Horsey Therapist

Monday, February 26, 2007

A pic from Arizona

This is probably my most favorite picture from the week. I'll post the original which shows the background setting for this clinic, and the close up, cropped from the original. Me on Cajun... Oops, I rotated the close up before I saved it to my hard drive, but it came through on its side so I'll have to share that one another time.

Newsflash! Turkey Eats!

This is the best thing I could imagine for this fellow. I caught him out of the corner of my eye -- eating! Whopee!

I was puttering in the barn, a sunny winter day, and decided to see what would happen if I shooed him out of his isolation stall. He was reluctant to move much but we got as far as the barn door, which I left open in case he felt like wandering out into the warmth that collects on that side of the barn. A little while later I returned and he'd gone back into the stall, and there I saw him lowering his head and peck at some pellets. Honestly, I wondered if he'd forgotten how to eat on his own, as well as wondered if the mere sight of me put him into such a turkey-breath-holding anxiety that I might never actually witness his eating.

But it's eat or die around here. I can force feed him for a few more days if I have to but then our time is up and either he makes it on his own, or not. Today gave me renewed hope!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Turkey Nursemaid

I'd rather be doing... what? Something I'm sure would be more fun than tending to sick farm animals. Although not much is more satisfying at some deep level of my being.

I'm reminded of hospice work I've done. With people as a clinical social worker; with my mother as, yup, a daughter; with animals totally by surprise.

Yesterday felt like an animal hospice day and an animal nurse maid day. I am some pleased to have the balance of one dying animal and one recovering animal. Do you suppose this means there is Fairness in the universe??

After feeling lousy for a few days expecting a turkey to die, and after realizing indeed he was weaker than before but not really close to dying, I had to see what I could do. I really had thought 'he'll die today', and that was last Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday.

Internet research opened my mind to the possiblity of force feeding him while I tried to learn what might be ailing him and then, while providing treatment as well as food and liquids. Fortunately he was weak enough that I could force feed him but he put up a fight nonetheless. I was worried about my fingers until I found that turkey beak gripping is not all that threatening. At least not by this fellow.

So, I started force feeding him Thursday. I admit, I do like the feeling that I may be helping and could kick myself for not thinking to try something sooner. However, yesterday, FF Day 3 (force feeding), he clearly was feeling better, stronger, more resistent to the FF routine, and even tried to fly up and roost after watching some other fowl within his view.

So what have I been feeding him? Warm water mixed with Super Blue Green Algae (from CellTech now known as Simplexity), probiotics and digestive enzymes from the same company. Once a day I add some ground flax seed for bulk, and today I added some soaked turkey pellets. What did I use to feed this stuff? A turkey baster of course! (Thanks to an online resource from my Google search.)

Researching disease and treatment were not too satisfying. Mostly because it's very likely this turkey has "Blackhead" disease, although he does not have a black head, he did not get sick and die within a few days, but he does have other unquestionable symptoms like yellow droppings that smell like sulfur. Yuck. Anyway, the good news is since I started this FF routine, he has droppings! How's that for positive reframe?

Most everything I've read says that this disease is fatal most of the time. So maybe it's not Blackhead. I will have to do more research, although I'm starting him on some acidified copper sulfate in water which reportedly will treat Blackhead if that's what he has. So many questions! I usually save my questions for topics like 'what can I do to support Rusty when he ... ?"

I suppose if the footing were good enough I'd be out riding and not worrying about this turkey. I have grown fond of him although I'm not sure, assuming he survives and resumes his life as a free ranging turkey, I'll recognize him from the other toms we have. Although if I approach with a turkey baster in hand, I'm guessing his reaction will make him recognizable! I sure would like to do a better job of 'letting it be his idea' with this force feeding stuff I'm doing! How to set it up so a turkey wants food from a turkey baster??? That is the question!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Riding Rusty will never be like riding Soli

I did get that question answered! (See entry about Mulling over some questions.) Rusty will likely always be Rusty and never be Soli. Why did I think Rusty might settle down and act and react (or not react) like Soli one day? It is not simply age that brings qualities like Soli offers. I would like it if it were but I guess I will come to accept Rusty the way he is and spend more time feeling of him and guiding him, and less time wishing he were different. Smart plan, eh?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It can feel bad -- without context?

