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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lead, Kindly Chloe

                                               I loved to choose and see my path;
                                               But now lead Thou me on.
                                                                    John Henry Newman

                                               He may have his little thoughts.
                                                                    Celia, Middlemarch, Chapter 50

There is a tradition in Judaism which teaches that when Moshiach comes, the established order will be reversed. Instead of man being the head of woman, woman will be the head of man.
It is taught in Chassidic and Kabbalistic literature that the polarities of masculine and feminine will eventually invert. There will come a time, blessed and welcomed by all, when the feminine will have greater access to transcendent consciousness, and when she will bestow and man will receive from her.1                                                                      
In a world thus transformed, the body will no longer be subject to the head, but rather the body will become a conduit of light for the head. Material creation, presently distanced from the spiritual realm and dependent on receiving light indirectly, trickling down through more elevated levels, becomes instead directly connected to and inhabited by the source of light itself.
So Moshiach, who represents the ultimate fulfillment of Torah, himself rides the donkey of the material. For he heralds a world in which the material is no longer the lower or secondary element, but an utterly refined resource, no less central and significant a force for good than the most spiritual creation.2
And so it is with Chloe.

She stands by the fence, waiting to be let out. When she is released, her first order of business - before setting off to graze - is to load me up onto her back. Why? I don't know. Perhaps she's training me.

The other day, we had a party at our house, and two of the guests - little girls aged 6 and 8 - wanted pony rides. Chloe was reasonably gracious about allowing the little girls to sit on her back, but she made it quite clear that she was not going to cooperate with any such nonsense as being lead around in the direction of someone else's choosing. She wasn't cross, or mean, or anxious about it. She just said no. She always used to start by saying no back in the days when I would have insisted she obey, only in those days she would have been anxious and cranky. Nowadays when she says no, she just looks at me quite kindly as she refuses. And I say, "Ok, you're the boss." Well, sometimes first I say, "Oh, please, pretty please, couldn't you please, just this once ..." And then I give up.

The next day, the effrontery of my behavior towards her with the little girls apparently had not left too bad a taste in her mouth, because she put me on her back as usual. If I'm slow in getting up and she starts moving with me only half-way into position, she stops, waits, and starts again once I'm properly up.

I realize I just absolutely have to totally give up trying to make Chloe behave anything like a "normal" pony. When a little girl asks for a pony ride, I'll tell her that George (who has a mild, avuncular interest in being helpful with children and beginners) will oblige. But if the little girl insists on Chloe, I'll tell her she's welcome to ask Chloe for a piggyback ride, but that Chloe only goes where Chloe wants, and that's the way it should be.

I love letting Chloe be in charge. When I was little, my dreams of being on a horse did not consist of riding dressage exercises, or sailing over a round of jumps, or riding in the circus - I dreamed of being taken on the back of a magic horse to places I never knew about before.

Chloe waits by the fence.

1. Sarah Schneider, "Voice of the Bride," Moshiach101.com 
2.  "Moshiach's Donkey," Moshiach 101.com

Friday, August 24, 2012

Further Adventures with Chloe

After my little ride earlier today, I was out with Chloe again, and she seemed to express a desire for me to climb aboard. With which wish I dutifully complied.

After a few moments' reflection, she set off through a gate which I'd left open to the other pasture so that she could have access to water while out on the lawn. She stopped for a drink, turned to face the other side of the field, and thought some more.

I said, "Chloe, do whatever you want, as long as it doesn't involve any rapid changes of direction or fast speeds."

She headed down toward the creek. The horses always cross the creek (whether dry or muddy) at high speed, so when Chloe stopped at the edge of the mire to evaluate the situation, I slid off.

She immediately became very imperious and demanded that I get back on. How did she express this? She looked exasperated, and shoved me with her head. So I remounted.

After a few more minutes, during which time she listened to me explaining the extreme precariousness of my situation, she set off across the muddy creek. She speeded up a little, but not enough to make me lose my balance.

