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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Freedom to Refuse

On Saturday I went out on two last-minute trimming calls. Two different barns but, coincidentally, two recent rescues who needed trimming, preferably before Christmas.

The first call was to a new mini, adopted a few days before by a man who already owns three. He has a lovely, neat set-up for his pets and takes very good care of them. He's a softie when it comes to dwarf minis, and he heard about this little one who was being fostered by a dog-rescue lady until a permanent home could be found for him.

His name is Bashful, and he is the teeniest, tiniest mini you have ever seen. Five years old and fully grown, weighing less than 60 pounds. It was obviously a very, very long time since his last trim - perhaps he'd never been trimmed before. Both fore hoofs were growing out to the side, and he was walking on the side wall of both hoofs. Both hoofs curved to the left. These dwarfs can have distorted joints, but he has mobility in the fetlock joint, and I think if his hoofs could grow straight, he might be able to walk on his heels. But HOW to effect the transition? This will require some thinking and consultation with others more experienced than I. On Saturday we settled for getting rid of most of the excessive over growth to get things started, but I didn't want to take it all away, as it wasn't clear what would be left for him to land on.

He was so little, his owner just picked him up and plonked him on his side. He didn't seem to mind, and when we were done, he stuck around being curious and friendly.

The second call was to a newly-adopted pinto Shetland pony. When we started, he was very distracted by his absence from his pasture-mates, and he reared away occasionally while I was working on his forefeet. I encouraged him to "ask politely" and pretty soon he got the hang of doing just that, and we were able work on his feet, taking little breaks when he wanted.

The hind legs were a different matter. He turned out to be a kicker, and when it comes to kicking, ponies are champs. At one point, he kicked out with both feet at once, and the stand went flying. So - time to back off and re-group. Seemed like he had had a bad experience in the past with his hind legs being worked on, which is turning out to be a not-infrequent experience, with ponies especially. The first thing to do was to ask him NOT to pick up his leg. I put my hand on his leg and asked him to leave it on the ground. Kick. Try again. Kick. But after several more tries, he left his foot planted.

At this point, the pony became pensive, calm, and inwardly listening. He turned to look at me sometimes. I started asking him to pick up his foot, and each time he refused. I backed off, asked again, he refused, I backed off, asked again, received a refusal .... and so on. I've come to see this as a powerfully positive experience for both horse and human -  this opportunity for the horse to respond to a request with a refusal. Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling talks about obtaining an almost immediate "healing" in horses when he works with them. I've always found this very puzzling, but in this dialog of "Will you?"-"No, I won't," I'm finding there is a balm and a peace for both species involved. Perhaps this is akin to what KFH talks about?

After a while, I started to put a little suggestive pressure on to his foot - not trying to make him pick up his foot, but to illustrate what I was asking. We set up a little quiet conversation between my pressure and his resistance. I was saying "Do you think you might shift your balance a little so that your foot could come up?" He knew it wasn't going to escalate to an argument, and so he was able to respond with, "Well, maybe, let me see, maybe I could, just a little."

And then, with no fuss, he picked his foot up; I plonked it on the stand, and there it remained of its own accord until I was done trimming. Work on the other foot proceeded more quickly.

The thing is - for this to "work," it can't be about getting it to work. I have to be willing to walk away with the work unstarted or incomplete. I remember Lynne Gerard saying something to this effect (I believe it was in response to a comment I left on her blog). I had succeeded in "getting" a friend's mare to take her medicine (which she normally resisted) by holding her on a loose rope, politely asking her to take the medicine, and by expecting her to take it. Lynne congratulated me but wisely reminded me that if my intentions were sincere, I had to be willing to not succeed as well.

This is the way we should treat our fellow humans too, I believe. Unless someone is going to cause harm to themselves or others, there is no cause for coercion. That is why I admire the special ed school where my daughter teaches. The kids are given ample opportunity to act goofy and play, but when it comes time to teach The Basics (manners, sharing, anger control, arithmetic, reading, etc.), the teachers do the equivalent of me standing with my hand on the pony's fetlock, waiting. My daughter has been punched, bitten, kicked, and cursed at. But she and the other teachers don't react; they stand quietly, waiting and suggesting. These children, who have failed at (been failed by) all the other programs they have attended, gradually blossom and improve. I wish all school children could be treated like this.

