Caring for the Lead Mare

It was a perfect day. There were just enough clouds to soften the heat. The front gate didn’t open once all day long. No emergency vet calls. Best of all, I had some fence to repair. Perfect.

There was still dew on the grass when I loaded up my yellow wagon with the t-post driver, post hole digger, and a bucket of hand tools, headed for the north pen. Like usual, I had to go back for the wire cutters. A few days before, I’d come home to find one of the geldings over the fence in my neighbor’s pasture. He was banged up and limping, posts bent with chunks of hair, and part of the fence pushed over.

I’d been thinking about a reader request: “Did you ever write a blog on the gossip/nit picking that goes on at boarding stables and from barn to barn especially in small communities? It never seems to end…”

I started cutting down the old field fence, laying it down, folding the end piece over, and walking on the edges to flatten it, and then repeating the process. Taking out perimeter fence is always unsettling. I depend on that line of demarcation as much to keep others out as to keep mine in.

I know what she means about the gossip. Horse people are a passionate and opinionated crowd. We all have that neighbor whose horses are just too thin. That barn that sold to new owners. Who’s laid up, who’s got a new horse, who’s struggling to get by? Those jumpers or reiners or dressage queens or trail riders who make us squint and whisper. The truth is almost all of us have been on both sides; gossip blows in the wind. It’s how we know to send a sympathy card and find the best trailer repair. It’s how we let people know we’re smarter than them.

By now Edgar Rice Burro is snoring. The gelding herd is scattered flat in the morning sun.  I sink down on a tire feeder and take a long drink, surveying the work I’ve done, feeling strong.

Most of my days are over-scheduled with training and lessons and writing. Crossing out days for fence repair is almost like a vacation. The work is simple and I can keep an eye on the pond while wondering what it is about us humans tearing each other down.

There are always litters of ducklings on the pond but this is the first time there are Canada geese hatchlings –four little ones and two relentlessly protective parents. They move in a tiny gaggle searching for bugs in the prairie grass and then waddling back to the pond. The parents constantly scan the horizon, so aware of the treasure they protect. What is it about us humans?

Time for new t-posts now. I eyeball the line, lean one way and then the other, and judge it straight enough. It’s never perfect, string guide or not. I’m just straight enough.

Some clients of mine have a new fence, professionally built with huge gate posts, tight corners, and as pretty a line of wire as I’ve ever seen. I’ve had offers of help, too, but I like to hoard this time for me and my land. The birds are so loud that I can barely hear the fence post driver.

Another hour passes and I stop for lunch and a small nap. I’ve read that countries who practice siesta have better health. Some folks prefer a blanket but I use a Corgi for that. I nap for my health. Really.

Back out after the sun has peaked. Nickers follow me, I throw more hay, and then grab my fork. Mucking is a time-honored ritual for true horse lovers. No complaints while pulling the cart from pen to pen, celebrating healthy manure. Never trust a horseperson who doesn’t muck.

Finally, I make my way to the west pen where the ancient donkey leans into her scratching post, slowly rocking with her neck stretched low and her eyes closed. I almost feel like I should look away; her sublime bliss is too naked. But I keep my wits about me. She’ll still kick if I startle her and bray with impatience if I’m late with her mush. This little donkey isn’t burdened with the need to be a people pleaser. I’m learning it from her.

I scrub some water tanks and try to fill them without flooding the runs. My mare lets me know it’s time to come in from turnout; she wants me to bring her in first. That way she can nip at the geldings as they pass her run. I check my watch; I’ve lost hours tinkering through chores and the afternoon is gone. She’s right.

There’s something about early summer. The light lingers in pastel color. Hours later, as I carry the last bucket of mush out to the ancient donkey, the grass is cool again and the prairie moon illuminates all the best and worst of the world.

I have no idea what to do about all the negative chatter. It wears me down, too. We’re an imperfect species and sometimes we need to build better boundaries to keep our hearts safe. Give ourselves time to rest and time to nurture our hope for the future. And the strength to find a truthful, yet kind, voice to lift the quality of gossip.

Some women have salon days but some of us practice self-care by spending the day being part Canada Goose, part Corgi, and part wise old Longear. Miracle cure.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Mounting Block Conversations

This is Andante. He likes to have a conversation at the mounting block. He wasn’t always like this. In his younger days, he was afraid of most everything. It was fair; he didn’t have a great start in life but that isn’t the important part. Back then, the mounting block wasn’t his favorite thing. Now it is.

