Horsey Therapist

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The platform again

I took a nap with the horses this afternoon. After we all woke up, Gwen accepted my invitation to come into the play pen with me. While I was there with Gwen, Kacee has surprised. She has surprised me many times recently. Today she came and stood at the closed gate of the play pen.


I opened the gate and let Kacee in to join us. I assume that she likes the focussed, calm attention I have been giving her in the play pen. Twice before, when I showed up in the paddock with the intention to play with a horse, she walked off away from me, heading straight for the play pen where she entered the open gate and waited there for me. I like this. A lot.

Today after walking around together and connected with Gwen and then with Kacee, I asked Kacee to step up onto the platform at liberty. She did and she stayed there while I backed away to take her photo. Then she stepped down while I was moving to her other side for some better lighting. I asked her to step up again which she did.

Kacee on the platform, just after she decided to step down:

After our play time, I went to hang out with Rusty who was napping again. It was interesting to hear his breathing as he was stretched out, then hear it change, still deep but without any holding before the exhale. Nothing sweeter than a sleeping horse, but not especially lovely to look at. You decide.

Rusty napping:

This boy can sleep through anything.

"I wonder why she's all bagged up?"

I said that a few days ago. One of the Dexter cows was bagged up. We figured her calf must be slacking, too busy in the spring weather frolicking around harrassing the lambs in attempts to have a flowing black and white blend of young animals flinging their bodies around in glee and abandon.

Yesterday RNB noticed something small and black in the field. Bigger than a breadbox. So, how did that happen?! Another calf born? I thought all the cows had young still sucking.

I dug last year's birthing records from the top file drawer. Thumbed through them, kids born, lambs born, chicks hatched, calves born.

Somehow I failed to note the arrival of the young heifer born this winter either during our trip in January or our trip in March. She's pretty young so I'm guessing it was March.

Then the bull calf born the end of October. And before that, a bull calf born ... aha! last May. So this newest surprise from yesterday would be out of the cow who birthed last May. Not much down time for this gal!

We don't have names for the cows. The sole bull is called Big Boy. Because he is big. And, ahem, he's a boy. Calm and friendly enough, but big and male. Our Dexters are horned so to the uninitiated, his looks can be intimidating.

The cows I've tried to identify by their horns, assuming that the longer they are alive, the longer are their horns. The coloration of the horns seems to vary with age and with the individual as well.

In any case, one gal I noted as "the youngest cow". I really should get pictures of them to back up my identification attempts. That was last May's birth. So, "Youngest Cow" (shall we call her "YC"?) had a baby last May -- May 10th to be precise -- and another about 11.66 months later, on April 29th.

OK, since I wrote this, I did get pictures. Here is YC:

The October 30th calf was born to, according to my stimulating naming scheme, "oldest cow". Hmmm, that would make her "OC" and by default, the third cow we can now call "MC". Phew, this is taxing my brain's production of creative juices.

I did have the sense last fall to include some additional descriptive information about OC. I noted "lots of white and black on horns". I later noted that we castrated her son. We took special care to attend to that because we failed to do so with the now yearling bull. Who is for sale.

I think I'll go capture some Dexter images with my camera -- some for sharing here and some for the next step in creating a slightly more sophisticated record keeping system. I have a moderate sized need to keep track of some few things that can be kept tracked of. Lousy English but you get the idea.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sofia in harness

If my hand were not injured, I would have taken the reins today. Instead Bekah of Fair Winds Farm did most of the work with Sofia. Bekah is confident that, with what Sofia knows and what I know and my intent to keep learning, I will be able to continue with Sofia's training at home. I will be bringing her home on Monday, May 1st.

I did practice leading and keeping my mind with Sofia, and predicting for Sofia with clear thoughts, what we would be doing, like walking from a standstill, or stopping from a walk.

It is not just about clear and predictable body language. I've heard this before. Have a mental picture of what you want the horse to do. Have a mental image of what you will be doing. When I focus and apply myself, it works. Smooth as a greased ball bearing.