I am thankful to the little pinto pony for being present, for trusting for listening, and for communicating.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Quantum Horses

Asher Crispe, who is a Jewish explicator of all things post-Newtonian and quantumesque, asserts that measuring a thing is equivalent to creating it, as - according to Quantum theory - measuring fixes the reality of something which before had been in a fluctuating state of mere potentiality.

Now, in the first chapter of Numbers, we read about the census of the people of Israel. Each of the 12 tribes are assessed as to each one's number of adult males fit for military service. The Levites were the exception. They were not counted - they were alloted a different role, namely to carry and tend the tabernacle and to camp around it.

As Christians (and by extension, ultimately all people) are considered to be Levites, a holy priesthood, this passage from Numbers tells us two things: 1) Their (our) calling is not to engage in warfare (violence); and 2) as they (we) are not to be counted/measured, we can infer that their (our) reality is not yet fixed and that they (we) are still in the process of being created.

Let's consider (thanks, Asher Crispe) the difference between Classical Ignorance and Quantum Ignorance. Classical ignorance refers to the not-knowing of something fundamentally knowable, but presently not known due to one's current viewpoint. For example, if I wake up in the morning and the curtains are drawn shut, I don't yet know whether the day is cloudy or sunny. The answer is potentially knowable, and the conditions for discovering the answer are also known or knowable - in this case, if I get out of bed and open the curtains, I will find out.

Quantum ignorance, on the other hand, refers to an ignorance the conditions for the remedy of which are themselves unknown and unknowable. In fact, quantum ignorance is lack of knowledge of something which does not yet exist and which cannot be predicted.

The current populist scientific mindset inhabits a Newtonian or classical world, where all ignorance is of the classical kind, and all things are potentially knowable if we can follow the cause/effect trail all the way. This is the default mindset with which we are all familiar and comfortable.

Lynne Gerard in her most recent post critiques this mental habit:
Ethological studies of equines define these aspects [the horse's gestures and actions] in ways that reduce them to behavioural and instinctual commodities - "fixed action patterns" which can be useful for us to gain familiarity with as we pursue particular activities with horses, but which have far too often the effect of stereotyping, pigeon-holing and distancing especially when they serve as a basis for training systems that exploit and subject these noble entities, further limiting our perception of what horses truly are.
Amen, right? Lynne is describing an approach to horses which treats our ignorance of them as classical ignorance and seeks to remedy that lack of knowledge by searching out cause/effect mechanisms. By, in effect, measuring or counting the horse, we fix and limit his reality.

I suppose what I'm trying to do is adopt an attitude where I await the revelation of the answers to things of which I am quantumly ignorant. For example how could I possibly have known that on two occasions (a trimming client and our own George) horses would speak directly to me information which helped me with the way I use my own body? If I imagine the horses and me doing something like dressage, or circus tricks, or whatever, I can picture the kinds of training, etc. we'd have to do in order to overcome our current ignorance. I'd have to "buy a book" and "practice" and so on. I can basically picture the process, although of course along the way there would be surprises. However, when I started out, I could not possibly have known that horses might want to speak healing words to me, and if you'd asked me, "What is it that you currently don't know about your horse and don't know you don't know?" what could my answer possibly have been except, "I don't know."

If I adhered too closely to my classical goals (and, believe me, I still have them), I would never receive quantum gifts.

I should add that we all love our fixed, classical world. Of course we do - it is the world of trees, of water, of sky, of mountains, of children, of horses, of flowers, of food, of hot baths, of color, of light. I love to come into a room and know that the painting I hung on the wall yesterday will still be there today.  Nils Bohr and Einstein were both right - there are real things, and reality is constantly being created. No one wants a world of endless fluctuation and total potentiality. Such a world is the formless void. But the void is the raw material of creation, out of which emerges new and higher reality.

