Back in the Pasture Again

20170723_161545Great news—Galahad is back in the pasture!

After four hot nights in the barn, Galahad decided one evening that he was ready to go back out. I took him out of his stall and, as usual, he went first to check on his buddy Dancer across the aisle. After a good sniff, he headed out of the barn and practically dragged me out to the pasture gate. When I turned him loose, he ran over to Stewart and Moose, said hello, and immediately started grazing right next to them. So I let him stay. He was fine when I checked on him an hour later, right before heading home for the night.20170720_102819

It was HIS choice, which is how we roll most of the time these days. Poor Dancer was still in jail, but Galahad was done with confinement.

I was vastly relieved. Keeping a pasture horse confined temporarily is a big job—twice-daily walks, extra hay and water, and the worry! Fretting about him standing around all day, bored out of his mind, when he’s used to walking almost constantly and watching all the goings-on in the world…plus the heat in the barn. Even though there’s a ventilation system in there, it’s stiflingly hot.

Anyway. The next morning I went out to be sure all was well—he was fine, though sporting a slice or two from someone’s hind shoes. And he was so sleepy—he’d had no special buddy to watch over him while he slept, so he likely didn’t dare. But Dancer got to go out that afternoon, when the weather finally broke. Thank goodness!

Here’s a link to a video I took right after Dancer got done racing around the pasture, which didn’t take long. It was still hot! These two were obviously SO GLAD to be back outside, and in each other’s company.

Anyone who says that horses don’t have deep emotional lives has never paid any attention to them. But so many people really have no clue. These are not animated motorcycles, folks…. If you want something to catch, ride, and put away until next time, get a scooter.

The following day the weather finally broke. The temperature dropped to the low 90s (from 108 degrees!) and even better, the humidity was down, too. I was able 20170724_130355(1)to spend four blissful hours in the company of my horse and his friends, which I haven’t been able to do for months, and live to tell the tale. And it’s been forever since Galahad has been able to nap with me like he loves to do. There’s not much sweeter than the hot breath of my best boy as he dozes next to me.

Wow. I am so blessed.

 

 

“Stall Rest”

20170628_130416 (2)Galahad’s in a stall for the next few days; he refused to go back into the pasture last night.

His best friend Dancer’s owner put Dancer in the barn, unfortunately, because of the heat. It’s supposed to top 100 degrees for the next four or five days, and the thinking is that it’s better for Dance to be out of the sun.

Dance’s owner texted me mid-afternoon to let me know what was planned, and was concerned at that time about Galahad. Apparently Galahad was very upset (as was Dancer). Somehow both horses knew that this wasn’t a “take Dance out for a ride” event. How do they do that? But they knew.

I got a call from Midnight’s neighbor’s owner around dinnertime. Galahad, she said, was completely soaked with sweat and behaving strangely—standing in the corner of the pasture, then running over to the mares pasture fence, then running back to his corner.

I dropped everything, of course, and raced out there. Poor Galahad was huddled in the far southwest corner of the pasture, as far as he could get from the other two horses—Stewart the Pony and Moose—and obviously very stressed. I took him out, and instead of standing to wait for me to close the pasture gate like he usually does, he took off for the barn at a fast walk, and I had to scramble behind him to pick up his lead rope.

I could hear Dancer screaming in the barn, and I guess that he had been screaming all afternoon, because Galahad knew exactly where he was and went directly there. They nuzzled noses a bit, and Galahad must have decided his buddy was all right, because then we went walking around for a while.

He was on edge the entire time. I  hosed him down—he had been sweating and rolling—and although that cooled him off, it did nothing for his nerves. Between bouts of standing at attention and staring at the pasture, he lawnmowered the grass between the barns, spooking at every noise. I wanted to walk him down to Midnight’s paddock to get flyspray, which I had forgotten to bring; he would have none of it. He flat-out refused to go down the lane. This was beyond his usual stubbornness. There was just no way that he was going down the road.

