Monday, June 26, 2017

Shaver Lake 2017

The annual Shaver Lake vacation with my extended family occurred last week and into the weekend.  We have been vacationing there since since Camille was an infant -- so, 23 years.  She was three weeks old the first time we went.  I remember racing down the steps from the deck to the waters edge while she napped under the watchful eye of my mother.  On that same trip, Kyle fell down the stairs and split his chin.  He was an early walker and an active child, but never a cautious one.

Originally, the group included my parents, my sister and her family (three kids) and me and my family.  Over the years, the composition has stayed pretty constant, and we stayed at a small cabin within walking distance (if you don't mind a long steep road) to the lake.  We were only at that first, lakeside cabin, for one year.  Eventually, my younger brother and his daughter started joining us.
Taylor (my brother's daughter), Nick (my sister's oldest), Camille, Justin (my sister's middle child), and Kyle.
I lost my mom to a progressive lung disease (with a name a mile long and no cure), and, as it became more difficult for her to breathe, we switched to lower elevation locations.  But, we never stopped going.  The kids never stopped sleeping outside on the deck; all their sleeping bags lined up in a row; talking late into the night about the stars and satellites.
The candid version: Taylor is smiling sweetly; Nick is checking out Camille's belly button ring; Justin is standing like a stud; and Kyle has been told to get rid of his stick for the picture (probably by Camille).

The kids are now adults, with the exception of my youngest niece who is 14.  The rest of the"kids" range from Camille (23) to Nick (29).  My sister had kids first, closely followed by me, and much later by my brother.  Kyle's girlfriend, Ana, has joined us the last two years.
Kyle and Ana
It was warmer than usual this year but the lake was full and we liked the cabin (the one we used to use wasn't available this year).  We ate too much food and drank wine in the evening on the deck.  We played games.  We went for long walks, swatting the mosquitoes that buzzed around our heads and feasted on our arms and legs.

It was a good trip.  And it is very good to be back home.  Brett took care of the ranch and even installed some more sprinklers in my garden while I was gone.  I love my family but I can only take so much happy, crowded chaos.  I am an introvert, after all.  So it was good to walk through my garden and admire the sprinklers, to stand quietly with Tex, and to drink in the quiet of the night.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Four Feet off the Ground

Its been doggone hot here since the middle of last week.

On the one hand, there isn't much activity going on other than trying to stay in the shade or the house -- or an air conditioned office.

Last weekend we escaped the heat: we spend Saturday in San Francisco visiting my son and his girlfriend.  Sunday we hoisted the kayaks onto the top of the Subaru and drove to Bear River Lake.  Snow melt is still rushing into the lake, making the water cold and the lake level very high.  We paddled over submerged picnic tables and fire rings.

The horses are spending the day time hours in the barn where they can escape the sun and the flies.  In the evening we turn them out into their pastures to stretch their legs and their brains.  It gives me the opportunity to work with Tex twice a day and he's been rock steady.  It helps, of course, that he wants to go to the barn for breakfast and to the pasture for dinner.

It has also given me the opportunity to work with Lucy and Jackson on their manners.  Neither of them were doing well with "wait" but instead were diving their noses down to the grass whenever I paused on our walks back and forth.

Lucy was a quick study.  Robin said to me, a while back, "Don't yank on the lead rope; that's abusive.  Instead, make one very strong correction with the whip.  Lucy will jump with all four feet off the ground, but she won't do it again. One clear correction is kinder than continuous, nagging, yanking on her face."  I had to agree.

And she was right.  Lucy dove for the grass and I snapped the whip, hard, on the ground next to me.  Lucy hates whips so I knew I didn't have to touch her with it.  Sure enough, she levitated, landed, and began to piaffe (trot in place).  I looked at her mildly, waited for her to regain her composure, and we walked on.  I carry the whip when we walk, but I haven't had to use it since.  When we halt, she looks at me for permission to graze.  If she is calm and polite about it, I say "Have some."

Jackson was a bit more work.  He's getting with the program, though.  After Robin pointed out to me during one of my lessons, that her horse, Red, was subtly moving me instead of vice verse, I became more aware.  Jackson is a lot like Red.  He's sensitive, enjoys interacting with people, and enjoys seeing what he can get away with.  He never pushes me.  No, no, he would never be that ... obvious.  He just drifts into me as we walk and I used to step away, to alter my course.  Now I pick a path and he has to alter his path to accommodate me.  Its funny to watch him, really. He's so confused.

When he dove for the grass, I snapped the whip -- right in front of his nose.  He jumped back, and with his head high in the air, he gave me his most offended look.  He likes to push boundaries so he tried again a bit later.  This time his nose would have been stung if he hadn't lifted it so quickly.  He didn't try again... for a few days.  The last time he tried to very sneakily drop his head, I wasn't carrying the whip (and he knew it).  I reached behind me and smacked him with the end of the lead line.

Oh.  Hmmm.  Maybe not a good idea.

Its amazing how polite he's become.  I can walk both he and Lucy on a completely slack lead, and they walk quietly beside me, across the green grass, and only eat when I stop and invite them to do so.

Brett has been working with Flash... he brings him into the barn in the morning at liberty.  Flash knows his bucket is in his stall so he's happy to follow Brett there.  In the evening though, forget it.  Brett tried to take him back to the pasture at liberty and Flash decided to turn and go the other way.  It was pretty funny watching Flash amble down the barn aisle while Brett went chasing after him.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Confessions of a Control Freak

I tell my daughter, Camille, that its genetic; that it isn't our fault.  But there it is.  Its my largest character flaw -- and one that has cost me friends over the years.  It is also the source of the conflict that defined my relationship with my father for many years.  Both of us, control freaks.  Not pretty.