He likes to spend a few minutes tapping it with his hoof; it makes that hollow plastic sound. He side-passes over it when asked –because he’s tall and it works. It’s a kind of groundwork that he and his rider enjoy; just a connecting time. He initiates it now and we all congratulate him. After a few minutes, he’s asked to stand still and he does.

Lately, he’s added this twist; he’s taken to doing stretches himself, at first only with his left leg, and then on request, both legs. His rider started the tapping game years ago to make the mounting block less scary and it turned into a game. It takes extra minutes in the beginning of the ride.

Before I get accused of coddling horses or training like a girl, again, I should add that Andante does challenging work, training up the dressage levels, working on light contact, pushing like a freight train, and dancing like a ballerina. I have great respect for this horse and the training he and his rider have done.

You could say these antics mean that his lesson starts late. We think he’s started teaching early. This ex-nervous horse reminds us it’s supposed to be fun because hard work and playfulness are not mutually exclusive. Because riding is an art. He reminds us to stay in the present moment. The other words for that are horse time.

Our horses don’t much care about our dirty laundry or dinner plans or our riding ambitions. But we’re busy people. We want to ride. We want our hour, so we grab them out of their turnout, do a perfunctory grooming job, and pull to the arena. Then it’s hurry-time for training work crashing into horse time. Does this “Slam, bam, thank you, Ma’am” approach work well for anything of value?

(I’m going to assume that we all use mounting blocks because it’s good for horses. Look at a photo of a horse’s skeleton and it’s easy to understand why equine chiropractors say that the wither area is easy to mangle with ground mounting.)

Does your horse show any calming signals at the mounting block? Does he look away or stretch his head down. Is he fussy? Do you move the mounting block to him …more than once? Is it a place where he gets corrected three or four times before you’re even in the saddle? Is that really how you want to start? Gosh, and your ride didn’t go well?

Maybe it’s time to see your mounting block in a new light. I like to use them as a training aid. For people, mainly. 

If you’re looking for a partner, whether for dressage competition or for trail riding, it starts here. Would you like a total do-over at the mounting block?

Start here: With a halter and lead rope, walk to the mounting block. The lead must stay slack. Step to the top and stand there. Breathe. Clear your mind. Lay down your thoughts and lists and expectations. Stand still and breathe some more. Let go of your excuses and apologies. Be still mentally and watch your horse take a new interest in you. Then step back to the ground and give yourself a treat. Nice job of changing yourself. Yes, it’s just a start but this is how training works.

Go to the arena and this time, un-click the lead. Let your horse run and play. Cheer him on. Cue canters and trots by doing them yourself. Laugh. Remember why you love horses. Then take him back to the barn and curry him till he shines. Now you have his attention.

Go to the arena and stand on the mounting block and do some light lunging. You’ll notice you can’t move your feet much while standing there. Good, it will require smaller cues. Ask for different gaits and reverses. Ten minutes, maybe fifteen, and back to the barn. Confuse him with short work sessions.

Eventually, ask for walk/halt transitions. Take your time, let him think. Trust his answer and find an even better, smaller cue. Let time pass in quiet conversation. If he’s doing halts, in a small circle, both directions around the block, you’re almost there.

The lead is still loose and his head has forgotten how much it hated being pulled on. It’s a miracle. At some point of his choosing, he’ll step almost to the perfect spot to mount and halt. Almost but not quite. Here is a chance to be generous. Training amounts to successive approximation. Call it good, reward him, and go back to the barn. Yay for you. You didn’t nag on toward your idea of perfection while teaching him he’s never good enough. Instead, he remembers standing there in the right place with you being happy about it. Win.

The next time, he comes to the spot sooner and you spend a ridiculous amount of time standing on the block, scratching and rubbing his back and neck. Continue until he forgets he had anxiety at the mounting block. Until he wonders if you’ve taken a mail order course in faith healing. Until he thinks good things happen at the mounting block and he pulls toward the arena.

Reward your horse’s stillness with your own. Then congratulate your horse on teaching you patience.

In the perfect world, this work starts with yearlings, long before saddles and training. In the perfect world, the mounting block is an island of peace and safety in a chaotic world. Let it be a sacred place.

Cultivate the idea that the more you and your horse are together mentally on the ground, the better you will be in the saddle. That positive training starts with your mental state. Make your mind a place your horse wants to spend time. When he’s comfortable with that, he’ll invite you into his.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

 

Photo Challenge: Dense

Stupid. Dense. Stubborn. Lazy.

Until we stop seeing others
in our own worst self-image,
these words will describe us.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
(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. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Dense

Circling Back: How We Became One.

