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

Monday, September 24, 2012

Oh Me of Little Faith

I came home this afternoon with good intentions. There was just enough time to fetch the lawn mower from the barn and accomplish half an hour's mowing before going out again.

However .... I looked out of the bathroom window and saw Bridget knocking on the gate. This morning she'd done the same thing - had separated herself from the herd to present herself ready for some action. I'd only had time to run out and give her an apple and a hug (plus a quick spot of backing-up practice), and now here she was again with the same request: "Take me out!" Yard work could not be as important.

Yesterday, Bridget and the others were out on lawn-mowing patrol, and I thought she wanted out so that she could continue this important and nutritious work. However, once she was through the gate, she decided to set off for a bit of a walk.

Our very short "training" interaction yesterday - which I thought she'd found slightly irritating - may have in fact rekindled her desire for human/horse activities.

We had a nice, short, convivial walk, stopping for snacks and snooping. A couple of times we enjoyed a run together, with Bridget moderating her pace to stay not too far ahead of pokey old me. When we run, I hold the very end of the leadrope in order to give her plenty of space.

When I returned her to the pasture, Bridget immediately cantered off, whinnying, to rejoin her buddies, but for a little while she'd cast her lot in with me, asserting her independence from the herd and exploring the world on her own terms. I hope that one day - soon? - we can explore further afield with Bridget carrying me on her back. Wow! Could such a thing happen?

Wind in machine make scary sound


Running with Bridget

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Getting Serious

Bridget is growing up.  Physically, she has all but lost her adolescent disproportion and gawkiness and is returning to the beautiful conformation which made her stand out as a baby. Mentally, she is becoming more serious - and more challenging.

She is still curious and affectionate and goofy. But there is an increasing air of imperiousness about her, and a sense that she is becoming someone who demands respect.

Today, as I was working with her, she became impatient. I insisted, by being stubborn rather than by applying pressure, that she pay attention and work with me. She did, but when I set her free, she left immediately - which is not like her.

She doesn't yet have Chloe's wisdom, nor does she have the immense reserves of kindness and courtesy hidden behind George's gruff facade. Or the great sweetness of Rose.

What she does have is intelligence, boldness, enthusiasm, charm, good sense, playfulness, optimism, communicativeness, and cordiality.

I hope that if I work with her regularly, she will learn that there is something to be said for this activity. Going for walks may be a good way of working together. I think I may suspend the privilege she currently enjoys of swinging her tail towards me so that I can scratch her hindquarters. I don't know. I feel a need now to set some boundaries - at least temporarily - and to discuss with her the reality that as she grows into her new role as an adult, I will not allow her to add to her status by trying to lord it over me.
Enjoying a little home-grown alfalfa on the first day of autumn

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Couple of Hoof Notes

1.  An Arabian mare with a dodgy LH - she finds it hard to keep her RF up as a result of the issue with her LH.

I notice that before she lifts her RF, her LH - which she likes to keep parked well in underneath her - has to be set out to the side in order to accommodate the change of balance. After a few moments, it gets to be too uncomfortable, and she moves the LH back in underneath her. Then - and only then - she finds it impossible to keep her RF off the ground, and she takes it away.

I think it's significant that she moves her LH in order to be able to raise her RF, and when it's too much, she doesn't snatch her RF away but only does so after moving the uncomfortable LH back into the position she favors, whereupon she finds that she has to put her RF back on the ground to keep her balance.

She and I develop a little routine. I ask (and do not require) her to lift her RF. She paws the ground a couple of times with the LF in complaint. Then she re-arranges her LH and picks up her RF for as long as she can stand it. When it's too much, she moves the LH back into the more comfortable position, and I'm ready to put her LF down.

The owner is not sure what's wrong with her leg, but says the mare has been having mastitis or something, and perhaps she's holding her leg funny in order to protect a painful udder .... ?

2.  A buckskin gelding, a retired school horse. He has a stifle issue. It's always a stifle issue, isn't it? Everyone wisely pronounces this, and I find myself doing the same thing whenever there's a leg problem: "Hmm, looks like his stifle." In this case, however, it really is his stifle, according to the owner.