Of course, I didn't always recognize this trait as a flaw.  I was pretty blind about it, to tell you the truth.  And, I've only come to the realization that it is the reason I lost some friends, years after the fact.

I'm this strange mix of control, intuition, sensitivity and introversion.  I am consistently an outlier on personality profile tests.  I'm a weirdo.  Its a fact.  About fifteen years ago, I identified the control demon in the course of doing some hard spiritual work, acknowledged it, and began the hard work of controlling that beast.  (It's not easy and I'm not always successful).

What does this have to do with horses you ask?  Everything.

I think control freaks are drawn to dressage.  I could be wrong.  But I know I liked having clear goals, and a training pyramid to follow.  Dressage involves a dance between precision and feel.  It has been a good fit for my personality.

Tex... well, he's a whole different ballgame.  He draws on the intuitive side of my personality and my sensitivity -- that's a good fit.  But, he has good days and bad days and our progress is far from linear.  I struggle with that part.  Its not a training pyramid, its a training trail; a true journey.  There are sunny days and cloudy days; beautiful stretches of trail under the trees with a view of snow-capped mountains, and there are stretches where we trudge through switch backs, on a bare mountain side, under the beating sun.  ...okay, maybe not quite that bad.  But, challenging.

Thank goodness for Robin.  A few days ago, she reminded me that I can't just set parameters with Tex and hold the line.  Tex is a very damaged horse.  He's going to have good days and he's going to have days where its hard to trust.  Really, really hard.

On his good days, I can push on the boundaries of his comfort zone.

On his bad days, I need to encourage him to trust.  Robin calls this "seeking mode."  I want him to be seeking me -- whether its watching me from the pasture or walking towards me.  If I catch him watching me, I throw him a carrot.  I don't require him to walk all the way over to me and stand in a designated place.  If he starts walking towards me, I toss him a carrot.

After two days of tossing cookies, Tex is stalking me.  And, I love it.

This morning, when we brought the horses into the barn to escape the heat and the flies, Flash was first to the gate.  Flash nickered to me, while Tex stood at his flank, a few steps back.  I knew Flash was nickering more for breakfast than for me, but I praised him anyway and gave him a treat and rubbed his face.

Tex had this look like, "What the heck?  He's not your horse.  I'm your horse."

And then he stood perfectly still when I approached and was even a tad greedy about getting his halter and a treat.

I'm not so sure that I'm training Tex.  I think he is teaching me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ten Questions

I don't normally participate in blog hops or question lists making the rounds, but I like this one.

It would be fun - and interesting for me - to hear from all of you.  If you don't blog, or don't want to post on this, pick a question or two to answer in the comments.  I'd love to get to know everyone better.

1. What is your earliest, clearest horse memory? 
My earliest horse memories revolve around when I discovered horse stables at the end of a street, a couple blocks from my home.  I found the stable, and started spending all my free time there, when I was about ten years old.  I remember the tall, leggy, black and white horse in a corner stall; the dark palomino stallion with a flaxen mane in a deeply bedded double box stall; a huge black horse (named Blue) that would lunge at you as you walked by his box stall (single, not deeply bedded); and the Shetland pony that I, eventually, was allowed to ride.  I remember the pile of clean wood shavings behind the barn; the stacks of sweet smelling alfalfa stacked to the ceiling in the hay barn where I went to escape the heat; and the coke machine with old-fashioned curvey bottles of ice cold coke.   It was a large boarding stable, probably 50 horses, and I can remember the layout of the property as well as I remember the house I grew up in.

2. Describe the perfect summer day.
I like to be outdoors, and active, but I don't tolerate the heat well.  So, in general, I am not a fan of summer.  I do, however, love the days that we escape to lakes high in the Sierras, with our kayaks and a picnic lunch.

3.  Are you reading anything right now?  Tell me about it!
I'm not reading anything at the moment.  We are up at 5:30 to do chores before the sun comes over the mountain ridge.  After I get home from work we are back outside until dark doing the evening chores.  We typically finish dinner at 8:30 or 9 -- then its a shower and bed.  Although I love to read, I really only have time to lose myself in a book on an airplane or on vacation.

4.  Do you follow a celebrity (horsey or not) that fascinates you?
Nope.  I used to be fascinated by Princess Diana and her sense of style.

5. What is your single largest horse dream or goal? 
Goals change over time.  I think my largest, current, horse dream is to ride Tex bareback.  I'd also like to be able to walk with my horses at liberty, all over the ranch.  I used to have a lot of dressage related goals -- I wanted to ride single tempi changes; I wanted to do a musical freestyle.  Now, I dream about complete connection.  I'd love to have the same connection with Tex that I do with Jackson and Lucy.

6.  If you were at Starbucks right now, what would you order?
Grande, two raw sugar, triple shot latte with chocolate and cinnamon powder sprinkled on top.

7. What is your biggest equine pet peeve?
People who think of horses as tractors.  -- no regard for their physical well being; just riding them into the ground.

8.  With everything going on politically and in the media, do you follow it religiously?  Tune it out? Something in between? 
I have an hour commute each morning and evening and I listen to NPR while I drive.  Other than that, I don't follow the media.  I am interested, but also often repelled, by what I hear.  Not a Trump fan.  I didn't like him as a real estate mogul, reality TV dude, or attention grabbing celebrity.  I like him even less now.  If that's possible.