We were hooked and it was written all over us. The first weird looks passed between our parents. We were too young to know anyone else. It didn’t matter if there were horses close by; some of us were in the country but just as many of us were in city apartments. We squealed at horsies! from car windows or stared at pictures in books we were too little to read. We cantered in the house when horses only lived inside our TV.

Eventually we turned into old women with squint-wrinkles around our eyes and some sort of chronic lameness. Through decades of life, we might have changed homes and changed jobs and changed spouses… but feelings about horses never changed. Some would say that we’re past our riding prime, but I’m confident that the residue of those crazy young rides has made us better with horses now. Probably better with our own species as well.

Horses are like a beautiful water-color rinse washed over top of the ink drawing of our lives. It’s the water we swim in while living on dry land. It’s the herd we belong to before and through and beyond our other connections. It isn’t just that we were born this horse-crazy way. Much to the chagrin of those around us, we stay that way. I think we take it with us when we walk on from this world.

What is this hook that horses have in us? It’s the question I’ve asked for as long as I’ve known horses. Unless I was busy actually grooming or riding or training at the moment. Then it was only in the back of my mind.

Of course we love animals but horses are different. We play favorites. It isn’t the same the mess of complex and contradictory feelings we have for people. Horses feel more honest and true.

When philosophers consider the nature of God and the metaphysics of the universe, surely they must consider the central position that horses hold. If they don’t, we know they’ve fallen short of the thing artists have known since the time of cave paintings; it was always about humans and horses.

Is love even the right word? It feels a bit shallow. We began this journey before there was choice or reason; before we knew the word for how we would feel. We rode when there were no horses. It was a prehistoric promise, sealed with horse dander and spit. Or things that would evolve into that eventually.

Maybe back then some DNA got mixed up in the primordial mush and we’re actually a slightly different species. That would explain a lot over the centuries –and eventually at our kitchen tables.

But somewhere in the middle of our lives, life happened. Plans went sideways. Some of us gave up horses for a while and some of us gave up everything but horses. Some of us finally got our first pony fifty years later. All of us stayed true to that prehistoric promise with horses; we always circle back.

Now that I’m older, there are some rides I make myself refuse. There are days that it breaks my heart to cautious, but I have a herd that depends on me. It’s lead mare logic; I wasn’t born knowing it. I do all the barn work my body allows and then remember the kindness that all past-prime horses deserve. I try to practice that same kindness on myself but never quite feel deserving.

Perhaps younger riders look at me like I’m a crazy old nag. I smile and wave, stubborn as a pony, working to show them the patience that my first horse had for me, back when I fell short of my horse’s withers and wisdom.

We’re the sort who never quite settle the struggle to find our balance, drunk with horses and gasping with rude want. We’ve been loud, crying or pouting if we can’t ride. There is nothing polite about passion. Other times, while making the tough choices, we felt as old as sticks and dirt with the bitter maturity of our decisions. Still horses never change for us.

We have a secret that others don’t know. While other women dream of romance book lovers or foreign shores, we dream of a horse who comes to us with an invitation. Personally, I think it’s a white horse –like my Grandfather Horse. He was perfectly ordinary. We all had one just like him. The one that we knew before we were born. The one who never leaves us.

You come for me, behind my eyelids now, but you come. I’m selfish, I fear, to call you to me but I hold no respect for rainbow bridges or fairy tales.

With closed eyes, I climb up the mounting block. That left hip pinches; it’s how I know this is only partly a dream. With one last grounded breath, my leg slides over and I ease onto his back. My shoulders go broad and my spine straightens as it all comes flooding back.

My breath is deep. I was born to sit right here. I feel his ribs expand as he breathes with me and some jagged pieces begin to mend. One more breath and my busy mind settles deep into my heart with a sigh. He’s taught me that oneness means the parts of the rider become united. Horses are that way already.

It doesn’t matter where we go now, sauntering through the water-color wash. The ride stays real long after the horse who shared it has walked on. We are the lucky ones.

Hold tight. They always circle back.

[Dedicated to the friend-readers who are “between” horses and longing, on the seventh anniversary of this Relaxed and Forward blog. Thank you; I’m so grateful to all who share their long ride here.]

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Do You Communicate Like a Coyote?

Some of us baby-talk and cuddle our horses like they’re twelve-hundred-pound teddy bears. Some of us enter the pen with enough flags and whips that we look like a lion-tamer at a circus. It’s possible we’re on a behavior continuum not so different from horses.

My last two blogs have been about working with stoic horses and reactive horses, as opposite ends of a continuum, with the goal of inspiring honest, calm communication somewhere in the middle.

