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

Friday, October 11, 2013

Getting to Know You

Kelsey lived with us for fifteen years before she died. Misty spent the last fourteen years of her life with us, and Miscato the last eight years of his. Each of these horses was with us longer than our current horses, who have been with us four-and-a-half, four, and three years respectively. (Chloe the pony, of course, spans both eras.)

Yet despite the much greater length of time which I spent with the old gang, I feel that I know our present horses much better than the former ones. I feel closer to them, and they seem to know me better. I loved our old horses and had what I felt to be a good relationship with them, and yet we were relative strangers to each other when compared to the relationship I have with George, Rose, Bridget and now-Chloe. Kind of wish I could do it over again.

My oldest daughter and her best friend out for a 
ride with Misty and Kelsey in 2000. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013


After our ride with Rose and George yesterday, I took Bridget out. I tied her up to the fence, took the burdocks out of her mane,  plonked the Cashel saddle on her back, cinched it up, and took her for a walk. On our return, I lead her over to the kitchen steps to practice mounting the way I did the other day with Rose and George.

It went pretty well, although I didn't get to the putting-foot-in-stirrup stage. After a few times, she resisted when I tried to lead her back into position by the kitchen steps. Normally when Bridget resists, she gets bossy and foot-stampy. This time, though, she just became a little pathetic. She pressed her head gently into my chest and then rested her chin on my shoulder. If that wasn't a "pleeeeease", I don't know what is. So I let her quit.

Today, we repeated the exercise. On our walk she was exceptionally polite and didn't push ahead or shove me over or anything. And when some neighbors in a car stopped to chat for a minute, she didn't go (like she usually does), "This is sooooo boooooring. Let's gooooo."

Back home, we tried the mounting thing again. This time I got as far as putting my foot in the stirrup. However, the Cashel saddle slips too much on Bridget, as she is completely barrel-shaped. (No offense.) Like yesterday, she finally got fed up with returning to the kitchen steps, but she resisted being lead back to the pasture. So I had a few tries mounting from the ground. Bridget stood very quietly on a loose rein, but the saddle kept slipping, so I called it a day.

Then I let everyone out on the lawn til suppertime.

A Pleasant Jaunt

On Friday evening, my husband surprised me by saying, "Let's go riding this weekend." He never says that.  So, hooray!

On Saturday, we saddled up Rose and George and off we went, me on George, my husband on Rose, and our daughter tagging along on foot to make sure my husband was safe, him not being a confident or experienced rider and all.

George lead the way, very keen. Rose came along behind, a little anxious. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, warm - but fall definitely in the air. When we came to a crossroads, George picked the farm lane, and off we went towards the creek at the bottom of the hill. George startled when he saw the light reflecting off the creek. "What is that?!"

While George was pondering this strange sight, Rose seemed like she was getting a bit stressed out at being so far from home, so we decided to head back. I took my turn monitoring Rose on foot, and my daughter mounted up on George. I walked beside Rose on the homeward road, and she relaxed, lengthened, and strode out, taking over the lead from George.

When we reached the end of our drive, she did what she has done before - she declined to go home and instead wanted to continue on the ride. We happily agreed with her suggestion and continued on a  circuit of the fields. At one point, George looked like he might take the lead again, and Rose said, "Not likely!" and pushed ahead in front of him.  She does like to shake off that subservient position and be her own woman sometimes.

My husband proclaimed the Cashel Soft Saddle "hands down the most comfortable saddle" he has ever sat on. I wasn't sure that his stirrups were long enough (or even), but he was quite happy - so that's a success, as he is quite picky about how he feels up there, and who could blame him, as he's not used to it.

After the ride, I asked my husband to let Rose graze on the lawn with him for a while to Encourage Bonding, plus Rose really likes that.

Everyone had a nice time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Two More Donkeys

Two miniature donkeys - mother and daughter - recently adopted by a nice young couple.

I am told that the previous owners warned that the donkeys may have had "bad experiences" with the farrier. Uh oh.

We go into the pasture, and the donkeys gather round us, curious and friendly. After introductions have been made, and a suitable interval has elapsed, I figure we might start work - I ask the owners if they plan to use leadropes or halters or anything. They reply that they thought we might give it a try without.

So we do. And the dear little donkeys let me at least nip the toes off all eight feet, with no snatching or kicking or running away. And in between trimming, they do some of the cute and adorable things that donkeys are apt to do such as resting their head on your shoulder, which is pretty irresistible I must say.

Although I only roughed out the feet, the owners were happy, as they thought the donkeys might not cooperate at all. Hopefully next time we'll get even more done.

So what's different about these donkeys, who allegedly have had "bad experiences" and yet were so cooperative? I wonder if the new owners, who are so kind and courteous to the donkeys, have made such a good impression on their adoptees that the donkeys have decided that humans, at this new place, can be trusted. Perhaps having them at liberty helped also.

Tomorrow I go to see another donkey, who also has had "bad experiences" (including having her ears pinched as punishment). She has a kind owner, and she has never kicked with me after the first time. However, she nearly always just says NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo. And her feet are getting longer and longer. We are thinking of resorting to the Animal Communicator.

We'll see.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Donkeys Rule

The Donkey stallion has been in his current home for a month and in his previous home for a month. Before that he had been at a place where they assured the next owner (who found him on Craig's List) that he "stood" for the farrier.

Um, question ..... how can a donkey who is not even halter-trained "stand" for the farrier? I think probably he was tied up tight and sat upon. That, in my opinion, does not count as "standing."

Anyway, he did not, in fact, do anything which could remotely be described as "standing." When the owner first got his halter and rope on, he did a fair amount of kicking, and then when tied to the fence, he kept pulling back as hard as he could.

We plied him with treats and he settled down a little, but there was no way I was going to be able to get  near his feet. Which were very long.

Finally, I untied his rope from the fence and took him for walkies in the paddock. Good thing I was holding tight, because he launched himself against the rope in an attempt to get away. I braced myself and held on, and so he had to at least stick around.

Obviously I couldn't lead him anywhere, so I tried walking in circles. Like, I'd gesture to the left, and say, "Let's go this way," and walk to the left, and perforce he'd have to turn after me.

He started to get a little focused on me. And then he had a bright idea. He could get me to walk in circles. He found that if he walked in a circle, I would follow him. Then he'd change it up a little and turn to face me. "Very good, human! You're turning to face me too!" Then he'd circle again.

Finally, after he thought I'd got the hang of it, he decided to lead me back to the shed. He walked at a nice, easy pace and kept turning to look at me to make sure I was following him.

And then fate intervened, and the knot which attached the rope to the clip at his halter came unravelled.

He was in a good mood by this time and climbed onto a dirt mound, looking cheerful, and came over to say hello to us, before wandering off with his goat friends.

I told the owner it was totally not worth pushing the matter. He could just pay me for my gas, and call it quits for the day. Donkey has probably had some extremely unpleasant experiences with farriers, and although his feet are long, they're chipping and curling out of the way, and he's walking fine. Fighting now will make everything harder later.

I told the owner to work with Donkey in the meantime - don't try to "train" him, but let himself be trained by Donkey, who is obviously smarter than us. Just make one "rule" - that Donkey can't leave - you're having a conversation and are attached together via halter and rope, and those are the parameters of the situation. I talked about the differences between horses and donkeys, explained about respecting the no, and said that if he listened, Donkey would communicate with him. He's a  nice owner, and he has a wife whom Donkey likes, plus a 5-year old boy - and Donkey loves kids.

I also asked the owner if he read the Bible (everyone round here does) - cos there are only two animals in the Bible who talk - the Snake, who gives bad advice, and the Donkey who gives excellent advice. So listen to the Donkey.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Talking Horse

It seems I never learn.

The horse I was working on earlier this evening has always been sensitive. He is a thoroughbred, inclined to be compliant, but gets nervous easily (which he shows by developing instant diarrhea if pressured too much) and is sometimes restless and resistant.

He always has a good reason. But with monotonous regularity, I come to the conclusion that this time his fussiness is just him being stubborn. I am always wrong.

Today, he kept on and on talking to us about something. He leaned over and nosed his foreleg repeatedly. When I didn't get the message, he moved to the other foreleg. I knew he was talking to us, but did not figure out that - omg duh - he was talking to us about ..... his legs!!!!!