9. If you had to show your horse to a song, what would you choose?
The horse would be Lucy.  She's an elegant horse...  And I love Bach.  I think Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Ode to Joy) captures how I feel when I am riding her; in those moments when we are in perfect harmony and sync.

10. What are you most looking forward to this summer?
Kayaking.  A visit from the kids in August.  It's hard for me to put "look forward to" and "summer" in the same sentence.

Monday, June 12, 2017

An Unplanned Test for Tex

Tex has been moving back and forth between being brave and not-so-much.  Honestly, I was getting a bit frustrated, annoyed, perplexed, tired.  I couldn't decide if Tex was stepping back and choosing not to engage because of fear or chutzpah.

So, I called Robin.  One of the cool things about my clinic with Robin is that I can still access her wisdom post-clinic.  She is continues to be my trainer, although my lessons are now conducted via telephone.  I asked her why Tex is blowing me off more -- because he doesn't seem scared and he isn't rude; he just chooses to step out of reach when I approach.  I thought he was playing alpha games with me.  But, its more complicated than that.

Robin reminded me that Tex's behavior of avoidance has served him well for many years.  It has protected him from contact with people -- who have not historically been a good thing for him.  He is learning that we are different; that I bring him good things and that I'm fair.  But, the neurons in his brain need to be re-wired.  Its happening, but its a slow process and there will be times when the old wiring will speak louder to him than the new.  My job is to be consistent and to keep the parameters constant -- good things only come with engagement.

Last week, most of our interactions went like this:  I walk past the pasture.  I have cookies in my pocket (in case).  He sees me and turns to face me.  I go to the fence and call him.  He walks over, but stops a couple feet away; out of reach.  I invite him closer.  He declines.  I leave.  No cookie.

Yesterday, we had some bizarre weather.  In the middle of June, we had a day full of hail storms and drenching rain.  The wood stove burned all day.  We decided to bring the horses into the barn since the stormy weather was expected to last well into the night.

The girls were standing in their run-in shed; basically dry.

Tex and Flash were initially running around their pasture as the hail pelted them, but then they took refuge under an oak where they were shielded from the brunt of the fury.  Jackson was in his round-pen.

Brett and I stood under the barn eaves, waiting for the hail to turn to rain.  When that happened, we went to the boys pasture.  I wasn't at all sure that I'd be able to catch Tex -- between the weather putting him on edge and the past week's un-interest, I figured he would be spending the night under the tree and not in his dry stall with a sheltered run-out.

Brett and Flash left the pasture, closing the gate behind them.  Tex stood near me, watching them go.  I approached him.  He stepped back.  I turned and walked toward the gate.  I heard hoof beats splashing through the mud behind me.  I stopped and turned.  He touched his nose to my hand and I stepped toward him; he backed up.  I walked away -- faster this time.  I felt his nose at my shoulder, walking with me.  Again I stopped and turned.  He stood like a rock while I slipped on the halter and led him to the barn.  Brett had filled the grain bin in his stall with alfalfa cubes so got a nice reward when I slipped off his halter in the stall.

And, I ran inside and called Robin to tell her the good news.  Its a long journey with Tex, but we are making good, solid, lasting progress.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Trust at Canter

Last weekend I had a lovely ride on Lucy.  I love how easy it is to ride her when we are both fit.

We spent quite a bit of time at trot and canter.  We cantered to the left first and she felt great.  She was round and didn't rush at all.  I was able to concentrate on following with my hands (I tend to be rigid and constrictive) and we were both very happy.

We took a walk break and then I changed direction.  Lucy knew what was coming (CANTER!!!) and she was ready.  We had to delay the transition a few times because as soon as I thought, "maybe after the corner," she was all Miss Anticipation.  So I changed my mind and waited.  And waited.

Finally, she stayed relaxed and I asked.

Canter!! Wheee!

Um, Lucy, its not necessary to race around the court like its the Kentucky Derby or something.  Slow down and relax.

But.... CANTER!  We're cantering!

So, I took a firmer contact.  And Lucy got pissed.  She does not like to be held; she gets claustrophobic.  So she got stronger.  And so did I.  My bad.

We came back to trot and I thought about how I was going to manage this.  Then we went back to canter and I was careful to walk the line between contact and holding/ bracing with my hands.  She was still trying to haul buns, but I used my core -- a tightening in my abs while sitting deep and tall -- to ask her to slow the heck down.  She complied and we had some very nice canter.  Finally.

I need to trust Lucy and follow.  She does listen to my core and my seat.  I just have to remember that; and trust.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Who's in Charge Here, Anyway?

Tex has been a bit different this past week.

He's been subtly trying to get the upper hand.  I've watched him do this with Flash in the pasture.  A little push here, a little nudge there, and pretty soon Tex is herding Flash around.  Tex doesn't make a big bold move; he nibbles at the edges.

And I'm onto him.

It started with him backing away from me, wanting me to come to him.  It didn't work; I just left the pasture and he missed out on treats.  He also started getting cautious about me standing close to him, flinching, and jumping back.  Again, I left.

In the mornings, when I bring him his vitamin bucket, I'm not dumping it in his feed bin.  I'm holding it, or sitting on the edge of the bin with it in front of my feet.  He doesn't like it, but he eventually eats.

(I'm also increasing his dose of Quiessence).