I will be a little apprehensive at first, I know that. But watching Sofia handled by Bekah, and watching her respond, and hearing Bekah's report of how little it takes to bring Sofia's mind back -- that all gives me confidence to carry on. I will likely bore dear Sofia as I build my confidence in the play pen and the arena. I will likely ask RNB to bring along a horse to accompany us on our first few outings. Even though Bekah sees that Sofia looks for support from the human rather than from another horse.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Togetherness in mind

Interesting time in the play pen with Rusty this afternoon, after the fact. The 'fact' being I came off him in the arena. I had missed how much we were not together mentally. OUCH! I will take the time to do more in the round pen, err, I mean play pen, with him, with the goal of developing a stronger and stronger connection with him. He tends to offer obedience without much asking on my part. However I want something else. I want his willing attention, his curiosity, his readiness to join me mentally and physically.

I went at a snail's pace (should I thank my aching body for my tempo?) and released him very frequently with my body language and energy level, going from about a 1 of 10, to about -1 of 10. He didn't do much. I didn't do much. But mentally he was active, and emotionally he was softening. His head kept dropping lower with lots blinking and a few times quite some yawning. Although we walked together with me at his flank and hip, he tended to walk away but slowly enough that I could stay with him. I considered us done for today when he chose to turn toward me and travel with me, following for a few steps.

I was focussing on staying with him mentally. The one time I noticed losing the feel with him was when I was very close to the pen panels, between him and the panels, and I had a fear thought. He stopped and his head went up. I stopped and noticed what I'd done/thought that disconnected us, and regrouped. I think he was expecting trouble from me because of my fear arousal. Yes, I've blamed him for my fear. Something he cannot understand, but experiences as very worrisome.

I feel good after our time in the play pen today. Well, my body hurts from the fall, but mentally I'm in a good place, and feeling confident that I can build a togetherness in mind that will make all we do so much more pleasant. He is such a good horse. I had the sense he was letting go of all those worries deep inside that I put there in the past by confronting him with lots of energy and little guidance. ("Little guidance" is an overstatement.)

The road of life is always under construction. Someone else said that.

The journey of conscious horsemanship is continuously stimulating. I said that.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Gwen is here with us again. She looks better than ever. The F family loved her and took great care of her. Thank you! This is an old picture of her. She looks much better now.

Spring busy-ness

I'm suffering from writer's withdrawal. Too busy to spend time here typing out my thoughts, new awarenesses, activities, insights...

Busy with what?

Getting ready for the spring session at High Horses! Preparing horses who have had the winter off, preparing paperwork for lesson planning, preparing mentally to meet new students and offer them my best.

Farm animals! No more births expected, but the sheep need shearing, the kids need new homes, the remaining lambs in the barn need to be moved outside. One day soon we'll open the pasture to them and live will be simplified by fewer animals to feed twice a day.

Fencing! Walking and checking and fixing all the fences for electrical shorts and holes and built up debris from flooding.

Birds! Still collecting eggs to eat or sell. Checking on the gals already sitting. Worrying about the weather and how that might affect the hatches. So far, geese and turkeys are sitting.

Horses! Our little pony, Gwen, is back here after more than a year with some friends whose daughter wanted a pony. So, despite best efforts to keep the herd at five, we're back to six. I have one more visit with Sofia and her trainer at Fair Winds Farm, then bring her home -- scheduled for this coming Monday. Then follow up with her driving training here at home! Will I be able to hitch her and take her for a drive myself???

New land! Time spent thinking up a name for our next farm. I won't go into the serious or nonsense ideas we've come up with. Chain saw and chipper and stump grinder activity. Mapping out the land using the GPS device. Planning with the timber frame company. Identifying where the septic will go. Dreaming about the pond and the riding trails. Wondering where the power will come in. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!

Old land! Getting the house in Maine ready to sell -- painting, flooring, landscaping, cleaning, listing, praying!