Finally I started to calm down and listen to him, and stop trying to get him to do anything in particular. Poor guy was so tense! About that time a friend came by and offered us some of her fly spray, and Galahad was willing to walk over to her horse’s stall and stand there while I sprayed him down. We grazed a bit longer, but I was getting hot (though the sun was behind clouds and it really wasn’t too bad, considering…), so I suggested to him that we go back to the car and get carrots, go say good night to Dancer, and head back for the pasture.

All went reasonably well, except that he wouldn’t leave Dancer’s stall…and then he parked himself out and peed, right there in the barn aisle. I don’t think I have ever seen Galahad pee outside his own stall or the pasture in the entire time I’ve had him. Nevada, yes. She’d pee while you were sitting on her—she didn’t care. But Galahad prefers not to do that kind of thing “in public.” He peed, and then he went over and looked in at Dancer—there was no question that it was deliberate.

I thought he’d leave the barn with me after that, but he wouldn’t. Apparently he was planning on spending the night right there in the aisle. After some persuasion, I got him back out and we started off to the pasture—but he was having none of that, either.

Now, Galahad is always reluctant to go back to the pasture after he’s been out, but this was really different. This was a sullen, foot-planted, leaning-back kind of refusal to move. I’d persuade him to take a step, and he’d either plant himself again or dive for grass. Either way, he was not moving. Ten minutes later, we were fifteen feet closer to the gate, and he started to side-pass toward me. That’s his way of pleading with me not to make him do whatever it is I’m asking…but there’s also a feeling of threat buried in there someplace, covering desperation. Hard to explain it but you can feel it if you’re paying attention.

It was hot, and I was tired and frustrated and worried—I’m not nearly as convinced as Dancer’s owner that a stall is a good place for horses in the heat. So I wanted to get him back into the pasture. No dice. When sidepassing didn’t work, he started to spin and dance around on the end of the rope, getting more and more agitated.

Yes, I could have MADE him go. I could have used all the Natural Horsemanship methods, “moved his feet,” and he would eventually have walked over there. I could have put him back, locked the gate, and left. But there would have been a lot of drama…and that was definitely NOT going to help his nerves. It was too much of a betrayal of our growing relationship for me to be willing to do that. And once I left, then what? A night of terror for him? “He’s just a horse; he’ll get used to it.” Yes; but at what cost?

Finally, I gave up—should have done that an hour earlier. We went back to the barn, found an open stall across from Dancer, and called the barn owners to be sure he could stay there. He went right in, and though he wasn’t best pleased when I locked him in (with lots of hay and water), he didn’t argue.

So in the end, I figured it out, the message he’d been sending me so clearly all evening long: He’s afraid to be out in the pasture without Dancer. He doesn’t feel safe there; he doesn’t trust the other two horses, all that’s left of his herd, to keep him safe. He and Dancer are OK together, but once they’re separated, he’s on his own—the worst possible thing for a herd animal.

Once I understood that, everything fell into place. This has been a terribly stressful time for the gelding herd—new members, lots of fighting, and then the loss of the two herd leaders. Charlie, mean and domineering as he is, still left Galahad feeling safe. And bossy little Otto actually would be a great herd leader if he could take his little band off by themselves—he’s very protective and capable. But those two are both gone now. Stewart the Pony apparently doesn’t inspire confidence, and easygoing Moose isn’t leader material.

Poor Galahad. His herd members are being “picked off,” one by one…maybe he’s next, eh? No wonder the poor guy is terrified to be out there alone.

So he’s on “stall rest” until the weather breaks. Wouldn’t be my choice for him, but it’s the only one I can see at the moment.

I hate Missouri summers….

 

“Attunement”

20170628113955 whinny whinney(1)Thank goodness, things have turned a corner for Galahad and me. Actually, of course, I’m the one who has turned the corner; he’s still his own horsey self.

I’m working differently with him the last few weeks—not so goal-focused, mostly just being with him, either in the pasture or taking walks, sometimes spending short amounts of time in one or the other of the arenas but not drilling anything. It’s been almost entirely about what he’s willing to do, rather than what I want him to do. I ask him to do something, and then wait to see what his answer is. If it’s “no,” I might ask once more, in a different way, but I don’t argue (except about going back to the pasture—that’s a different issue entirely, alas!).