The day before seeing this horse I'd been musing on our old Appaloosa mare, an extremely cooperative and intelligent character. She had soundness issues which made it difficult for her to stand on three legs.  When the farrier came to trim her feet, however, she helped us to figure out a way to accommodate this problem. She would rest her head on one person's shoulder, lean her hip against another person, and lean her tail against the wall. I'd been thinking that I hadn't yet come across another horse who so cleverly and obligingly figured out how to help in the trimming process.

Until this buckskin gelding. He was having a hard time letting me work on his RH, as this required him putting weight onto his painful LH. I suggested to his owner that she stand by his left hip to prop him up. He must have understood something of what we were trying to do, because lean he did - but onto me. Not a good plan. I thought it was clever, though, and suggested that we try standing him with his left side against a wall.

Right away he got the idea of using the wall to lean against, and I was able to work on his RH with no problems.

He's a very nice character, and it was pleasant to work on a non-reactive, mild-mannered, tolerant, wise, been-there-done-that kind of a horse. For a change!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Chloe has decided - for now at least - that I'm not allowed to sit on her back.

If I try to climb aboard, she politely but firmly slides away and swings her tail around to face me. Not threateningly or as if to kick, but to definitively put me into a non-mounting position.

It's such a different "no" from the one she used in the days when I insisted that she be trained and ridden. Back then she was irritable and wanted us to go away and leave her alone. Now her refusal is gracious; while denying my request, she remains kind and sociable.

She is training me well.

I was sad when she wouldn't give me a piggy-back ride. But then I remembered that Chloe is generous and gives good things. I never anticipated she would want to give me a ride - yet she did. Why should I be grumpy that she has withdrawn the privilege? Why not assume she has something different, or better, in store for me? Why not trust her?

And it seems to me that this is what obedience is - to be like a child, trusting that while one gift may be withheld, other gifts will be forthcoming, and to wait in confident anticipation for the future to divulge what those gifts may be.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Kicking Banshees Revisited

My mother used to say that the reason my brothers and I hated school was because we were treated so nicely at home that school seemed extra nasty in comparison.

I wonder if something like this is the reason why the four ponies and donkey I visited today were extra-sensitive to the former farrier. They are doted on immensely by their humans and never really have to do anything they don't want. If along comes a gruff, no-nonsense, pick-up-your-foot-and-behave-yourself farrier, it might be too much for their tender nerves. Similar to the way I used to feel about Mrs. Lindsay, God rest her soul. Whatever the reason for their sensitivity (and I was told that the donkey did not appreciate having her beautiful ears pinched), on my first visit there was a good deal of kicking, struggling, rearing, and trying to escape. However, I tried to be nice to everyone, and the owner was happy.

I returned today, resolving to adhere to The Guidelines. I explained my plan to the owner, warning her that we might not get all that much trimming done, and she gave her approval.

Things indeed went better this time - there was no kicking or rearing, and with the policy of choosing a spot and quietly leading the pony back there if it moved forward, there was no struggling or trying to escape either. The ponies remained engaged, upbeat, and friendly. We did not achieve 100% trimmage, but that was ok. The last mare up was a POA - bossy and friendly. By the time I was working on her, there were two other humans milling about, and the owner was feeding her from a bucket. It was very noticeable how all this added distraction detracted from the pony's ability to engage and cooperate. Or maybe from mine.

The last time I was here, I allowed my git 'r done focus to lead to some ends-justifies-the-means tactics, such as holding on and not letting go. This time, feeling confident that the owner was on the same page as me, I was able to relinquish some of that ego-driven desire to succeed. It's remarkable how much time is needed to really work things through with horses and how we're always trying to get to the goal fast. I think about the time George wanted to stand quietly, with me standing next to him, for an hour and three quarters. About the other day, when I stood for half an hour with Bridget until she became patient and then until she agreed to back up for me. About the first time George freely moved out of the way of the gate after I stood there expectantly for at least fifteen minutes. I managed to remember some of this today and reminded myself that if the hoof is not coming up as quickly as I want, then that's probably because I want it to come up too quickly.

