Another Lesson from Midnight

20160421_134742So much in the world seems to be getting more angry, more violent, and more hate-filled these days. It’s uncomfortable and worrisome. What on earth can a person do to counteract all that? Developing a better, kinder, gentler way of dealing with others would surely be helpful. But how? And while still maintaining one’s own individuality and boundaries?

The horses, through our relationship with them, have some answers for us.

I realized yesterday that I’ve been developing a gentler way of relating to Midnight for some time now—several years, actually. It probably started when I quit riding him, and came on gradually without my noticing; but our way of interacting now is more like friends, not like owner and animal or whatever.

Of course I do get more of a say when there are things that have to be done—grooming (which he’s not too fond of), vet visits, and stuff like that. Or when we’re out for a walk and I actually have to leave, so we need to head back to his house before he’s quite ready. But here’s how it goes at the best of times, like yesterday:

Midders bangs on his stall door to get my attention while I’m hanging out in the pasture across the lane with Galahad and Dancer. Since it’s Galahad’s day off, I have time to take Midnight out for a walk, so we get his halter on and head out the door. He wants to go directly down the road, but I need to stop at the car for a couple of things. I ask, and he’s willing to come over there with me. After all, there are cookies in the back, right?

After a few minutes (and some video) we start off down the lane toward the barns. He has a pattern that he likes to do, but we negotiate a couple of changes, since one of his favorite grazing areas is still muddy. He easily takes the redirection—there are good patches of clover elsewhere, after all.

After ten minutes or so I suggest we head up toward the main barn, and he says, “Sure!” and takes off at a clip. When I say “suggest,” I actually mean this: “Midnight, shall we go over there” (I point to the barn) “and see what’s going on?” No pressure on the lead rope—just words, body language, and intention. He looks where I’m pointing and trundles off in that direction.

He gets to choose the pace and direction of his walk, for the most part, and he has certain places he wants to check out. I just hold the lead rope in order to keep it from dragging. There’s lots of stopping and sniffing and grazing. Once in a while, if he decides to go sniff noses with another horse, I might tell him no and put the slightest pressure on the rope, but generally he’s OK with just the sound of my voice.

One of his must-check spots is the cement area under the grain bins—there’s usually some spilled grain there, and he likes to mop it up. Today, though, it’s pretty moldy-looking because of all the rain recently, so there’s no way I’m going to let him eat it. This results in a little bit of a tussle, but not much. He’s not buying my explanation, but he understands that I’m serious, so he’s willing to leave after only a little pulling. And I do mean a little bit—Midders may be small but he’s mighty, and when he gets stubborn with that head of his, it’s not easy to pull him away. This discussion was still in the range of a few seconds of mild pressure on the lead rope.

Then we headed over to the mares pasture to see “his” girls, who all came over to the fence and grazed along with us for a while. It was getting late, and I had errands to run on the way home, so after a few minutes I suggested (with words and body language, not the lead rope) that we head back home to his place. Surprisingly (to me), he picked his head up at my suggestion and off we went.

Along the way Midnight’s buddy Nick was returning horses to their stalls after turnout. Midders, seeing Nick, insisted on taking a detour to say hi. After a greeting and a little conversation (and a couple more stops for especially nice patches of clover), we headed back down the lane at a good clip. He seemed as happy to go home as he had been to go out in the first place.

This has been our routine for the last few years, and I hadn’t thought much about it. There just isn’t any drama any more with Midnight—we go and have our walk and chat a little bit, then go back home. But something about it caught my attention yesterday, and I realized just how amazing (for me) this lack of drama is, and how different my mindset is when I’m with Midders.

Midnight isn’t in training for anything. I’m not going to ride him, and there aren’t any expectations. When I’m with him, I’m just out to enjoy his company and have a good time together. There’s no agenda; I’m not hoping to get any certain behavior from him. We’re just walking together like the old friends that we are.

No agenda…no drama. Wow…ya think there might be a connection?

THIS is what Paulette Evans at Ribbleton Attunement (whose online courses I’ve been taking lately) is trying to teach us to do! And it’s SO HARD! Yet I’m doing it on my own with Midnight, effortlessly, without thinking about it. HAVE been doing it for a few years now, actually.

Wow….

But it’s a mindset that I clearly do not have with Galahad, and that’s the rub. I DO have expectations of him, and hopes, and desires…. So my challenge is to see what I can do to get to this place of quiet non-expectation with my Best Boy, and see what develops from there.

And also, I’m thinking, with my human friends. The fewer expectations I have with them, the more quiet curiosity and friendship I can develop, the less drama and the more satisfaction. Will that help the world? Dunno…but it should make my life more peaceful.

How interesting….