After completing work on his LF, it became virtually impossible to work on any of his other legs. I noticed he kept stretching his LF out in front of him. So we walked him around, and sure enough he was limping. (Note to self: forgoodnesssake, remember to always see them walk first.) Didn't seem to be the foot, as he was squarely weighting both heel and toe. So, we figured somewhere in the leg was sore. The owner got some liniment, and as she was rubbing it on, he gave a strong ouchy reaction whenever she rubbed the inside of his left knee.

Mea culpa. I should listen better.

Of course, as soon as we said, "Poor darling, we'll stop work for today," he kicked up his little heels and galloped off to join the other horses, but, well, I guess even injured horses have to keep up with the herd to avoid the carnivores and such. Sometimes I wish they thought that untrimmed feet were the equivalent of a hungry puma.

Very different is his pasture mate. A strong, dominant, stoic buckskin mare. She has a sore LH stifle, and if you insist on holding up her foreleg too long, she'll rear (politely) to get away. But if you give her every consideration, and listen to all her requests, she will go out of her way to cooperate and make it possible for you to work on all her feet. It probably is uncomfortable for her, but she does it anyway. No way you could force her to do it. We didn't start out this way, her and me, but she taught me to listen to her, and rewarded me for doing it.

The Thoroughbred today was so much more calm than he used to be. He didn't get anxious - he just kept talking to us about the problem. So I'm glad that at least he feels encouraged to communicate directly, despite our obtuseness. And anyway, I'm always glad when it turns out that it's just me being dumb again. I'd hate to find out that there really was such a thing as a stubborn horse.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Another Ride with Rose

The other day I saddled up Rose again. We repeated the mounting exercise from last time, and this time things moved along more quickly to the point where I could hop up onto her back.

 I was trying out the smaller Cashel Soft Saddle. Definitely the larger one is going to work better. With both saddles, as it would be with bareback, it's a challenge for me to maintain a good position/posture - but a beneficial challenge, I hope? I do need to work on my seat.

Rose was in heat, so she kept wanting to go over to the fence to touch noses with George and squeal a little. I let her.  And in between we pottered about, but her mind was wandering.

Finally she came to a dead halt. I could not prevail upon her to move at all. As I have foresworn using a stick or other such persuasions, there we stood. Finally I dismounted, thinking that maybe she would like to be lead back to the pasture. No. She still wouldn't move.

So we stood peaceably for a while. Every few moments, Rose touched her nose ever so gently to my hand.

George and Bridget are always chivvying Rose about. "Go away." "Move." "Come along now." "Git."  I honestly think she gets fed up with it and likes coming out with me because she knows I won't make her move when she doesn't want to. She can pick a spot she likes and stay there, or she can head off towards a destination of her choosing.

Part of me says, "Well, this behavior is not conducive to making her a nice mount for my husband or anyone else to go for a pleasant trail ride in the countryside. And isn't that my goal?"

On the other hand, Rose has taken people for pleasant rides - on one occasion, it was all her idea in fact. And while it would be nice for my husband to reliably be taken for a nice hack, he does do other things for fun in his life, as well as owning a pretty serviceable pair of legs of his own. While Rose never has the opportunity to be Queen of the Realm except when I take her out.

And she is always perfectly sweet and polite about wanting her own way. Very different from a horse imposing its will on another horse - I think she recognizes that she can claim self-determination as a gift, as it were.

As this is the path upon which I've placed my feet, I feel I must follow it where it leads.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Today I had occasion to compliment a horse I was working with on his nice manners.

It occurred to me that when people talk about a horse's nice manners, they usually mean that the horse has been trained to behave, to be obedient, to be respectful, to be compliant.

But that's not what I meant.

My grandmother of blessed memory had many wise sayings. One thing she used to say was that good manners were simply Christian principles put into practice - one is polite and mannerly because  it's a way of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself, of putting others at ease and - well - of being nice to them.

That's what I meant with this horse. I felt he was being kind and accommodating to me. He was willing to put himself out, shifting his weight onto his sore leg when I asked, just because I asked. He picked up his feet and left them on the stand without fussing, even though he wasn't used to the stand and was suspicious at first. I felt he did all this not because he felt he had to, or was afraid of any negative consequences, or because he was trained to, but because he wished to treat me nicely.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

More Riding

Inspired by my ride the other day, and also by my Animal Communicator client's claim that horses are worried about hurting their humans' feelings, I resolved that we should do more riding around here.

Cos I reallyreally like riding, and maybe they wouldn't mind indulging me.

Plus I have a Cashel Soft Saddle on loan to try, and I needed to give it a whirl.

Here's the thing - there's this fear associated with mounting up. Fear and a feeling of seizing control from the horse - of creating a disconnect between human and horse.

So that's what I wanted to work on.

I got Rose out and put the Cashel saddle on her. It has a Western cinch, which I'm not used to, but I figured it out; plus the stirrup leathers are set on low, so the stirrups are long, even on the shortest hole. But I got it sort of sorted out, and when I brought out the bridle to put on, she turned her head all the way around towards me, because she knows it's the bitless now - back when she was expecting a bitted bridle, she used to turn away.

Next, we headed over to the kitchen steps for the purposes of mounting.

I just wanted everything to be calm, and relaxed, and unforced. So I lead Rose into position, gave her a treat, and when she broke position, I peacefully lead her around in a circle back to the same spot. Once she started holding that position, I stepped up onto the bottom step and gave her another treat. When she moved off, I just lead her around again and re-positioned, keeping the reins loose.

After a few times she stayed put, so I advanced to suggesting that I put my foot into the stirrup, again keeping the reins loose. When she moved away, we just quietly walked around and back into position.

After another couple of times, she stood still and let me mount. Of course the treeless saddle slipped, and I had to tighten the cinch. But on the next attempt, everything worked fine, and there I was sitting on top of Rose with no sense of having had to hold her still or take control.

Rose is a horse who likes to take her time and say no at first. Allowing her to do that gives her confidence. I liked the feeling of being able to mount because she agreed to let me - not because I trained her to let me, but because I asked and she said yes.

We pottered around the yard a bit, sometimes Rose choosing where to go, sometimes me. I think she'd've opted to go down towards the road, but the dogs were out, and I didn't want them to follow. Rose is a very listening horse. The bitless bridle we're working with is a bit of a blunt instrument, but nonetheless I think we made a little progress in the short time I was riding.

The soft saddle was ok - I need to try it with shorter stirrups. I think it'll be a good addition to Rose's saddle wardrobe, but I expect that it won't work for Bridget as I was hoping, as because she is so very cylindrical, it'll probably just slip at the slightest provocation.

Then it was George's turn. It seems that being tied to a fence and having a saddle put on and a person climb aboard is less of an imposition than being asked to walk backwards at liberty for no particular reason. He totally didn't make his mean face or get grumpy even when I tightened the girth. We approached mounting the same way as with Rose. He didn't need as many re-positionings and let me climb up pretty quickly.

As with Rose, we just had a short ride pottering about the yard. I think George will be a good riding teacher, because as soon as my hands start to interfere at all, he pulls the reins out of my grip. But if I'm very careful, he stays connected and listening.

I'm looking forward to my next ride!

Head Carriage. Etc.

I rode a horse! It was so exciting!

Actually, it was a little too exciting, as my daughter rode him first and got dumped on the ground. We were at a client's, who has become a friend, and she invited us to stay and ride. It was the gelding's first time with this saddle, and my daughter was taken aback by him starting off at a fast trot in the round pen, and she bumped on his back, and Mr. Allegedly Perfect crowhopped, and onto the ground went daughter. Never mind. She got back up, and he settled a bit, and then it was my turn.

He's a very nice, sweet horse actually. His new owner, my client, has only ridden him Western, but she said he was supposed to be trained to Level 2 dressage. What I found was that he was trained to have a false head carriage - chin tucked under, and zero connection over the to the rider's hands or to his own back. So that's what I worked on with him, and I think he started to let go of his behind-the-vertical mode of going and to connect a little with the rest of his body.

And he's not my horse and not my problem! So I didn't have to self-examine and question myself and wonder if it was ethical to be riding him in the first place or using a bit or any of those things. And honestly I enjoyed myself. Doesn't mean my equivocation with my own horses has got up and gone, but, hey, I'll take a bit of fun when I can find it!

Now on to the Etc. part of this post, which is the more interesting part, involving another client who is an Animal Communicator. Most of what she does involves finding lost animals, but she does help humans communicate with their animals about other matters also.

For example, she told me of a recent situation she'd helped with - the owner of a miniature horse was moving out of the country and had to find a new home for the horse. Two or three different potential new homes were on the table, and my client talked to the mini to find out which new owners he preferred. He had a definite preference and was allowed to make the choice himself - so the horse was happy, and the old owner was relieved to know that the horse would be content in his new situation.