Garden! Clear the asparagus patch from last year's bushes. Fantasize about GKM baking us a strawberry rhubarb pie this year. Shoo away the geese from the growing iris greens. Procrastinate about choices for vegetable planting this year. (Will we really find time to harvest what we grow this year???)

And all the regular weekly activities of dancing, working, riding (what is that?!), eating, cleaning, sleeping (what is THAT?!)...

It's 10:21 am and I'm off for the day. I miss sitting here writing and editing and writing some more. I'll find time again. Just not today.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Upper body strength

My exercise tool.

I ride a lot and have strong arms. Is that because I hold the reins tight and my horses lean on the reins and I use my arms to collect and direct my horses?


Just the opposite. I intend to use my mind to direct my horse's mind, and if he's not paying attention and thinking my ideas are reasonable, I might resort to using my seat and legs to direct him, perhaps the reins as well, but more and more using a slack rein to invite a change of thought, not to force a change of body shape or movement.

I do engage in other activities to maintain my strength. Stacking 1200 bales of hay will help my fitness come summer time.

Currently my most effective full body workout is done alone in the woods. Especially pleasant exercise conditions are when the air is cool and a slight wind russles the leaves. Legs and arms and cardiovascular workout all at once. I don my exercise gear (kevlar chaps, leather gloves, a helmet and ear protective muffs) and support my health this way once or twice a week. RNB would be happy if I did it more often, and I'm working up to it, conditioning myself slowly, slowly, with a few naps interspersed, stretched out in the sun lulled into blissful semi-consciousness by the whishhhh of the wind and the chirping of birds.

The platform

RNB kindly built a platform for me this past winter. About 16" high, about 2.5' x 4'. Wood with pieces of stall matt screwed onto the top for traction.

I got the idea from Harry Whitney. The picture above shows Rusty on a pedastal/platform at a Harry Whitney clinic in Tennessee in June 2005. It's a training tool. Helping a horse understand what to do with his mind and body with a specific end result in mind (front feet on the pedastal) can be a fun way to spend time with your horse and assess your communication skills. (Truthfully? It can bring out some frustrated feelings, too.)

Yesterday was FUN!

Rusty had learned quite quickly to stand up on the platform RNB built, here at home. (Picture to come, I promise!) Yesterday, after my lovely, musical ride on Rusty, I asked him to step up on the platform. When he did, I joined him there and gave him some of the best scritchin' I could manage. Scritchin' is most welcome these days around his ears and under his mane. It's shedding time.

After the scritchin' session, I asked him to step down and removed the halter. Kacee was nearby so, with permission granted by Her Royal Highness, I haltered her up and asked her to approach the platform. Wasn't I surprised when she walked up to it and with only a moment's hesitation, stepped on up like she'd been doing this daily for the past two weeks!

So Kacee got her scritchin' time on the platform. If a horse could groan out loud in pleasure, the neighbors would have heard her. (Her current special place is under her chin. Don't tell her I shared her secret.)

Next in proximity was Soli, RNB's chunky-monkey Haflinger pony. Same thing -- approach and step up like he'd been doing this forever. At this point I'm starting to believe my own prior conscious intentions that the other horses learn to step up on the platform by observing Rusty doing it...

Last horse on the property is Prince, RNB's riding horse. Big, high strung, but attentive and curious. Haltered him and brought him over to the platform. Not a one-shot direct hit like the others, but with two minor re-arrangements choreographed by me, he was lined up and ready to step up. Which he did.

WOW! I don't know who was happier about all this appreciative scritchin' I did yesterday, but I'm betting it was me.


I do have a good enough voice to be singing in public. But it does not really matter. I do not actually need to have a good singing voice. Yesterday I remembered hearing that singing is good for calming and cadence when riding a horse. I remembered this while astride Rusty on our first trail ride of the spring season. We were headed home after leaving off our riding buddies a few miles away. Headed home "alone" -- just Rusty and me -- and Rusty was neither calm nor proceeding with a regular cadence.