The pulling back and startling is being done with the intent of getting me to move where he wants me to go.  It doesn't work that way.  I move him; he doesn't move me.
I'm sitting in the back of the trailer.  He's not too sure about that.

Sunday we spent a lot of time together.  We practiced approaching the back of the open trailer.

We practiced lining up at the mounting block (on a lead rope, no tack), we practiced standing on the mats at the tie rail -- and he got treats at each place, with some hand grazing under the oaks in between "work" sessions.

By the end of the day, he had given up on flinching or moving me around.

For the moment.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Its Hard to Wait

With Tex, I work a lot with "draw."

With Jackson and Lucy, I don't have any problem with "draw."  They both are learning "pause."  This is particularly hard for Lucy -- a pushy, dominant, princess mare.
Left to right: Pistol, Jackson and Lucy
I use pause when I am walking Lucy and Jackson between pastures, or the barn, or just hand grazing.  Basically, they are not allowed to drag me around and graze at will.  I choose where we walk, and I choose when they graze.  Of course, I make sure that the spots I choose are superior to those that they see.
Pistol is in heat again... Jackson continues to be a bit confused.

Jackson has always been a bit rude.  Before he was retired, I didn't tolerate it and he stopped (with me; he still tested everyone else).  After he was retired, I got lax.  He has been retired for six years -- so he's back to being pretty rude.  Fortunately, it only took one reminder for me to establish the ground rules.  We walk; I stop; he waits for me to say "have some," and then he grazes.

Lucy is a bit more work.  We walk.  We stop.  She dives for the grass.

"Wait." I say, in a firm voice.

She dives for the hay.  I repeat, while correcting with either the whip touching her nose, or a yank on the lead rope (if I forgot to carry the whip).

She raises her head and looks away from me in disgust.  When she turns to me, I say "have some."

She understands, but she'd rather not comply, so we repeat this a lot.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Another Chicken Massacre

No gruesome photos.  No photos at all since this occurred at 10pm.  Lucky you.  Not so lucky us.

The chicks had a grand time on Saturday and Sunday, running in and out of the hen house and exploring the chicken run.  After the last massacre, Brett put chicken wire along the sides (sunk into the ground) and across the top.  Some teeny tiny birds squeeze through the wire, and squirrels tunnel in, but other than that nothing gets into the chicken area.

Or so we thought.

Last night I was sitting on the couch, with my feet up, working a puzzle on my iPad and thinking about heading upstairs to bed.  It was quiet outside, with just the sound of crickets and frogs drifting in through the open window.  And then, the sound of chicks chirping joined the crickets -- and then the chirping got very loud.  Odd... the chicks should have been inside the hen house fast asleep.

I assumed one had gone out into the chicken run and couldn't get back in (it is a bit of a jump from the ground to the ledge of the pop-hole in the hen house door).  I put on my clogs and grabbed a flash light, ready to find and rescue the chick.

The beam of the flashlight revealed a skunk, leaping (they don't run, they leap like deer) from one end of the run to the other, chasing chicks.  Chicks were flying through the air, bundles of white, yellow and orange fluff.  I opened the chicken run gate and rushed in (I know, I'm lucky I didn't get sprayed), shouting at the top of my lungs for Brett and screaming "GET OUT!"  It didn't; and Brett wasn't coming -- so I ran back towards the house.  I saw Brett coming around the corner of the garage.

"Are you okay?" he called.

"No! A skunk is attacking the chicks."

The conversation continued as we rushed back to the chicken area.

"How did it get in?"

"I have no idea."

The skunk was gone.  And there were chick carcasses littering the ground.  We opened the hen house door and saw more dead chicks.  We found a few live chicks here and there, and then a group of eight or so huddled in the far corner of the run.  I carried them into the hen house, and locked the door -- with the pop-hole shut.  Between counting the dead chicks as we put them in a bag, and counting the live chicks as I picked them up and moved them, we completely lost count.

I think we lost six chicks.  I counted eleven in a dog pile in the corner of the hen house this morning.  They were clamboring over each other -- so it was very hard to count.

We were up at 5am, first light, to get a better look at the chicken pen.  We discovered how the skunk got in.  It moved the mango and grapefruit sized rocks that blocked the gate, and dug a hole under the gate.  Brett sunk a board and some rocks this morning, and secured them with stakes so they can't be moved.  We like to keep the pop-hole open in the summer when the nights are warm, but we won't be doing that anymore.  At least, not until the chicks are full grown.

The two existing hens were roosting on the top rung of their roosting ladder.  They didn't move a muscle.  They are survivors, those two.

This mountain living, on the edge of the wilderness, is beautiful -- but it sure is difficult.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Turn 'em Loose

The chicks, that is.  They are getting big, to the stage where they look more like dinosaurs than chicks.  Last weekend, with the help of some friends who were up for an oak tree demolition work day, we moved the brooder box into the hen house.

We knew that the weather was going to be warm and that, combined with the chicks having grown out some feathers, meant that they would be okay without a heat lamp.  It took four of us to carry the box, one on each side, and even so we had to stop and rest a few times.  The chicks, inside, were chirping like mad.  Another person walked with us carrying the chick's waterer and the bricks on which it sits.

The brooder box has been sitting in the hen house since then, getting used to the sights and sounds of life with the two hens and whatever other critters visit (squirrels tunnel into the area regularly).  We wanted the hens to be bored with the whole idea of chicks before we let them loose.

We lifted the chicks out of the box, where they promptly huddled together in the corner.