Sometimes she'll be asked to find out what is bothering a horse. She said that horses are often reticent to complain about their owners (e.g. hard hands), as they don't want to hurt their feelings. So she has to promise to be tactful in communicating. I find this immensely reassuring.

I used to think this stuff was crazy. Now I don't. That is all.

p.s. Daughter may have cracked rib.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I've not had many dealings with stallions in my life, but I've come to know a few. As a teenager, I worked for several weeks with three (very dear) pony stallions. In the years between then and now an occasional stallion crossed my path, such as the affable Welsh Cob to whom I was introduced when he came to greet visitors in the pasture where he ran with his mares. As a hoof trimmer, although I haven't worked on any full-size stallions (there just aren't that many around), my clientele has included three donkey stallions and six miniature horse stallions.

There is something different about these guys. They have all been so ready to engage - more than other equines, they seem to embrace a spirit of rapport and rapprochement. They are easier to flatter - but also more flattering. ("Oh, you like me? That's great! I like you too!") All have been characterized by an eagerness to enter into the moment, by magnanimity, by playfulness, by unservile cooperativeness. When I'm with them, I feel as though I'm being welcomed onto a team.

I know we can't let all the colts turn into adult stallions. They can be harder to handle, and I've witnessed stallions who basically had turned into menaces from boredom and lack of attention. Uncontrolled breeding leads to neglect and unwanted horses, so housing stallions is a problem if there are any mares around. I accept that gelding is necessary. But I wonder if we haven't gotten rather complacent about this seemingly routine procedure, giving it the same perfunctory attention we might give to worming or vaccinations.

I don't want to try to sketch the characteristics of a gelding compared to a  stallion; every horse is different anyway. But perhaps something more than fertility may be lost in the castration of the male horse, and I want to acknowledge that loss, even it it's unavoidable.

There's plenty of stuff in this world that maybe ain't wrong but somehow just ain't right.

(Now, when Moshiach comes ..... )

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Horse Party

Today the horses and I had a festive gathering.

First of all, I let them out into the yard and played some tricks and training with Bridget. Then I tried to mow the lawn. When the lawnmower broke down (yet again), I pondered for half a second whether or not to go inside and do inside chores, and ditched that idea in favor of staying outside and messing about with the horses.

The center of fun was the open back of the station wagon. Bridget pulled my trimming bucket out onto the ground, so I decided that if she was so all-fired interested in the trimming equipment, I may as well try and tidy up her toes. She let me, after a fashion. George came over to see what was up and amused himself by pulling everything else out of the back of the car and then licking the carpet to see if years of spills had left any tasty remnants.

Rose, uncharacteristically, came over and planted herself in front of me, so I did her toes too. I don't think she was saying, "I volunteer to stand quietly while you trim my feet" - it was more like "Hey, my feet are just as important as Bridget's, right?" George had a little manicure too.

So we did a spot of trimming, and threw objects around, and stuck our heads inside bags, and attempted to dismantle parts of the car, and just generally had a convivial time.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tuning In

Today, I returned to the miniature stallions. Last time, the dominant one had been playful and curious and easy to work with. The other one, a stocky little brown guy, had struck at me with his teeth when I was working on his front feet. Today, I thought I'd pay better attention to the little brown stallion and see if we couldn't maybe elicit a better response without getting cross at him this time.

I realized that touching the foreleg is an invitation to rough play, as that's often where horses will nip at each other to get the fun started. As I went to pick up the forelegs of each little stallion, he turned to respond with a nip. However, the brown stallion's strike last time had not been of this nature - it was much more of a defensive "get lost" character. Perhaps he thought I was too big and scary to be playing with him.

Today I went slowly with the little brown guy, and this time, he didn't get cranky. Like his more dominant buddy, he started out by trying to nip. I said "uh uh" sternly. Then I remembered my resolution to be kinder and gentler and started just pushing his head away quietly. Then, somehow, we started engaging each other. Our interaction became interesting for both of us.

He began to understand that my touching his foreleg was not a prelude to play, but that I had another purpose. When I picked up his leg and he decided that pawing the ground would be a better activity for said leg, I encouraged him and put his foot up on my knee. I admired his leg and talked about it, and pointed out all the different parts of it. He was right there with me, inspecting his leg and nosing and nibbling at it. He became very cooperative. There was a bucket of treats up out of reach in the little pen we were in. Every now and then I'd take a break and go get him a treat. Once - and only once - he interrupted the proceedings himself to go over to the bucket and indicate that he would like one.

At the end, I taught him to shake hands, which took about 2 seconds.

The thing was - as I realized afterwards - we were both having fun. It was a nice day; I didn't have to be anywhere else for another two or three hours; the owners were pottering about in the background doing yard chores, not breathing down our necks or worrying about how much time it was taking. I wasn't focused on getting it done. I was focused on this little guy and who he was and what he was thinking  - and on how charming and delightful he was. I think horses like that much better - if you're just trying to get the job done, then of course it probably feels a bit to them like you're treating them as an object - never mind that "it's for their own good."  It's the same with the "crazy" mare at another barn - as long as I'm more interested in her than in her feet, everything goes just fine.

Later today, I was working on an apparently rather surly, bossy, uncooperative mare. I resisted the (every-present) temptation to establish dominance (although we did briefly play the Bored Game, which is nearly always helpful) and instead tried to be 100% responsive to all her concerns and complaints and to listen to everything she was trying to say. Mostly what she was worried about was her sore left stifle, and when I was "obedient" to all her requests, she freely offered a great deal of intelligent cooperation.

Having said all this, the other day I worked on a gelding who stood like a perfect statue when I worked on him, and I must say it was quite lovely to be able to mark his feet up and fuss with the details in peace and quiet, being a plain old trimmer for once, instead of counselor-therapist-teacher-psychologist as well!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

And This Is Why You Don't Try to Make Donkeys Do Things They Don't Want

(I waited 3 days til the bruise was nice and dark.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Human's Training Progresses

I don't know what it is, but despite all the Spilkeration that has gone on in my life, I still have a tendency to want to turn the horses into minions. Not to beat myself up about this, but there it is. I'm working on it.

One form this hegemony takes is the desire to Make George Do Things. One thing I like to ask him to do is to move his shoulder away. I ask him to do this because he hates it, and for some reason I think I should be able to randomly make him do things he doesn't want to, just because he's a horse and I'm a human. Whenever I suggest he move his shoulder away (unless, of course, there's a good reason for it, in which case he is impeccably courteous), he gives me his best "You are such a bitch" look.

Yesterday evening, we were out having a pleasant time together - George getting his tummy scratched, me dancing about to keep my be-sandaled feet from being trampled - when I decided we would practice doing a teeny bit of shoulder moving. Only this time I was determined to be reeeaally nice about it, and make it completely optional, and not, well, not be such a bitch about it.

So I stood by his shoulder and pointed, not at his shoulder, but in the direction toward which I was asking his shoulder to move, holding my arm in front of his chest. Pretty soon he did move in the desired manner, with the result that his butt came round to a good scratching position. That works.

Later, I tried again. Before granting me my whim, George first had to focus on some other agenda items. First we had to stare into the distance at some deer, and then we had to scratch his chest. And also he first had to make me move away from him. He achieved this by the not-so-subtle means of nudging me over with his head. Fair enough. And then finally he did move away in the desired manner, again bringing his quarters back to scratching position.

But only for a moment. He disengaged from scratching, carefully backed up to re-position me by his shoulder, said, "Allow me to demonstrate once more," and again moved his shoulder away from me. Then back to scratching.

So he schooled me in patience, reciprocity, and shoulder moving, without ever once telling me I was a bitch.

This morning, as I returned from yoga, Chloe was waiting for me and marched up to the fence while I was parking the car. Clearly she was a pony on a mission, and as I assumed it involved Improved Grazing Opportunities, I opened the two gates which face each other on either side of the drive and ushered George, Bridget, and Rose out from their current pasture over into the barn pasture. Chloe did not follow - the normal rules do not apply to her - so I shut the others in and let her stay out.

