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!]

 

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.

Conversations With a Couple of Mares

dsc00174I had such a wonderful day at the Ranch today! I nearly always enjoy myself, but today I met two very special mares. So very different, but both delightful. It will be great finding good forever homes for these ladies!

The first one was very nervous at first, a hair’s breadth from quivering. Tuning in to her, what I felt was confusion and fear. She seemingly had no idea what was going to happen next, and she expected it to be unpleasant and likely dangerous. I don’t know her story, and my guess is that someone she trusted fell on hard times and this lovely girl suddenly found herself with no human connection.

She didn’t offer to do anything wrong while she was being saddled, and I talked to her to try to explain what was going on and why. If she’d just do what she was asked, I said, we’d get a video and that would help us find her a good person to love her. She may have had no idea what I was saying, but she must have understood voice tone, because she did calm down.

Out in the arena under saddle, she did a wonderful job. This girl has a Quarter Horse stop that you’d better be prepared for—she tucks her fanny and if you’re not ready, you’ll go right on over her head, or nearly. Very nice! Rusty, but nice.

Afterwards, she was so much calmer—it’s like she figured it out, and felt like she could do what we were asking. And then the magic: You could feel the beginning of hope in her energy, and her eyes were brighter. The trainer and I walked her back to her turnout area, with cookies and stops for grass along the way. No worries, Sweetheart, life is on the upswing now!

The seco201609211037351nd mare is an interesting sort. She’s self-assured, reserved, and exceedingly capable. She’s also big, athletic, and FAST. She was in a good mood today, and we shot some nice video of her moving through her gaits, stopping, standing, backing up, and generally being a good Quarter Horse.

An hour or so later, after she’d been put back in her stall, we realized that we hadn’t done the “interview,” where the trainer talks about the horse. So I went back down to get her out again.

I rarely get a chance to handle the horses myself—usually I just shoot video—so this was really exciting. I had the usual moment of nervousness, entering a stall with a horse I don’t know well (that has never gone away!), but it didn’t last long. She was great for haltering and led nicely down the barn aisle.

Things got interesting when we got to the arena. I walked over to the tie ring and went to loop her rope through it—and she gave me a pretty good shove with her head. Hmmm….

Here’s the ensuing conversation. It was quiet and calm on both sides, which was the really cool part.

Me: No, we don’t do that. That’s not polite. Let’s back up now.

Mare: Nope. I like shoving people and that’s what I do.

Me: No, you need to back up. Can you back up?

Mare: Nope.

Me: Well, how about you move that foot back a step. Can you do that? (I lean toward her, no pressure on the rope. She doesn’t budge.) Come on now; move that white foot just a little bit. Can you do that? (I tap her chest gently with a fold of the lead rope.)

Mare. I guess I could do that.

Me: Thank you! Now, how about that other foot. Could you move that one back?

Mare: OK. I could do that.

Me: Great job! Thank you! Now, let’s try moving forward again.

And of course, as soon as I got ready to tie her, she went to head-butt me again, but this time I was ready and stepped aside. She looked at me, and I looked at her….

Me: No, we don’t do that. When that happens, we back up. Now let’s go. Can you back up for me?

Mare: No. I don’t want to. I like butting people. I told you that already.

Me: Yes, I heard you, and you’re going to back up now. Move that white foot again. Good girl! Now the brown foot. Good! Now take another step.

Mare: OK. Fine. Whatever.

Me: Good girl! Now let’s get you tied up here.

And this time she didn’t butt me. She thought about it, but didn’t do it.

We got our interview done, and I got ready to take her back. First, I suggested she stand beside me and back up with me. I leaned back, then stepped one foot back myself.

Me: Come on, back up with me.

Mare: Nope. I don’t know how to do that.

Me: OK, well, I’m going to stand here and you’re going to move that white foot back.

Mare: Nope. I’m going to go sideways.

Me: No, I don’t think so. There’s a wall there.

Mare: Oh. Well, then. Maybe I’ll just stand here.

Me: You could do that. Or you could move that white foot back. (I tap her chest gently.)

Mare: Oh. I remember that. I can do that.

Me: Good girl! Now the brown one?

Mare: OK.

Me: Wonderful! Here’s a cookie!

Mare: Oh! That’s tasty! Can I have another one?

Me: Sure. We’re going to walk a little bit first.

And off we went down the aisle back to her stall, with several more “stop and back with me” practices along the way, with a few more cookies.

By the time we got there, she was stopping and backing up with me several steps at a time, with no fuss. She seemed positively pleased with herself. Her head was down and she was relaxed and happy.

Got her into her stall, though, and she braced up again—old habits resurfacing. It seemed like we’d had enough of a lesson, so I just looked at her hip and took a step toward her—and she yielded her hindquarters very nicely indeed. Think I caught her by surprise, before she had time to decide not to do it. So I took the halter off, thanked her, and left her to her hay.

Woohoo!

I’m posting this not so much because of the fact that I got the job done, and done really well with absolutely no drama. I’m mostly posting it because I was SO HAPPY AND EXCITED about the interaction! I may be 65 on the outside, but inside I’m still that horse-crazy ten-year-old whose biggest, brightest, most precious dream is to be able to talk with horses and to be around them.

It’s not often that we grown-ups get to be a kid again, and I want to enjoy every opportunity that comes my way. Woohoo!

Livin’ the dream, folks! I am so incredibly blessed!