A few hours later, the chicks were starting to spill out the door of the hen house into the run.  They didn't venture far.  The two hens were on patrol.

Periodically, one of the hens chased the chicks back inside and then ran around inside, squawking at them.  As soon as she left, the chicks spilled back outside.

It seems to be going very well.  And the chicks are endlessly entertaining.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Jackson is Improving

Jackson is doing much better, thanks to his multitude of medications and fancy new aluminum shoes with pads.

When we first started him on the meds, he stood by the window of his round pen with his head drooping and didn't take an interest in much of anything.  I read that depression is a common side effect of pergolide and would resolve within a few days, which it thankfully did.

With all his medication mixed together, it equals about a quarter cup of powder.  It was too much to mask in food so I gave up on that pretty quick.  Jackson is our pickiest eater, by far.  Fortunately, he is also the easiest to medicate with a syringe.  I bought a big jar of applesauce and use a couple spoonfuls of that as the base.  I add the powdered meds and a bit of water, then mix it up thoroughly.  It resembles pancake batter in consistency, except that it is a lovely shade of brown.

Next, I load it into a great big syringe and squirt it down his throat.  Then I give him a carrot or a cookie.  I repeat this three times -- I told you its a lot of meds.  He doesn't mind it (way better than wormer), and looks for the treat.

Now that everything is dry, he is also spending time outside in the back arena.  I put him out in the evening and bring him back into the barn in the morning.  He always rolls first.  Lately, he's also been adding some bucking and rearing moves to the repertoire.

He gets his medication slurry in the morning.  In the evening, he gets some senior feed with two tablespoons of one of the meds, and then he wears special bell boots during the night that create heat and increase circulation to his hoofs.

It's a lot to manage, but he's definitely improving and he loves all the attention.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Ruckus in the Pasture

Tex has been doing great.  Honestly, he's a different horse.

We were outside his pasture the other day, way down by the road, talking about replacing that section of fence.  We were engrossed in our discussion of how to get through the blackberry bushes, and what line to take, when we noticed that Tex had arrived.  He was standing on his side of the fence, close by, watching us.  Fortunately, Brett had a cookie in his pocket (he usually does) so I quickly rewarded him for joining us.

In the pasture, I can walk out to Tex when he is in "his corner" grazing with Flash.  He will leave Flash and follow me, all the way back to the gate.  I don't have treats on me.  He only gets a treat after we get to the gate -- I have them in a bucket outside the pasture.  I can even draw him in while we walk, so he is walking close to me.  How cool is that??? The first time it happened, it was all I could do to keep from jumping up and down, throwing my arms around his big red neck, and covering his mane in kisses.

And then there are the occasional small steps backwards.

One morning, when I took Tex his morning vitamins, the goats were out.  We usually keep them in until after the horses finish their vitamins because the goats looooooove horse vitamins.  Tex doesn't like the goats and will retreat from his bin, leaving the vitamins for the goats.  So, the goats mobbed me and Brett when we went in the gate.  They backed off of Brett and Flash pretty quick, because Flash will bite the goats on their backs if they get too close to his food.  But Tex retreated.  We tried to push away the goats and banged our buckets on their backs.  It didn't phase the goats, but Tex was alarmed and moved further away.

Then, Lucy in the next pasture started pitching a fit because it was taking too long for us to deliver her vitamins.  She began galloping along the pasture fence.  Normally, she canters and bucks and farts -- I don't know that I've ever seen her gallop before.  ...she's pretty fit at the moment and it shows.  Her energy added to Tex's alarm.  Brett headed over to feed the girls so the drama queen behavior would stop.

Meanwhile, I dragged the feed bin out of the pasture and left it on the grass outside the gate.  Then, I went back in with Tex's halter.  I approached him with no problem, but as I was slipping on the halter, a goat approached and he jumped backwards.  He came back to me, but he didn't want anything to do with the halter.  Not with goats around.  No way, uh uh.

I left.  I went to the round pen and picked up Jackson's manure.  I checked on the chicks.  When I went back to the pasture, Tex immediately came to the gate.  I slipped on the halter and led him out, so he could eat his vitamins from his bin in peace.

Even though he initially pulled back from the halter, I'm calling it a win.  He thought about it and when I came back, he was happy to be haltered.  In fact, when he finished his vitamins, he wanted to go on a treasure hunt and was not happy about going back to the pasture.  Normally, I would have loved wandering around with him looking for great grazing spots but I was already late for work.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Tex Graduates

...from kindergarten.  He has demonstrated that he can tie his own shoes.

When we got home from the clinic a week ago, I put Tex in the small arena instead of back out in the boys' pasture with Flash.  The small arena is next to the barn.  There is a walkway, about a tractor's width wide, between the arena and the goat area fence line and the boys pasture.  He wasn't isolated, but he was alone.  The sand is very thin in that arena because we don't use it for riding much, preferring the large, open dressage court. Grass struggles to grow through the sand but isn't very successful.  The arena is a decent size -- larger than a small dressage court -- so he had plenty of room to roam.  It's also perfect for rolling.  So, it isn't like he was in jail or anything.

Being isolated meant it was easy for me to control how much hay he was eating.  It also meant he was a bit bored.  As a result, Tex was always happy to see me.  When I took him out, to hand graze and treasure hunt, he was reluctant to go back to the safety of his paddock/arena.  As we got closer to the gate, he would slow and then stop and I had to encourage him to go back in.  Being with me was preferable.  Yes!