She nibbled a little clover but then walked purposefully over to me. It's been quite a while since she's let me climb on her back, but today I was getting the feeling that maybe it would ok. So I got into - well, it's not mounting position cos that would be giving me too much credit - let's call it scrambling-aboard position. Chloe stood still while I plonked myself like a sack of meal over her back. Feeling that it might be nice if there were less flailing and more dignity involved in the next step of actually getting one leg over Chloe's back, I went in and fetched out the kitchen step stool to aid in the process. But when I put it next to Chloe and stood on it, she walked forward. Only a couple of steps though. She walked forward, stopped, and waited. Ok, no step stool.

I got back into scrambling-aboard position, and Chloe stood, planting her feet, giving that kind of solid, reliable feeling that seems to say, "That's ok, take all the time you need. I know you're a complete klutz; I'll just stand here til you're up." Once I was up, Chloe turned her head to inspect my leg, looking at it  rather indulgently. Then she set off. She's very careful not to unseat me, and at first she stops every step or two, as she can feel my wobbliness. (Tall person on short pony makes for an unstable situation.) She walked over to the gate where the other horses were and stopped. I got off and asked her if she wanted to go in, but the other horses were crowding the gate, and she didn't want to.

For a little while, I pottered about doing other things. Chloe wandered down the drive a little, and when I went to see what she was up to, she seemed to invite me on board once more. So I scrambled on. Chloe turned to inspect my leg again and then carefully walked up to the gate. This time the other horses were out of the way, so when I got off and opened the gate for Chloe, she went right in.

I don't know what Chloe's plan was, or even if it was a plan. But it sure seemed like one.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Good for horses!:
Good for you!:
Grow it at home!:
Most seems to be grown in the UK:
What is this? Is it for real? Is it safe to buy chemicals from China?:
The Government says so! It must be true!:
This supplier is in the U.S.:

More Laminitis

On Monday, I went to work on two horses who had not been trimmed since October last year. The mare was doing fine, but the gelding had waaaay long toes and was recovering from an onset of laminitis about a month ago.

You could see the "event" about 1/2" down from his hairline in both fore and hind feet. However, the hind feet, growing as they do, did not have nearly as much damage as the fores.  This horse would surely have suffered less if he had met the spring with short toes.

I quizzed the owner about his history. He is in his mid twenties and started suffering from laminitis every spring in his mid teens (as well as at other times, although never in the winter). Last spring (2012) was the first time he avoided laminitis.

When I saw him for the first time in January, 2012, he had the flat feet typical of a laminitic horse, as well as a lot of abscessing going on.

The spring of 2012 brought no laminitis, although when I saw him in June (this owner doesn't call me often), his toes were super-long again. He was doing fine in October, although very long again.

But, uh oh, this spring brought another attack.

What was different? There were no apparent changes which lead to the onset of laminitis. As to the improvement in the spring of 2012, there are two possible causes. One possibility is that the January trim put him in better shape to deal with any laminitis issues. However, given the rate at which this guy grows toe, it's unlikely that a January 6 trim would have provided him with short toes by the beginning of growing season in March.

A more likely reason is as follows. In the late summer of 2011, he acquired a pasture buddy - a young mare. The added movement induced by having a playmate can't be the reason for his doing better, or else he would have stayed sound this spring. But here's what was different ... in their pasture, there's a pond where lots of watercress grows. The gelding had never gone into the pond when he lived alone, but the new mare had no qualms about wading in. The gelding followed her example and discovered all the yummy watercress growing in the pond. It was too late to affect him in the spring of 2011, as the mare didn't arrive until the end of the summer, but he ate watercress in the spring of 2012 and was sound for the first time in years.

However, the two horses ate so much of it last year that not much grew this spring, and the gelding got laminitis again.

After hearing all this, I came home and googled - apparently watercress is a known "phase 1 enzyme inhibitor," and of course matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) is the enzyme which is a major factor in laminitis.

So - aha!?

Although I know that MMP is an enzyme, I don't know whether it is a "phase 1" enzyme. However, it seems like there's a likely connection. My unscientific and haphazard googling suggests that that MMPs are thought to be a factor in certain kinds of cancer. Also that watercress is thought to be a cancer preventative/healer due to its enzyme-inhibiting qualities.

I called the owner back with this information and suggested that she might want to try and husband her watercress by maybe closing off the pond at certain times to allow the watercress to recover so that there's enough growing in the crucial spring months. The owner is now committed to regular trimming for her horse, and I'm booked up to come back again in 6 weeks. I also left her with an old file and showed her how to keep the toes off the ground, as I think any laminitic episode is made so much worse if there's any leveraging on the toes.

How do you feed watercress to your horse? I imagine horses have to eat a whole heck of a lot for it to work, so buying it from somewhere seems out of the question. And who sells bulk watercress anyway? Most pastures don't have ponds. I wonder if there's any kind of substitute.

On that note, I have another client with two horses who are at risk for laminitis. She has ordered some For Love of the Horse MMP Stop formula to keep on hand in case either one of them start to show signs. I'm very happy about this, as for one thing I've been hoping for someone who wants to try this product, and for another thing, it puts my mind at rest somewhat, knowing that there's a potentially effective remedy on hand for these horses if they get laminitis. One of them is a recent rescue. She has had very poor nutrition in the past, and as a result has had sluggish hoof growth. She has flat, shallow feet, with a hairline "ditch" - which makes me think she's had laminitis in the past, but from the appearance of her hoofs, I don't think she's had an episode in the last year. Now that she's getting proper nutrition, her feet might take off growing, and I want to be sure that it's the right kind of growth. The last thing she needs is an acute episode, which may be a concern now that she's on grass and getting fed properly after a couple of years of near starvation.

Here's a link to some watercress info:

I wish I had studied more science in school.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


The learning curve in my trimming practice has recently been taking a turn for the steeper.

Normally when someone calls me with a severely laminitic horse, I just tell them to call my friend Sue, who is Very Experienced with these problems. However, the other day, a new client called and didn't tell me in advance that his two mares (sisters) were suffering from a bad bout of laminitis. So I had to deal with it.

The mares were having a very hard time walking - you could see the "ouchouchouch" at the moment when they had to break over their toes in the front. They had the tell-tale "ditch" running around above their hairline, showing how compromised their feet are - the end of the digit sinking down inside the hoof capsule.   (An ideal foot has a "muffin top" bulging out above the hairline.) Their toes were very overgrown, and taking them back did help, but I was afraid to go too far, as without x-rays you just don't know for sure where the tip of the coffin bone is lurking.

The two mares had no problems with their hind feet - which shows how much laminitis is affected by mechanical factors - that may be because as there's much less leveraging in the hoof wall of the hind feet, the weakened laminae don't come to grief in the same way. I assume that the chemical situation does not differ fore and hind.

The owner is nice, and good with his horses. But he's used to paying an Amish guy $15 per horse for a trim, and so my price is already a bit much for him, never mind me wanting to come back every two weeks to work with the mares until they're sorted. I went back once at half-price, but I fear he may not have me back anytime soon again. I also feel I missed an opportunity to really educate him about the nature of laminitis. As my friend Sue says, half the job is education.

However, the experience had some benefit for me, as it finally made me go out and buy 2" thick roofing insulation foam and Gorilla tape to have on hand for any future encounters with badly laminitic horses.

And I learned something interesting. These mares get laminitis every spring, as do their mother and another sister (who live elsewhere). So this year their owner decided they would get no spring grass whatsoever. (He does know that grass is a factor.) He kept them in a bare paddock with not a single stick of green anywhere in reach.

And they got laminitis worse than ever.

The worse part makes sense, because the paddock is very small, and the mares were therefore not able to get much exercise and movement, which exacerbates the problem. However, why did they get laminitis at all? So here's what I've been wondering: is there a light trigger?

Horses produce matrix metalloproteinase, which temporarily loosens (or whatever the technical term is) the laminar attachment in order to allow the hoof wall to grow past the structures underneath it, to which it is attached by the laminae.  Of course, the more hoof growth, the more MMP is needed. Fructans in the grass causes a rise in MMP production, and if the chemical (or whatever the technical term is) isn't dissipated (owttti), an excess of it will cause runaway detachment of the laminae.

When spring comes, bringing with it greatly enhanced nutritional opportunities, it's a good time for the horse to grow a lot of new hoof. So it makes sense that the sugary grass of early spring would trigger a lot of MMP production to allow for the extra growth. And might it also be the case that increasing daylight, which triggers shedding, is a signal to step up MMP production too?

Whatever the cause, I'm thinking let's everybody start spring with nice short toes.

Question:  has anybody out there had any experience with this product: MMP Stop, made by For Love of the Horse? I'm longing to know if it works. I tried their UVeitis formula, and it really worked. If their MMP Stop formula works, it could be a great boon to some people.