Not before I started singing, that is.

I've been working on the railroad, all my live long days...

Huh? Where did that come from?

Someone's in the kitchen with Di-nah.
Someone's in the kitchen, I know-o-o-o...

OK, I'm starting to understand... these are songs I can easily sing in tempo with Rusty's walking stride. Slow down the singing a little? OK, he slows his walk a little. I am NOT going to test this too much -- don't want to lose the good thing we got going.

Then "Jingle Bells" comes bouncing out of my mouth. Lively song! Lively Rusty! Oh, no, change the tune, quick!

How about a lullaby? Let me think...

Lullaby, and good night, la lala la la la laaaa

That was effective.

Back to Dinah in the kitchen. I like the Fee fi fiddle-y yi o parts.

I am truly amazed how singing affected our ride. Past the snapping white wire tape near the strawberry fields... Rusty was yawning and sighing. Past the kids playing ball and the bright yellow mailbox that has ALWAYS been cause to stop and gape. Ho-hum. OK, I exaggerate about that obstacle, but he walked without any freeze moments, just lost track of our musical harmony for a few strides.

So, I may never perform again at a New Year's Eve festival. I may never again join a group of women singing acapella African chants and four part gospel harmonies. I may never again write a musical score adapting The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for a summer camp performance. But I have a musical future. One that will make a difference where it really counts. It will make a difference to my horses.

Just Say Yes! -- to singing to your horses.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sofia in training

Sofia, four days after arriving, February 2004.

Sofia, October 2005.

I had some lovely visits with Sofia last week. She is a 5 year old Canadian/perch cross that I bought through the internet three years ago. One of hundreds of fillies and mares that were sold when the PMU industry downsized. Because she has such a remarkable laid back temperament, I decided she would be a good candidate to learn to pull a cart or drag logs or whatever handy things I might think up.

There is a wonderful draft horse farm in Brattleboro, Vermont, called Fairwinds Farm. (Website: Months ago I contacted them and made plans for Sofia to spend April there. Then I started working with her myself, thinking the more she was comfortable around harness and ground driving and such, the more they could accomplish while she is there. And my work is paying off.

This past week, they had Sofia in harness ground driving and then ground driving double with an older been-there-done-that Suffolk Punch mare who helps with the training of these youngsters like Sofia. What a joy to watch Sofia under the guidance of that mare and her two humans, figure out and accept just what was being asked of her.

Some of the good things I've been watching in her training at Fairwinds, I am trying here at home with my Morgans. I am making progress with getting my mare's attention and interest without the old feeling between us of: 'do I HAVE to?' I've given her a couple of years off from much of anything other than hanging out in the herd, hoping that it would be a good start for re-establshing a better feel between us after a few years of my using a quite forceful "natural horsemanship" approach with her. She was obedient! But she was cranky about it.

I had not known at that point that a horse can comply willingly. I had not known how to recognize the early signs of a horse getting ready to do what is asked. Hence I was asking her to do things long after she had already committed in her mind to do those things. I was nagging her to do things after she was doing them. ACK! No wonder she has resented me. Now I'm feeling prepared to ask her to join me again, with some confidence that my presentation and timing are better, and that she will understand my changes and develop some respect for who I am now.

It's been a long painful recovery for me. And it ain't over yet.

Thank heavens I have a horse like Sofia in my life who I've not upset like I upset Kacee.

"Tetris is wonderful"

My friend tells me that "tetris is wonderful."

She also says "perfection is graspable."

Perfection is graspable. Interesting concept. Maybe that is exactly the allure.

But in real life, is perfection graspable? Is it perhaps an illusion that is culturally attractive, and accepting reality as it is can be difficult at times, so spending time in the illusion seems comforting?

What would I do with a horse avoiding? It would depend on why the avoidance. Yes, if out of fear, then I would slow down and perhaps retreat to a safer place, phsycially or training wise. If a horse is avoiding due to mind pulled stronger elsewheres, I might reiterate my request and increase to some firmness to get his attention.

