Why I Like Bad-Dogs.

muckwatchI wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I was a serial Golden Retriever owner. I wanted a life that was sunny and uncomplicated. I mean no offense to any good dogs out there, but one day I got a taste for something a bit more contrary. Goldens started to look like they all had low self-esteem; they were trying entirely too hard to please. Just like Eddie Haskel, you could almost hear them say, “Well, hello Anna, have you lost weight?” *wag-wag-wag*

One day it just started sounding just a bit insincere. That was clearly the kind of ungrateful thought that a bad-dog, or someone who liked bad-dogs, would think. They say people pick dogs that mirror them. No argument from me.

Then one day, Agatha became my dog but she found me only marginally passable company. She was a basset hound who drove all men wild, except the one whose heart she desired the most. Every Monday she patiently looked down the alley, waiting for the trash man. Then she would debase herself, flirting in the cheapest, most tawdry way. But she didn’t care, where ever he went, he had all that stinky, rotting garbage with him. She was a dog with a dream and I could respect that.

tumbleweed lunchDisclaimer: I do have one not-quite-bad-dog now. Or maybe she just seems that way because she’s smarter and uses telepathy on the rest of us. Her name is Tomboy–she’s not very feminine. She and I share a cult of two hearts and there is no greater compliment to pay a dog. Tommi had her 12th birthday this week. She’s always been a wild child, but now she’s too old to bring half-dead bunnies in the house anymore, although she does bag a tumbleweed every now and then.  How you can tell she’s a good dog is that she hasn’t killed any corgis yet. Old dogs are not required to be polite to screaming toddlers or corgis. It’s common knowledge.

Agatha was the first in a long line of spectacular bad-dogs, but not the last. There were a couple of tough cattle dogs, Spam and Hero, that moved to the farm with me, and my big Briard boy, Howdy. I miss them everyday, but I try to honor their memory by welcoming more bad-dogs home.

That’s how Walter and Preacher Man got here.

I would like to say the little Corgi men are great barn dogs. It wouldn’t be true. When Walter comes to the barn, he considers himself a world-class mucker. But there are crucial steps in the process that he leaves out and when I call him out of a stall, he is gasping, chewing and licking with the effort.

Readers have asked for an up-date on his health. Walter continues to have a total disregard for his terminal prognosis (read here) but he loves going to the vet where all the women coo and give him handfuls of treats. It’s a Corgi dream of a harem. After four huge meals a day and  5 meds, he is skinny and getting weaker. I can mainly tell because he is picking fights so everyone will know what a big bad-dog he is. He’s outlived his prognosis by 6 months, but science is boring, the ducks need some order in their lives, and there is barking to be done. Get over it.

When Walter had been here exactly a year, Preacher Man arrived at the airport, leaving a trail of broken hearts and eardrums in Texas. He was frantic with a case of canine Tourettes. If I put him in my lap, he unbuttoned my shirt and threw my glasses across the room, in some pathetically bad impression of a bodice-ripping novel, starring a swash-buckling orator-Corgi. Swash-buckling in that he prefers Pirate-themed belly bands (cummerbunds that position a feminine hygiene product appropriately, creating the illusion that the dog might have the occasional “accident.”) Preacher thinks being house-broken is for saps.

Preacher Man has never made it to the barn. If he gets out of the backyard with the other dogs, he bolts straight down the driveway, across the road and over the far horizon. He has wanderlust. And a leash on now, which limits his mucking ability.

Under the deskBut they most prefer their inside job of waiting under my desk when I write, like sleeping sharks. They love my writing, of course, and sometimes I drop my lunch. I’ve learned that the secret to living with screaming alarms, day and night, is to not be alarmed.

To be honest, when I was younger I was a lost dog myself. I desperately needed that unconditional Golden love for a while. Years later, I found my voice and I barked like Preacher. To love a bad-dog is to celebrate love in the form of chaos. It’s every bit as unconditional, just a bit more open to the uncontrollable. It means living in a place of constant forgiveness. Another word for that is rescue.

And now there are days when Preacher is able to sit quietly meditating, draped over my lap like a wet towel. He is soft and manages just a few sighs and moans, which is almost like being quiet… and I see a Corgi version of that look Aggie gave the trash man 30 years ago.

Dogs. Bless their big fat hearts. Where would we be without them?

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

And Happy Birthday to Tomboy, Happy Gotcha Day to Walter and Preacher Man.

Weekly Photo Challenge- Express Yourself.

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Yes, the right to free speech is alive and well here at Infinity Farm, and since this week’s  prompt is Express Yourself, we invite you to chime in. This stuff never gets old–let’s hear your puns about old goats and my ass.