Up the hill on the other side. Where does Chloe want to go now? Aha. The shelter. So in we went, and I got off. I don't think she was frightfully pleased about me getting off, but it was ok, because I scratched her a lot, and she dozed.

After a while, I think we both were thinking it might be time to return. We weren't sure (at least I wasn't) if I should ride or not. As I seemed to be going in the direction of her choice, Chloe decided that she could just walk beside me.

At the creek, we both stopped and looked. Chloe came up right beside me to assess. I found two dry hummocks to place my feet on, and made it across semi-dry. Chloe followed.

She was ready to go back into the other pasture. After I let her in, she waited for me to come in with her. The other horses were out of sight, so I walked with her until she could see them, and then she was happy to set off towards them without me.

So - the ability to make someone get on your back gives you the ability to command the services of a built-in buddy, who will accompany you wherever you go when you want to set off by yourself away from the other horses.

Yee Haw

Driving home today, I hoped that Chloe would be by the gate so that I could let her out without the rest of the gang. As I turned in the drive, there she was, waiting by the gate. So I opened the gate, and out she came.

When I come out with treats to work on Chloe's tricks, she'll often walk away after a short while, or even before we've started. Today, I had no agenda and, leaving the groceries still in the car, I went over to crouch on the ground in front of Chloe.

She plonked a forefoot on top of my knee, which is one of her tricks. I expressed my appreciation, and then went to pick an apple off the tree for her. She ate it without much enthusiasm and walked off.

As I was starting to gather the groceries from the car, I saw that Chloe had stopped grazing and was parked in the middle of the driveway, apparently waiting.

I walked over, scratched her for a minute, and then stationed myself in mounting position. Chloe gave what I have come to recognize as her "up you get" signal, which is turning her head around and pointing at me with her nose.

So I kicked and flailed myself up onto her back. She is so small, there is no excuse for the kicking and flailing - I should be able to leap up like a gazelle; however, Chloe stood like a little Rock of Gibraltar throughout the process.

Once I was settled, she essayed a step. I wobbled precariously. She stopped. Another step, another wobble; she stopped again. Finally I was stable enough for her to set off towards a good grazing spot on the lawn. I sat comfortably while she ate.

So, what am I learning from Chloe?

I'm learning that tricks can be fun for horses too, and that perhaps they don't always want it to be a mercenary transaction - perhaps sometimes for them it can be that offering a reward takes the heart out of it.

I'm learning that having a plan is not always a good idea. But I'm also learning that sometimes a crazy plan can pop into your head and it might just be the right thing to do: Hey! You know what? I think I might just climb on top of this pony!

I'm learning the importance of trust. When I clamber onto Chloe's back, what allows me to do this is not training or practice but the fact that Chloe has decided to make it safe for me. The trust I feel in her far surpasses the trust I have in a horse whose training keeps it standing still.

I'm learning that "training" is a two-way street, but that, while the cues humans use are often arbitrary, horses state their meaning by simply using their words.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Finding a Balance

Sometimes it's hard to find a middle point between the two extremes of being confrontational and being a milktoast.

There are certain horses whom I find particularly challenging in this respect. Ahem, did I say "appaloosas"? Surely I wouldn't say something as racist as that?

Today, however, the challenging horse was not in fact an Appie but a buckskin Quarter Horse mare, about seven years old.

The owner has four horses and a donkey. She saved the buckskin mare for last, after the other equids had proven themselves to be gracious and cooperative. I was warned me that the buckskin was occasionally aggressive and often not cooperative and that I shouldn't worry if I couldn't get much done.

The owner was really nice to work with, because she knows all her horses very well and has a good relationship with each one, as well as helpful insight into both their character and their physical condition. It was no different with the "difficult" mare. The owner really loves her in spite of/because of  her strong-willed nature and was able to help me with her, rather than just standing there randomly saying "Whoa! Steady!" and apologizing for the horse - which is what some people do.

I think it was because of the very good relationship this mare has with her human (who understands and appreciates her character, while at the same time insisting on certain improvements in the behavior resulting from that character) that the horse was able to help me figure out how to "deal with" her.