So, am I spending time in Tetris Land because I fear something, or because my attention is pulled more strongly there than to something else I'm being asked to do?

I suspect the latter. Tricky business though because it is ME who is asking me to do something else. And all the discussion and argument and conflict is between differing thoughts I have of what I should be doing.

Maybe it's a retreating avoidance, retreating from the complexities of mental and emotional activity required of the main task I intend to complete in the next few weeks. Tetris triggers predictable emotions! Completing this other task at hand triggers totally unpredictable emotions! Ok, so I'm choosing the predictable uncomfortable over the unpredictable uncomfortable... that makes sense! And something I understand in the horses as well.

Which leaves me thinking I spend time in Tetris to avoid fear. Fear of the unknown uncomfortable emotions I expect to be triggered.

With a horse who is doing that, I will assert in some way to break the pattern. I may need to ask RNB for some external assertion energy to help me break the pattern. I can do that!

(Thank you for your thoughts which have helped me process to a new place!)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I'm at risk

Following some links yesterday to view sites supposedly promoting activities for brain health, I came upon a game of tetris.

I'm not convinced playing it is good for MY brain health. I got lost playing it, spent time doing that instead of doing things on my To Do list yesterday. Spent time playing it when I should have been talking with RNB about our plans to build a barn/indoor combo building. I mean, REALLY! What are my priorities???


I do like a challenge, and I do like to distract myself when I'm already feeling overwhelmed with decisions and projects and loose ends. I finally closed the browser page with that game site so I could brush my teeth and get myself into sleep mode last evening. It was close to midnight.

I am having mild flashbacks to a time in my life when I spent hours and hours each evening and well into the morning hours, playing solitaire on the computer. Looking back I can see clearly what I was avoiding by such focussed and compulsive activity.

I know my life is better now, and I've worked hard to make it better. Why does a game like solitaire or tetris attract me today?

I recklessly am toying with the idea of finding that site again. Thinking foolishly that I can play one or two games and then go do something else.

If you don't hear from me for awhile, you can know that I'm steeping in the shame that follows such indulgences. But I'll be back. I know I will.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Rusty as fun

Today was a day full of pleasantness.

RNB and I travelled north together -- he to test drive the backhoe he wants to buy and me to consult with a psychologist who provides equine facilitated psychotherapy in her community. RNB is planning some earth moving adventures. I am planning some psyche moving adventures.

On our drive north we practiced some conscious communication skills we learned with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt ( On our drive south, I drove and RNB napped. I was tempted to nap as well but decided my full attention on the driving responsibility was more important. To keep myself alert I mentally started writing an article on Providing Intentional Safety in EFP. More on that in the future.

Two horses needed trimming today and I proceeded with that. Both horses were grateful. The change of seasons brings significant changes in their hooves, and this year is requiring more frequent hoof care than usual.

After the hard work, although the afternoon sun was fading, it was still light out and I wanted to ride. Rusty agreed to this idea so I saddled him up.

He is so round this spring! Round enough so I struggled to girth him up with the same girth I always use with this little, old close contact postage stamp of a saddle. Round enough so the saddle fits him better than ever with adequate clearance over his withers. A nice surprise!

Our ride was most pleasing to me, and to him as well I suspect. We took turns. I asked him to move and I allowed him to chose where to move and when to stop. After a brief pause, I dismounted and lead him to some place where I could comfortably mount him again. Then repeated the request to move and going with him where he chose. Each time it was different. When he chose to enter the open gate of the round pen, after he stopped and I dismounted, I closed the gate and continued my experiment in sharing. Plus added some steering from my seat. He can't wander too far or too fast in the round pen, so I felt safe riding him with so little control. My ideal is to ride him this way anyplace, anytime. He often gets too excited to listen well when we distance ourselves from the herd, but perhaps I'll try this same experiment outside the paddock on another day. It may go as smoothly as it went today.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wishes come true

Sunday morning the dear couple who love bottle baby Jacob sheep came and happily offered new homes to our three needy lambs. I had grown attached to Lucky and miss him. The other two had not yet found a special place in my heart, so it was easier to put them in JF's arms and wish them all well. The house is noticably quiet now.