I'm not sure what my friend refers to when she said it feels bad, but I know I've had to make some changes in myself in order to do things that appear to make the horse upset. However, I have much more confidence that what I do that upsets him only upsets him because it's in the way of his thoughts, and as soon as he lets go of his thoughts, he feels really good.

So much of it is in the 'how' I do something, my effort being in doing it in such a way that he thinks he's doing it to himself. A million thanks to the various folks who coach me!

Hence I can hold the reins, but not pull, for example. Horse can find his way off the pressure and think he's learned something pretty special and meaningful. It's not me doing something to him, it's him doing something to himself. Stuff like that.

And each time I ask, I ask with what I want to end with -- so if I want him to stop from an invisible shift in my energy and seat, that's what I do first. If he doesn't stop from that AND I know he's stopped from that before, I take up the slack and set my hands and he runs into the reins, and I wait until he softens AND is stopped, which might be as he stops or might be after a few steps of backing. If he's never stopped from my energy and seat before, I might ask lightly with the reins, and if that doesn't make sense, ask with one rein to circle until he slows, circle until he stops. With fourteen million adjustments and releases possible along the way. Assuming he's paying attention and actively searching for some meaning in what I'm doing, what I'm communicating by what I'm doing. If he's not understanding, then my getting firmer is like yelling to the foreigner who doesn't understand what I just said in a normal voice in English. More volume is not going to solve the problem. Finding a way to communicate my meaning is what is needed.

I did find myself 'yelling' at the old horse one afternoon. It was a perfect learning opportunity for me as Harry was riding next to me, suggested I do some other things, than we revisted the events later that evening and again the next day. And I got to try out doing it differently next time I rode. Very sweet! Because I had learned, and Harry knew when I was in a learning frame of mind as well as what to do to help the horse be in a learning frame of mind, and time and circumstances allowed for me to experiment with similar stresses in the horse the next day.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Finally I rode

The cold and snow have required my attention since I got back from my wonderful week in Salome, AR, with Harry Whitney and friends. Today I took a break from shoveling, etc., and rode Rusty. Brief but delightful. Poor fellow had to negotiate about 20" of settled week old snow in the arena. We got into one spot that was deeper from snow drifting and I wasn't sure what he was doing but it felt something between his yoga stretching (never before done while I'm on his back) and some thoughts to back up or lie down. Really I'm not sure what he was thinking. So I invited him to move to where the snow was less deep and continued.

I am surprised how disruptive it feels to be using RNB's computer -- I am so accustomed to using my own computer it feels strange. No access to all my bookmarks and email addresses for starters. I hope to get the call tomorrow, telling me my computer is fixed and I can come get it. Then life will feel more normal!

Meanwhile, full of good memories from time with Harry. I've started typing up my notes but process interruptus due to lack of 'my' computer. But I rode today full of the successes in AZ and Rusty responded easily and well. I must admit I was really noticing how much I've let his attention stray, and thankfully it didn't bother him for long that I asked for more from him than I had been.

The horses all seem a bit fresh and lively. I do wish the footing was better, however I will ride when I can even before a great melting occurs which hopefully will reduce the depth of snow without leaving too much crusty stuff when the cold air freezes things up again. Spring isn't for another month!

A week in AZ was a treat weatherwise. It shocked me at first being back here, especially facing quite a bit of snow that still needed to be moved in order to function well around the farm.

I rode two horses in AZ. One was a former dude string type horse, 30 years old, and oh my, what a super horse under a layer of dullness! He was fun, and a great little project for me in terms of asking some new things of him (imagine he'd never been asked to bend before, or stop from the rider's seat) and riding with him as he loosened up.