Wednesday after work we went on another treasure hunt.  I love treasure hunts.  I put treats in areas that are a bit hidden, or unpopular.  There were carrots on the stall mat in front of the tie rail -- and there was a bucket with all sorts of goodies inside the trailer door.  We grazed in a few spots, rich with dandelion leaves and grass, before going to the tie rail.  Initially he stopped and almost balked (which is the usual response) -- then I walked onto the mat and said, "Oh, look, Tex!  Carrots!"  He inched his nose out and took a closer look -- then walked onto the mat and ate them.  We continued on.

Another one of the things I learned is to approach the scary place/thing, reward, and then leave.  In the past, I've always tried to keep the worried horse in the scary environment until they realize its safe (which doesn't work very well).  Robin taught me that it is better to go in, have a very positive experience and leave.  That way, the horse develops a desire to go to that place.

After the stall mat and another grass interlude, we approached the back of the horse trailer.  It isn't hooked up to the truck so I didn't want to load him, in case it shifted.  The back doors were shut.  With Tex on a loose line, I opened the back of the trailer.  I wasn't careful or quiet about the whole deal.  Tex blinked when I swung the door around and latched it open.  And he braced.  I looked in the trailer and said --"Wow!  Look what's in here!" -- Tex knows that particular bucket and what it holds.  He came right over.

I decided to put him back in the boys pasture after that.  Sure, he still flinches once in awhile.  He's been known to step back after snatching a bite from a bucket.  When he does, I step back and before I can turn, he has stepped back forward.  "Please don't go.  I didn't leave.  See, I'm right here."

I think that qualifies as tying his shoelaces.  I think he's ready for elementary school.

When I removed his halter in the boys pasture, I expected him to turn and go to Flash.  If not that, then to wander out to his favorite back corner and graze.  But, no, he stayed with me and even followed me back to the gate.

Thursday morning, I was in the house getting ready to leave for work after doing the morning chores.  Brett opened the back door and said, "Come here.  I need to tell you something."

He told me he was in the boys pasture mucking.  Flash and Tex were grazing or eating hay or otherwise occupied.  He left the manure cart and went to the goat area to open their gate and let them into the pasture.  He removed the barrier so the horses could get in and help eat the grass, that has once again grown high.  Goats do not eat grass.  sigh.  He went back to picking up manure and then realized that Tex had come over and was standing behind him.  He asked Tex to follow him.  Tex took a couple steps and paused.  Brett thought, "oh, well.  It was worth a shot."  But, then Tex continued on and followed Brett all the way over to the goat area, where he was rewarded with access to the thick grass in their area.

I don't know; maybe Tex is ready for middle school...

Friday, May 26, 2017

Another Jackson Update

Jackson's lab results came back and they weren't good.

He has Cushings, although it must be in the early stages because he shed out his winter coat well.  It did seem extra thick to me this year, but I figured that was just him adjusting to our Sierra climate (which is significantly colder than where we came from in Southern California).  Other symptoms of Cushings include frequent abscesses, drinking copious amounts of water and laminitis.  Although he isn't currently laminitic, he has a history of that in the past.  And he has more pee piles in his round pen than are normal so he is drinking a lot.

He also has abnormal thyroid levels.

His insulin levels are normal, though.

So, Jackson is now a highly managed horse.

He's on multiple medications; five in  total:  thyroid (2 meds), Cushings (1 - pergolide), and circulatory for his feet/navicular (2 meds).
He is wearing special boots at night to increase circulation in his feet for the navicular.

He will be wearing special shoes and hard pads to protect his thin soles.  My fingers are crossed that the shoes stay on.  His hoof walls are thin and weak.  Maybe our farrier can use glue on shoes, if traditional ones don't work.  I'm still hopeful we can get him comfortable, but it may be more challenging than I anticipated.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Walking at Liberty: Last Clinic Post

The very cool thing about being at Robin's ranch was that I got to work with her horses.  We worked with Tex throughout the day, in short sessions (sometimes very short if he didn't want to come over to me).  In between, Robin demonstrated more advanced liberty work and gave me the opportunity to play as well.

Of course, the thing I most wanted to do was to walk with a horse.  But I had to learn a few skills first.

How do you keep a horse from wandering away while you are walking?  How do you create the desire in them to stay with you?  You use draw.  Its an energy pull, coming from your core.

There are three energies that are used in liberty work: Push, pause and draw.

Think about push like this.  Have you ever been in a group of people, large or small, and there was someone that never said anything to you but you knew that they didn't like you.  Maybe they resented you, maybe they were jealous, maybe they thought your taste in clothes was appalling.  You didn't know why, but you could feel them pushing you away.  Maybe when you left, you turned to a friend and said "what's up with her/him?"

Contrast that with: If you catch a close friend's eye across a crowded room and they light up; you can see that they are excited to see you, that they want you to cross that room and join them -- you would go, right?  That's draw.
Working on draw with Red
 In liberty work, I learned to go to the still quiet place at my core and, from that place, use energy to pull the horse closer to me.

After learning some of the building block skills, Robin asked me to practice walking with Red in the arena.

The next day, we practiced in the large pasture.  The pasture is vast, covering the top of the hill and sliding down to vineyards.  There were other horses in the pasture and they were all standing with us.
I called Red to my side and off we went.  It was beyond amazing.  Red stuck with me.  A few times, he started to drift off and I used draw to bring him back, close to me.  If my energy level dropped, he lost interest so I had to stay engaged, confident and positive.