Human behavior runs similarly from one extreme–very shut down–to the other extreme–overly reactionary. In other words, some of us are passive aggressive and some of us just plain aggressive. Too harsh? That’s what the horses thought about the words stoic and reactive, too.

Then one last assumption: If you were the sort of screeching, hard-handed, bone-crushing, slimy-reptile Neanderthal who was brutal with horses, my bliss-ninny positive training blog would have bored you to death years ago.

That just leaves us passive aggressives left. And it didn’t start out being our fault. Most of us are women; we were raised to be polite and quiet. We were rewarded for being good girls.

I, myself, am a recovering good girl, so if I want some wine, for instance, I take a breath and say, “Please bring some red wine home. Thanks, Sweetie.”

A passive aggressive good girl might say,”Excuse me, Sweetie, if you have time and it’s no trouble, perhaps you could detour on your way home, only if you want to, for some wine, if it isn’t out of your way, but if it doesn’t work out, it’s no trouble for me to go later, Honey, even though my foot is swollen and I’m a bit congested, I can limp out later after dinner, I was just thinking you might be able to get a nice Merlot, but it’s fine, just fine, either way.”

Just. Say. It. Already.

And to be clear, it’s okay to be passive aggressive out in the world. I’m just saying horses hate it.

Horses are prey animals, and coyotes (or people acting like coyotes) are their sworn enemies. Coyotes stalk them, passively aggressive, skulking around in the shadows, lurking and feinting. Circling their prey, just out of reach but relentless. They might tip-toe with a halter partly hidden behind their back, or nag-nag-nag with their feet in the saddle, or be twitchy with their hand, or maybe just lurk on the stiff-side rein. They might give a cue, contradict that first cue, then give a different cue, and still not pause for an answer, busily talking to themselves, up there behind their horse’s back.

Or worse yet, we might have so much compassion for our horses that we listen and listen, and never really say anything to them at all. We crane and squint and worry, wondering how they are responding, and is this what that blog meant? In the meantime, a horse picks up on the doubt and confusion and they can do nothing but lose confidence. We chatter down to them, over them, beyond them, until nothing we say has meaning. In other words, if we often stop and start, walk on eggshells to keep them calm, or over think everything in the saddle, we’re stalking them.

Do you find this prattle confusing? Imagine you’re a horse.

Bottom line: We lose our natural rhythm when we try too hard. We’d hate to consider ourselves abusive so we whisper, and even if we know horses are confused, we tend to commiserate with them about it and not clarify. They see a dog answer a sit command and get a cookie, and wonder why they have it so hard. It’s enough to make a stoic horse to shut down further or a reactive horse start to scream.

Truth: A horse will never confuse you for a horse. You will always be either a coyote or a human. Sorry for the bad news, but now let’s set about being a better human; honest communication is appreciated because it’s understandable. Think short sentences, with a thank you at the end.

Horses are looking a quietly confident leader who respects their intelligence. Let your body be still. Listen without expectation of good, bad, or otherwise. Breathe. Plan ahead. Ask for a transition with awareness in your body. Then breathe again. Wait for his answer. Reward him.

If he’s wrong, reward him for trying. Then “re-phrase” the question more simply. Go slow so that he can reason the answer. Slow yourself down so that you are clear. Be patient because there is nothing more important than a foundation of understanding. Speed is easy but real trust takes time.

Let him accept you for who you truly are, and if that’s a bit of a mess, don’t give him a whiny apology. Instead, smile, relax, and try to do better. Trust that he can tell your intention is good. Horses absolutely know honesty when they see it.

Horses not looking for groupies and they don’t want to be put up on a spiritual pedestal. They don’t need adoring humans to give them purpose. They want a whole lot more from us than treats.

Scientists tell us that horses have feelings similar to humans, but that is not the same thing as feeling what we do in the same situation and we’d be arrogant to think so.

Try to find the middle of our human continuum. Horses are drawn to calm leadership. They like a herd that feels safe; they appreciate emotional clarity. Leave your puny insecurities and your frail feelings in the house. No baby talk, no coyote stalking, no apologies. Square your shoulders and speak your truth clearly. They expect us to be nothing less than their equal.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Climate Change: Not Just Bad for Polar Bears.

wm-golden-spirit

Farm kids, like me, learn early that a healthy anxiety about the weather is the subtext of every task–from lambing season, to planting corn, to rushing to get the bales out of the hay-field, as thunder booms close by. It’s consulting the dog-eared copy of the Farmer’s Almanac. It’s the habit of listening to the weather report more closely than the news, while pulling on boots first thing in the morning.