It seemed that the following were good approaches to adopt:

1. not to be bossy or confrontational;

2.  not to be intimidated;

3.  to allow the mare to express a certain imperiousness - e.g. allowing her to snatch her leg away; but at the same time

4.  to keep asking for more help and cooperation;

5.  to ask and expect her to give me her leg of her own accord; and

6.  to remind her - if she forgot and became too engrossed with her haynet - that I was standing there waiting for her to pick up her foot.

By the time I was working on the hind legs, she was picking up her foot freely and leaving it on the stand.

The owner was relieved, as there have been some tussles in the past with this mare and the farrier.

As I drove away, I reflected that I felt it really was the horse who had been the instructor somehow, that she had firmly and kindly shown me how she wanted things done, and had rewarded me when I figured it out.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

And the Next Time ...

Yesterday, Bridget and I had another try at backing up. This time, things went a lot quicker, and she backed up almost immediately when I asked her, even when I repeated the request a second and third time.

After that, it was time to go for a walk. It was a beautiful day, my daughter accompanied us, and we set off along the road, turning up the lane toward the alpacas at Bridget's request. (I think she chose that route because it lead away from the sheep.)

A caravan of three scary farm vehicles - the kind which suck up corn and spew it out over their shoulders into giant wagon trailers - went by, and Bridget looked hard but didn't become anxious.

We stopped to chat with some neighbors on the way. Bridget always gets impatient when the grownups waste time talking. After a couple of minutes of perfunctory politeness to the new humans, she nudged me forward.

Bridget set a personal best in her distance-from-home-without-wanting-to-turn-around. We were a mile or more from home, approaching the alpaca farm, when Bridget decided it was time to turn around. Don't know what made her choose that spot, but she may have gotten wind of strange new creatures ahead. Maybe next time we can venture close enough for her to inspect them.

Here's Bridget indicating that it's time to turn around.
On the way out, she wasn't interested in eating, but on the return journey she wanted to graze. I just kept walking, and clever Bridget figured out that if she ran ahead of me, that would give her a moment or two of eating before I caught up.

Here she is ahead of me, catching a couple of bites before I come alongside.
Today, around eight o'clock in the evening, Bridget wanted to come out for some grazing. There was still enough light, so I gave in and brought her out. Before letting her eat, I asked her to back up, and she responded with speed and lightness.

On another note, here is George spotting his reflection in a window --

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Battle of Wills

But it wasn't really a battle. More like a summit.

After George's little incident the other day, I decided we'd better do some more regular work with the horses. So I fetched George out of the pasture and decided to do six minutes of work. (Six, because it was like 12:34, and I planned to work until 12:40.) George did everything I asked politely and immediately, so I reduced the work time to four minutes and then let him graze on the lawn for a while.

Next up was Bridget. She walked forward and stopped and backed up once. After a minute, I asked her to back up again. The answer was a very definite no.

So, we stood.

For ten minutes, she nudged and nibbled at me. I kept pushing her head away, and if she came across as too aggressive, I bopped her (in a friendly way) on the nose with the end of the lead rope. After ten minutes, she stopped the nudging.

Just standing.
She became quite peaceful, and snuggled her nose up to my hand.

But every so often, she took a step forward with one foreleg. At which I turned her in a circle and resumed standing. The mood remained calm and cordial.

As the flies were bothersome, Bridget lifted a foreleg sometimes to swat at them. After 20 minutes of standing, she began replacing her foreleg into the same position, rather than taking a step forward. I clicked a "yes" every time she did this.

Up comes the leg.
Down goes the leg.
(Why is her chest so uneven - I hope it's just cos of the way she's holding her neck.)
Every few minutes, I repeated my request for her to step backwards, and every time I felt myself up against an immoveable object.

Finally, after half an hour of standing, Bridget began to place her foot just a teeny bit behind its original position whenever she picked it up. There were a two or three incidents of backsliding when she couldn't help herself and stretched one foreleg out and didn't replace it (at which I would lead her in a circle again). But there were also a couple of times when I said, "Ahem," and she put the foot back.

