This blog is dedicated to my friend, my mentor, and the best teacher I have ever had. Without him, I would not have embarked on this amazing journey. Split, this blog is for you!
Ponderosa Misty Icon, aka "Split," is a handsome gray Welsh pony who came to me via a phone call "out of the blue" (actually Peterborough, Ontario). Our first few months together were rocky to say the least, which made me question my ability as a horse owner, as a horsewoman, and as a rider. Forty years of horse ownership had not prepared me for this little gray pony!
But we muddled through and because of Split, I have begun a journey that is both spiritual and enlightening. I hope something here resonates with you and that you'll check back now and then.
We leave you with one of our favorite quotes: "The best whisper is a click!"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I don't wanna play!

"Who wants to play clicker?" is usually greeted with enthusiastic nickering and asthmatic donkey wheezing in my barn. Yesterday was a bit different.............
I've been gradually getting Split and Jingle adjusted to their spring diet of fresh, green grass. I started by letting them out to graze for 15 minutes a day at the end of March, gradually increasing the time so that now they can go out for about 90 minutes twice a day. I toss a flake of hay into the paddock now and then so that they have something to nosh on (other than my barn) but they've gone on a "hay strike" as in "WHAT? You expect us to eat THAT CRAP when there are acres of nice, green grass to be had? Away with you!"
Yesterday afternoon was just like summer and I headed out to the barn mid-afternoon to do some clicking and some chores. I donned the vest o' treats, grabbed my grooming box and went out into the paddock. Split walked over to see what was going on but there was no "Hi-dee-ho neighbor" nickering. I picked up the curry comb, gave him 2 good rubs with it and he walked away, leaving me grooming the air! How interesting. He walked over to the gate that opens into the pasture and just stood there. He didn't put his ears back; there was no tension around his muzzle; his eyes were nice and soft. I thought perhaps he just wanted to stand somewhere else so I walked over and started currying again. He turned and walked away again! I walked up to him and he walked off again - straight to the pasture gate. Well, REALLY! I can take a hint! LOL He was clearly saying, "Enough with the beauty routine. LET ME OUT TO EAT!" Well, OK. Since he didn't want to be groomed, that was fine. I turned my attention to Jingle. SHE was delighted to be fussed over!! After her grooming, which Split watched with interest, but he didn't come near us, I got my target on a stick (duct taped soda bottle attached to an old lunge whip) and Jingle and I played with that. Again, Split watched from his post by the gate, licking and chewing, ears up, eyes soft......but he didn't offer to play. Jingle and I ignored him. After about 15 minutes, I saw Split out of the corner of my eye - he was moseying over to where we were. I ignored him. He very slowly walked over to the target I was holding out for Jingle and gently touched it with his nose! I C/T but then offered it to Jingle; then Split; then Jingle. We played this way for quite a while, alternating the target between them and sometimes playing "follow the target" as well.
So? What's the point? In a "former life," I would have INSISTED that Split stick around to be groomed; I would have gotten his halter and tied him up and forced him into being spiffed up. I would have been insulted that he didn't want to spend time with me!! Yesterday my first thought was, "Ok, then. Do what you want. I'm going to go play with Jingle." And I just walked away................That's a big mind shift for me because, like many of you, I was brought up with the "don't let them get away with that" mentality. WAS I "letting" Split get away with something? Yes, I was letting him "get away" with his own, true feelings - he had a say in the matter. And that's the beauty of letting things unfold at their own pace, I believe. If I'd been getting ready for show season, I would have been frantically trying to get his mane detangled, his tail combed out, his whiskers trimmed, and there would have been a sense of urgency and tension about it all. (I'm not condemning horse shows; I'm just using that as an example of how things can become stressed out as soon as you put deadlines on them.) If a trainer says to you, "I'll have this horse jumping 3 feet by your show next month, I promise ya that," you might want to ask yourself, "Yeah, but at what cost to my horse?" I firmly believe that when horses balk, buck, rear, run away, stop dead.....that they're trying to tell us something in the only way they know how. Are there horses that will never be trustworthy? Sure. There are some human beings that are damaged beyond repair, too. There will always be that segment of the population, whether human or animal. But I believe that lots of horse-related problems are created by humans who don't or won't listen to their horse, and who have to "prove" that as the human being, the "smarter one" of the pair, they will prevail at all costs!! Of course, if you're reading this, you know that I'm just "preaching to the choir." I'm enjoying not having any deadline - which is different than a goal. The word deadline is off-putting simply because it has the word "dead" in it - something's going to give and end up "dead" alright, whether it's your spirit, your horse's spirit, your relationship with your horse.....whatever. But if you set a GOAL, you can leave it open-ended as to how and when you reach that goal! Does anyone else feel that way? I'd love to know what you think!
It's beautiful here today! I love springtime! Go out and play today!

"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."
Margaret Atwood

Or horses!!!! Or horses AND dirt! Enjoy the weekend, everyone! Go out and get smelly!