Our first canters were horrendous! I felt like I was sitting on a glider that was rocking off balance on the diagonal, sort of a very braced pacey canter on a tank of a horse! I was some pleased to feel that change as he loosened up, mentally and physically. And frankly, amazed how quickly that all happened.

I rode him for the first two and last two days. The middle day I rode a mare who Harry has owned and ridden for a few years now. What nice things I learned from her because when she let go of some thoughts and was there with me and my requests, it felt wonderful. We talked about a slippery saucer feeling, which I have thought of as moving a piece of furniture with precise and well lubed bearing rollers. She was invisible in her presence, if that makes sense. Ready, responsive, with me. I thanked her many times for giving me a feeling that I can look for now in any horse I ride. I have felt it before, but this time I was clear about what I was experiencing, and will remember on purpose. I even had some moments that fluid with the old guy.

I will share right now a little from the clinic. Harry talked about when to be insistent, and when to be persistent. Be persistent when the horse is learning something new, set it up and wait for him to figure it out -- don't lose track of his learning, don't hurry it. Be insistent when you know the horse already knows what's being asked of him. Don't tolerate his holding back, avoiding, thinking about doing what he wants instead of what you've asked of him -- get a change, but then just move on, don't harp on what happened, just go do something together when he's with you and ready.

Harry talked a lot about responsiveness during this clinic, similar to other times when he's talked about not leaving a horse feeling bad, doing something now to help the horse feel OK inside himself, that a horse who isn't giving 100% is a horse who feels troubled. It should come through my notes once I get them all typed up.

Friday, February 09, 2007

More new life

Wednesday, a Nigerian Dwarf kid arrived. Another buckling, cute markings, lively despite being born on a very cold winter day. We have yet to know how severe is the frost bite on the ears of both the new kids. They may have floppy ears, unusual for the breed.

Today, Friday, a Dexter calf arrived. Don't know yet whether it's a bull calf or heifer. I meandered out to check their water and noticed an extra -- and extra small -- black animal. Momma cow was in the middle of consuming the afterbirth. I sat and witnessed these early moments of new life. Had a twinge which could have developed into some nauseous feelings, but as I changed my focus and stilled my mind, those feelings passed. Several younger cows came to sniff me over. Newborn still wet, accepted a short hug from me.

Life is amazing.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Preparing to travel

I am someone who likes to rehearse and prepare for the future. That means, when I have travel plans, I like to start packing a few days in advance. It gives me time to think about what I forgot to pack, time to decide I really don't need this or that, time to come to terms with the trade offs between taking enough and traveling lightly.

I would love to travel lightly! But I would hate to not have enough. I have experimented with traveling lightly when I've gone to an adequately urban area so that I could buy something I needed if I realized I really shoulda packed it...

Soon I'm traveling but there will be no convenient store to run to for anything! And I need to bring my own towel and bedding. Already I'm looking at the medium large suitcase and wonder if it will hold towel, bedding, helmet, chaps, riding rain coat plus the usual from jeans and socks to toiletries and wheat-free snacks.

Traveling lightly ain't gonna happen this time.

My ideal of traveling lightly is getting everything I need into a nifty pair of travel cases I own. One is like a backpack in which fit water bottle, notebook, small pillow, wallet, paperback, snacks, reading glasses, cellphone and something else which I remember at the last minute. The other case is a roll along but small enough to fit under the airplane seat or in the overhead bin. Valuable because I can travel without having to check any luggage!

Ok, so this trip I will be checking luggage. Now to plan so that I check almost everything (saves me lugging it around) but keeping enough with me so I can survive should my luggage not arrive on the same plane or day as I will. How can I hold the image of everything going perfectly when I'm duty bound to my need to prepare, hence have to look at all these likely possibilities?!

If only I could go with the flow of airplane travel like I can go with the flow of a horse. Hmmm. That's an interesting thought! Gosh, I might never get to Arizona! Erase that thought!

Ok, travel is like life. Plan what you can, flow with what you can tolerate, and manage the freak outs so that later damage control is minimal.