 

The Magic of The Mean Little Black Horse

20161222_152543I arrived at the barn yesterday around noon. The main chore, other than feeding, was to take off Midnight’s parka and put on his rain jacket instead. The temperature was quite warm—in the upper 40s and mostly sunny, so I knew he didn’t need anything heavy. The forecast for Christmas Day is for rain and temperatures near 60° F (after plummeting to 4° F only a week ago!).

He was very happy to get rid of the blanket and enjoyed a good scrubbing with a stiff brush. His hair wasn’t too matted, but he’s old and dusty and stinky. He rubbed his face on the fence while I scrubbed his itchy back and sides. Then we went for a walk.

He didn’t want to go down toward the trail—he wanted to go see things up by the barn. Midders is very good at communicating his desired direction with a flip of his nose. So that’s where we went. I wasn’t too happy about it—I had wanted to spend some time training Galahad—but the old guy doesn’t get much attention or many walks, and since he was already out of his stall, off we went.

He wanted to trot, but his gimpy leg needs time to get warmed up and moving, and he’s a little stumbly. I worry too much about him—don’t want him going down in a heap on my watch—so I made him slow down and walk. He didn’t mind too much. We checked a few times for clover at the edge of the lane—no such luck, buddy. It’s December. Then we looked at the new round pen but didn’t stop. Instead, we went directly to the mares pasture, where he flirted and squealed with Maggie, the pretty black mare who’s just his size. When she said “Enough!” we walked through the barn and over to the bin where the sweet feed is stored. I swear, he’d try to crawl under there to get the little bit that’s spilled on the ground, if I didn’t stand between him and the frame. I pulled some of it over to where he could nibble it. He has no teeth, so he can’t actually chew it, but he sure loves to roll it around in his mouth!

Midnight is, as you all know, an opinionated old man. Long ago I learned that it’s no use pulling on him to get him to move along, and that’s really not the point of our walks, any more. So I’ll just stand, point, and ask him to come along. Sometimes it takes a while, but eventually he consents. Much nicer to have his consent! That’s kind of how our relationship has developed over the years. We’re old friends. We have history.

We stopped at the hay barn to talk with Reggie, who was loading up the cart for the afternoon feeding. Then we headed for home. Some people and a car were down the lane by Midnight’s paddock, delivering holiday treats. He liked that. Something different. And then there was dinner in his stall and soaked hay cubes for dessert out in his paddock.

While he was finishing up, I fed Galahad, Dancer, and Nevada. Galahad had cut his fetlock on something and was ouchy, and that needed doctoring. I folded up Midnight’s parka and refilled the feed bins, picked up around his paddock, and did some other little chores. By then the sun was sinking and the air was cooler. Time to put the rain jacket on the Little Black Horse.

But it was going to be comparatively warm overnight—only dropping into the 30s. Did he really need that blanket? He had fussed so much last week when I put the parka on him, and had been so glad when I took it off…. As I stood there holding his jacket, Midders left his pile of green stuff and walked over to me. He touched the blanket, then stood quietly, waiting. Felt like a “yes” to me! He didn’t fidget at all the entire time I spent putting it on him—so I’m quite sure I read him right.

And then the magic: Once the last buckle was fastened, Midnight put his nose on my shoulder and just stood there for several minutes, breathing on my cheek and very, very gently nibbling my jacket while I cried and told him how much I love him.

The Mean Little Black Horse loves me. He loves me, he appreciates the care I give him, and he knows that I intend only good things for him. He loves that I respect him, and in return, he gives me respect and consideration that he certainly does NOT give everyone. Best of all—and this is something I have a hard time offering myself—is that he loves me for me, just the way I am. He doesn’t care that maybe I could have done something different, or more, or better. He doesn’t care that my life sometimes gets in the way of being there for him as often as I wish I could. He doesn’t care about all the things that I worry about. He just loves me. Just me, as I am. He’s glad that I’m part of his life.

Wow. It’s just that simple, isn’t it, underneath it all?

I’m going to try to take his example to heart.

The Little Black Horse Who Could….

2014-01-13_15-13-42_696Our wonderful Midnight Dancer has had quite an adventure this last several weeks: One Friday morning at the end of October, Midnight broke his left elbow in a freak accident with another horse.

“They shoot horses, don’t they?”

Every vet in three states told us the same thing: Put him down, and do it quickly. There’s no way he could possibly survive this.

They didn’t know Midnight.

One of the local vets, the one who brought the portable x-ray machine that confirmed the break, got pretty angry with us when we wouldn’t make a decision immediately. “I’ve got another appointment in half an hour — we need to get this done.” (It took me a while, but I’ve forgiven him for his anger. He’s still in his thirties, and he still believes he and medical science have all the answers. Medicine has lots of answers…but not all of them.)