It’s making a big difference. Galahad seems to be more relaxed, and I certainly am. He’s much more “with me” than he had been—checking in with me as we’re walking, coming over to check on me when we’re in the arena (where he mostly grazes along the sides, at this point). The other day he actually told me when he was ready to leave the arena—he came over and pointed to his halter, then stood for me to put it on him.

So that’s wonderful!

Things have been kind of crazy at the barn this last ten days or so, though. There are three new horses—two mares and a gelding—in the pastures, Stewart (the small-but-fierce pony) is back in the geldings pasture after a couple of months in a stall, and the dominant gelding has left permanently. The boys are in an uproar with all of these changes. The mares, other than all being in heat, have settled into their usual peaceful state.

The biggest issue in the pasture is actually not the new horses, though—it’s “Hans” the Fjord, who’s just a bully. He was a real pain in the hind end when he first arrived, but over the course of a couple of years he’s mostly settled down. Now, however, he’s reverted to his aggressive, nasty self in spite of the grazing muzzle he’s been forced to wear for several months. He chases all the horses away from the mares, attacks the new gelding, and in general keeps everyone riled up and stressed. Darn guy.

All the commotion has made me even more glad to have discovered this new way of working with Galahad. Like all the geldings, he’s been upset by the changes. He’s had a very hard time paying attention to me the few times he’s been outside the pasture, because he’s been so focused on what’s going on back with the boys. That’s not like him. I’ve never heard him whinny so much in his entire life as he has in the past week–check out this video!

For a couple of days, Galahad seemed to be “making his move” in the pasture, thinking about becoming the Big Man On Campus and being just ridiculous about it. That was while Stewart the Pony was still in the west pasture for six hours a day. I got Galahad OUT just fine, but when I went to put him back (we have to walk across the west pasture to get back to the east side where the herd is), Stewart kept threatening to charge us, and they got into quite a yelling contest (“I’m gonna stomp you!” “No you’re not! I’m gonna stomp YOU!”) and I ended up having to call the barn staff to come get Stewart.

While waiting for that to happen, though, I had to take Galahad back to the arena—and he did NOT want to go. He shifted, strutted, barged into me, and threatened to go up on his hind legs. That’s the moment I really discovered the value in this new way of staying attuned to my horse.

The Natural Horsemanship requirement in that situation would be that he pay attention to me, that he “respect” me, and that he obey my commands. There would have been a lot of running him back and forth in front of me, making him circle, or various other things, but all of it would involve “moving his feet,” making him put his attention on me and do what I was asking.

If I had tried that (I could have done it, no question—I’ve done it many times when he’s been “bad” or “opinionated” about something, or when he didn’t want to go back to the pasture and tried to block me) there would have been a lot of drama.

What I did instead was require him to be mindful around me, so that I wasn’t in danger. I did that, in the moment, using a stern voice, grounded energy and body language,  and bumping his nose with the halter a couple of times to get his attention, when he was threatening to go up on two legs or turn around and run back to the pasture to beat up Stewart. But the big voice, the bump on the nose, and me saying “Cut it out NOW! You’re scaring me!” worked just fine. I calmed down, and so did he. Almost immediately. Then we walked on.

I could feel that he was still really excited, but it brought him back to himself without pain or threat or any drama, and with no requirement that he obey anything other than basic manners to keep me safe. He was still prancy, but it was OK—it accomplished exactly what all the other stuff would have done, without the drama. I was afraid, and I told him so—“You’re scaring me. Cut it out!” (bump bump)—and he knew exactly what I meant.

It was different—it’s hard to explain, but it felt really different. It was the same thing I’d have done with a human friend if they had been being nuts and putting me in danger—I’d have grabbed their arm and said, “Cut it out! You’re scaring me, and I need to be safe. Stop it!” And that would have been it. That’s what I did with Galahad, and it worked. He walked with me, but making the choice to control himself.