I'm going to bundle up and go hang with the horses. Tomorrow is supposed to be a warmer day, and if that's true, I will ride!


I like to use my birthday as a time to deepen roots on purpose.

What I mean is, I try to do things on my birthday that may serve to set the tone for the coming year.

Some years, it's been important for me to take time to myself, quiet time, meditative time, to invite that stillness to infuse my coming year.

This year, my birthday is marked by affection; dance; hard work that benefits both RNB and me; writing; appreciating life, marriage, changes; connecting with and acknowledging my parents' influences; and of course, horses.

My mother has been in my thoughts a lot lately. And through awareness of her, I've reconnected with some of her best features: her zany sense of humor, her love of puzzles and letting people learn through puzzles (in the biggest sense of the word), her holiday rituals, enjoyment of cooking for others, images of her face lighting up with gleeful amusement.

These are things about her I am pleased to keep alive.

I've been keenly aware of her qualities that had inhibited her life and mine, so it's refreshing to be awash the good stuff of her.

Thanks, Mom, for all you gave us.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Quiet times

Although the colder it gets, the noisier it gets walking on the snow, it's a quiet time right now.

Too cold to ride, too cold to do most anything outside, even bundled with my winter weather norm of seven layers of clothing. Horses are intent on eating, eating, eating. RNB and I keep the fire box full, and I am starting to think about what I will report to Harry Whitney next week when I am studying with him, and what I hope to gain from that time.

Certainly I will talk about my relationships with Rusty and Sofia. He knows them both from other clinic times.

This chilly winter week looks like a good one for doing office-based projects and preparing for my trip. If I stumble upon some insights, I will write something. Might not happen until after I return.

Friday, February 02, 2007


I rode Rusty and Soli today, not in that order. Soli -- a horse I affectionately call "Slugabug" -- actually was lively, ready to trot, trot, trot. I kept in mind asking for trotting after he was commited to slowing down instead of keeping him trotting, and he kept trotting for longer and longer periods even though we were tooling around the boring old arena. Well, it wasn't boring to me as I was practicing posting without getting ahead of his motion in the Bates saddle. Seemed to fit Soli fine. Still fits me fine. :-)

Rusty... dear Rusty. What did a friend say today? Rusty is a horse who will not accept being forced whatsoever no way absolutely not. Same friend suggested some progressive steps to helping Rusty understand and feel ok about some ground work I would like to have go more smoothly. In plain english: I would like to simply send Rusty off at times. Instead of leaving me when I ask him to leave, he turns and challenges me. IF I have any physical connection with him via halter or rope, he will do what I ask. If I don't, I'm at his mercy. Really, I feel that way sometimes. Ineffective, powerless, scared. I have to wonder what he is feeling if that is what I am feeling!

Before I rode him, I explored some ground work with him. Some went really well, some went -- sigh -- not well. I guess in order to be where we are and not pretend we're someplace further along regarding groundwork at liberty, I will accept that I need to communicate with him with some equipment right now. We did have some really nice trots with a light 18' rope around his neck. That is less confining than with a halter so that felt good to me. He was listening, responsive, a little dull. There is such a difference in his demeanor with or without equipment. Amazing really... scratching my head...

We had a pleasant ride but it felt sluggish. Now I have to ask myself, is "sluggish" what it feels like when he's not on the verge of leaping around? I suspect there is a middle ground, but for now, maybe that is all he can offer without tipping the scales way over?

I tried riding a pattern. It gave me focus; it gave me a clear series of events to assess his responsiveness; I'm not sure it gave him much of anything although we had a buck-free ride. Ground work before mounting, western saddle (which with intentionality I placed further back on his short back), footing fairly soft at about 30° with some light snow cover since our last ride, and Soli was loose in the arena with us.