Because, truthfully, I don't have anything better to do with my time.

You'll notice I haven't yet mentioned how things went with the donkey.

Let me just acknowledge right now that I am no match for a donkey. Immediately the owner fetched the donkey over, I knew my precious little "Guidelines" were going to be about as helpful as wearing a silly hat. One thing another client told me about donkeys is that you can't pull them but have to drive them from behind. So when I saw the owner having a hard time leading the donkey, I came up behind and helpfully clicked or flapped my arms or something. This worked twice. The third time, I could see the donkey react by deliberately not reacting: "I'm on to you and your little driving game." We got a small amount of trimming accomplished by dint of vast amounts of bribery and then decided to repair to a tiny grassy pen, secluded from the other ponies, who kept crowding around trying to get in on the bribery.

We didn't fare better right away, but during a pause in the action, I looked over and saw Miss Donkey coquettishly lifting her left foreleg off the ground. What's this? Do you want to give me your foot? "Why, yes, I do - why ever would I not!"

After this, I was emboldened to ask to pick up her hindfeet, which she did, briefly, and - more to the point - there was no kicking, and let me tell you, that donkey can kick.

However, she became restless, and I thought she might want to roll, so I asked the owner to cut her loose. Whereupon Miss Donkey walked to the corner of the pen and looked over at me with an unmistakably inviting expression on her face.

So - what the heck - I walked over with my nippers, and the dear donkey stood there, quite free and untied, while I quick nipped the toes of her hind hoofs. And I then I quit while I was ahead. Plus also I had, by this time, been there for over three hours, and while I don't think I have anything better to do, my family members occasionally disagree with me on this point.

Here's what I think about donkeys - I think they're plugged into Somewhere Else. Horses are too of course, in the way they are so intuitive and telepathic, but you always feel like horses return to meet you in the here and now. While I was working with the ponies, I felt we stayed connected and that they were happy to be drawn into the moment in a shared activity. But the donkey did not want to join me if I was setting the terms, and she patiently worked around my stubbornness. The first connection I felt with her was when she looked over at me and invited me to come and work on her hind feet. Up until then she was just doggedly resisting my resistance.

It reminds me of Balaam's donkey, in Numbers 22:21-34, who, on seeing an angel blocking the path, refuses to go forward and as a result is beaten by Balaam, to whom the angel is invisible. The angel is then revealed to Balaam and tells him that if he had proceeded to go forward, he would have been killed but the donkey would have been spared.

Next time, the owner and I are going to start out with Donkey free in the little pen. I hope she lets me do her feet, but she may have something else in mind.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Passing Go

The last time I saw these horses, things did not go well.

The dominant mare was not at all interested in cooperating, and I had to resort to taking the lead rope and making her back up before she'd let me finish. The allegedly "good" gelding was extremely nervous and cowkicked at me whenever I tried to pick up his hind feet. I never did find out what the other gelding was like, because he broke free before I even started and ran off, refusing to be caught again.

By the end, the owner was embarrassed and apologetic, and I felt like a complete loser.

Before returning yesterday, I gave some serious thought about how to approach these guys. This time, the end of the visit found both the owner and I both feeling very good about how things went. And the horses felt good too.

The reason for this happier outcome? .... I adhered to the following guidelines:

1.  Do not try to work with any foot that is not freely offered.  Wait for the foot to come up.

2.  Be willing to not pick up the foot at all.

3.  If necessary - if working with one particular foot seems to bother the horse - ask permission before even approaching that leg.

4.  Always return a foot when asked.

5.  If the horse snatches, it's ok to hold on a little longer - just long enough to gently place the foot on the ground, thus demonstrating how to politely take one's foot back.

6.  Start with the front feet, because horses are less reactive with their forelegs, and you can demonstrate to them that they're in control of the situation before moving on to the twitchy hindlegs.

7.  Designate a particular spot for trimming and stick to it. We picked a shady patch behind the house.

8.  The owner should hold the horse on a loose rope.

9.  If the horse pushes forward out of position, the owner should quietly walk it in a small circle back to the original position.