P.S. In case anyone is wondering about the roofing insulation and Gorilla tape, here you go:

Sunday, May 5, 2013

More Fun and Games

Today, I went out to the pasture intending to work some more on George and Bridget's stand-stay. But it just wasn't working out quite as well as it did the last time. I eventually realized that the difference lay in the fact that the first time I introduced this, I was all motivated to instruct George and Bridget to behave in an appropriate way when I wanted to give out treats to all four horses; and standing and staying was part of that. Today, however, I went out with the intention of just "practicing" their stand-stay. To practice it mindlessly caused - not so much them as - me to lose focus and direction. If I had focused on making sure that everyone (i.e. George and Bridget) behaved nicely while I handed out treats to Rose and Chloe, I feel that things would have been clearer. By the time I realized this, I'd run out of treats, and so I put the issue aside for another time.

Instead, we just started goofing around. I played with George with the game of choosing between pinkie and thumb, each one standing for something. (You have to watch the video.) I have absolutely no idea if he had the slightest notion of what the heck we were doing, but he was pretty engaged. I also played drawing on the ground with a thick stick, which made George want to play at chewing the same stick. And we (that is me) put sticks in a bucket, and George took them out. And of course I had to spend time scratching him.

George has a new way of being with me, which is that he comes up head first and drops his head and stays in that position for a while. He still does his sliding alongside maneuver too. Another new thing is that he is more worried about the proximity of Bridget. When he was with me today, he kept giving her the evil eye, and a couple of times he left to run her off. Whereas in the past, he had supreme confidence that she wouldn't dare interfere. I notice lately that the two of them seem to be getting a little closer. One time I even caught them fraternizing over a fence without me standing in between them. I wonder if this rapprochement is making George more susceptible to Bridget or giving Bridget more confidence in her demeanor towards him.

George finally got tired of playing and picked up Rose and left. Which allowed Bridget to come over. She offered me her legs and was very interested in me talking about them, as in, "Yes! That's your right leg! And now, look! You're picking up your left leg!" We also discussed her ears and her nose and her mouth. The fact that she didn't turn her butt around to be scratched evinced her high level of engagement in this naming activity. I had the grooming box out with me, and of course Bridget had to empty it out and chew the contents and try to pick up the empty box.

I must try to think of some other interesting activities they might enjoy. I think they might get a kick out of a tarp.

Two Miniature Stallions

I was warned that the two little horses were not very good about getting their hoofs done. Often when people say this, it turns out fine, and sometimes when things don't go well, they say, "He's never acted like this before!" So the best thing to do is to go in with an open mind.

The first little guy was the more dominant stallion. He was cute as a button and listened attentively, peeking at me with impish eyes from beneath his huge Thelwell shock of forelock. He assayed a couple of playful nips, and when I put his forefoot up in front of him on the pillar, he thought this was a handy aid for standing up on his hind legs. In both cases, all I had to do was to say, "Silly boy, we're not playing that game right now!" and he cheerfully altered his behavior.

His cousin, best buddy, and pasture mate behaved differently. He had that slightly Eeyore-ish demeanor of the lower-ranking horse. As I worked on him, he struck at me a couple of times with his mouth, in a manner nothing like his cousin's playful nips. He didn't actually bite, and I don't think even opened his mouth. It reminded me of when Rose tries to convince Bridget that she's going to bite her - she puts on the most intensely peevish face she can muster and snakes her head at Bridget. Bridget is never impressed and either ignores Rose or backs into her in a very bossy-boots kind of way.  I spoke sharply when the little stallion struck at me. I probably didn't need to, and perhaps should have dealt with it in a different way, but it felt like the most directly aggressive gesture that any horse I've worked with has ever made. Just like his cousin, the little guy settled down and let me work peacefully. Next time I'll try to connect with him a little better before I start working. I probably invaded his space a bit too forcefully. But I'll also be more vigilant, as I do not want to receive a bite, mini or otherwise!

These two little horses, like many of their kind, are - for the most part - inquisitive, engaging, confident, comical, affectionate, endearing. I wonder if all these positive characteristics are evidence of the way minis are treated. Their diminutive stature makes them so unthreatening that people don't shut them down or react to them with fear. It's not that they don't teach them manners or that they let them get away with murder, but rather that they correct them the way you would your child - gently. When the first little Mr. Stud wanted to nip and rear, my equanimity was not at all disturbed, and I could remain unruffled and friendly while asking him to stop. I was told that when the horse was younger, if his owner turned his back, the horse would try to mount him. The owner would then calmly turn around to face him and hold onto his front feet for a while, which was tiresome for the horse, and so he gave up the bad habit. If a 16:2 hh horse did that, the human's stress and fear levels would almost certainly shoot up, causing them to react unpleasantly. So while the large horse learns to be more constrained and reserved, the minis' exuberance is not dampened in this way.

We just have to figure out how to allow our full-size horses to express themselves freely, without causing us GBH in the process!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fun and Games

Today I thought it would be fun to get all the horses to be polite and stand still while I doled out treats. I pictured how calm and pleasant it would be if they would all hold a position and quietly wait for me to pass around goodies. I actually felt very enthusiastic about this project, and bounced out to the field with a pouch full of tasty morsels.

Naturally, George came over to claim first dibs. We worked on George standing still, resuming his position if he broke it, and then waiting in position while I walked away and returned. At first he got grouchy when I asked him to replace his foot back into position once it had moved forward. But I did the bridgey thing and kept the treats coming, and pretty soon he was rock solid.

So rock solid, in fact, that when I turned to work with Miss Bridget, George just stood in position looking cheerfully expectant, and every now and then I would send a congratulatory intermediate bridge word over to him or step over and give him a treat.

Bridget was less cranky (not at all cranky, in fact) about being asked to move back into position after stepping forward. But she was a deal more persistent about trying to move.

However, for a moment or two, I had George and Bridget secure enough that I could walk away and give a treat to Rose, without either of them breaking position.

It all turned out to be remarkably enjoyable and gratifying.

Next I started with George on the amazingly clever game in the video in the post before last. I do believe he started to figure it out.

As my kids used to say:  "Oh the fun-ness!!"

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Pony Flicks in Fetlock Joint When Walking"

Once in a while, out of curiosity, I take a look at my blog's statistics - how many page views, how much traffic is coming from China and Russia (seriously?), what sites are referring people to mine, what pages are most looked at, and so on. I would say that close to 100% of the time the No. 1 page viewed is the one about Buck Brannaman and the dangerous colt, a subject I've written about a couple of times in this blog.

Another interesting piece of information is what search keywords lead people to find me. Today, as usual, the first search keyword listed involved Buck Brannaman, and, and in the No. 5 spot were the words which are the title of this entry.

These words immediately caught my eye, as this issue was exactly what lead me to start trimming my own horses. Our elderly mare had started to "flick in her RH fetlock joint when walking."

When I started trimming Misty, I discovered that she had very high heels and layer upon layer of folded over bar and false sole in the seat of corn. It took me a while to get brave enough to dig it all out, and looking back, I may not have succeeded.  Misty's walking did improve; but she was well into her 30's by the time I started trimming her, and I think there was permanent damage to her fetlock joint or her navicular bone. She never did walk completely normally, and in the last few months of her life, the problem got worse again.

I think that the "flicking" was due to Misty landing on her toe, whereupon her fetlock would flick, or click, back to allow her heel to drop, before she could pick up her foot again. I imagine - and this is only speculation - that she had considerable heel pain, from all that junk packed into her seat of corn, which would have caused her to avoid landing heel-first. And I know that a toe-first landing, followed by the heel dropping and being picked up again, can cause navicular disease.

The flicking foot didn't look especially long, as her hoofs grew very upright. Her former owner told us that Misty was said to have one or more club feet, which would be one way to describe the vertical habit of her hoof. She also held her pastern very upright - another sign of heel pain, as the horse tries to bring weight forward and up off the heel.

Here is a photo of Misty's hind feet, taken not long before she died in 2009 - she looks overdue for a trim here. You can see a "healing angle" growing in on the LH. You can also see the upright pastern and bruising under the wall. The toe is much too long, and the heel is underrun. Sheesh. I think it likely that at the time this photo was taken, I was not able to see how underrun that LH was. You can see that the RH (the one which flicked) is rather upright - the heel looks very high, but in the next photo, which shows the sole, it's hard to see how you could take the heel down much more. The second photo shows how crazy-too-far-forward breakover is, yet who would guess that from looking at the foot from the outside?

