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

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.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Asking Permission

Charlie is 40 years old. He has his own life, in the deep woods with the goats and the rabbits and the chickens. People come and go occasionally; they bring him food and sometimes trouble him with bothersome things like fly spray or hoof trimming. His owner, now a college student who has had him since she was in elementary school, is the only one he likes.

His feet have improved a lot since the first time I saw him. Yesterday was my third visit. His little feet have become rock hard in the dry weather, and the nippers struggled to break through. His behavior  has improved a lot also, and yesterday I had with me a mini hoof stand (loaned to me by another client), and sometimes Charlie stood like a little angel with his hoof resting on the sling.

But, as I said, Charlie lives in his own world, and sometimes he just wants to get back to it in mid-trim. If it gets a little hard to balance, or if there's too much leverage while I'm nippering, or if it's going on too long, Charlie says, "I'm outta here!" Not mean, not aggressive - just claiming his freedom.

I came armed with carrots this time, which Charlie took happily. His lack of regular human interaction was, I think, evidenced by the fact that he's not very good at taking treats without taking a bit of hand also. With my own horses, I've gotten quite careless about treats, because they're so careful to not nip flesh while taking even a tiny morsel from your hand.

Having experienced the kicking banshees the other day, I appreciated - for the first time - Charlie's restraint in not kicking. He rears or moves away, but he never kicks or bites (except when mistaking fingers for carrots).

So, here's a little horse who keeps his own counsel, who values his liberty, who doesn't have much use for humans, and yet who remains calm and restrained while being bothered and beset by them.

So, as we were getting near the end of the trim, and Charlie was getting fed up with me taking his hind leg and kept moving away, I thought I'd better properly ask permission. Not just be polite and tactful about asking him to pick up his foot but asking permission to approach at all.

He stood a few feet away, his owner holding him. I stood a moment then moved half a step toward him. He flinched away. I moved back. Again, I took a tiny step forward, and again he pulled back. I backed off. About five or six times he moved away at my approach, and each time I retreated. But then, on the last attempt, he stayed still and allowed me to come in and pick up his foot, and I finished trimming.

All of which tells me that Charlie's objections to trimming are not so much due to specific discomfort (although I'm sure he suffers some of that) but more to being manhandled and pushed around. And it's a good reminder to me that really asking permission is not just a formulaic thing but has to have real consequences - such as not going ahead if the answer is no.

I believe there are horses from whom it is sometimes best not to ask permission - with whom it's best to be polite but firm. Some horses (like people) need one approach one day and a different approach the next. It can be hard to figure out who is which when - the way to find out is to listen. The real challenge is to stay listening and stay in the moment.

I just finished reading Moses by Sholem Asch. The sages have it that Moses was condemned to never reach the Promised Land not because he was disobedient, but because he was too harsh when he struck the rock (Numbers 20, 2-13). Asch's interpretation is that Moses was angry - not with the generation of Israelites before him, who were just thirsty - but with the previous, more obdurate, generation, allowing his frustration from those days to color his experience of the present. There were times when the Lord himself was angry with the Israelites, and Moses had to plead for them. This was a time when Moses allowed his own anger to eclipse the Lord's forbearance. I've started to notice how often my behavior is rigid and formulaic, based on past assumptions or on things I've heard only at second-hand. I'm not sure I'm really ready for the freedom to grasp each moment as it comes. But I really want to make it to the Promised Land.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Donkeys Are Not Like Other People

My experience with donkeys has been limited - but significant.

The first equid I ever rode was Josephine the Donkey, who lived at a nearby riding school. She possessed a wicker basket chair, which was strapped sidesaddle onto her back, and upon this splendid perch I was taken for weekly leadline rides.

There came a day when, on arrival at the stables, I was told that the wicker chair had "broken" and therefore it was time for me to graduate to riding ponies .... astride. I believe now - with the cynical wisdom of years - that the damaged chair was a fiction designed to push me ahead in my riding career. I was never one to be pushed ahead, having clearly demonstrated this by being the last child in Kindergarten to give up using Cuisenaire rods for sums.

My memory goes blank at this point and resumes at about age 7 on the fateful day of another forced "graduation." I was told that I could no longer go round and round the yard on (if I recall correctly) William, as William was "lame" today. Instead I had to go out on the road on another pony. The mare, whose rider was holding said pony's leadline, was rather mare-ish that day and as we were heading down the open road, turned and kicked my pony broadside. He promptly took off at a gallop down the road, and I - who had never gone faster than a walk - went sailing through the air.

I am sure that Josephine, kick or no kick, would never have behaved in such an irresponsible fashion.

The next donkey was Edward. Edward and I both worked at a pony stud farm - I, for a short time, as a "girl groom" and Edward as nanny to the three pony studs, who took turns being out in the pasture with him. Edward brooked no nonsense from the stallions, kicking them into submission if they ever became stroppy or disobedient. A very wise donkey, was Edward.