Later, we did it again in a different pasture, a distance from the barn.
 We would walk a bit and then I would invite him to graze.  Then we walked some more.  I made a point of walking to places where the grass looked especially tasty.  He stayed with me and I found him good things.

After walking around for awhile, Robin opened the gate and said, "walk with him back to the barn."  We went out the gate.  I turned left for the barn, and Red turned right for more grass.  In fact, he took off trotting for another pasture.  Robin walked after him and he came to her, then they walked together, at liberty, to the barn.  So, it takes practice and they don't always say yes -- but what a cool experience it is to connect in that way.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Its not all Sweetness and Light

I don't want you to think that this liberty work/relationship focused interaction with horses is all tootie-fruity fluffy marshmallow stuff.  Tex is getting a heck of a lot of treats right now -- because he is tentative and still learning to trust.

Take, on the other hand, my brave and independent heart horse: Jackson.

He's been retired for a number of years now.  And we all know what happens when you retire a horse.  They gradually become rude and pushy.  Jackson is no exception.  And because my heart aches when I think about the pain he lives with everyday, I haven't been as, um, firm as I should be.

One of the things I learned at the clinic -- well, I knew it, but it never stuck before -- was making sure that my horses fully understand that I am the one in charge.  I am the alpha mare and you don't move me around; I move you.  The next morning after we got home from the clinic, when I brought Jackson his morning vitamins, I noticed that he was crowding into my space and trying to herd me to his feed bin.  I told him to back up.  He bumped me with his head; kind of a side-ways friendly punch to my arm.  Except that it wasn't acceptable.  I asked him to back up; to cede me ground; to acknowledge my rank -- and he pushed back.  I stung him across his lower front legs and said "I told you to move."

He hobbled backwards and then circled around me, snaking his head in a belligerent way.  I ordered him to whoa in my best I-mean-it mom voice.  He stopped; looking a bit shocked.

I continued walking to his feed bin.  He started out walking next to me, and gradually was drifting sideways towards me.  I stepped into him, and he moved away.  He tried again.  I held my ground and gave him the stink-eye.  His head went up and he stopped.

When he dropped his head, I walked over to him with the bucket.

"Wait," I said.  He paused.  I held the bucket to him and said "Have some."

"Thank you." he meekly said.  "I'll be respectful.  I promise."

And he has (pretty much) kept that promise.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Different Kind of Liberty Work

What makes Robin Gate's liberty work different is intent.  It's liberty relationship and liberty play. Its relationship.

Let me try to explain.

I'm an American rider, living in the Western United States so that frames my experience.  And there are exceptions to every rule as well as differences in experience, so you may see things a bit differently.  This is my view of what has framed my journey.

In the beginning... there were cowboys who needed broke horses real fast.  So they rode green horses into the ground, or tied them to posts, or beat them into submission (yes, yes, not all cowboys; I know that; stay with me).  These horses did their job, but they were broken, and didn't think humans were all that great.

(actually, before that you had some Native American tribes who had amazing relationships with their horses and did everything bareback and at liberty -- but it takes time to build those sorts of bonds and cowboys didn't have the time, or inclination, so they ignored the golden opportunity to learn true horsemanship).

More recently, there has been the Natural Horsemanship movement.  When Brett and I first brought our horses home to live with us fifteen years ago, we were intrigued.  We bought the stuff: the books, videos and special tack (halters, etc).  The exercises were called games, but they were dominance games, and they just didn't appeal to us.  If you read the books or watch the videos, there is a lot of talk about pressure and the horses are worked in a round pen until they give.  So, we gave away all our stuff and followed our own path.  (Again, there are exceptions -- Mark Rashid, for one).  For me, it was the path of dressage and achieving harmony through thought.  For Brett, it was building a bond through the sharing of new experiences in mounted patrol training and trail trials.

But, still I longed for that connection and bond that, I thought, maybe only exists in movies -- you know, the Black Stallion running on the beach, or the wild mustang who chooses to leave his herd because his bond is so strong with his human.  I wanted that.

And then I came across Robin.  She never uses a round pen.  She doesn't use pressure -- she uses push, yes -- but not pressure.  The horse can always choose to leave; can choose not to play.

When Robin works with a horse at liberty, she encourages them to express themselves.  She invites them to express their exuberance.  Here's a video of her working with some of her horses.  You can see the give and take, the conversation, the joy, and the bond.

This is what I want.  This is my dream and my deepest desire.  (besides Brett, of course)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Weighting the Scale

How do you get a horse like Tex, who is so distrustful of the human race, to put his protective coping behaviors behind him and joyfully join you in relationship?  Why would he want to leave the safe corner of his pasture, the company of his friends, or his hay to come to me?
At the clinic, first day

Because I pay a commission.  And my commissions are good.  Very good.

Eventually, I won't need to pay as much because he will look at me and be filled with positive thoughts and happy anticipation.

Robin explained it as a scale, the old fashioned kind with two buckets and a pendulum.  On one side, the horse has his herd, his comfortable place, and his coping behaviors.  In Tex's case, those behaviors involve flight if people are close by, and indifference if they are far away.  That is the heavier side of the scale.  In Tex's case, that side is very heavy.  On the other side is me.  I haven't hurt him; I'm kind; but I'm a human so I can't be trusted completely (based on Tex's history of abuse).  My side of the scale is way up in the air.