If confronted with these feet nowadays, I would probably (I hope!) handle it a bit better, although I'm still clambering up the learning curve and don't expect to reach the top. But the main reason I wrote this post was to say to Mr. or Ms. "Pony Flicks in Fetlock Joint When Walking" if they're still out there and happen to find this post: Find yourself a good trimmer - your pony probably has really sore heels!

Gold Stars All Round

Yesterday, I girded up my loins and sallied forth into the pasture, armed with three new tubes of ivermectin, generic brand - purchased, to my surprise and delight, for like only four dollars each.

I felt there was some necessity for loin-girding in as much as my little darlings are all totally spoiled and accustomed to molly-coddling and to having their opinions taken into account at every turn. They are like the offspring of those earnest middle-aged parents whom you encounter in 57th Street Books kids' section, intent on having an intellectual discussion with their 5-year old on the merits of a Paul Klee art book. Which is the way I want it, mind you, but sometimes, well, sometimes you kind of have to summon up a bit of emotional slash mental energy to discuss Paul Klee with a five-year old.

Pah! Silly me! George was, like, a complete little angel. He opened his mouth and ate his medicine and then his carrot, and then stood aside and let me get to the mares. Bridget, too, was a perfect little paragon about the whole thing.

Rose, of course, did not want to have anything to do with the procedure at first. She did her cute, rather pathetic, Rose thing of turning her head away so that her nose is all the way over touching her shoulder. Or the not so cute thing of jerking her head up into the air. So I let her do all those things to her heart's content and persisted with naming and explaining, inspired by Kayce Cover and the rhinoceros. (Synalia  press site, scroll down a little.)

I thought perhaps we might actually be there all evening, but after not so very long she stopped turning away, stood quiet, and opened her mouth. She even let me back to squeeze a little more in after a dollop had dropped on the ground. Wow!

Chloe was let off the hook as the tube of wormer I had on the shelf turned out to be past its expiration date.

And on the topic of Kayce Cover, here is a really cool video, which inspires me to try out the awesome game they are playing therein. Whaddya think?

Monday, April 15, 2013

George's Delicate Bubble

George has not been speaking to me lately. I assume it's partly because I haven't been doing much of anything with him for a while, and also partly because he has been very annoyed about the lack of spring grass this late in the year. He has only had one thing to say to me for the past couple of months: "What the heck? Get me some grass!"

A few days ago, I took him out for a grazing walk. After I returned him to the "pasture," he was very gentlemanly in allowing the mares to each have a turn to come out as well. However, once everyone was back in with him, he stood by the gate and stared his most meaningful stare at the pasture across the driveway, where the grass had attained an inch or two more in height than in his current abode. I'd been intending to wait a few more days, and possibly until it had rained again, before moving the horses. But really, it's too hard to make them wait - they need that green grass now that spring is on its way, and they can see it staring at them on the other side of the fence. So I moved them over.

George approved. When I went in this evening to play with Bridget, George came over, shooed Bridged away, pressed his side up against me, and stood peacefully. After a bit, he moved forward so I was positioned next to his tail, where we stood for a while longer.

George has been looking rather beatific lately - even despite the lack of grass (for which I personally am entirely to blame, so he has had no particular need to look annoyed except when talking to me). In general he's just been looking a little more radiant or sunshiney or something.

When I took him out for the grazing walk, we played the Bored Game first. Then I asked him to back up, which he's gotten more philosophical about than in the past; then I suggested he move his hindquarters over, which he did - that's not much of a problem for him. Next, I asked him to move his shoulders over, and them's fighting words for George. I was very careful not to touch him. I simply pointed at his shoulder and said, "Scoot" in a friendly voice. George pinned his ears and grumbled and wanted to chew my clothes. I persevered, so he turned his head away, whereupon I gave him much encouragement in the way of intermediate bridges (thanks, Maire, and more on this later) and then he finally moved his little tootsies over and away from me. No difficulty in making him understand what I wanted - just a finger pointing from several inches away - but so difficult for him to bring himself to comply with my request.

Today, when we were relaxing together, I felt - is it my imagination? - that George might be growing a thin bubble. In the past, I've always felt that he had no bubble at all and that that is why he is so uneasy around the other horses. He's ok with Rose, who has a fairly thin bubble herself, and who doesn't pose a challenge to him. But the presence of Bridget, whose bubble is the size of Texas and who has a very forceful character, causes him to become tense and defensive. He feels exposed. But today - again, is it my imagination? - I felt a kind of warmth or aura around him,  just a tiny, tiny bit (microns only!) larger than his actual body.

I don't want to intrude into his precious personal space and make him feel more exposed than he already does. I like the new feeling of warmth coming from him, and I'd like to encourage him to cultivate it. So this evening, instead of asking him to do anything, I thought maybe we could do a little bit of "Name and Explain" (thanks again, Maire, and more later maybe). I started with his knee - I touched it and said "This is your knee." No problem. Then I touched his elbow, saying "This is your elbow." This triggered the stink eye and pinned ears. So I thought we'd better name first and touch after. So I said, "I'm going to touch your knee" and did so. Then, "I'm going to touch your elbow," and did so. This time he didn't react. But the third time I touched his elbow, he just up and left. Which is ok.

The unfolding of George has been and continues to be a mysterious process. When I first knew him, he was very bold and in-your-face. He liked to keep you in front of him, in the crosshairs. He was still liable, on occasion, to bouts of aggressive behavior. He seemed outgoing and would approach people confidently, but I've come to learn that George's head is his shield rather than an organ of communication (as it is with Bridget), and that it is when he puts you by his tail that he is letting you in. Bridget is all in her eyes - they beam out through her charming screen of forelock to make contact with you. George is somewhere deep within himself. His eyes can signal menace or anger, but when he looks happy, his eyes are innocent, his look diffuse.

The next day, I was sitting on the kitchen step drinking my tea, and a warm breeze was blowing. I closed my eyes and felt the wind on my face and listened to the birds singing in the trees and the geese calling in the distance.  I have been becoming a little jaded about the visible world around me. It has been failing to enchant me. I realized, as I sat, that I rely on my sight to connect me to the world around me, and that there is a whole tangible world of perception that is not experienced through the eyes.

Perhaps I have been coming at George head-on, eyes-first. I must learn to be more diffuse like him, to approach him obliquely, to listen and feel rather than watch. A bubble can be a fragile thing - perhaps even from a distance a pointed finger is too sharp.

Monday, April 1, 2013


I was going through old photos on the computer and came across some pictures of Bridget back when she was called Pandora and still lived at the rescue barn. I took these photos during a period of time when I went to visit her a couple of times, probably pretending to be "helping out" but secretly thinking of adopting her. She lived in a large pasture with a creek running through it, and her pasture mate was none other than Rose, whom I found very standoffish and slightly intimidating. Who knew she was going to come live with us too?!

Always ready to follow along to see if there's some fun to be had.

Now what?

Having followed me to the gate, Bridget protests being
left in the pasture with that boring grown up, Rose.

You can see she was in a phase of not quite having grown into her head. When she was very little, she had beautiful conformation, and now she's grown back into pretty nice proportions. But, hey, who cares about conformation! It's what's inside that counts, right?

The rescue owner always wanted me to adopt Pandora/Bridget, but I always thought she was so nice that she would work out well with lots of different people, and there was no need for me to be that person. I think I recall that after my visits to her in the big pasture by the creek, I realized I didn't want her to work out well with someone else - I wanted her to work out well with ME.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Two New Donkeys

On Saturday, I had the privilege of trimming two new donkey clients. One was a jack, and the other a pregnant jenny. Both donkeys were inclined to kick at first. What am I saying, "inclined to"? Both donkeys did kick at first. Donkeys are good wee kickers, and the owner's granddaughter told me, with some satisfaction, that they had a friend whose jaw had been broken by a donkey kick. I can believe it. I did not get behind the donkeys.

Both donkeys calmed down when they figured out I wasn't going to grab their hind legs and hold on. They calmed down in different ways. The elderly jack donkey became very listening. He stood with his ears turned backwards toward me, like giant antennae tuned in to our conversation, and he became helpful. We bribed the more anxious jenny with apple at first, letting her eat when her foot was off the ground, and taking the apple away when either she or I put her foot on the ground. We ran out of apple by the time there was still a foot and a half to do, but we didn't need any more, as she had put herself into a meditative state by this time.