At last, she took a few steps backwards. So I gave her a treat and let her graze.

Bridget is, as my daughter would say, "Miss Sassitude." She is a dear, loving, warm-hearted, companionable creature. Also bold, brave, and strong-willed. Most of the time, she'll do what you ask without any fuss, but every so often, the bossy and dramatic side of her personality will emerge. In those moments, she is not always very ready to listen to my opinion or the opinion of any other human who happens to be around. So it was, I think, very helpful to have this difference of opinion, highlighting what great resources of stubbornness and determination Bridget has. It was good to be able to settle this disagreement without drama or rancor.

Most people, in my experience, resort to whacking the horse with the rope if it doesn't immediately step back when asked. This is pretty effective, and also takes much less time than 30 minutes. Also, it must be said that a dominant horse does not wait half an hour to exact compliance from a lower-ranking herdmate.

However, I feel it was a half hour very well spent. We explored the reality that I, in my humble, bipedal way, can be even more stubborn than Bridget. Plus we had a nice long stretch of just standing together serenely. And Bridget's acquiescence was not an outcome forced upon her, but a conclusion reached by her.


Monday, August 13, 2012


After I left Charlie a few days ago, the idea occurred to me that perhaps he had been saying goodbye. Not liking this thought, I pushed it aside, telling myself that his calling to me as I walked away was just part of a new-found friendliness.

When I saw there was a voicemail from his owner today, I knew immediately what had happened. I returned the call, and learned that indeed Charlie had passed away on Sunday morning. When I told the owner I thought Charlie had said goodbye to me the other day, she said she had felt the same thing the day before he died. I congratulated her on giving him such a nice long peaceful retirement.

I was glad that it had been easier for him to walk in his last few weeks and months. A man who was there the other day observed that when Charlie's feet were overgrown, he used to just mope in his shed  but that lately he was usually out and about, pottering around his clearing in the woods with the goats and rabbits.

Forty years old - glossy-coated, well-fed, and as agile as one of his goat friends until his very last day.

A clear image remains in my mind of Charlie looking after me as I left last week - a calm, kind, cheerful, reaching-out look. I feel his gaze following me still, like a blessing. I count it as a great gift.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


The horse world has been giving me fits lately.

George bucked my daughter off the other day. After not doing anything with him for months, my daughter decided to take him out for a walk one day. The next day, she saddled him up and took him for a ride. He looked happy to set off, balked a lot at the end of the drive, and then settled down. Eventually, well into the ride, something scary in the bushes set him a-bucking. Girl was dumped, and George took off. Girl was not amused and accused me of having no "dead-broke" horses for her enjoyment. Harrumph.

Then I've had a series of extremely uncooperative trimming clients. One horse recently broke free before I even started on the first foot. He took off, and his owner couldn't catch him again. The next one simply refused to have his hind legs done. There were others. None of this is necessarily my fault, but it definitely has the effect of making me feel like a complete loser.

Then the sun comes out.

Yesterday I went to trim six new horses at one barn. They outdid each other in politesse and noblesse oblige, and I was able to complete the trimming with my dignity intact. Later that day, I went to give the mini horse Charlie his fourth trim. This little guy has not had much time for me in the past, but yesterday he allowed me, and not his owner, to catch him. When we were finished and Charlie was set free, instead of making a bee line for freedom as he has always done in the past, he stuck by us, and we all enjoyed a few minutes of peaceful companionship. When I started to pack up, he walked off and stood in his little shed. As I was leaving, I called out, "Bye, Charlie!" and he whinnied after me. And his feet (which were miles long and curled up like jester shoes when I first saw him) should finally look completely normal after the next trim.

As a further antidote to the horse blues, Chloe has stayed very sweet about encouraging me to scramble up onto her back.

George needs a lot more attention if he's going to be a safe riding buddy. I have to refine my skills in dealing with stroppy clients, but .....
When in this state myself almost despising,
Haply I think on Chloe and Charlie, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate.
For their sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
(With apologies to the Bard.)