Sluggish -- interesting word I chose. He did come into some longer trotting and stretching down, way down, with his head and neck after some cantering. That felt good. What is it I want? I want that energetic edge and interest in what we're doing to be there when we ride. He brought more energy toward the end of our ride than at the start, so that is good. I wonder if my discomfort is a barrier -- discomfort with having another being more or less ready to do my biding. Maybe I really do not want Rusty to bring his ideas so strongly to our relationship, hence sending him mixed messages: bring your life up but don't bring your life up like that!

Time for me to think proactively and help him know in what ways he is welcome to bring up his life. Like today, he was welcome to move into a canter from a trot, into a faster canter from a slow canter. Keep showing him where to find the "yes"s.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The mares today

I kept in mind some things I heard from Libby Lyman last night, during my rides today on Sofia and Kacee. Both rides went really well.

Although Libby described riding on a dirt road type trail, I had to create mentally a trail in the arena because that is where I am riding. So I mentally defined an area from the arena fence to about 6' in as 'the trail', and then gave Sofia full power to take me along that route. When she veered, I let her veer until she was 'off the trail' then I asked her to think back to the trail.

I realized how much she's accustomed to making decisions, living most of her life in the herd without much time getting with human plans. It's fun to witness her progress as she finds she can let go of her ideas and have a perfectly pleasant time going along with mine. I'm learning how to set it up and wait for her to let go, not forcing the issue, but maybe upping my energy if she gets heavy on a rein. That seems to help her find it sooner.

I also realized once she finds an answer, she'll assume I'm going to ask the same question, and offers the same answer. It took effort for her to let go of the idea to repeat an action we had just done. In other words, she's not just traveling with me wondering 'where now'?

So, riding the line today meant riding the path. Sticking to a line would feel too constricted and would set me up to be correcting too soon, too often. It made sense while I was doing it though I'm not sure I'm communicating it well right now.

Another thing I played with based on listening to Libby was waiting until I felt Sofia commited to slowing down, before I asked her for more speed again. That was interesting to be thinking about as I rode. She gave me lots of trotting today!

Regarding saddles: Sofia did fine in the western today, and Kacee did well in the dressage. Although I felt tilted forward -- uncomfortable! The saddle does not seem to impinge on her shoulder action at all.

Mulling over a few questions ...

How to tell the difference between when a horse is taking me someplace, and when a horse is taking over?

If we can't hide our emotions from our horses, what can I do when I feel scared? How can I support my scared horse when I'm scared?

How well does resuming feeling calm and certain repair the split, the disconnect, the abandonment experienced when I tighten up in fear?

How early can I tell a horse needs support from me? When I find I've missed that moment, how can I notice even sooner that the horse needs something?

I know what it feels like to ride Soli. Is it reasonable to think that one day it might feel that simple to ride Rusty?

Feel, timing

It's going to be a forever journey, improving my feel and timing.

Long talk last night with my friend LL. Listening to her learning process with what she's doing with horses, sharing about my learning process here at home. I came away with more ideas where to look for changes, in myself, in my horses.

I had started wondering if Rusty's bigger shows of life were based in worry and uncertainty. Thoughts from listening to Harry Whitney had started haunting me, making me think again about my giving Rusty so much say as I had been. I think Rusty's big expressions have been at least partly based in worry.

I think it's my job now to resume my directing role while taking special care to maintain a mental connection with him, give him space to be an active participant in our rides, and help him let go of his ideas so he can go along with mine. To direct what we're doing while letting him think it's his idea, monitoring my habits to minimize and eventually eliminate any pushing or pulling that will want to come unconsciously into our relationship, especially when I feel scared.

I succeeded with bringing his life up and out. Now to succeed with directing that life in ways that make sense to him and allow him to contribute not just perform obediently.

The ongoing experimentation continues!

And I'm looking again for a saddle that suits me and my horses. I'm pretty convinced the Bates is not the best for my horses even though it feels close to heavenly to me.

No regrets for sure, about the saddle, about the rides livening up Rusty, but I'm asking myself: what next? How can I step up to the job of directing Rusty more without nagging or belittling his efforts? It's a balmy 25° today so I'll go see what I learn today!