Townies chat about the weather as the tiniest of small talk; weather can be an inconvenience. Farmers stake their crops, and the family’s security, gambling on the weather, year after year.

Not much has changed. Now I’m older than my folks were when they gave up their farm. I still depend on working outside but we have smartphones with a few weather apps. I usually check a couple of different sources and then average the results; weather is still a guess.

Last week in Illinois there were rain storms, ice, and fifty degree days. It’s the kind of weather that’s average for November but not now; not in the middle of January.

Here on my small Colorado farm, we’ve had the same temperature swings; the pond ice is unsteady and the pasture is bone dry. There have been some sub-zero wind-chill nights followed by fifty degree days. It’s the transitional weather we watch for in spring and fall. Horse people don’t want to say it out-loud, but it’s colic weather.

Sure, every farm could destroy more pasture and hay fields to build a huge indoor arenas and pretend to ignore the weather. Is this how we want to use our precious land? Besides, this whining about weather is all anecdotal, and scientists don’t pay farmers much mind. Except now.

“A NASA press release pointed out “Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).” Sixteen of the warmest 17 warmest years on record have been observed since 2001.”

Through December, the mares in my barn were cycling still. They used to take the winter off from snake fights and screaming at geldings but it’s dragged on long enough that we had the vet check for ovarian cysts. My final questioning act for them was to ask my Facebook friends across the country about their mares. The response was overwhelming and the consensus surprised me: Mares were still cycling everywhere, and raw with the long-term hormonal emotions. Anecdotal for sure, and a cynic might call it coincidental. When will we trust what we see? When will we speak up?

This week I read more on climate change. Arctic melting is changing coastlines around the world. Weather scientists are behaving more like mares in estrus. The undeniable change is still being denied… not by farmers but by politicians.

Do these guys ever come out of their offices long enough to look up? I’d invite the idiots along with me for a week of outdoor work if any of them were strong enough to keep up.

We’ve all seen heart-wrenching video of polar bears starving on ice floats, but let’s get personal. Is there a horse owner who isn’t wildly aware of how fragile horses are? Does anyone think that horses won’t be one of the first domestic animals to suffer, and die, for our selfish, arrogant ways? I mean even more than happens now… Will we be this greedy and self-serving until we kill everything dear to us?

And then, when I think post-apocalyptic, I think how few pets exist in science fiction. Okay, Star Trek had tribbles. And there was Mel Gibson sharing a can of Dinky-Do dog food with that genius cattle dog in the movie, Road Warrior.  Remember? It was a quiet moment between rapes and car wrecks in the end-of-the-world fight for gasoline. It would be like humans to eat dog food and wear kinky outfits instead of grow crops or raise animals. It’s a fact that there is no romance in farming.

Like I said, I researched climate change and horses. I wanted to share just one article; a brief scientific paper from Australia, a bit removed from our soil. Please take a moment to read The Impact of Climate Change on Horses, and Horse Industries. The bibliography makes the piece look longer than it is. There are certainly some details that I hadn’t thought out before, even though they make perfect sense. Mostly I’m struck by the very fine line between science and science fiction. Like usual, the fiction part is more true than we want to think. There are words all too familiar to horse owners in the article. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the path ahead–like a trashy B-movie.

 This is the way the world ends                                                                     Not with a bang but a whimper.  –T S Eliot

I’m not sure how politicians decided that climate change could even be voted on in the first place. And it’s too late to blame others. This global issue is so much bigger than our horses; other losses will be larger and more pivotal to the planet’s destruction. There is no more time to debate and whine. It’s time to make our voices heard. Time for each of us who make our lives, and our living, out in the environment, to speak up. There are more farmers than politicians and business people. And between rants, we can do every small thing we can do to turn this planet around. It’s up to us; we’re the ones who know first-hand what we stand to lose.

Here on the prairie, I’m pulled to look to the west at dusk. The outrageous beauty stills my rat-on-a-wheel mind. Awe is the only word; the preciousness of each sunset burns my heart. Maybe I’m selfishly aware of the number of sunsets left in my puny little life. Or maybe it’s knowing that my silence contributes to the death of the infinite number of lives that we will surely take down with us.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
Blog  FB  Email  Author  FB  Tweet  Amazon

Safety and Being a Spoil Sport.

wm-nube-doorI’m a riding instructor. Wait, it’s worse than that. A riding instructor who has read the small print of her liability insurance, as if I didn’t feel responsible enough before. Beyond that, I’m certain that if one of my horses hurt someone, it wouldn’t be his fault and it would break my heart. Maybe literally.