The last of our ewes had her lambs this morning -- a quick and simple delivery of two healthy ewe lambs.

I think all the lambs but one are already promised to repeat buyers who called or dropped by wondering if we have any for sale this year.

Now to find homes for the crop of Nigerian Dwarf kids, and go for a ride. No special deadlines today. One of those lovely days when it's not too cold, not too hot, and I have some time to play outside.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

More lambs

Two more sets of twins were born this morning. Doing well when we found them before breakfast. All together three ram lambs and one ewe lamb. We considered bringing them in this morning but the stalls are full of other ewes and lambs. The plan was to release them after Lucky's new owner comes to get him this afternoon.

I spent most of the day on the road in order to go watch my 5 year old Canadian/percheron cross, Sofia, in the early stages of her professional harness training.

Home around two. A phone message notified us that Lucky is here for another day. I headed out to check on the babies.

One lamb is alone and crying. Another lamb is lying dead in the dirt. What the ... ?! Looking around I see one ewe with two lambs, and the other with one. Counting now... oh my, that means there was another set of triplets born this morning, with the third arriving after our morning check.

Neither ewe will claim the crying solo lamb. At least not yet. After a frantic call to RNB who wasn't due home for hours, I fed the rejected lamb (who at a few hours old is already bigger than Lucky), tucked him into a padded crate (might be a good resting spot for me soon), and resumed my settling in activities here at home.

Sitting at the computer I glanced out the window and saw the young bull calf pestering the ewe and single lamb. Oh no! Was he behind the demise of the triplet? I don't know but I tore outside and scooted him off! Not at all confident he would restrain himself in the future, I picked up the lamb and headed out the gate, momma ewe leaning into me as I went. She's certainly attached to this one.

While I set up some temporary fencing outside, I left mother and babe on the lawn. Once I put them in their quarters, situated next to the barn, the horses arrived and were all ears and eyes. "What is happening here in the corner of my paddock?!" I hurried to put out some more hay to keep their attention away from these vulnerable sheep, then gave the ewe some hay and took a deep breath.

When RNB comes home, we will move the older lambs and their ewes outside. And set up the new moms and their lambs inside. I pray this one ewe will take back her baby. Clearly he's eaten something and knew what to do with the bottle though he wasn't certain about the texture of the nipple and the taste of the milk!

I was celebrating prematurely this morning. Thinking ahead to having NO sheep in the barn, having NO bottle baby to tend to... Ha!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Growing, growing

Living with Lucky is a lesson in developmental progress.

If at any point I had compared him to other lambs, judged and condemned his future based on his present, well, I might believe I would be bottle feeding and carrying around this little runt for the rest of his life.

But no.

He is a week old today. And continues to spend the nights inside for my convenience as he is taking a bottle at night. But his days are out in a stall with two ewes and four other lambs. Two lambs are his full brothers and hence, the same age. Two lambs are his half sisters, a day younger.

I will have to get another photo of him. He's growing but compared to his siblings, he's still the runt.

His latest developmental milestones include cantering everywhere, and applying a firm head butt to provoke a flow of milk. He will follow me quickly if I (as the source of milk and indoor companionship) walk away.

So in a week's time, progressing from a limp, listless, breathing body to a lively, active, playful lamb, and becoming involved in the Lamb Zoomies* that entertain me as I stand in the barn quietly watching the sheep activity over the stall wall.

Lucky is for sale. If we had 2% of the current number of animals here, I would definitely consider keeping him as a pet. Aha! I do have some self-restraint -- what a pleasing realization. Too often I feel conflicted between the joys of caring for and being in the presence of the various farm animals and fowl, and the joys and duties related to spending time with my horses in addition to feeding time and shedding blade time. Which has become my primarily upper body workout of late.

