and didn't even make a face when I did up the girth.

I got my daughter to stand by his head while I hopped up onto his back with my newfound agility. (Some day I'll tell you about that.) George decided to go down the drive, and I agreed. At the end of the drive, there was a period of discussion, involving me saying, "Let's go," and George demurring. However, I waited, and pretty soon he decided to set off.

Once in motion, he got quite keen and even wanted to trot away from home down the farm lane. There were a lot of things to look at and wonder about, but he stayed with me. We had a couple of bounces and frights on the way back, what with the crazy mares running around the field, and the lawnmower, and such, but nothing too unsettling.

The thing I see with George is that he does not have an expectation that I'm going to be saying much to him, other than in very broad terms - stop/go/left/right. Whereas with Rose already, who is much "greener," I can feel an awareness from her that I might be communicating on a more subtle level - communicating things about her body and movement, input which she might consider taking into account.  I rode George with the bitless bridle, and I think he actually prefers the bit. He's never minded putting it on, and the wider straps of the bitless were causing him to want to scratch his head a lot. Perhaps he'd be more in listening mode if he were wearing the bit.

When we returned home, I was able to tell my daughter that George had been very nice. I reflected that there was a time when such a ride might have resulted in my saying that the horse had been annoying or difficult. But each time we had a difference of opinion, neither of us became irritated or fearful or resistant, and so I was able to truthfully say that George had been nice. Which he was.