My barn isn’t safe for kids. Wait, it’s worse than that. My barn isn’t safe for adults, whether they are city slickers or old hands. Come to think of it, it’s never been safe for the horses. I don’t mean to sound judgmental but I don’t think your barn is safe either.

A while back, the director of a riding program invited me to give a talk on safety to a group of good men who volunteered to help with handyman work on their farm. The director didn’t feel the men were taking her requests seriously. Among other things, they were bringing the horses in using an ATV and moving them at a breakneck speed. When the director asked them to slow down, they all looked at her like she was a whiny spoil sport.

I gave a strong presentation. I used examples and spoke intelligently from experience. Rules exist for reasons and I actually know those reasons. I made eye contact and sprinkled my talk with humor. They looked at me, the ones who stayed awake, like I was a whiny spoil sport. I get it.

Why is being around horses so complicated and tiresome? It’s the same look I get when I recommend that every rider wear a helmet, every ride. The look I get when I ask if a rider’s horse might have ulcers or if they’ve had a saddle fit recently. They tell me it’s just a horse, after all. I get it.

These things are inconvenient when we have time constraints and it all costs money that would be better spent on a vacation. Then, it’s my fault for being difficult when all they want to do is just ride. Oh, I really do get that.

It’s time for the annual reminder that horses are not dirt bikes. Or more poetically:

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.” ―Alice Walker

Horses are creatures of intelligence, great sensitivity, and instinct that has insured their very survival for centuries. Horses have physical requirements as complicated as any other wild animal, but are social and generally kind to humans. It makes horses can make appear more docile than they actually are–kind of like big stuffed toys.

Things come apart when a horse has a normal equine response that frightens or injures us humans. Then horses pay the price for our complacency, when it’s our responsibility to keep ourselves safe, and in that way, insure their safety and security, as well. Yes, I just said if we get hurt, it’s our fault.

I want you safe because I’ve been around long enough to know too many sad stories. I want you around to care for your horse into his old age, and maybe a couple of horses past that. I want you safe because our bodies are frail and standing around with that deer in headlights reality with a frightened thousand-pound horse will always be a losing proposition, even if you have to admit it in hindsight. And most of all, because there will never be a guaranteed kid-safe horse, or flawlessly secure barn, or totally predictable outcome.

And because sadly, we humans need to feel safe and sometimes we over-compensate, using bravado as a kind of false courage. Horses aren’t fooled.

It isn’t that we mean harm; we all love our horses. We like to show off or we fall into habits of taking shortcuts. We get distracted and lose sight of the big picture. Complacency is like gravity; it settles on us and makes us dumb to our surroundings, dulling our senses, and that’s when most injuries happen.

I understand how cool it is to stand next to a draft horse and call him Baby. Sometimes it can seem like throwing a leg around a saddle horn, laying on a horse bareback, or encouraging a horse come close and mug you, makes it look like you’re a horse whisperer in tune with the equine heart. I have to tell you–it’s the exact opposite.

Call me a whiny spoil sport. It’s my professional responsibility to look at a situation, imagine every horrible, crippling possibility for the horse and rider, while holding a light, positive thought for the best. But really, isn’t it just good horsemanship? Too many horses go to rescue or worse because we don’t hold up our end.

So a New Year reminder to stay focused and listen to your horse. If you don’t do groundwork, it’s time to start and if you do, freshen your focus. Know that he wants safe leadership most of all. Begin when you halter him, speak his language. Use your peripheral vision–your horse eyes–and be aware of your surroundings. Encourage good manners and reward him lavishly for every effort. Horsemanship boils down to what we give our horses, even more than what they give us.

Some of us are rule breakers by nature. We don’t like to do was we’re told. I’m at the head of that line myself. And some rules are meant to break. Common sense will tell you that when it comes to white breeches. But too many people are more concerned with the respect a horse shows them, than the respect they show the horse.

Perhaps consider rules as a way of demonstrating love for horses; a constant awareness of their dignity and a method for showing them respect for who they are and how they think.

And then we see them galloping with ears sharp, tails flagged, and hooves churning up the soil: Strength and sensitivity. Intelligence and timeless beauty. Even the most cynical people pause and stand a bit taller, just existing in the same world with horses.

In that light, treating horses like a fuzzy teddy bear seems outlandishly demeaning, doesn’t it?

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

 

 

The Politics of Holiday Pie

wm-bhim-applesInconceivable: I’m going to share my pie recipe. I’ll pause and give my friends time to pick themselves up. They know this sort of thing could go either way.