What I sense from Galahad more than anything these days, honestly, is appreciation. I think he appreciates that I’m not asking of him more than he can give. Does that make sense? It’s like I’m acknowledging his perspective—“I know you’re distracted, and I know you’re having a really hard time coping with all this and paying attention to me too.” I just feel like this way is good for our relationship where some of this other stuff would not have been. It might or might not have damaged it, but it certainly wouldn’t have furthered it in the way that I’m looking for.

So I’m so glad to have that understanding at this point.

 

[Disclaimer: I’m studying online with Paulette Evans of Ribbleton Attunement in Australia. I make NO claim to deep knowledge of her methods, which I greatly admire. Anything I say about them here in my blogs represents my own current understanding. I highly recommend that you take a look at her site and consider signing up for her courses!]

 

Fun with my best boy

20140613110116 (2)I had such fun with Galahad yesterday afternoon. We ran around just a little in the big arena by the pastures, but it was way too hot for me to chase him and persuade him to do much more than trot. He was happy, though. Then I took him down to the outdoor jump arena by the indoor arena, and since no one was there, turned him loose.

Not such a good idea. First of all, there were two mares in an adjacent paddock. I should have known better, but was focused on “doing stuff” with my horse. Still learning to PAY ATTENTION from the horse’s point of view, after seven years….

He got all puffed up and full of himself and decided to show off for them. One of the mares took offense at something he said to her and squealed mightily. I discovered later, from the bloody gash under his mane, that she also took a chunk out of his neck. (He does know how to court a mare, when he has a mind to do it.)

He huffed and chuffed and snorted all over the place, then pranced out of the arena (!) through a gate I didn’t even know was there. It leads to an alleyway along the side, probably where they would move their calves around when they used to do calf-roping. The fact that it was narrow and fenced on the other side made the opening all but invisible to me. Oops…. But fortunately, he got sidetracked by the yummy clover in there, and I was able to get his halter back on before he wandered into the cattle pen. After that, the halter stayed on. Enough adventures.

I love how Galahad has developed so much self-control the last couple of years. As I walked him out, I could feel him vibrating, on the edge of a head-toss and a prance and maybe a rear—but I spoke quietly to him, and he didn’t do any of it. Such a wonderful fellow he is. (And this makes me absolutely certain that I could ride him if I weren’t afraid to do it. One firm word to him from on his back, and probably a one-rein stop and some disengaging of his hind end, and he would be just fine.)

After that we went into the big indoor arena to look at stuff and walk over one of the little jumps. He was willing to do that on the lead, but once the other horse and rider left and I took off his halter, not so much. But that’s OK. I only asked him for what he was willing to do. He had fun, got to roll in the sand, and felt good about what he did for me. That’s all I want. More willingness will follow as we work more and more together.

 

A really good day!

Galahad and the bridge(12)Today was a really good day!

I went to the barn around noon and spent quite a while with Galahad. First we did an Easter Egg hunt in the muddy jump arena (plastic eggs with bits of carrots in them, hidden near the jumps; he has to find them and touch them with his nose). It took him a bit to realize there were eggs hidden there—at first all he wanted to do was eat the grass around the edges. Once he saw the first one, though, he was all attention (other than taking time out to roll).

His problem was that I had deliberately put the eggs fairly close to the jumps—and he’s nervous about those jumps, which was my whole point. He managed to touch the first one after I moved it two inches (!) farther away from the post. When I asked him where the next one was, he looked around, saw it (I swear he saw it, over by the next jump), and spent a LONG while examining each and every fallen leaf, clod of dirt, or spot of poop in the area, just in case one of them turned out to be an egg.

Finally he made brave to go and touch the egg—and tried to roll it away from the jump so he could get it himself. No, fella, you have to touch it, raise your head, and wait for me to open it. Nice try, though.

He does love this game. I’ve learned to use only the biggest plastic eggs (so he can’t get them into his mouth) and limit the number of eggs to six or seven so that he doesn’t get bored. So we finished up quickly and sampled a little more grass at the edge of the arena before moving on out to the next event.