Fire away!

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Please consider following my author blog at www.annablake.com for news of my upcoming book. Thanks for your support.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

 

Seeing Things Like Horses Do.

WMfine eyeWe see things differently than horses.  And like usual, I think we should try to be more like them.

To start, one of the easy ways to tell if a mammal is predator or prey is eye position. Predators, like us humans, have our eyes close together, aiding our depth perception and ability to see in 3D, while prey mammals tend to have wide-set eyes with a nearly 360 degree range of vision. They have side-vision on both flanks to see predators. In over-simplified terms, humans scrutinize a small area but horses literally see the big picture. We’re that way about more than just our visual senses.

Meaning a rider might say out loud that she has a problem with a canter depart. Or getting bend. Or head tossing. Anyway, as your horse will tell you, saying it out loud is about all it takes to get a fleeting moment-in-time to form up into a totally aggravating thorny little rock that’s impossible to ignore.

Humans like to shine a spotlight on such a rock and then go at it with a magnifying glass and tweezers. We fuss and poke at it. We repeat the poking behavior again and again, as if doing the same thing will magically get a different result. Instead we prove our wrongness again and again.

Horses, on the other hand, don’t keep secrets well. And they have just one way to communicate with us, and that is with their behavior. So sometimes an honest horse behaves badly and we might try to take control and correct him, when all he wanted us to know was that his back hurt. Or that he was tired. They act out their discomfort in a version of equine charades, trying to get us to listen and we tell them to shut up and keep working. Sigh.

It’s so rare that I see a horse willfully disobey. Usually something is hurting them. It could look like simple confusion about the cue but we are so rat-on-a-wheel focused on getting the right answer that we hurry the horse and interrupt him right about the time he was just ready to answer, and then do that a few more times, until the horse is totally out of balance–anticipating and resisting at the same time.  Horses really struggle when cues contradict each other. Especially if that something still hurts.

But by now you have driven your horse nuts, at least temporarily, because you keep poking at  your little thorny rock instead of hearing what he said in the first place.

Reminder: If your horse is laid back, calm and never complains about anything, listen extra-carefully. It isn’t that nothing bothers him; he’s just as sensitive as any other horse but when other horses come apart, he shuts down. Don’t mistake his silence for agreement.

One of the few things we humans have in common with horses is fluid communication. We have a hundred meanings for the same vague word, just like horses have a hundred meanings for an ear movement. To understand horses, we need to understand that individual horse’s entire body language. It’s a lot to take in, and then it can change in a heartbeat. Any five people might come away with a different, and not entirely wrong, message. Sound complicated? It is, and since we have that razor-sharp mind for turning possible symptoms into huge training issues, half-halt your brain to listen with a wide open, creative intellect. Let your heart have a listen as well.

Too often we humans micro-manage a small situation with fear or anxiety or an unrelenting need for perfection. Any horse will get the “I can’t please her no matter how I try” feeling and the conversation stops once we make the horse wrong. Then he gives up connection and we are left staring at our small thorny rock.

My advice is to get a horse-sized view of the situation.

First, do no harm–is he sound? Don’t just nod, look at the big picture and really check. How are his teeth? They impact his TMJ, and pain in the poll is enough to ruin his balance and that  ruins everything else. He can have a “tooth lameness” that destroys his canter. No kidding.

Is he muscle or joint sore? It’s another huge question with no quick answer. It would be easier to ignore it, tighten the girth, and push him on. But that might be how you got in this fight in the first place.

Then take a wider environmental view. Is a weather front coming? Have there been changes in the barn? Could he be missing someone or up all night partying with a new friend? Is he uncomfortable because his stomach is empty enough that painful acid is splashing? If it is isn’t immediately obvious, give him a break.

Always know his life is much bigger than the moments you’re in the saddle.

A wise vet told me once that diagnosing lameness, (or anything else for that matter,) is like pulling skin off of an onion. There is always another layer just underneath. That’s why it feels like fixing one thing makes another thing come apart. That’s just horses. We’d do well to get used to it because the wider and more inclusive view we take of every aspect of their lives, the better partner we become.

Most of all, remember this: Horses are honest. There’s no reason to think he is trying to deceive you and it’s Neanderthal thinking to insist you have to win every fight. Listen and give him the benefit of the doubt. Earn his trust–by trusting him first.

And then take a walk together and breathe. More problems are solved at the walk that anyone–but a horse–would ever guess.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Please consider following my author blog at www.annablake.com for news of my upcoming book. Thanks for your support.