There was that time years ago, that I had a date over for dinner. We hadn’t known each other long and I always want to get off on the right foot. We were sipping wine in the living room when I went to check on dinner in the kitchen. I had rice on the stove. Lifting the lid, there was no water visible. I could see the beginning of a light golden color around the edges. So naturally, I turned up the heat and returned to the living room.

For some people, cooking is a creative passion. I mean no disrespect; I hope they invite me for dinner. Somehow cooking wound up being political for me.

I was raised in traditional home, meaning it was plain to see that men and boys had all the power and unhappy women cleaned up after them. My mother, who also hated cooking, tried to teach me right. She knew that ordinary girls, ones who couldn’t get by just on their good looks, would need serious domestic skills if they were ever to find a husband. Especially an ordinary girl with a mouth like mine.

So yes, I sew beautifully but I used the concept of piecing fabric into clothing as a way of understanding how to hand-build gemstone settings, using tools like my oxy-acetylene torch, when I was a goldsmith. And it’s only recently that I’ve admitted knowing how to type. It’s been decades since a man has asked me to type their term paper. And now, three books later, I seem to have found good use for those “secretarial skills” they talked about in high school. Finally, truth be told, I’m a great cook… but it gives me no joy.

To each his own; it wasn’t the life I wanted. Once I left home, I shunned any traditional “women’s work.” Maybe I was afraid if I faltered once, I’d be type cast forever. Instead, I bit my tongue and pretended ignorance.

It was horses who made kitchens safe again. My pie recipe will make more sense now.

First, it must be understood that the pie is always made from fresh apples. At first, I used to make my grandmother’s crust recipe. It has a secret ingredient and is outlandishly good. Now, I buy the pre-rolled Pillsbury crusts. They’re passable and my grandmother was always disappointed with me anyway.

Next, the apples. Buy a huge bag of them and do the worst job of peeling them possible. Sure, I was born with the gene that allows a paper-thin one piece curl of apple skin, but that’s just showing off and doesn’t serve the big picture. I like to hack thick slabs of the peel off, so that when I’m done, the apple has a wonky octagon shape and is only two-thirds the size it was before I started. Then core the apple and slice what’s left into the pie shell. Continue until the pie shell is heaping full. Quarter the rest of the apples and put them in with the peels.

Then I drag out my Betty Crocker cook book with the red gingham cover. Mom gave it to me while I was still in high school and I certainly haven’t bought another since. I turn to the Perfect Apple Pie recipe to remember how much flour, sugar, and cinnamon to sprinkle in. Then dab butter on top, but use more than they say. See? I’ve gone off recipe already. Put the lid on the pie, crinkle the edges together, and put it in the oven.

Now hurry. You only have an hour. Scoop the chunky apple peels into a bag and scurry out to the barn. Put a handful of peels in every feeder, while relaxing into first equine thought that comes into your head. For me, it’s always my Grandfather Horse but I miss him. This will be the first year in thirty that he and I haven’t avoided this holiday together.

So I made the pie early this year; I needed the apple-peel ritual that’s part political, part spiritual, and part therapeutic. It’s been a mean year and I’m behind on my breathing.

As the horses chew, my jaw softens. Sinking down on a bale; the barn feels like home and all the memories of good horses come galloping back. It’s good to be reminded. If you’re like me, you’ve been stronger than you ever thought possible. Some days you failed your horse, but you didn’t quit. Other days, you’ve been lifted high and carried like treasure.

(If you don’t have a barn, it doesn’t matter. Quietly remember the first horse you loved. Call him to you; let him star in his own movie. You know the plot by heart.)

Through the manure and the mud, the horses saw something in us that had nothing to do with sex or career. It was beyond hair color or dress size or age. Horses treated us in a way that our own species struggles with. They treated us as equals.

An hour later, back in the house, the air is sweet with warm cinnamon and now you have a second apple treat to share with friends or family. They welcome you in with a hug that lasts longer than usual and they hold eye contact. The pie is an after thought.

There is something about women who know horses. It’s part apples and part muck boots, along with some stray white hairs on her sweatshirt. She’s comfortable in her body because she knows acceptance; the glow that lingers from the barn.

At any age, we should know better than to confuse a silly pie with a woman’s real worth. Never underestimate her. A heart filled with horses can accomplish anything.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Photo Challenge: It’s Not This Time of Year Without…

 wm-run-chaos

bucking tradition:

when seasonal words don’t fit
when obligation overwhelms desire
when some mourn or have none or do not
when the music rings hollow

it’s all right
to say no thank you

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
(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.)