At the sub-atomic level, if you measure the location, you can't identify the speed, and if you measure the speed, you can't identify the location. Doesn't classical ignorance try to identify both? In our final-stage every-day world of creation, of course this is appropriate - we need to know how long to cook the chicken and at what temperature. And we want our car mechanic to know everything there is to know about a car for the purpose of making it work. But as we have one foot in the infinite - inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te - we can't be satisfied only with roast chicken and reliable transportation. We must have the free spirit with which to enjoy them, and the feeling of enjoying them in an infinite universe which doesn't fence us in like The Truman Show. Coming into a specific existence is a form of limitation, but in the sense of giving a ground rather than a ceiling.

The attempt to impose classical knowledge answers onto a creature which possesses a spirit is to oppress, confine, and limit that creature. Yes, you can pin down one aspect of us, but the other remains unknowable, just as the particle's speed or location can be known, but not both. It's a beautiful metaphor for us having one foot in fixed reality and the other in not-yet-reality. The Cross itself symbolizes the cruelty of pinning a living being to both axes at once, essentially forcing it into being mere mechanism - that about which everything can be known, for the purpose of using it.

My daughter works in a special ed school, and she frequently sends me texts relating her adventures and the things the kids say. Two of her boys recently said things which are worth quoting here. My daughter was trying to get one of the kids to do his math, and he replied, "Stop trying to take away my imagination! I need that!"

The other quote is my personal favorite: "You teachers think you are sooooo powerful. But you'll never be able to stop me from dancing!" And he proceeded to dance, and indeed they couldn't stop him. (Although I don't think they tried to, as this is a nice school.) I think there are many horses who would second these childrens' comments.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Call Me Crazy Again

All right, here I am going off the deep end as per usual, so bear with me while I expound my latest crackbrained theory.

Ok, so I've done something stupid to my sacrum, and for the last two or three days I've been hobbling around like an old crone. What I've done, I don't know. It's not trimming related. It may be yoga related. It's likely to be hefting bales of hay related. Whatever, it hurts.

As usual when I'm hurting somewhere, I try to figure out how I did it and what bad habit of use has lead to the problem. So far with the sacrum thing I've been coming up blank. Until this morning, when I realized that there's a point in standing up or sitting down which presents a particular challenge to, and puts an extra strain on, the sacral spine.

I then realized that I could counteract this strain by - instead of trying to spread my weight evenly on my feet - putting extra weight into the ball of my foot. And I do remember learning years ago that there's some kind of standing reflex which is stimulated by pressure on the ball of the foot. I experimented more and discovered that it's not enough to just give it a cursory thought, but that I had to focus hard on allowing the weight to sink deep into the ground.

And then I remembered: Who was recently talking to me explicitly about just that very thing? The mare yesterday.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The other day when I was out with the horses, George came over. He didn't walk past and stop with me next to his flank as he does when he wants to be sociable. Instead, he sidled up, stopped a few feet away, stretched his neck out, and mouthed at my hand and arm. He interspersed this gesture with pointed looks back over his shoulder toward the fence.

Well, anyone with a toddler's command of language could tell he was saying: "Open the gate and let us out!" So, even though I hadn't been planning to, seeing as how he used his words so politely and clearly and cleverly, I had to do what he asked.

Today, I trimmed a donkey - a very sweet, gentle, helpful donkey. After I'd already worked on her in the barn, we moved to another area of the property to work on somebody else. While the owner was off catching the horse, the donkey came over to say hello to me. After a minute, she walked off and parked herself in a particular spot. She looked over at me, in what I'm coming to recognize as a characteristic donkey way. I suddenly thought: "Oh! That's exactly where she stood to be trimmed last time I was here!" I really think the donkey was reminding me of this. Apart from the serpent, donkeys are the only animals in the Bible which talk. I can't say I've ever heard a snake talk, but I think I heard a donkey talk today.

The Bored Game

I can't quite remember how or why I came up with the Bored Game. Leading impatient horses from one pasture to fresh grass in another may have had something to do with it. Waiting with Bridget while she makes up her mind to step backwards when I ask may have been another cause.