I let him graze for a little while near the “bridge” that I’ve been trying to get him to walk over. Back in June, we spent some time working near it, and he would walk over it the short way but not walk along it with me (the photo above was taken on that day). Today I decided to see what he’d be willing to do for me.

What I most love about learning to work with my horses in a less structured way is having a big “toolbox” of techniques and skills and being able to pick whatever tool or method works in the moment. As my relationship with Galahad grows closer, it seems that “less is more” for sure. Our training sessions have become shorter, less demanding, and way more fun and effective.

Today, for instance, he still didn’t want to walk along the length of the bridge. When I asked, he’d paw at it; he’d put both feet on it—no problem. I made sure he knew that whatever he gave me was wonderful—he got praise and grass in between tries…and then I’d ask again. It was a slow process, and very low-pressure.

We started by watching another horse walk over it twice, with a rider. Galahad paid close attention. I asked if he would just follow that horse across, but he declined. Too scary, still. I asked if he’d walk behind me across it. Nope, he couldn’t do that, either. So we just kept at it, slowly, over a period of fifteen or so minutes—not long, really.

What I did was based in the natural horsemanship methods that I’ve studied in the past—from one of the best trainers in the Midwest—and learned quite well. But there was no “increasing pressure.” Instead, I made a request with a gentle “send” signal and the barest hint of a wave with my other hand. He knows what that means, so the communication was perfectly clear. Then I waited for him to respond. And then I’d ask again, in the same, low-key way, and wait. If he tried to evade it completely, I’d gently ask him to back up and try again, but I never pushed, pulled, or smacked him with the rope.

Galahad knew what I was asking, and I think he appreciated the fact that I didn’t try to pressure him into doing it before he was ready. And he got praise for the slightest try! That big horse—stubborn as he can be when he perceives something as “work”—really does like to please. He likes knowing he’s done something “right.”

Finally, he offered to sidepass over the bridge—that’s always his fallback move. “Can I do this instead?” Um, no, buddy, it’s WAY too wide for that. How about you walk behind me, and let’s go across it together.

Suddenly, I could feel him make up his mind. I wasn’t looking at him—in fact, I was already partway across the bridge when I felt the change, through the loose lead rope. No idea what it the signal was that I received—but I KNEW at that moment that he would follow me across, and he did.

Wow—good boy! I turned around to face him as he made the last few steps, and just praised him to the skies! He put his head down and I swear he looked pleased as punch! What a good horse he is! Needless to say, we went and got carrots and dinner after that!

It was such a thrill—a silly little task in the grand scheme of things, but heartwarming to realize how far the two of us have come. Clear communication, mutual trust and respect, and virtually NO pressure…we got the job done and had a good time doing it.

It just doesn’t get much better than that! Boy, do I love that horse of mine!

(“Leading Tarkin” is another post that describes this method I’m using these days.)

Meditation with the herd

DozingThe past couple of mornings it’s been lovely and cool—very unusual for Missouri in August. It’s been wonderful being out in the pasture with my horses again!

Yesterday I hung out with Galahad and the herd for the best part of an hour, doing nothing but observing and meditating. It was really interesting, learning how to be very relaxed and in-the-moment while remaining observant and attentive to what’s going on around me—the state the horses enjoy by their very nature.

I needed to do that yesterday: The herd were standing by the west fence of the winter pasture, napping and drooling clover juice. I was against the fence on the south side of Galahad, who was dozing with his chin on the cable. Beside him to my right, nose to flank, was “Degas,” Galahad’s best buddy. On the other side of Galahad, maybe five feet away and facing the fence, was “Hans,” the herd leader. Well beyond Hans to the north was “Chuckie,” former herd leader and forever dominant gelding, cropping grass between snoozes. (More on the relationship between these two geldings in a later post.)

My position was not a particularly safe one. I couldn’t really see either Chuckie or Hans from where I stood. Chuckie in particular is prone to sudden, threatening movements that make the entire herd jump to attention. As soon as I realized this (not being a horse, it took me a few minutes), I moved away from Galahad so that if he spun, I wouldn’t be knocked over and trampled. Still, I needed to keep an eye on Chuckie just in case.