It’s Not This Time of Year Without…

It’s time for the annual reminder: Our most visible holiday tradition might be stress. Please kindly remember that not everyone loves this season; not everyone celebrates it.

The Passion to Punish

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First, last, and always, this is the truth about communication with animals: Punishment is the lowest form of expression.

A photo of this foster dog snuck out and a couple folks asked me about him. Okay, I’ll tell you, but if you’re expecting one of my clever posts about Corgi hijinks, you’ll be disappointed. This biggest feeling I have about this dog is that I’m mad. Really mad.

I don’t write about all the animals we foster here. A couple of months ago, Jack, a Corgi-Jack Russell cross, was here for a foster/evaluation visit. He was a riot. I’m not sure why he was relinquished, but he was a dog’s dog. Maybe his owners wanted a people-dog. I suppose depending on how you see things, his problem could have been his “bad” half. He was the personification of both breeds, loud and proud.

A great dog-woman adopted him and they are busy living happily ever after. She keeps me posted on the battle to see who gets under the covers first. It was a simple foster to a happy ending. They should all be this easy.

This new white-bellied foster dog isn’t so easy. See how cute he is when he’s nearly napping? He came to rescue with his shock collar and his meds; he’s on canine Prozac. Oh, and he’s just thirteen months old.

His owners were first-time dog owners. I think they did their best but got the very worst advice available. As much as it pains me to talk badly about an animal, this pup has a list of problems that are destructive, or scary, or both. The fancy term is resource guarding, but it’s complicated. He isn’t just quirky. He’s a mess. And still very cute belly-up.

He went to an obedience class. The pup sits and shakes and goes in his crate. But somehow while learning tricks, the conversation must have changed, because someone thought a shock collar was a good idea. Who uses a shock collar on a puppy?

This is what Lara, from the positive dog training blog, Rubicon Days, has this to say about shock collars: “The argument is not that they are not or cannot be effective. The argument is that the potential fallouts of training with these devices can be increased aggression, shutting down, and confused associations. Aside from not wanting to deliberately hurt or scare my dogs, these risks are too great.” 

And if that wasn’t enough, what kind of vet prescribes Prozac for a puppy? A Corgi puppy? Does that qualify as an oxymoron? I remember back in the day that people used Prozac as a murder defense, claiming aggression was a side effect. Did he even weigh twenty pounds?

***Cue the Rant***

Most days, I want to scream at the top of my lungs, “Stop taking advice from idiots!”

(Remember me? I’m the one who always recommends that people ask for help. As if there was an easy way to spot idiots–even professional idiots. At the same time, when I hear people say that all trainers are idiots and I want to raise my hand and say, “not me.” Like any trainer would admit to being an idiot, even if they were. It’s a dilemma.)

The first day, this little foster destroyed a couple of toys, stole most of my socks, unloaded some shelves, and shredded a cardboard box into small bits. He’s frantic out of his crate, but he’s been crated so much I want to give him a chance. He has no recall and he wanted to play with the other dogs so hard that he pushed them relentlessly. Now they don’t like him much.

Then he ate one of my Crocs. A few minutes later, he got another Croc. I think you know what that means to me…. I looked at him and he stopped chewing. He sat dead still, his brow furrowed, braced for something bad. I still haven’t made a peep, but he’s worried and puts his head in a corner. How many people have failed this dog in his short life? That’s what I’m mad about. Not him.

So, for now, this little guy is in detox. His meds certainly weren’t helping. He’s still waiting for that sting that makes his head want to explode, but it isn’t going to come. Sometimes he flashes his temper and starts a fight. Then he falls asleep with his pasty white belly as vulnerable as a baby. Sometimes he won’t let me touch his neck. He’s afraid of flyswatters. Other times he crawls into my chair and lays his big, flat head on my chest and looks into my eyes.

Right now, my plan is to let him breathe. He needs time. I called a moratorium on punishment. He’s had enough discipline for a lifetime. Instead, he gets to chew sticks in the yard and I hid my shoes. Sometimes, he comes now, if you say good boy first.

As concerned as I am for him, I might be more concerned for us. Are we so intolerant that we have to legitimize torture for puppies? It’s profanity; dogs are our best animal friends. If humans truly have a passion for punishment, then it’s us that need to learn to get along.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro
I recommend a book a friend wrote: Bark and Lunge, by Kari Neumeyer. It’s the story a reactive dog whose loving owner looks for help in all the wrong places.