Midnight himself had a different idea. His energy was still bright, and though he was clearly in some pain those first couple of days, he wasn’t distressed by it, if that makes any sense. He continued to hobble around his stall, eating everything we put in front of him and keeping an eye on what was going on around him. He very clearly let us know that he was NOT ready to go to his Long Sleep.

But those Voices of Authority: It’s always so very difficult to argue with them, to make any sort of case for something different. I went through the struggle a couple of years ago when Galahad had abscesses in both front hooves and “They” insisted I needed to put shoes on him. This time was even worse, because the question was really, literally, about life and death. I was pretty well stuck, unable to speak up for Midders as his owners and I struggled with the decision.

Two friends of mine (and Midnight’s!) helped move me from my stuck place.
First was “Elwood,” the head caretaker and ranch hand out at the barn. He’s been there for thirty years, and I swear he’s half horse by now. A gentle soul with a huge heart and strong intuition, he urged me to let Midnight have a chance, to just wait and see how he progressed.

The second friend is someone who had cared for Midnight at the place we were a year ago. She and the Old Man had a very special relationship, and she had experienced his magical form of Black Horse Wisdom. In the darkest hours of those first days, this friend told me, “Keep up your spirit and continue listening to Midnight. You are his voice.”

“You are his voice.”

That brought me back to my senses and gave me the courage to speak up strongly: “We need to give him a chance. He will tell us when and if he’s ready to give up the fight.” His owners, thank goodness, agreed.

Fortunately, our regular vet Dr. H. was willing to work with us, though he was pretty certain what the outcome would be. So in the short run, we bandaged and splinted Midnight’s leg, and put a boot on the good foot to support the hoof and keep him from foundering on that leg because of the extra pressure.

2013-11-29_15-31-05_462The first several weeks were rough. Midnight was able to hobble around, and shortly, to walk around on his splinted leg. He never seemed distressed — his temperature and respiration remained normal the entire time. The problem was mechanical: He kept shifting the aluminum splint, probably by lying down (!), and every time it shifted, Dr. H. had to come out and reposition it. The bandage was way too complicated for us to do ourselves.

Midnight required a lot of daily care, too. Because he was stall-bound and not able to move around, there was a danger that he’d become bored. He’s a smart little guy, very active and interested, who thrives on attention. He also needed extra feedings — he can’t eat hay, and needs soaked forage cubes in order to keep things “moving” and to stay warm in the winter. So we were kept busy tending to him every day.

Eventually, Midders actually broke his aluminum splint. Needing a sturdy but lightweight alternative, we replaced it with one cut from PVC pipe. Success! He couldn’t break that one — but he continued to shift it every couple of days.

Vet calls get expensive fast! We were pretty frustrated, but then we decided to try Gorilla Tape instead of the vet tape that we had been using. That did the trick. Finally, we could go four or five or even seven days without needing Dr. H. to come by.

A month into the journey, Midnight began to develop pressure sores — an almost unavoidable consequence of the splint and bandage. Dr. H. was inventive and creative about the type of padding and the position of the splint, and that bought us just enough time: By Week Seven, it was clear that we had to remove the splint, whether the elbow was “ready” or not.

We shouldn’t have doubted Midders. He quickly adjusted to the lack of support, and was able to put at least some weight on the injured leg from the very beginning. As long as he stood square, we were able to lift his good front foot to clean it and replace the boot when we needed to.

It’s been almost twelve weeks now. Last week Dr. H. cleared Midnight for walking along the roads, and to begin to move around in a limited part of his paddock. And just in time, too: The day before that vet visit, Midnight had escaped his stall (he was READY to move!) and trotted off down the lane. It took a while to catch him!

So our little miracle horse is getting back to normal. He’s going for a walk once or twice every day, assisted by the intrepid members of Team Midnight. All of his pressure sores have healed and he’s doing amazingly well.

Midders has friends and supporters literally all over the world — through the wonders of Facebook and Carolyn Resnick’s network of students and trainers. We marshalled their healing energy and prayers, and I truly believe that they all share the credit for his wonderful recovery.

In the next post, I want to talk about the conscious and careful way we asked for that healing energy: There’s a specific technique that I believe was instrumental in the healing process. Stay tuned — and visualize the Mean Little Black Horse trotting around, tail in the air, happy and whole!

Midnight Games

Midnight GamesThe other day I decided to take Midnight for a walk, just the two of us. There are two other horses to care for and limited time, so we don’t get a chance to walk a lot. Our interaction is mostly just me feeding him, brushing him, cleaning his feet, and putting him back in the pasture.

So we started down the road. Midders wasn’t in any hurry, and we were just moseying along when he dropped back behind me.

