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

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.


  1. It interesting to hear how you are approaching trimming. You are very patient! I am sure they will remember you in your next visit and the good experience you gave them.

  2. I'm not normally a particularly patient person, but I guess the horses' patience rubs off on me when I'm with them.