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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Two More Sketches, Questions, and a Very Important Donkey

One is a three-year old pretty buckskin QH mare. Last time I trimmed her, she was headstrong and restless at first but settled down. This time - fatter, sleeker, and sleepier than she had been back in the cold of January - she was calm. But she was not especially cooperative about giving me her feet or letting me keep them. I found her personality to be elusive. She was quite friendly to me, but her mind was elsewhere. She prefers her owner's husband to her owner and in general, they told me, likes men better than women. The owner, as is - I find - the way of owners, kept blaming the mare for being difficult while I was trimming. I always take a much more tolerant attitude than the owners do.

The other, her pasture mate and best pal, is a twenty-something TWH gelding - dark dappled palomino, handsome, noble and gracious. He has some forefeet issues from past laminitis and abscesses. I could also hear creaking as he moved. All this undoubtedly makes it difficult for him to bend his joints and to stand on three legs. However, he was extremely cooperative, despite having to be given multiple breaks and changes of position. I told him, as I usually do, that he was free to have his leg back any time he wanted as long as he asked politely. I was working on his LF when he asked for it back. I hesitated, thinking to myself that I was almost done and that he could wait a moment longer. At that point, he reached around and touched me ever so gently with his nose. A please! How could I refuse a please?! So of course I put his foot down. I told him that, likewise, if I said please, he should also give me what I wanted. And I swear from then on he wouldn't pick up his foot unless I first said, "Please."

Despite the gelding having "worse" feet than the mare, I felt that it was easier for him to actually pick his feet up than she did. I felt with the mare something which I feel with Rose - that when you ask them to pick up a foot, there has to first be this major readjustment of balance, whereby the weight has to be removed from the leg in question, taken up into some kind of re-distribution center, and then re-allocated to the other three legs. You can almost feel the whirring of cogs and pulleys going on inside. The gelding had stiff joints and sore feet, but you felt that when you asked for a foot, there only had to be a minor adjustment, that his weight was already pretty well balanced and that it wasn't such a big deal to shift it off of one leg. Or should I say, rather, that his balance and weight were both stable and fluid - able to be solid, but at the same time able to adjust. Whereas with the mare, she had to first undo one fixed position in order to arrange herself into the next fixed position.

Which brings me to my first question:

1)  Is this something to do with core strength? With the gelding, you could feel a center of command, as it were, a tight core where he was in some sort of kung fu balance, able to go this way or that way without much ado. Almost like an anti-gravity device. With the mare, you felt like her weight was falling, and that she had to brace herself against gravity, and that this had to be elaborately unlocked before she could re-adjust, that there was no center - only four corners.

which brings me to my second question:

2)  What's a good way to strengthen a horse's core?

and to my third:

3)  I do come across horses who are - whatever, I don't know, but they just really don't care to cooperate for very long. Often dominant geldings. I know such horses will eventually come around, and I don't worry about it, and sometimes - like with the mini the other day - I end up saying, "Just suck it up!" This mare, now - she seemed at first to be of this ilk. However, her difficulties with balance ultimately made me doubt it. True, the more dominant the horse (in my limited experience), the less likely he/she will agree to suffer discomfort and difficulty just because you (especially if you're a stranger) ask.  If she were less dominant, she might have struggled more to accommodate me. But that doesn't mean she wasn't genuinely having difficulties. So, what's my question? Um. I guess my question is something like: How far do you go with patience? And if there's a case for getting a little tough (which sometimes helps with the tough guys), how do you know when it's the time? (By tough, I don't mean punitive - just trying to be a little more like John Wayne and a little less like Mary Poppins, although come to think of it, she was pretty tough herself.)

And my fourth question:

4)  Should I ever "coach" the owners? I realize I pay lots of attention to the horse and almost none to the owner, except for keeping up some chat with them. But here's what I hear a lot of: "Steady now!" "Behave!" "Whoa!" "Stop that!" etc. And most of this is in response to stuff the horse is doing which doesn't bother me in the slightest. Like if the horse takes his foot back politely. Or if the horse chews my hair. Or wants to see what's in my bucket. Sometimes the owner will get the horse on a very short rope and hold on for dear life. Which isn't necessary (except sometimes for naughty minis it works a treat). And when I know the horse is really struggling to cooperate and is suffering from discomfort, I feel it isn't very polite to be all whoa!-ing and steadynow!-ing. I mean, the horse is already really trying - there's no need to lecture them. I do point this out to the owners and defend the horses, but I'm wondering if I should explicitly ask for things more often - e.g. "Could you hold the horse on a loose rein please?" "Could you scratch the horse's neck while his foot is on the stand?" "Could you please refrain from calling your horse names????" That's one of the most important things I learned from John Lyons: never call your horse names - e.g. stupid, stubborn, annoying, having a bad attitude, etc. Although (you'll notice) I haven't given up the practice altogether ... well, I mean, "naughty" is a cute thing to be, right?

A couple of months ago I was trimming the cutest, most adorable yearling mini you ever did see, and the owner thought we could keep him occupied grazing while we worked. But it just made him distracted and impatient. So I finally suggested that we should stop him from grazing and just be very direct about what we wanted, and ask him to please stand still while he was getting his hoofs trimmed. And it was no big deal, and he understood and acted like a pro. And once or twice I've asked people to scratch their horses while I'm working and to stop when the horse takes its foot away.  And I have become much more bold and explicit about stating that I expect to elicit the horse's cooperation and don't want to employ any coercion. But I'm thinking I should be more sensitive to the interactions going on between horse and owner. After all, that's the person the horse knows best and from whom presumably the horse takes a lot of cues.

And here is a non sequitur - free advice from me to you:

When I'm actually trimming, I know I should pay attention to how I'm bending over, and make sure I'm doing it correctly so that I don't hurt myself. But do I? Of course not! Ninety percent of the time I forget because I'm just trying to get the job done. So here's what I've found - if I regularly practice bending over at times when I'm not trimming and have nothing else on my mind, then the benefit rolls over into the times when I am trimming. I find my body develops a sort of muscle memory and can unconsciously produce the good posture even when I'm not paying attention. And then it helps to consciously remember whenever possible too.

All right, and because there's been no photos on this blog for too long, here is something I would like to share:

Photos by Pam Foster

This is Skeeter with some of his friends. They live in a magic land in Louisiana. The puppies were abandoned in a cardboard box by an evil sorcerer and rescued by a good fairy. If you'd like to adopt one of them, let me know. And please feel free to "like" the FB page Skeeter for President!


  1. I'm the same with letting a horse have his foot back if he asks politely.

    I have also been caught out many times when a normally polite horse starts to be quite insistent with the hind leg, only to have me hold onto him - and end up either just missing or having poo land on my head.

    As for coaching the owners' horse handling skills - I don't do it. It can offend people, even of you are super polite.

    1. Yes, I'm sure you're right. I'd probably be slightly offended (even if I tried not to be) if someone coached me on handling my horse, unless I asked first.

      I've had the same experience with the poop! (Well, not the landing on head part)