The more I focus, the more I flow with the concurrent need to limit other involvements. Saying "no" to an endless stream of impulses. In my ideal world, I would have endless energy to match the endless stream of impulses, no need to sleep or eat, and flexible days that might have the usual 24 hours or extend up to 48 or 112 hours depending on how involved I become in any one or many impulses.

Getting lost in a creative flow requires the facility of timelessness. At times when indeed my life has had to respond to outside influences (appointments, deadlines, etc.), I have found it essential to schedule "unscheduled time" into my week. Otherwise I get seriously cranky!

Is it universal, this need for unscheduled time? Time useful for discovery, for passive awareness, for hearing the suggestions of that delicate inner whisper whose directions are consistently valuable? Time for noticing the forsythia in bloom, for glimpsing the black and red blur of the red-winged blackbird flying past on an early spring afternoon, for hearing the call of the kildeer from the further side of the hay field?

My current purposeful focus is the integration of my horse connection and my clinical social work connection. So far in my endeavors, I've been muddling along with minimal focus as I approached this new level of readiness. This readiness now has a foundation that was not previously adequately solid. A foundation in myself, in my family, in my community. I'm ready now for a more concerted expression. I am ready.

And Lucky is ready to take the next steps in his unique development. He is stronger physically and brighter mentally. He has an active sense of belonging to his mixed-species family group. He is confident that he can affect his environment to get his needs met without great distress. His wellness includes curiosity and excess energy for playfulness. Who knows what is his ultimate capacity as a sheep-being. Who knows what is my ultimate capacity as a human-being.

* Zoomies refers to unabashedly, directionless, joyful expressions of life seen in animals. For example a puppy who runs in circles and recklessly careens around the yard, or a kitten who acts like a balloon that has been released to flit around with unpredictable turns and swerves. (If anyone has examples of adult humans doing zoomies without the aid of drugs or alcohol or hormonal arousal, do please speak up -- zoomies seem to disappear as maturity and self-consicousness and shame and constriction become the SOP.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Trailer loading

I heard from a friend who is struggling with her horse's reluctance to get into the trailer. Understandably, she wants to go trail riding with friends, and that means trailering places. I've already heard that this horse was bullied into a trailer in the past, and that he 'freaked out' in a trailer and injured himself. These are some thoughts I shared with her after hearing her use words like "stubborn" and "clever" and "mischievous" to describe him when he showed a clear intention to avoid the trailer.


He's not stubborn, he's looking after his survival. Please don't put anything more onto him than that. Then approach the situation as if you are going to help him feel like it's not going to kill him to think about the trailer.

And that is what you want -- for him to think about the trailer. No pressure from you, no added worry from you, no hurry from you. If he can think about the trailer without getting all upset from 100 yards away, then start there. I mean it. He has good reason to avoid going near a trailer. He has almost no reason to think otherwise. It's your job to help him feel OK about just looking at the trailer. Once he feels OK looking, THEN it's OK for you to ask him to take a step closer to the trailer. That might be all you'd ask that day.

Then come back the next day. And see what his feelings are and at what distance from the trailer he shows you with every cell of his body that he feels ok looking at the trailer.

When he looks with both eyes and both ears, you know his mind is with the trailer. That is what you look for and that is what you release him for. In this case, a release might be taking him further away from the trailer just for considering the trailer. Your release is meant to tell him you understand how terrifying the trailer was (it HURT him!) and how terrifying the people were (they added fear and worry to his already fearful and worried state of mind!), and that you will help him feel OK about things you ask of him, and if he gives a little consideration of the trailer, that's all you'll ask and you'll prove that by taking him some further distance and let him think about what he just did. Because he just survived thinking about the trailer. Thinking about it did not kill him. This is a huge deal. Thinking about it did not bring out the upset feelings of his human handler. Thinking about it is OK. He needs to find that place on his own -- no way to force him to feel that.