What a lovely state of awareness! The horses are all dozing, and it’s so incredibly peaceful. Cloudy and cool, with a bit of a breeze. Birdsong; horses whinnying; the occasional drift of a conversation from over near the barn. Chuckie moves closer; Hans shifts position slightly. The energy stays low and tranquil, and Hans’s head drops again, drool spilling from his slack lips. Galahad flicks an ear; Degas doesn’t even move. We all drift off again, but awareness remains.

It is blissful. It just … IS.

I came out of this altered state some time later, when my stomach started to growl. A couple of quick videos (knowing I’d be doing this blog post) and I was off to feed Nevada and Midnight and grab a snack for myself. The herd stayed where they were for another half an hour, dozing companionably.

I feel so blessed to be able to share this time with them…and maybe to convey some of it to you, my readers. It’s not often that we humans get to experience this!

NOT Riding Galahad…Again….

Rodeo redux 1Well, my dream of riding Galahad is going to have to wait a while. He still remembers how to crow hop. Fortunately, I still remember how to stay on. And after the “event,” we went out and had fun, with me safely on the ground, in the jump arena.

A crow hop, as I understand it, is not really bucking. There’s no kicking out behind. The front end goes up first, usually, and all four feet stay pointed at the ground. Someone described it as “riding a pogo stick.” Yeah, pretty much. Not a lot of fun for the rider, IMO.

Some of this rodeo was captured on the video I had running, expecting to show us calmly walking and trotting around the arena. I’m glad to have the video, because it shows part of what happened, both before and after the event. He did manage to scoot into a corner where the camera couldn’t reach, though. Smart lad.

The good news is that somehow, I didn’t get scared, and didn’t even raise my voice (you can hear my quiet “Whoa!”). Didn’t lose my stirrups, didn’t yank on his face, didn’t go into the fetal position. Didn’t bail, either, when he stopped. Instead, I made him disengage his hind end in both directions and back up nicely before I hopped off.

Galahad is a spoiled brat, there is no doubt about it. And yesterday, he didn’t feel like having me ride him. So he threw a tantrum.

I posted that first paragraph as my Facebook status last night, and the responses of various people in my horse community have been interesting. A sampling:

A good friend and trainer said, “Time for school Mr. Galahad… Naughty boy!” I had to laugh, and a large part of me agrees wholeheartedly.

Another friend advised, “Why wait to ride him again? He’s a young horse, they play games. You rode it out (literally) and reminded him what behavior won’t be tolerated and asked for what you did want, and he listened. That’s what it’s all about. No reason you can’t start fresh today.” A valid perspective, and probably the one most of my friends would advise.

One friend reminded me of a chapter in Carolyn Resnick’s book Naked Liberty (a book I highly recommend—it’s been inspirational for me!) about Carolyn’s “naughty” little pony Pepper. I found it very helpful indeed—more about that later.

So what to do now? This, really, is where the rubber meets the road. This is where my intention and my resolve are tested.

It would be so easy to get a trainer—and I know several really good ones—to get on him and remind him what being a “good horse” is about. And he would do it. He did it before (most of the time).

I want with all my heart to ride my beautiful horse. I ache to ride him again. But here’s the thing: Do I just want to ride my horse, or do I actually mean all the pretty things I’ve said about liberty work, about him having a choice, about never doing anything that wasn’t health-related that wasn’t fun for both of us? Can I stand my ground when it really counts?

If I “make him do it,” then I’ve broken my word to him, and more importantly, to myself. That, and the fact that I’d always wonder if he was doing something with me because he wanted to, or because he had to. It’s taken us more than two years to get to this point in our relationship.

If I continue with the liberty methods, then riding him will take longer, and might not happen at all. With liberty methods, I have to be able to accept that possibility.

What if I can never, ever ride him? Dunno…. That thought is painful.

But yes, I am going to keep my promise. He’s a dream on the ground—willful, yes, and not easy. Never easy. He has a lot more to teach me, for sure. But we’re in this for the long haul.

I have a lot more to say about this, and lots more to process…but that will have to wait for another blog.