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

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.