Weekly Photo Challenge- Serenity.

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Serenity is the creative act of resting your mind on an instant of simplicity in a fast-changing and complicated world. If you happen to be be a Type-A sort of human, like I was, you can get some help learning it at the barn.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Please consider following my author blog at www.annablake.com for news of my upcoming book. Thanks for your support.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

The Everyday Value of Dressage.

WMrainbowContactIs your horse a different person under-saddle?

Maybe tacking up is all good, but once you are ready to mount, he dances around a bit. But you’re athletic enough to grab on and swing a leg over, pulling on the reins to slow him down. Oh well, then his head comes up, but you’re no pansy. Sure, his trot is jolting and his neck counter-bent, but you can ride him through it. So he’s trotting hollow but you can just pull down and back on the reins to fix it. Now he’s braced as much as you are and the trot is really rough. It’s so uncomfortable to ride, that you move him to the canter. After all, you’re a committed rider, just push through it. And then, because it’s your intention to progress in your riding and not be at Training Level forever, you try a shoulder-in by pulling the inside rein and twisting him to a tense, hoof-dragging crawl. And maybe 45 minutes later, you get a bit of softness. Partly because you are exhausted and fighting less, and he’s taking the cue. You cool him out, give him lots of treats, and the next ride starts the same way.

Maybe you don’t notice you’re being adversarial at all. Maybe this kind of riding feels normal or even necessary to you. You know you’re being rougher than you want to be, but your particular horse requires it. It’s just who he is. You’re wrong. Maybe a trainer has told you that there is some dominance fight that you have to win by force, so your horse will respect you. Or some non-sense about not releasing until your horse does. (I am about to be very un-popular.) But they’re wrong, too.

You can’t reprimand a horse into happy work anymore than a man can dominate a woman into love. Fear doesn’t inspire horses any more than it does us. If a horse’s walk is tense and not rhythmic, that isn’t going to improve much at the trot. And if the trot is tense and hollow, then to be honest, his intimidated canter will be painful for all involved.

“For what the horse does under compulsion…is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.” Xenophon, B. 430 B.C. (My all-time favorite quote; no one has said it better in the last 24 1/2 centuries.)
The ride you are getting right now is no accident–that’s good news. The two of you can improve, but the rider has to be different before the horse can be. I repeat, you have to change first.

But it’s still the New Year and no better time to go back to basics to peel back another layer of understanding. When you see a more advanced rider it just means they have gone back to the beginning more times than you. Not so glamorous when you look at it that way, but nothing else about riding is glamorous, so here we are… all of us at the beginning together. Let’s walk.

Dressage training is built on a foundation that says–first and always–a horse must be relaxed and forward. That is square one; as true for Intro Level as Grand Prix. The small print says that we may not sacrifice forward movement for relaxation, and even more challenging, we may not sacrifice supple relaxation for forward movement. This is why Dressage judges have as many words for hollow and tense as Eskimos do for snow.

Reminder: We don’t actually ride this way to please judges. We do it for the well-being of the horse. This foundation is my favorite thing about Dressage. It’s a simple, and not at all easy, path to partnership if we persevere and listen. We can’t make a horse relax with a cue like a down-stay. Training relaxation requires a relationship where the language is more evolved than “Me–Tarzan, You–Jane.” This is where I remind you that riding is an art.

After this seemingly airy-fairy chat, do you want some practical advice? There is nothing more important than a good warm-up. It sets the tone for the ride. If you are riding a young, sound horse, it takes 20 minutes for the synovial fluid to warm in his joints and be ready for work. Give your horse time. By the way, your joint fluid isn’t any faster. Find a perfect recipe for warm-up (HERE!)

The secret to success with a horse is not mystical, it’s fundamental. How your horse is moving is always more important than what he is actually doing. It can take a long time to understand this. Riders want race ahead to the party tricks: flying changes or lateral work or piaffe. Those movements require an even more artful balance of relaxed and forward, with a profound and practical embrace of the fundamentals.

In other words, go slow. It’s like a pass/fail test. If your horse is tense, everything lacks rhythm and is a fight.  But with the freedom of forward movement, balanced with relaxation, training anything gets easy and puts both of you on the same side. The miracle of Dressage is that to do it correctly, we have to evolve beyond domineering control. Ta-da, partners!

A horrible generalization: I sometimes think that the reason women compete so successfully in dressage is that we partner with horses naturally, partly because we share an understanding of the down-side of dominance. We don’t enjoy being told what to do either. Just an observation.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

P.S. I have a book on the way, follow that process at www.annablake.com. And Thank you!