10.  Don't allow the horse to change the subject: the subject is hoof trimming. The horse can decide that no trimming will take place, but the conversation must continue to be about trimming or the lack thereof, and not about eating or leaving.

Following all these guidelines made the experience completely different from the last time. None of the horses received a complete trim, but they have good feet which wear well on the rocky terrain, and the owner and I agreed that actually completing the trim was not our No.1 goal.

The nervous gelding became calm and focussed. He began to offer me his forefeet and allow me to work on them. When he - literally - put a foot down and wouldn't pick it up again, that was ok. He allowed me to do his LH but was reactive with his RH, picking it up and using it to to shove me aside. This was my cue to step back and ask permission to approach the leg. Permission was denied (by means of head turning, eyes narrowing, and ears flattening) every time. So we left it alone.

The runaway gelding was helpful with his front feet but very reactive with his hinds. When he saw I was headed towards a hind leg, he exaggeratedly and nervously lifted the leg way up in the air and hopped about. I responded by stepping back and waiting for a minute or two before touching his leg gently to ask him to pick it up. This time he didn't move and didn't offer to pick up his foot. So I said ok and stepped back again. I can't tell you how empowering it was for both me and the horse to open up this beautiful avenue of not-having-to-achieve-the-goal. I asked a couple more times and accepted his refusal a couple more times. Then he started offering to pick it up, ever so slightly. I settled for a quick look at both hinds and let it go at that. When he was set free, I swear he gave me a hug.

The dominant mare came last, and the owner had a job catching her. Horses and human disappeared on the other side of the house, and I stood waiting, enjoying the beautiful afternoon. Finally the owner reappeared leading the mare, with her equine entourage clustered around, and we got started.  At first, every time the mare took a front foot away, she would use that as an opportunity to walk forward. The owner would then quietly lead her back into position. After a few tries, she stopped. When it came time to work on the hind feet and I approached her LH, she swung away. So I stepped back. After this was repeated three or four times, she allowed me to approach and offered the foot. She was reluctant, however, to lift up her RH - I think perhaps she was finding it a little difficult to balance without that leg. Something made me decide to step back and, not touching her, to just wait confidently for her pick up her foot. Sure enough, with me standing a couple of feet away, she figured out how to balance and lifted up the foot.

What was striking about the whole procedure was the way the horses each became calm and centered. Instead of trying to escape, both mentally and physically, they settled down and were present. Last time, after each one was was done, he or she made a quick getaway. This time they stayed. And when I was trimming the mare, who was last to be done, the geldings hovered around, nosing my hair and nibbling my clothes. Last time they said, "You're on your own, Madam Mare, we're outta here!"

I told the owner I was appreciative that she and I could work together like this. Last time, I put pressure on myself to get the job done, but we agreed that the work we did together this time was more valuable than getting hoofs trimmed.

Attending the proceedings also was an adorable yearling Percheron colt with adorable, round, perfectly self-trimmed feet.

Tomorrow I'm returning to the kicking banshees, and I will try following the same guidelines. Wish me luck.

p.s. We are homeschooling again. One of the perks - Latin at the picnic table with Bridget.

Mentum equae a puellae pede scabitur.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


I have recently adopted a new pursuit - yoga. The main snag with this is that our local yoga class meets at 6 a.m. So we'll see.

However, I do have Chloe to help me as well. When I sit on her back, I find myself constantly tipping forward. It is extremely hard to tilt my pelvis in such a way as to allow my sitting bones to sink securely onto Chloe, and at the same time to allow my legs to rotate outwards so that I'm not pinching myself up off her back. I would have these same difficulties sitting on a regular-sized horse, but on Chloe they're magnified on account of her narrowness.

If I can't sit safely on Chloe, then any feeling I've ever experienced of having a good seat on a larger horse is probably an illusion. I flatter myself I'm getting a teeny, tiny bit better at sitting on Chloe, who is extremely patient with my wiggling and jiggling.

My current rule is that I can't get on Chloe unless she actually tells me to. I can't ask her and then get up if she says yes; I have to wait until she suggests it of her own accord. Of course, if hanging around expectantly, like a little kid waiting for its turn on the swings, counts as asking, then I guess I'm a hypocrite.