There's a sort of sadness to some donkeys that is very poignant. Perhaps they have all seen too much of life.

Later that same day, I trimmed our own horses. They were very good. Not so long ago they used to give me fits when I tried to work on their feet. I haven't trained them up to it, and I haven't accustomed them to the process much, as we have hard ground and I let them self-trim for months on end. We've just somehow gotten used to dealing with each other, and it was so nice to tie each one up in turn to the fence with a nice netful of alfalfa hay and have them stand there chomping peacefully while I matter-of-factly plonked their feet on the stand and nipped away and didn't bother my head much about anything except getting the job done.

Saturday was the first day we've had that really felt like spring. It was opening day of fishing season, I guess, and all the creek banks in our area were thronged with guys in camo and waders. I was happy for them that they had such a beautiful day to be out and about. Today the clouds and rain were back, and no one wore Easter dresses to church except the little girls - everyone else was still in their winter drab. Weather.com prognosticates more chilly weather for at least the next week. Sigh. Come back, Spring!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bridget Refuses to be Bored

Bridget and I had an interesting excursion today, which reminded me again of the many dilemmas and questions in life, such as when - or whether - to compromise, when - and whether - to stick to an agenda, and of the perennial necessity to stay in the moment and just hope you don't mess things up too bad.

I've been finding the Bored Game to be very helpful in trimming. Just the other day, I was trying to trim a TB gelding, who was restless on account of I had interrupted his Very First Day Out On Grass this spring. A minute or two of the Bored Game was all it took to bring him mentally present and allow us to finish his feet. Most horses get the picture really quickly.

Bridget is another story. While Bridget and I were out for a walk today, I lead her off the road onto the verge to allow a car to pass. She has no fear of traffic, but as the car went by, she was very distracted and not paying attention to me, which made the situation feel unpleasantly unstable. If I'm going to start riding Bridget this year, we need to have an understanding that we must both be present in the same mental space. So I decided then and there to play a spot of the Bored Game. Over half an hour later, we were still at it.

Bridget is what, if she had been a little girl back in the days of my childhood, would have been termed "a proper little madam." Nowadays I would say she possessed a flair for the dramatic and displayed excellent leadership potential. Be that as it may, thirty minutes and counting of the Bored Game and we weren't getting anywhere.

She looked into the distance, pawed the ground, plunged, walked into me, stared at phantoms, tried to sneak past me, nudged me, bounced, and altogether refused to accept the fate of boredom. The good thing about this game is that it is non-confrontational, which means that the horse might be getting mighty ticked off, but the human can remain serene. However, when she started barging into me, I thought this might be a bridge too far and decided to whomp her on the chest with the end of the leadrope, which is sort of against my principles, but, hey, no one likes an ideologue, right? Then - which is where I took it too far, I think - I whomped her again when she tried to run around me. I think whomping is ok to stop her running into me but not to stop her running around me. I guess. Whatever. Anyway, I got my head back into the right place, but Bridget was still refusing to be bored, finding ever-cleverer ways to circumvent my plans. And I admit it might not have been the best idea to play this game half a mile from home.

Then, in moments when she was momentarily [note correct use of "momentarily"] still, I started feeling on the leadrope to ask her to relax her neck and back a little. And as soon as she did, she would go into this paroxysm of opening and closing her mouth and twisting her body and contorting her neck, and lifting her foreleg up underneath her - as if letting go of the tension in her neck and back was just too, too weird-feeling. At first she resumed her head-up tension almost immediately, but each time I asked for the release she maintained the paroxysmic (is this a word?) behavior for longer and longer, until she dropped her head completely and began rubbing her nose on the ground like a bloodhound.

None of this bore any resemblance to boredom, but I could sense Bridget coming in closer - that the focus of her attention was now on this weird experience she was having rather than on outwitting me. I asked her to walk forward while her nose was on the ground, and she did so. When her head crept up, I stopped, re-asked for release, whereupon she immediately dropped her nose all the way back to the ground, and we started walking again. She could even trot with her nose on the ground. After a few stops, she would automatically drop her nose without being asked and start walking again. And in this manner we walked all the way home.

When we were almost back, a neighbor stopped to talk to me, and Bridget immediately reverted to her toddler-in-the-supermarket-fed-up-because-mom-is-having-boring-conversation-with-boring-grownup-and-toddler-wants-to-go-home-already behavior.

Bridget's willfulness was in clear view today - it's a quality I like in her, but I think we'll have to continue this conversation. I really do want her to understand that if I say "Be bored," then that's the way it has to be. I don't think she even really knows yet what I'm asking for. She and I had a similar loooong conversation a few months ago about backing up, and as I re-read that blog entry, I recall that I used the clicker to help me clarify to her what I meant. She was calmer then because we were at home - but it still took about half an hour.

Later today, I was out in the pasture, grooming the horses and hanging out. I managed to teach Bridget (by dint of bribing with scratches) to turn 180 degrees away from me, and then I started teaching her to keep going and turn the rest of the 360. She stuck around for ages, letting me teach her silly stuff. She's a good kid.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Manners 101 Revisited

In a blog entry three years ago (gosh, have I been doing this for that long?), I talked about how I discovered that in horse etiquette, a broadside approach is less mannerly than an approach which starts face-to-face. I was talking particularly about Gus and George, who preferred, if I wished to stand beside them, that I come directly to their head and then slide down their flank.

I forgot this lesson. Duh. But the other day I was trimming a large red mule (yes, my first mule!), who didn't like it when I approached his hind legs, although he'd been fine with his fores. I tried "asking permission," but that didn't really work. However, I found that I could approach his head and then slide down his side, keeping contact with my body, and that then he would allow me to work on his hind leg.

You'd think I'd remember the things I've learned. I need to go back and re-read and figure out what else I've forgotten.

Once again, I am without the means of getting photos onto this blog. So, speaking of Gus, whom I don't see anymore as he is 1,000 miles away in Mississippi, here's a photo of him for old time's sake.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

No More Mrs. Nice Guy

My oldest daughter informed me that I must set up a website, as no one under the age of 35 was ever going to look for a barefoot trimmer by any means other than Googling. So I dutifully set up my site and on it proclaimed that I eschew all recourse to anger or violence in response to nipping, kicking, or restlessness.

Having made this bold statement, two days later I went to trim some new horses and, of course, one of them nipped me, and another kept swiping at me with her hind foot.

The nipper was a young, cheeky mare with whom apparently nobody had ever had much success trimming, and she turned around to nip me a couple of times as I tried to work on her front feet. The kicker was a bossy, middle-aged mare who didn't think I was to be trusted with her hind legs.

Rather more conscious than usual, having made my public proclamation, of the need for patience, I ignored the nips and kicks and attempted to reach a harmonious concord with the mares, who rewarded me by renouncing their incursions upon my person and becoming rather cooperative and helpful.

A triumph for non-violence.

And then there's Trooper. Trooper is the nicest, sanest, most affable horse you could ever wish to meet. But he has sore stifles, and he doesn't want to pick up his right front leg. He it is of whom my daughter said, "I've never seen a horse rear so politely before." The last two times I was there, he absolutely refused - in the kindest, but most resolute manner - to let me work on his right front.

This morning he had been given bute, but things were no better; in fact the unwillingness had now spread to his left front also.

I asked the owner, "Does it help if you get mad at him?"

She said, "Oh, yes." So I thought, "What the heck, let's give it a try."

So when he snatched his foot away and started pawing the ground, I got in his face and roared at him like a mean, angry lion.


I had to roar two or three more times, but with longer gaps in between, and both front feet got done pretty easily. Trooper didn't seem offended or alarmed by my weird threatening behavior. But it sure did work, although I don't think it would have worked with the two mares the other day. Trooper is so calm and confident and good-humored that roaring at him isn't enough to damage one's relationship with him - but it does seem to be enough to convince him that you're serious.

It's horses like Trooper that I find the most challenging to deal with when trimming - strong, fearless, confident, smart, dominant horses - although it's a type of horse I like very much. That kind of horse is has a lot of noblesse oblige and will let you work on his (it's usually a gelding) feet if it's convenient, but will not be willing to give you his feet if there is much discomfort involved. I've tried "establishing dominance" over Trooper by taking the leadrope and making him back up and stuff like that, which can  sometimes help with a different sort of horse. With Trooper it had no effect. Today he either was very impressed and intimidated by my mean lion act or else he felt sorry for me at having to act so stupid. Whatever, I'll take it.