What I need to do is add weight to my side of the scale with the goal of getting it, eventually, to be heavier than his status quo side.  I need to fill my side of the bucket with desirable things -- different sorts of snacks (if your horse is motivated by food like Tex is), interesting games (going out to hand graze, at this point), massages (Lucy lives for neck and wither rubs), or just companionable hanging out together time.

The first two days of the clinic, Tex was reluctant to leave his friends or his corner to come see me -- even when I had a bucket of carrots (or senior feed or alfalfa) in my hand.  So, we only gave him half a flake of hay instead of a full one to ensure that the goodies in my bucket were exceptionally enticing. By the third day, he was a lot more interested and when we got home -- he came every single time I approached the arena (okay, except for the one time he was hanging out with Flash who was across the fence).

The food didn't come free, of course.  He had to walk over to me and stay.  If he flinched, or pulled back, I left.  "Oh, Tex, you're scared.  It must be scary here.  I'd better leave."  -- and I'd take my bucket out of the gate.  The first day of the clinic, he was like "whatever."  This morning, he was eating his vitamins from a small bin I was holding (standing on his right side, I only pay from his right because that is his nervous side).  He was being a bit tentative and then something in the universe (I saw and heard nothing) caused him to take a quick "oh, no!" step backwards.  I looked at him and immediately left, marching at a quick clip back to the pasture gate.  ...and he came running after me.  I said, "Tex, are you following me?"  He put himself in position and dove into his bucket.  Because he is so tentative, I want him to be a bit pushy about it right now.  So, I was happy -- both with him following, and with the gusto he had for eating from a bucket wrapped in my arms.
Here, I'm paying commission from the left side.  By the end of the first day, I was only paying from his right.

Plink, plink.  My side of the scale is slowly getting heavier.  One day it will weigh more than the other side.  It may take a while with Tex.  That's fine.  I'm not in a hurry.

As of Monday morning, my side was already heavy enough that Tex will come to me when I am carrying his fly mask and let me put it on, at liberty, without moving a muscle.  I pay pretty well for that and he knows it.
Back home Sunday afternoon.
This evening, he was back to flinching and nervous.  He stood by the gate but he was looking for Brett and the hay cart; not for me.  So, I told Brett not to feed him until later and I did the rest of my chores.  Then I put some senior feed in a bucket, added some water, and brought the slushy cold mixture into the pasture.  Robin introduced him to "LMF tea" at the clinic -- its his favorite treat.  He immediately came to me.  I gave him a sip and walked further into the arena.  He followed; another sip.  I took off his fly mask and he jumped backwards -- so I left.  We'll get there but it won't be a straight line.  However, when we do get there it will be because he has freely chosen to be bonded to me.  Its worth the wait.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Liberty Training with Robin Gates

I learned so much over the past four days, its hard to know where to start.

We worked with Tex, of course.  He made huge progress and we were able to create some fissures in the layers of emotional scar tissue he has layered over his true self.  He uses indifference and reactivity to protect himself.  He stands in a corner of his pasture or paddock and ignores people, and he startles at the slightest touch.

The only way to get the alfalfa in that blue bucket, was to stick his head in the feed bin where I was sitting.  I did lots of silly things.  
The work I've done with him over the past year has been good.  My intuition about how to approach him was spot on.  But now, its time to up the game.  He's been working with me long enough to know that I am safe; that I will not harm him; and that I want a bond with him.  So, indifference and reactivity are no longer acceptable.  They won't be punished, but they won't be rewarded.  As Robin said, its time for him to tie his own shoe laces.
Robin working with Tex
We are teaching him that its okay to have me standing on the right side of his face, that its okay for me to touch him and hang on him and be silly; that I'm a bit unpredictable, in an interesting sort of way. We worked a lot with treats -- senior feed, cookies, carrots, and alfalfa.  Robin refers to the treats as real estate.  Anything I have that he wants, is real estate.  And he has to pay for it by coming to me, by sticking his head in a bucket, or by not leaving when I'm touching him.  He's done well; he's eating lots of good stuff.

Secondly, we are working on getting him to enthusiastically come to his name.  All of Robin's horses come flying out of the back of their pastures when they hear their names.  Tex knows his name and will amble over to me, but we want him to be thinking, "Hot dog!  She's calling me!  Here I come!"  This was a tough one for Tex.  There were many times that I went into the paddock, he ignored me, and I left without giving him anything.  He started coming over more yesterday afternoon.  Today, when we got home, I put him in the arena (rather than the boys pasture with Flash) -- so I am his only entertainment, at the moment.  He was very enthusiastic about me this afternoon; he even went so far as to trot all the way across the arena when he saw me opening the gate.  (talk about melting my heart).

In between sessions with Tex, Robin taught me the games that build the bond, and I was able to practice liberty skills using her horses.   There are three components to establishing, and strengthening, the bond: draw, pause and push.  I was able to experience all of them.  I even worked on walking at liberty with Red, her Dutch warmblood.  Each horse was different, and each taught me something that I can use with a member of our herd.
Walking with Red at liberty

There will be a shift in the posts on the this blog, I'm pretty sure.  There is so much I want to do and I want to share it all with you.  Lucy and Pistol have already had a lesson in "push," and Jackson and I worked on "pause."

The clinic was a game changer for me.  -- if you are interested in learning how to work with horses as willing partners and participants, I highly recommend spending a few days at her ranch.  She has horses that are star teachers and the setting -- on a hill above the vineyards in Sonoma, couldn't be better.  Here's a link to her website: Liberty Horse Training.