Today we had a very nice time together on the lawn, with some scratching, some "riding," and some quiet companionship. I think I need a few more hours of sitting Chloga, with a few short walking intervals - and then maybe I'll be ready for some trotting Chloga, if she ever feels like it of course. Perhaps then I might be ready to ride a big horse.

p.s. Today, I was out and my husband wanted to put Chloe back in the pasture so he could leave too. Chloe was near the gate, and he opened it. She didn't react at first and just stood, waiting. He waited too, and after a little while she walked in. He told me that if we hadn't had the conversations we've had lately, he'd've probably tried to shoo her in. Instead he waited and allowed her to wait, and it worked out.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


This morning, during Mass, I wondered about "fear of God." I like to think of God as a positive, kindly, on-my-side kind of a guy. But as I knelt in my pew, I remembered that "fear of God is the beginning of wisdom," and I wondered if I had become a little too comfortable in the face of His providence.

On returning home, what should I find waiting for me in my inbox but a message from Chabad.org Magazine titled, "Are We Supposed to be Afraid of G-d?"

Following the link contained in the email lead me to an article by Aron Moss. In his understanding, "fear" is not an apt translation of the concept contained in the phrase "fear of God." The idea is better conveyed by the word "respect."
The difference between love and respect is that when I love, I am preoccupied with my feelings toward you; when I respect, I am focusing on your presence rather than mine. Love is my desire to approach you. Respect is my deference to your otherness, your right to be who you are. When you love someone but do not respect them, it ends up being all about you. The other is simply an object of your love; their opinion is not taken seriously, and they are not treated as a real being.
This certainly rings a bell for me. I have always been drawn to horses, and my love for them has always made me want to approach them. But their allure often ended up causing me to try and possess them, to make them in my own image, to force them to validate me - instead of allowing them the space to be who they are.

In the last couple of years, I have begun to learn to step back and be willing to not approach. To forgo a physical approach - and also to refrain (often) from approaching the horse with my plans, my program, my agenda.

In turn, the horses have begun to approach me. As I have stopped prodding and pressing them, they seem to have gradually, in front of my eyes, assumed a shape and character to which I was blind as long as I tried to control them.

As I suggested in a recent post, when Moshiach comes, no doubt the horses will help tell us where to go, and when, and I like to think Chloe and friends are teaching me to get ready to listen up good. The immediate answer I received to my question about the fear of God, and the way the answer had so clear a relevance to my relationship with the horses - how can I not believe?

In the meantime, however, that Bridget still needs to be a teeny bit more polite about backing up.

Evening on the Lawn

Monday, September 3, 2012

Training June

Chloe spent some time out on the lawn this evening, grazing in the gathering dusk - with me sitting on her back.

Chloe has raised the bar a little. She expects me to be quicker climbing onto her back. Today, she came over to collect me, waited while I tried to get up, stopped briefly when I failed, and then walked off without me.

Later, I managed to mount up, and we wandered about the yard eating grass. When it finally became quite dark, I hopped off Chloe and shooed her towards the pasture gate. She declined and instead went through an open gate into the empty field. She stood waiting.

When I came over to her, she pawed at me and shoved me with her head. I moved into mounting position and was waiting for her to signal with her head that I should get up. But then I realized that I was standing in mounting position in obedience to her pawing and shoving, and that there was no point in waiting for further permission. She was obviously standing there waiting for me to get up; so I did.

With me back on board, she set off again to graze the lawn. I sat on her back for a while longer before finally dismounting. As Chloe refused to take the hint and head for the gate, I fetched the halter and leadrope and managed to convince her to rejoin the others in the pasture.

I wanted to sit on her this evening until she told me to get off. I don't know what she might say to get me off, but I expect it would be quite clear. At one point, she knocked my leg with her head, but it was a clumsy bump, and I think she was trying to get rid of a fly. In any case, she didn't repeat it. One of these days I'll have to set aside a long period of time and stay on as long as she wants. Maybe I'll bring a book.