Photo Challenge- Shadowed

WmLongShadows

Moving to the high prairie was hard in the beginning–it was so different from what I’d known. It took a while to find peace in a big sky, to find my place in the dirt of Colorado. But there is a light in the late afternoon that illuminates the prairie grass and from where I stand, even the dirt looks golden.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Please consider following my author blog at www.annablake.com for news of my upcoming book. Thanks for your support.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

The Last Goat Standing.

WMJoeGoatI’ve been trying to not write about goats all week. I wanted to write something inspiring about art and dressage. I’ve kind of been being a goat about it, truth be told. Stubborn. Headstrong. Ornery. But I know when I’m out-goated, so I’ll tell you about Joe.

First, understand that goats aren’t for everyone. You have to be a little bit of a goat to own one. And of course, the term “own” is perhaps an exaggeration. Okay, more of an out-and-out lie.

Goats appropriated my farm the first year I moved here. I got a pair of kids and so did a neighbor, who abandoned her twins within the week–at my farm. I was going to return her pair to the breeder that next weekend. It was too much bottle feeding all of them, and although goats are very friendly and like to take your shoelaces, their number one rule is to put their desires first, no matter what, in every situation. It isn’t that you can’t train them, they just learn what they want.

Then Barney, her blonde goat, fell into a water trough and almost drowned. He was so contrite when I used the hair dryer on him that I decided he could stay, but Joe, the brown goat, had to go back.

I called ahead and Joe got in the cab of the truck with me. I can’t really explain what happened next, but Joe talked me out of it on the way. He was the most unlikable of all the kids, he reasoned, and even if I didn’t like him much, I probably liked him more than anyone else ever would. He was right, he was very unlikable. So by the time we arrived, I left him in the cab and went in to explain to the breeder. She shook her head, pressed a few free gallons of goat milk on me, and sent us back home.

That was when things changed. Joe went through a period of self-discovery. Not all of us get a message as loud as Joe did–his was undeniable. He confessed that he was not really a goat at all. He was a llama, graceful and curious, who was trapped in the body of a short-necked, stiff-legged goat. And he was mad about it.

But that wasn’t the important part. He had fallen in love. Holiday was a young llama back then, with a slightly crooked front tooth and bangs that fell in his eyes. Joe was besotted.

At first, I was naive enough to think that I could keep them separate but several times a day, Joe broke into the llama pen. He could squeeze himself through a tiny crack or weasel the gate; then I would repair the damage and send him back. For a while, he was always out, but I couldn’t find the leak.

The goat pen had wooden cable spools for the goats to play on, but Joe would tip one on it’s side and roll it to the fence. After setting it upright again, he got on top and launched himself over the top and in with the llamas. Smart enough.

I gave up the fence fight. Joe Goat abandoned his twin and went to live with Holiday and the other llamas… but it wasn’t a happy ending. Joe was a jealous suitor–belligerently monogamous. So for all Joe’s years, his love was unrequited. Partly because Joe was a jerk and tried to keep Holiday separate from the other llamas. That and Holiday just wasn’t into goats. It didn’t matter though, Joe was living the dream–but with less hair. Sound familiar?

We lost Joe this week. Just like before, he didn’t want to go–we had a rough trip in the truck on icy roads on a foggy, snowy morning. During the thirty-mile, hour-long trip to the vet, he tried to talk me out of it again, but he couldn’t stand or even hold his head up. Even then, he was a stubborn old goat, almost impossible to get along with. That was what I loved about him.

Don’t feel sorry for Joe. He had a great life, he took the world on his own terms. He lived an alternate lifestyle on a liberal farm that had tolerance for narcissistic ruminants. And please, no platitudes. He courted no sympathy before and I can’t imagine he wants it now. Joe isn’t the rainbow bridge sort. My guess is that he’s broken out, found the caretakers picnic area, and jumped on the table and eaten the melon salad. Again.

WMSumoEatNow Sumo is the last goat standing–15 come spring. He went for a check-up this week. The vet says he has outlived his teeth and they’re getting too long. But who am I to judge. I get horse hairs growing out of my chin from time to time.

Why should anyone care about the insignificant lives of two old goats? In the course of the world, our lives aren’t any bigger than theirs. Joe is a better teacher than some. If he cared, which he didn’t, he would probably have asked if you were getting your way enough. Sometimes you just should, you know.

Finally, if you feel a need to remember him someway, which again, he would think was stupid in the first place, perhaps the thing to do is be an obnoxious pain in the butt and insist on it being all about you–at everyone else’s inconvenience. Then bleat about it.

(We’ll miss you, you old snart.)

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.