Now, Midnight has this “game” he likes to play: drop behind whoever is leading him, and then head-butt them to see if he can knock them down. I watch out for that one, because a couple of winters ago he “won”:

I was bringing him in from across the “pasture” at his boarding barn. “Pasture” is in quotes because in reality it was a couple of acres of fetlock-deep mud and filthy puddles. I was paying way more attention to keeping my boots from being sucked off than to the mean little black horse behind me.

Bad idea. First thing I knew, Midders head-butted me hard. Down I went. Splash! Right into the muck. I was lucky that I landed on my arms and hands and not on my face! But one boot remained stuck in the mud while my foot kept moving.

Cussing, I stood up. Midnight, I swear to you, was laughing hard. He just stood there watching, with a nasty little twinkle in his eyes. I cussed some more, and then started laughing myself. “Yeah, you got me!”

And of course, there was an audience. When is there NOT an audience when something embarrassing happens?

So these days I never let Midders walk behind me. He’s mostly given up trying, so when he dropped back, I assumed he wanted to walk on the left side of me instead of on the right. OK. So I moved the rope, behind my back, from my right hand into my left.

Then Midnight moved over to the right again, so I switched to the right…and then to the left when he moved that way. It took me a couple more moves before I caught on and turned around. Yup. There was that twinkle in the old guy’s eyes—he’s got a new game.

Love that mean little black horse.

Pita and the Mean Little Black Horse

A friend and I went by the barn late yesterday afternoon to give Galahad and Nevada a bit of grazing time and to feed Midnight his third meal of the day. It was already pretty dark by the time we got there—a lovely, chilly evening. We were standing around in the yard near the barn, listening to the munching and crunching.

Pita the Barn Dog—a half-grown Border Collie pup—was playing like she usually does, picking up whatever comes her way and tearing around with it, growling like mad. First it was an empty plastic milk jug, then a piece of hoof left by the trimmer. We and the horses pretty much ignored her as it got darker and darker.

Suddenly, both horses spooked. A small, bright light was zipping here and there across the lawn! The horses snorted as it got closer and closer…but relaxed when we all realized it was Pita, carrying…a cell phone. Fortunately, Pita understands “drop it!” pretty well, and we were able to rescue it and return the phone to its owner, who had been down in the pasture with a flashlight looking for it.

After putting Galahad and Nevada back, I got Midnight’s evening meal ready: beet pulp and senior feed soaked in hot water. He loves it!

Of course, Pita went with me to call Midders, who whinnied and came running across the pasture. Meanwhile, Pita trotted along across the bridge over the creek, carrying something else that required a lot of growling to keep it in line. Even her light weight made the boards on the bridge rattle, too.

Midnight, who was on his way to cross the creek, saw a small, dark shape moving across the bridge, making all kinds of ugly noises: Clearly, this was the proverbial horse-eating monster. Then it crashed into the brush, obviously on its way to eat him for dinner.

So Midnight took off at a gallop.

Meanwhile, Pita who had apparently misjudged the distance from the bridge deck to the brushy ground beneath it on the other side of the creek, picked herself up, shook herself off, and was about to continue her romp when…

…Midnight discovered what it was making the noise. Well, Midders has a temper. And he hates to be fooled. So he put his head down and charged after the dog.

Pita, shocked, ran for her life, with little Midnight galloping right at her heels. They splashed across the creek, Midnight’s teeth two feet from the pup’s behind. Pita flew up the bank and just kept going. Midnight skidded to a stop inches from the gate, snorting and blowing his irritation. That was the last we saw of Pita.

That wasn’t the end of our evening’s adventures, though. As Midders was enjoying his dinner, my friend and I decided to put his lightweight blanket on, so I went to find it. Just as I got within ten feet of him on the way back, he finished eating and decided to have some fun.

Of course, I hadn’t put a halter on him—I never do, because his priority these days is always FOOD. When he finishes, I just put a lead rope around his neck to put him back out. Tonight, the blanket foray threw my timing off, and he saw his chance. Off he trotted, in that purposeful way of his.

Finding a black horse on a pitch-black night isn’t the easiest thing, especially with eyesight as bad as mine. I can still hear, and followed his movements by sound. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of his white star when he turned around to look at me. He wouldn’t come to me, though. Oh no! He had adventure in mind.

When he headed for the barn, I thought I had him: He’d just go into a stall. Nope. He walked right on through and out the other side. Fortunately for me, his stomach got the better of him, and he made a tactical error: He turned to check where the round bale used to be, and I was able to cut him off.

Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased at being caught, and he made that clear as we put the blanket on him—threatening to nip, trying to move away, and all the other games he plays. But he went quietly enough, in the end. I think we all enjoyed the romp.