Each horse is so different - just when I think I've got "them" figured out, I find out again that each horse must be learned anew. I'm glad it's like that.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Recently I watched the movie The Horse Boy, which is a really cool movie about a little autistic boy whose parents (as one does) take him on a trek in search of healing to the Reindeer People in Outer Mongolia. It's a whole saga, and worth watching, and it's available on Netflix Instant Watch if you're interested.

The part I'm talking about, however, involves an episode where the father wants his son to continue their journey on horseback, and the little boy, who normally loves riding, has a tantrum and won't stop until they let him ride in the van instead.

The father is naturally disappointed and resists letting the boy have his way. The father is attached to his vision of the trip proceeding idyllically with the little boy sitting on the horse in front of him. He realizes finally that it is he himself who is being stubborn and resistant; he must give up his attachment to his plan and actually listen to the child.

This, I would say, is obedience.

When I'm on my way home and the "Battery Not Charging" light comes on, and my mechanic on the phone says it's only a matter of time until the car stops working, I initially decide to try and make it to an important appointment and deal with the car later. Then I wake up, cancel the appointment and take the car to my mechanic. That is obedience.

When the horse I'm trimming says, "Enough on this leg - time to move to the next," and I hold on, wanting to just get it finished. That is disobedience.

When I have a pleasant little revery involving my child being good at sports and she resists signing up for next season, and I realize that it's my dream and not hers and let her quit. That is obedience.

Obedience is not what we think it is.

I should add that later on in the movie, they come to a point in the journey where the van cannot continue because of the terrain. The father convinces his son to ride on the horse. At this juncture, there was a real need for the boy to do so, whereas earlier on there had not.


This morning, I was browsing through Chabad.org, my favorite website, and came upon this recent lecture.


This lecture affirms what I was talking about in my post of yesterday. Now is not the time to dwell on externalities but to delve deep inside and look for the source within, which can transform, rather than merely curate, the world outside.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Not by Bread Alone

This morning - I suppose it was this morning, but it could have been any time or any day - I was lying in bed, looking out of the window at the mountain, gathering my thoughts for the day. Perhaps I began a prayer - began to ask for things I need, or for things needed by friends and family members.

And then - I don't know - I saw a bird in a tree and suddenly thought: how paltry are the things I ask for, how meager, how mere.

Health, work, financial security, safe traveling, the success of projects, all kinds of things - all important things, but really, is that the best I can ask for? What does the world really hold in store for us? What are we looking for, what do we expect, what do we hope for?

Suddenly everything I was concerned with seemed so utilitarian and pragmatic.

Judaism holds that the mitzvot - the commandments and laws - are not to be thought of as useful or as accomplishing any purpose. They are to be performed because their performance gives God pleasure. Is this a clue as to how we should view the world? That the useful things, the necessary things are all well and good, but that the really important things have no utility.

I think of horses, of George - George, whose flesh and blood and stature make him ideal for carrying or pulling things or people. And Einstein, whose arms and legs no doubt would have made him a serviceable (if absent-minded) street sweeper.

And although the Enlightenment brought us many benefits for which we're grateful, we have almost imperceptibly slipped into something which is sometimes called The Mechanistic World View. Which isn't an inaccurate view, because that would be easy to disprove. But a misleading world view, which tempts us to believe that the entire universe is made up of utilitarian relationships, of cause and effect, of things necessary for other things, a world in which all mitzvot are performed for the sake of the usefulness thereof, and therefore are not mitzvot at all.

Yes, I want the safety of those I love. But should I stop after I've asked for that? Or should I ask for more love?

Do I want a horse who will carry me securely down the road, or do I want a horse who will reveal to me the goodness of God which is inside creation? I need to ask for more.
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  ... For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6: 31-33)

George is a Genius

George is very capable of communicating. However, he does it in such a diffuse and sometimes distant manner, that I don't always notice what he's saying, or even that he's saying anything at all.

Bridget comes barreling over - she pushes me, prods me, sticks her nose in my face, slams her butt into my side to ask for scratches, tries to copy what I'm doing, and generally is like an enthusiastic, bumptious kid, who wants to talk and ask questions and get involved in everything.

George on the other hand - for example - comes toward me indirectly, passing to one side, makes no face-to-face contact, and stops with me in the general vicinity of his hindquarters, careful not to touch me. If I fail to take the hint, he turns around and looks at the spot  he wants to have scratched.

Today, he came over for a little scratching, but he wasn't really into it. He kept leaving and going to stand by a lone capped t-post, the remains of a manege I used to have. As he stood there, looking utterly woebegone, he would bite his legs and paw at the ground.

I thought to myself, "What in the world is the matter with George?"

I guessed he was frustrated because he wanted to go across the drive to the other field where there was a little green grass, and I'd already made it clear that this wasn't happening today. I decided that despite the piles of hay I'd put on the ground for his dining pleasure, George was just sad that there was no green grass in his field and his frustration was getting the better of him.

Later on, I was with the horses in a different part of the field, near an open gate which leads between two pastures. I noticed a stray piece of fence wire hanging down and wrapped it out of harm's way around the fence.

George went over and took the piece of wire in his mouth. If Bridget did that, it would be because she'd seen me wrap the wire and wanted to try to copy me. Not George. I offered him the end of the wire to see if he wanted to investigate it. No. He stuck his head over the fence. He stepped away, and right next to the gate post, he started pecking and pawing the ground and biting his legs again.

And then I understood. He's talking to me about fencing. That was the whole point of standing by the t-post, and then mouthing the fence wire, and then pawing beside the gatepost. Even though this particular piece of fencing and this open gate divides the two pastures he's currently living in, he's using the fencing here to make a point: He is frustrated by the fencing that is keeping him from the green grass.

It was getting late, but I wanted to do something for him and asked him to follow me across the field, where I exited and found a meager patch of green grass growing in a corner of the yard. I plucked the short grass and in the growing darkness gave George tiny handfuls of green through the fence. It wasn't much, but I hope at least he realized that I finally understood what he was talking about.

The complexity of his communication astounds me.

It's interesting that this happened today, because I've just been realizing that it's a long time since I tried to tap into George's special talents and gifts. Earlier today, I was trying to tell him that I was sorry about that, and perhaps looking for a word from him.

In my selfish way, of course, I now see I was hoping for something for me. Whereas right now, George has his own needs as a priority. Yet he perhaps sensed that I was listening again, and he talked to me.

Listening is hard. Hearing is even harder.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On the Spectrum?

A while ago I came to the conclusion that George was autistic.

Is there such a thing as an autistic horse? So I googled.

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so: I learned about Benny the Autistic Horse, who belongs to Missy Wryn.

Yup, I really think he is.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Magical Healing Powers of Donkeys

Yesterday I went to trim at a rescue barn. One of the residents is a 30 year old pony mare whose health had declined in her old age to the point where she was at death's store - she'd lost huge amounts of weight and had constant diarrhea. No one could figure out what was wrong, and no treatment worked.

Until she was put in with the donkeys. Whereupon she more or less immediately started to feel better and gained 100 pounds in short order.

I trimmed the donkeys too. I was warned that they could be "a bit frisky" and as I know I am no match for a donkey, I expected the worst. One donkey did indeed turn out to be a little stubborn, but the other one could not have been more accommodating. She just stood there and did everything in her power to be as helpful as possible. While at the same time retaining her enigmatic donkeyness.

What is this mysterious donkey quality? Is it a reserve, a distance, a judging? It seems to convey an immense amount of knowledge, imparted in tiny doses, in great silence. One senses that Eeyore-like trait of endurance and ... not exactly cynicism, but perhaps realism. Every now and then, a clear transmission of intelligence is received, as if beamed down from an alien civilization on a distant planet. We are not alone! I hear that donkey society is non-hierarchical compared to that of horses, and I believe it. Authority seems to be devolved to each donkey, authority not only over itself but over others too - a non-violent authority, which demands the good of all.

They say that when Moshiach comes, he will come on a donkey. Of course this could mean that Moshiach will come in a donkey. Judaism has this beautiful idea called "inversion" whereby in the Messianic era, everything is turned upside down. What was down is up, what was weak is strong. The body informs the spirit instead of vice versa. Woman is the head of man. And so on. Of course we can see these things happening these days all over the world, and this teaching is very much in keeping with the idea, which more and more people are espousing, that we can learn from our animals - not just practical truths, but spiritual and moral truths also.

The donkey - the only animal (apart from the serpent) who speaks in the Bible - perhaps is well aware of all this, and has been biding his time until the day when we will listen to him.