Be that as it may, the Bored Game is a very useful tool.

It goes like this:

Rule No. 1: We Are Both Bored. Sorry, but there it is.

Rule No. 2:  No Eating.

Rule No. 3:  No Moving Feet.

Rule No. 4:  No Getting In My Space.

Rule No. 5:  No Scratching Your Leg To Distract Yourself.

Rule No. 6:  I Suppose I Can't Stop You from Pawing the Ground.

Rule No. 7:  No Taking An Interest in Anything.

Rule No. 8:  No Chit Chat

Rule No. 9:  The Human Must Always Insist Politely and Display Good Manners.

Rule No. 10:  Like I Said: We're Bored.

The first reaction of the horse (especially if her name is Bridget) is: "What? Are you kidding me? You're kidding, right? I know you're kidding - here let me chew your arm a little bit. What?! No??!"

In the case of Bridget, she raises her objections in an upfront, communicative way. Other horses continue their quest to distract themselves and get away from being in-the-moment-with-the-boring-person by pawing, trying to graze, pulling, or - as in the case of a little mini I was working with the other day - rearing. Before long, however, a magical change occurs, and boredom settles like a gentle mist upon the scene. Only when the horse stops resisting it, it's not boredom - it's peace.

I've had occasion lately to ask owners to play the Bored Game before the horse would agree to cooperate with trimming. Once that blessed aura of peace descends, you can see how futile it was to try and work with the horse's mind constantly darting off in all directions.

Today, I was trimming a very bossy, smart, dominant mare. She's done fine with me in the past, but today her owner warned me that she's been very difficult lately and that we might not get anything done, as she's been refusing to let her owner work with her feet. Sure enough, when I started working, she would give me her foot but immediately snatch it away again. She was very distracted, fidgety and absent. So I introduced the Bored Game. She surprised me by not taking very long to subside into an almost trance like serenity. I caught myself talking too loudly and agitatedly - the comparison between me and the horse suddenly showed me in a bad light, and I slowed down to join the mare in her tranquillity. The owner was pleasantly surprised by the mare's mood.

Maintaining this restful state, I asked the mare to give me her hind foot, which she quietly did, and I was able to work on both hind feet. However, when it came to the front feet, whichever foot I asked for she would calmly press into the ground, at the same time leaning gently into me with her shoulder. I don't know where this new reluctance has come from - she is sound, and I don't believe she is physically challenged by holding up her front feet - but I would prefer that she politely refuse to give her foot than that she give it and then snatch it away. I decided that it would be "against the rules" for me to use any physical effort to try and pick up her foot myself. She knew I wanted the foot, and for whatever reason, she declined.

But this was a conversation, and a polite one at that - very different from the interaction we'd been having just a short while before - the mare listening to distant sounds, thinking about the other horses, reaching for food, pushing into her owner, giving her foot, snatching it away, moving her feet.

This mare lives on dry, stony ground; her feet are good; and her owner knows how to rasp hoofs in between trimmer visits. So we agreed to let her off the hook. For a fearful horse, it's very empowering to be allowed to leave the feet on the ground. Somehow, even though this mare is far from fearful, I felt it was important to give her the same consideration we'd give to an anxious horse. Who knows - perhaps her hyper, pushy behavior might be a form of anxiety. This mare was an unlikely candidate to embrace the Bored Game, but she did, and perhaps she was thankful for it.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to work with owners like the owner of this mare, who not only shares my "liberal" views about horses but is relieved that I share hers. We both agreed that "letting the horse get away with it" does NOT make things worse the next time, but can often make things better.  I'll be curious to see how the mare will process her experience today. Today I feel I really learned (again! - seems a lesson that I must repeat many times before it really sinks in) the importance of working from a place of peace and focus. Hempfling says (something like), "Everyday chaos accumulates to high danger," and I think this is a wise observation.

The owner and I drew the mare into a state of peace, but once she was there, the mare drew us in even deeper. The hyper mare teaching the humans a lesson in tranquility. Horses are perennially amazing.