A donkey whom I never met, but whose reputation brings honor to the donkey species, belonged to a friend of mine. My friend thought that it would be a good idea to practice John Lyons techniques with her donkey and decided to do round-pen work. The donkey quickly realized that the woman's aim was to move her feet. Naturally, the thing for any self-respecting donkey to do under such circumstances is to go to the middle of the pen, lie down on her back, and stick all four legs straight up in the air. My friend admitted defeat and let the donkey go live somewhere else with some other donkeys, which she'd wanted all along.

The next Very Important Donkey is, of course, Skeeter. Skeeter lives in Louisiana with Bubba Earl and the other critters. I have linked to him before, and suffice it to say that his intelligence, good looks, moral values, charisma, and political aspirations are legendary. If you wish, you may check out his Facebook page.

So, naturally I was very excited when I was called out to a new hoof trimming client who has four ponies and a donkey.

The owner called me because her former farrier was of the old-fashioned persuasion which holds that unruly ponies and donkeys should be smacked and have their ears pinched. Apparently the whole household used to work themselves into a state of emotional distress every time the farrier was expected. In anticipation of my arrival on the designated day, the owner put halters on everyone and brought out the mini hoof jack. So of course the herd was all, like, "Oh no! It's happening again!"

Once the ponies realized I wasn't going to bite them, they were pretty nice about letting me do their front feet. However, the former farrier must've done something weird with their hind legs, because they all over-reacted in the same way when I went to pick up their hind feet: they raised their feet way high in the air, shoved them to the side, waved them, and - in three cases (one of whom was the donkey) - kicked like banshees. (Do  banshees kick? If they do, I bet they kick like that.) However, by dint of refusing-to-give-up and refusing-to-get-mad, we managed to finish the ponies' hinds as well.

Not the donkey. She said, "I don't know who on earth you are. You seem like a reasonably polite person, so you may do my front feet, but there is no @#*!% way I'm letting you have my hind legs." I believe she did in fact use the word @#*!%.

I finally said to the owner that we should quit. After all, the idea was to reassure the ponies and donkey that they were now under a new regime. If we were well-behaved this time, hopefully the donkey would remember and next time might be more cooperative. So I lowered my expectations and achieved the goal of having Donkey let me pick up each hind foot for a moment and set it down gently.

They say donkeys can be stubborn. All I have to say about that is that when I tried to move this donkey, it was rather like trying to move a tree.

The owner apologized for her, but really, you had to respect her determination and her refusal to be oppressed. I managed to flatter/cajole/dominate the ponies. But the donkey was immune to all that. I think she was waiting to judge me on the basis of whether or not my behavior was appropriate. I hope I passed the test.

I've posted it before, and I'm posting it again. Here is Skeeter:

Photo by P. Foster

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hoof Clues

A pretty, rangy, blue-eyed, kind, paint mare, about 15 years old and about 15 hands high. Living on a well-drained grassy pasture, after coming off a muddy wet one a month or two ago.

When I first meet her, she stands with her RF parked way out in front. This is puzzling, as closer examination shows that her toes, while long, are not spectacularly so, and the laminae are hardly stretched. In fact, her hoofs are very nicely worn, considering she had been living on soft ground for a year without trimming.

All four heels have deep fissures between the bulbs. The heels are not contracted, but the temporary owner tells me that the mare had thrush in her frogs when she first came off the wet ground. After aggressive treatment with a hoof pick and bleach, the frogs cleared up nicely and are now dry and clean. However, the hoof fissures remain. A close-up sniff reveals a bad smell. So - given that heel fungus can be painful - why is the mare weighting that RF heel, rather than the toe?

The mare is helpful and stands pretty well despite having difficulty distributing her weight on three not-so-happy hoofs.

Finally, I notice a slight bruise about two inches up on her RF toe wall. Aha. The owner had told me that the mare had been ridden for over an hour a day or two ago. I imagine the length of toe, combined with a workout, was enough to cause leveraging and bruising.

After trimming, the mare stands much straighter. I feel there is more toe that could come off and that there is probably some false sole present. But I'm not a big believer in trying to do it all in one go.

I ask the owner to walk the mare out. Despite her toes being much shorter, she walks with one of the most definite toe-first landings I've encountered. Aha again. The heel fungus is probably painful, causing her to deliberately land toe first. Which, with her long toe, would have exacerbated the leveraging in her hoof wall when she was being exercised - hence the bruise. In movement, the heel pain possibly trumps the toe pain, while at rest, the toe pain is worse.

I recommend that the owner resume treatment with the bleach solution, pouring directly into the fissures. If there's no rapid improvement, she should switch to a mixture of human antibiotic ointment and human athlete's foot ointment, applied into the fissure with a Q-tip. And go easy on the exercise.

Here's what I wish I'd thought to point out to the owner: this is maybe why the mare bucked at first when she was being exercised the other day.