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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kindred Spirits

I've discovered a very simpatico mentor and online community: Jenny Pearce and her Happiness and Wellbeing for Horse and Riders.

Jenny has a nice free emailed program called "Nine Keys to Happiness with Your Horse," as well as other more extensive programs which she makes available for a very reasonable cost. She's has a nice blog, question-and-answer page, books for sale, and she is responsive to questions and requests for advice.


Friday, March 18, 2016


I have made the following resolution:  I will never again mount a horse without its explicit permission, except in cases of emergency (#balto, #paulrevere).

The newly minted head honcho Bridget didn't want to leave her pasture the other day and was eager to return. She was nice about everything and let me put her saddle on. But when it came time to stand by the mounting block, she kept turning her tail away so that I couldn't reach the saddle.

She was very nice about it and stood very calmly and sweetly with her head next to my body, but every time I re-positioned her, she moved out of position again. I know many horses are trained to stand still on a loose rein for mounting. But that's not good enough for me. I want a freely-given assent from a horse who is secure in the knowledge that a refusal will carry no consequences whatsoever. I don't mind asking politely a few times in a row, but if the answer continues to be no, then that's it.

I know now that Bridget understands about mounting and that she enjoys a trail ride. So when she says no, I trust that she has a good reason. The transition from being annoying kid sister to HBIC in the pasture may take a while, and patience on my part is probably in order.

Round Pen

Prior to anyone riding Rose again, I knew that I should accustom her to the round pen. She's often anxious about leaving her pasture, and she can get quite unthinking when she's anxious - not safe. She's fine if she picks the direction and timing of outings, and she can be reluctant to go back into the pasture, so it's not that she's herd-bound. Just anxious about new things. Both George and Bridget have embraced the round pen as a safe space (as long as someone's in there with them) - they recognize it as a place for conversation and experimentation. I wanted the same for Rose.

So a new Rose-in-the-round-pen campaign was begun. The first time I took her up, she was indeed rather anxious. Horses release emotion through movement, and by my inviting her to use the round pen to run around, she was able to discharge some of that flight/fear reaction in a more controlled way. I say "invite" deliberately, because I no longer use the round pen to insist that the horse run or move in any particular way. The horses will accept an invitation because they recognize that the round pen is a tool which they can use for their own comfort and advantage And if they choose not to accept the invitation, that is fine too.

After a while, I tried to encourage Rose to walk instead of run, but she was not yet able to turn the volume down on her emotions. However, a short while later, without being asked and without being asked to move at all, she took up an active, even walk at the rail of the pen. After several circuits, I asked her if she would like to try the other direction. She accepted, and turned, and continued her energetic walk.

It's exciting that the horses are able to figure out how to use the round pen in different ways to help them feel better, to work through issues and problems, and to try out new things. (For example: George's Practice.)

Since that first time, Rose has been confident in the round pen, and when the time came to bring my husband out to ride her, she was very content to meander about or just stand still and rest beside him.

Rose Finds a Friend

I had the animal communicator talk to my horses! Yes I did!

This is something I've been fence-sitting about for years - curious, sceptical, drawn to it, but doubtful. So finally I had to try it.

One of things I learned (more in another post) - well, not learned, because honestly I knew this already - was that Rose is kind of sad and has a feeling that some part of her is missing. We speculated what this might be, but I've always felt that she wanted her own person, so I informed my husband that there was a Terry-shaped hole in Rose's heart and he was going to have to start to live up to his obligations.

He's only been out twice to the barn since then, but it's a start!

I got them into the round pen - Terry groomed her, and she started following him about. He's never been that patient about the horses, but I guess my years of droning on have made an impression or something, and when it was time to put her bridle on (which takes a lot of asking and waiting and processing for Rose), he said, "Well, we don't have to ride today," which made me proud of him, and was exactly the right approach for our shy Rose.

Despite the mounting block, it was rather a struggle for him to get into the saddle. He was slightly stranded for a few moments in an awkward and vulnerable position with one leg half over the saddle. During all this time, I swear have never experienced a horse standing as still as Rose. It felt like every cell in her body was dormant. What a comforting feeling.

After he was in the saddle, you could tell Rose was thinking, "Whoa, dude's kind of heavy!" She very carefully started to take some steps. I told her that she could walk around and when she was ready to be done, she should go to the center of the round pen and stop. After several minutes of walking around, she went to the center and touched the mounting block with her nose. Once again she stood as still as a rock while Terry scrambled his way down to terra firma.

The following week we just took Rose and Bridget for a walk. Then I was off on my trimming trip for 3 weeks. We're planning to both go out on Sunday again - it'll be interesting to see if the dynamics are different now with the pasture re-shuffle.

Drama and Developments

So this happened: wild dogs killed a horse at our barn here (welcome to Texas). Not one of mine - a mare, one of a group of three horses retired to pasture. I found the horse because of the vultures already swarming, and discovered the wild dogs because one of the other horses told me when I went to check up on him. He gave a tiny gesture with his head - I looked in that direction and saw two of what I thought must be the biggest coyotes in the land. Further reflection caused me (and others when I described what I saw) to think they must be feral or stray dogs - their color was too monochrome and their size too large for coyotes. I saw one of them a week later also.

The barn owners are installing a game camera to see if these felons are still in the area, and we also moved the victim's pasture mates and my horses (who were in the field next door) to a location closer to the barn and house. If the dogs are still around, they'll try to shoot them - or (last resort) use humane traps. These are not ideal, as random innocent coyotes will be caught, which are hard to release without harming or killing them.

Because of the pasture re-shuffle (long story, not worth telling), George is now in with a group of geldings, and Bridget, Rose, and Chloe were moved in with the survivors of the dog attack - an old mare named Sasha and an older gelding called Jack. George is content to be one of the boys and established himself as No. 4 out of 5 without much fuss. The barn manager says he's much easier for her to handle - more laid back. No pesky females for him to keep in line. He and his mares (Rose and Bridget - Chloe doesn't give a damn) are still very bonded and congregate by the dividing fence in a spot where there are some large friendly trees for all to rest in the shade together. The other geldings join them sometimes.

So little Bridget is now Queen of the World. She's the youngest horse in the pasture and in the top spot. Heavy is the head, and all that. She's lording it over the others, but has become anxious about leaving them too. New responsibilities - moving on in life.

I went away on a hoof-trimming visit to Pennsylvania right after George moved ne and Bridget got her promotion. On my return three weeks later, I found things were not quite the same. Bridget was reluctant to leave the pasture and eager to get back - she who used to stand banging on the gate to be taken out and never really wanted to be put back again. She was still just as glad to see me, but not keen for me to put the halter on.

But here's what she did the first time we were together after my return. She saw me, walked over, stood in front of me, took a step backwards, and - I swear to God - bowed.

She knew I would have treats (which I always bring and offload in the first few minutes, and then we're done), and she knows to turn her nose away before being offered one, which she's always done in a rather peremptory fashion. But this was way, way more of a gesture than that.  I don't know where it came from. Another thing: she's always been slow to move for me - if I ask her to back up, the gears have to grind, and she has to unglue her front feet from the ground first. But since her promotion, it appears that she is quicker and more responsive - in backing and turning, her forehand is lighter. Clearly there is a sea change taking place in her psyche and body. We'll see where it all leads us!

 As for Chloe, for the first time since she's been with us, she has her very own best buddy. She and Jack have teamed up and become partners in crime, a term I use justly as they are allowed to roam the property at large and lately have been invading the workshop and barn and generally causing minor mayhem.

Jack and Chloe