Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesdays with Tex: Another Breakthrough

A year ago, when I started working with Tex in earnest, he was afraid of the halter and afraid to be touched.  He would reluctantly allow me touch him, but he would flinch and, sometimes, step away. 

Gradually, he has come to view the halter as a welcome thing -- it usually means he is going to hand graze or go to the barn, out of stormy weather.  And, he's gotten better with me touching his shoulder.  He no longer flinches, or even tenses, when I rest my hand there and give him a friendly scratch. 

In fact, at times, he seems to welcome and look for that part of the greeting.  We have been working some more at liberty and he is fine with me resting my hand on his neck as we walk along.  I do it to maintain my space, so I don't get stepped on, but he seems to view it as a friendly thing.  When I go into the pasture, he leaves Flash and comes to me.  We walk all over the pasture, side by side, with him following me in circles and bendy loops -- the way you do with a dog at heel.  Except he is completely at liberty.  No halter, no lead rope, he can leave whenever he's done.  Recently, we've added backing up to our repertoire.  Again, standing at his shoulder, I take an exaggerated step backwards.  He matches.  I usually am "done" with our playtime before he is.  I don't think he has ever left.  Brett says he follows me like a dog. 

The horses are in the barn at the moment, as we have a series of rain systems moving through our area this entire week.  Yesterday evening, I mucked out all the stalls and run-outs when I got home from work.  Brett was gone, meeting a semi on the main road, to get his new log splitter.  The horses all ignore me, to some degree, while I pick up the manure.  Lucy demands attention, but the others are uninterested.  Tex usually stands at the far end of his run-out, watching me from a distance. 

Not last night.  He was at the back gate to his run-out when I went in with the muck cart.  Instead of moving to the stall end of his area, when I finished and was walking back to the gate with the cart, he stood, at an angle, facing me and blocking the gate.  I was sure he would move as I got closer.  He didn't.  I stepped closer to him and touched his shoulder.  He turned and looked at me.  I scratched the spot just behind his withers where you so often see horses grooming each other.  His lower lip twitched in enjoyment.  When I stopped, he licked and chewed; a nice release.  And he didn't move.  I rubbed his back. Then I rubbed his butt, thinking he would move for sure.  Nope.  There was more chin twitching, with him leaning into me.  Then another release. 

I still had Flash's area to clean and it was getting late.  I walked to the right side of Tex.  He hates having people on his right side.  He tensed a tad but he didn't move.  Seriously?  A massage on this side too?  Yes, that was exactly what he wanted. 

I was finally able to move him out of the way, after a thorough massage on the right side.  I guess he's figured out that I'm a positive thing to have in his life.  I don't bring pressure and pain; I bring positive reinforcement, gratitude and kindness.  And, after a year of offering him that consistent intent, he has decided to fully trust me. 

What a gift. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Passage Gives Us a Scare

Passage (the dressage/French pronunciation: puh-sahj) is our barn cat.  She's a savvy thing; surviving for fifteen years with hawks and bobcats and other cat-eating predators around.  She has two beds in the feed room -- one by the window that she uses in summer, and one up high in a crate lined with blankets that she uses in winter.  At night, we close up the barn and she goes to work killing any rats or mice stupid enough to enter her domain.  During the day, she rests in the hay stack or out in the sun.  She is very friendly and can be quite vocal if she isn't getting her share of attention.  She will join us in the garden or on the front porch, when we are taking a break.

Saturday evening, Brett couldn't find her when we finished chores and he closed the barn doors.  We noted it, but didn't worry too much, as it isn't the fist time she has gone AWOL at closing time. 

Later, after dinner was finished and the dishes done, Brett was watching TV in his recliner, with his headphones on, while I sat on the couch, in the other room with my feet stretched out.  I was talking via Skype with my French "talk"-pal.  I practice my French; she practices her English; 30 minutes of conversation in each language.  A full hour of discussion that leaves my mind in an exhausted mush.  Kersey was asleep, in her crate, with her head hanging out, next to Brett.

I heard a cat screech.  You know the sound: cat fight.  Then it got louder, and shriller, and contained an edge that I can only call fear and panic.  I jerked my head up from my computer screen and called to Brett.  He couldn't hear me of course, with his headphones on.  I jumped to my feet and stood directly in front of him.  "Brett!!!"  He looked up, then yanked off his headphones.  "What??"  I explained.  He grabbed his flashlight and went outside.

I apologized to Dominique.  She got a good dose of an English native speaker in panic mode.  I'm sure it was quite the ride as I carried my iPad with me around the house, telling Kersey to stay, and explaining to Brett in rapid-fire words that Passage was under attack.   

Brett didn't find Passage, despite going out two more times that night.  Sunday morning, we both walked the property and checked all her hiding places in the barn.  There was nothing.  I took some comfort in not finding any fur or body parts.

Mid-afternoon, I heard her calling to me from a large oak that stands in my garden.  She has climbed into the lower limbs of that tree before, but this time she could not get herself down.  She perched on the lowest limb and cried in a worried voice.  Brett went to the barn and came back with his long ladder. I climbed up and brought her down.  The minute I had her cradled against my shoulder and had started the descent, she was purring.  We sat in the garden with her for awhile.  She wound through and against our legs, purring, and then went into my flower garden and peed forever.  We stood, and  got back to work on our projects.  I planted some flowers and she slept in the sun on the warm bark next to my planter box.  At one point, I reached down to stroke her side and she yowled at me before flipping over.  So, something hurt.

She didn't move from that spot for an hour and a half.  At one point, I went over to make sure she wasn't dead. She doesn't normally take long naps out in the open.  She raised her head and looked at me, then let it rest.  I figured she was exhausted from her night in the tree.  At closing time, I picked her up and carried her to the barn.  She complained the whole way, clearly uncomfortable.  I set her down outside her crate bed and she sat there for a minute, before walking slowly and stiffly inside.

We worried about her all night.  I thought to myself: First the chicken massacre, then the goat, and now Passage.  I can't handle losing another animal this winter.

Monday morning, I went to the barn early, before getting dressed for work.  I slid open the door and flipped on the light.  Passage was standing in the barn aisle, meowing at me in her typical plaintive way.  She was walking a bit stiffly, but she was definitely doing better.

She spent most of the day in her bed, coming out to eat and drink.  She's safely recuperating in the barn and I am confident she will be back to her normal self soon.  She has a barn to patrol, after all.