Meanwhile, someplace other than near the trailer, work on his leading. Work to help him understand that he can find a release from lead rope pressure when he moves in the direction of pressure. He can learn how to release himself from pressure, and that is ideal. He's taking care of his comfort in a way that makes sense to him and in a way that he can count on. If he's learned to pull back and people have been holding on to the lead rope when he pulls back, well, it may be a longer journey to get this right.

First thing, get really clear and committed yourself with a promise to yourself and him that you will not pull on the lead rope, you will not try to use your weight and strength against his. Silly thing, isn't it. We know the math and the ratio of human weight versus horse weight yet we have this urge to be right and get our way when we're feeling upset and hence hold on when a horse is pulling their weight against ours!!

Anyway, ask him forward and release, put some slack in the lead rope. If his response is to back up then you've already given him slack and you'll let him back up and you'll go right along with him, calm as can be, and wait for him to stop. Then ask again. At some point he'll try something other than backing up. It's soooo important that you wait until he offers a new response to an old question! That will give him a sense of having a say in the matter, and indeed if you want a horse with a cooperative and thinking mind, one who will give you his best from his heart not from a fearful, submissive/resigned, resentful place, then do take the time to learn new handling habits.

I hope I don't offend you but I'm not sure you fully understand how your emotional tone affects the results you're getting with your horse. You boasted about "being overly patient" and no doubt about it, I will give you a Gold Star for patience!!! But it's not his job to even think about your patience level. And it's not fair to him or to your relationship with him and your hopes for having a true equine partner, to be thinking "and it better pay off!!"

Give him some choice. Not all the choices, but give him some choice. It's no different from a partnership with a spouse for example, and I'm sure you know how yucky it feels when your spouse makes a decision without checking out with you what you think and feel about that decision. Horses are SOOOOO capable of changing their minds when they know they are allowed to think about it and express their "no" before they let go of those thoughts and offer their "yes".

You won't believe how sweet it feels when your dear horse decides he can go into the trailer. His very own mind will take his very own body into that trailer. No need for humans to push, shove, whip, use ropes, none of that. Once he decides it's an ok place to be. So it's your responsibility now to help him develop the sense that it's an ok place to be. And for starters, that ok place may be 100 yards from the trailer itself.

Monday, April 03, 2006


RNB named him Lucky. Lucky to be alive.

He is thriving, very slowly but surely. He's about 1/2 the size of his triplet brothers (now three days old), and just as small compared to the twin ewe lambs born yesterday morning.

In hopes that his true mom or this new mom auntie might accept him, we've put two ewes and five lambs in a big stall. So far Lucky is socializing with the other lambs when he's not sleeping. Which is still most of the time. Overnight I bring him inside because trekking to the barn in the middle of the night for his feeding is beyond what I will do!

His auntie ewe has let us hold her twice while we put Lucky on The Real Thing. He sucks a little then his attention is gone. I suspect he has become accustomed to getting the formula from a bottle which flows easier than milk from the ewe. I suspect we'll try to find him a home as a pet, and very soon. Small but friendly -- he'd make a great pet.

I figure he's been imprinted to leg of blue jean and sound of human voice and cough. Darn spring cleaning of my body system has me coughing as much as I breathe. OK, I exaggerate. Someday perhaps I will forego the yummy foods that make me so sick, BEFORE they make me so sick. So much for higher cortex intelligence. What did I read about emotional intelligence ruling the roost?!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Seems a miracle

This little ram lamb is alive and well!

It was four hours after I found him that he started sucking at the bottle I offered, and moving his legs in an attempt to get up. A few hours later he was wobbly but ambulating for short spurts. He has his own travel bag now as we went out to dinner last night (lamb in bag) and today I will be traveiling and RNB will be working so lamb will go with one of us. Not a huge appetite yet, but the interest is there.

We did capture his mom yesterday afternoon and milk out some colostrum for him. And we will offer him back to his mom each day, hoping she might take him, and that once he's strong and mobile, he could survive and certainly be socially better adjusted if he returned to the flock.

I want to name him.