Horsey Therapist

Monday, February 18, 2008

Horses get used to things

If you are as lazy as I tell folks I am, and you want your horse to get used to something weird, you'll find a way to have the weird thing in full view and let the horse get used to it.

I don't recommend putting tarps and moveable, non-living stuff in their pen unsupervised because horses can hurt themselves either directly or by getting terrorized if a foot got caught in a tarp for example. But adjusting to the sight and sound of a tarp, all on their own, is a wondrous accomplishment. An accomplishment for the horse.

That is how a horse gains confidence in himself. By succeeding on his own to overcome fear, to try new things, to learn. Not that we don't steer them in their learning process, but the learning itself is meaningful to the horse only when the horse is learning, not simply when the horse is doing what we tell him to do. There is an important difference.

I challenged my comfort zone when I introduced our horses to the sheep. Horses in one paddock, sheep in the adjacent paddock. I breathed deeply over and over as I watched the horses gallop away from the shared fenceline, then gallop back, heads up, nostils flared, snorting loud horse alert sounds, then gallop away again.

I talked myself into changing my focus to Other Things. And when I checked later, the intensity was reduced although the worry was still evident. It took three days until the sheep were a ho-hum event for the horses. That is when I opened the gate between them and let them mingle.

I think it's the same for people. Certainly there are times when it helps to have someone hold my hand (literally and/or figuratively) when I am exposing myself to something new and fear-provoking. That could be para-sailing or designing an equine facilitated mental health program. But the goodies come from me taking ownership of my courage, my willingness, my achievement. Horses and humans, we are so much alike.


It is still winter here by the calendar. It is raining and in the 30s. Rain on top of snow with temperatures that will drop below freezing tonight.

My winter horse time is peripheral. I feed the horses and while they eat, I chip away at ice and snow that threatens to block the various doors to the barn. Yesterday RNB and I worked to free up some fence gaits in preparation of moving the sheep and getting round bales to them. They are due to lamb soon. I love my horses and know then well enough to want to keep the vulnerable lambs away from the horses. Curiosity and hay protectiveness leave me cautious.

Meanwhile I spend a lot of time inside finishing up projects whose deadlines were vague and drew energy just by waiting in my office for my efforts to bring them to completion. My Past Do To Do list is getting smaller.

I miss riding my horses. I enjoy riding a therapy horse or two each week in my training/conditioning job during our break from providing therapeutic riding lessons. My intention and challenge has been to help one horse with wonderful temperament have a stronger, more balanced body. Our hopes are that he have a long, meaningful, and physically healthy life with the therapy program. So far, so good. Plus he's fun to handle and ride, and getting more athletic which sometimes means surprises in store for me!

I think my favorite thing with him is to untack him in the indoor and let him roll after our ride time. Considering his winter quarters are a medium sized paddock with run in, all of which is covered in some combination of snow and packed snow and maybe some ice. He loves the feeling of the footing in the indoor, both for moving and for rolling. Maybe we are both lucky for this time together.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Horse quirks

I read about Victoria's horse quirks on her blog: I'm taking up the invitation to play a game of self-tag and write about horse quirks here at home ...

Quirky things about my horses:

1) Rusty has a nick name "snorkel boy" after his first time crossing a stream. He kept sticking his nose under water! I recall he was seeking some nibbles from the stream bed but he sure looked silly.

2) I spent a few days teaching one of my horses to step her front feet onto a wooden pedestal that RNB built. Apparently the other horses were watching because days later, they each did this on the first or second attempt.

3) Rusty will volunteer to stand on the pedestal -- either when he wants his belly scratched (he knows I'll do that when he's stretched out like that) or when he's confused about what I am asking for and he knows how to please me with the pedestal!

4) Sofia loves to hang out with her head on my shoulder, just resting it there with nothing else needed.

5) Rusty knows how to unlatch anything within his reach!

6) Kacee will put some effort into not being caught unless I tell her I'm going to trim her feet.

7) Kacee had a love at first sight relationship with a goat at the boarding stable when I first bought her. The goat followed us on a 10 mile fund raising ride and was so out of shape, I got off and walked the last few miles just so we could travel slow enough and rest often so the goat could keep up with us.

8) Gwen (who now lives with some neighbor friends) curls her upper lip with pleasure when she gets scratches just behind her withers.

9) When Rusty was a yearling and wouldn't leave me alone and I had not established good boundaries with him, Kacee would come bite him on the back to shoo him away from me when his pestering got feeling dangerous.