Friday, May 14, 2010

A New Tail

No, I didn't get Splitter hair extensions!! He has more mane and tail hair than any pony I've ever seen! He actually gets "dreads" unless I keep his tail brushed, and his mane is triple layered which quickly develops mats over the winter! I'm working on combing/brushing them out and he's gotten really good about standing still at liberty and allowing me to fuss with his hair (thanks to clicking!). He's like the little girl in Kindergarten who has long hair and screams bloody murder when her mom takes a brush to it! ha ha Anyway......Because Split is gray, and we all know what sort of skin problems that can lead to, I make it a point to check around his muzzle, eyes and under his tail on a regular basis. When Split first arrived, if I tried to lift his tail, he would clamp it down and trot away unless he was tied up. If I tied him up, he would allow me to "lift" his tail - sort of. It's hard to get a clear look at a horses "bum" when he's clamping his tail down so hard!
Enter the clicker................I began by asking Split, "Can I rub the base of your tail?" (Sure, that feels good!) C/T "Can I pull your tail gently?" (I guess. I'm not happy about it but I'll let you do it.) C/T "Can I lift your tail a little?" (NO!) "Ok, I will respect that." It took several months actually, but we kept chipping away at it. I can now take Split's temp while he stands at liberty and the other day when I was grooming him, I lifted his tail (which he will now allow me to do while he's at liberty but there's always that little "hint" of tension) and up it went, like a well-oiled pump handle - NO TENSION whatsoever!!! I was amazed - and really pleased that all our little steps had finally added up to "Ok, sure. You can lift my tail. Have at it!" It was a peppermint moment, for sure! (Re-reading this, I realize that there aren't too many people who would be as excited as I about being able to look at a horse's arse end so thanks for letting me share! ha ha)
Like most beginner clickers, at first I wanted it ALL! I wanted Split to comply 100% with what I was asking - just do it! But then I watched a session on "micro shaping" and went, "Huh." It was then that I finally understood that I needed to break down every single task into little, tiny steps.....as many as necessary! You'd think that I would have learned something after 20 years of teaching first grade but if I did, it all went out the window when working with my animals! I wanted it ALL - NOW! Clicking really set me back on my heels and made me look at things completely differently.
I'll tell you what....I even use the micro shaping on my husband now and it's so subtle that he doesn't even know what's happening! ha ha I "plant the "seed" of an idea and I just keep adding to it a little at a time and finally.....TA DA! He actually SUGGESTS that I purchase a Christ Lammfelle bareback pad! He said, "Sounds good. Just buy it." It didn't happen over-night, of course. You have to go with your gut instincts and ask just the right question at the right time and then be happy with the tiniest positive response. Sound familiar??
SSSSSHHHHHHH! Don't tell my husband, OK??

We leave you with this tongue-in-cheek quote:

Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then. ~Katherine Hepburn

Hmmm.....maybe it isn't so tongue-in-cheek, after all! LOL
Have a good weekend, friends!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Girl And Her Angel

My 23 year old daughter still lives at home. She has a BA in Spanish. In today's economy, that and a buck will get her a cup of coffee at MacDonalds! She currently works for minimum wage at a local day care center and until yesterday had plans to attend SUNY to get her Masters in English As A Second Language. Alas, she applied for late admission and was apparently.......too late. Sigh......So here she is still at home, leaving dirty dishes everywhere, eating my food, partying on the weekends with friends, coming home at all hours, piling laundry in the basement...in short, treating our house like her college dorm and living her life as tho she's still a care-free college student. Just when I despair of her ever growing up and becoming a self-supporting adult, something comes along and smacks me right between the eyes, sets me back on my heels; makes me realize that I'm a whiner and Katie is really a good kid......really, it could be worse. Just today I was putting some clean laundry in her room (occasionally I'll throw some of her stuff in with mine to make a whole load, lest you think I actually do the girl's laundry!!) and noticed some photos spread out on the top of her bed comforter. I can honestly say that I'm not one of those nosy moms who's constantly snooping thru my kids' things (trust me - I DON'T WANNA KNOW!) but those photos made me pause.......and remember. They put a squeeze in my chest, a lump in my throat....I picked the photos up and looked at them with fondness and sadness. They were pictures of a girl and her Angel...........
I have 3 daughters and my 2 oldest were each given riding lessons at a young age. I hoped, of course, that they would share my enthusiasm for horses and riding. And they did - for about 3 weeks and then they found other things to do. When daughter #3 came along, I figured why waste the time and money - obviously none of my girls was going to be a horsewoman so I'd have the hobby all to myself - not bad, really. It was something in which I could selfishly indulge myself!
The summer Katie turned 13, I had been working at AppleCreek for 6 months as general stable help and the owner (Penny) asked me if I'd be interested in helping with her summer day camp. I was delighted! I was a teacher and normally just hung around the house arbitrating my kids' arguments during the summers so this was perfect - kids and horses! My 2 oldest daughters were less than enthusiastic about having to watch their little sister all day but since neither of them were working full-time, it fell to them to do the job. I'd like to say that that worked out well but I tend to deal in reality - within 2 weeks, all 3 girls hated each other and I was tired of coming home at the end of a long day (kids and horses? WHAT was I thinking??!!) and having to listen to 3 girls screaming their side of the story at me. Out of desperation, I asked Katie if she'd like to start going to the farm with me and hanging around with the day camp kids. (Penny had no problem with it - what was one more kid?) She was delighted to get away from her sisters (who are now, I'm happy to say, grown up and on their own and REALLY AWESOME women!!!) and happily tagged along with me the following Monday.
Katie is one of those kids who's naturally out-going and makes friends easily and within 2 days she was part of the gang. Within a week she was doing all the barn chores - feeding, watering, mucking, mixing supplements...whatever needed to be done. Within 2 weeks she was grooming and bathing ponies and helping the little kids get tacked up. She worked her butt off all summer, 5 days at week with no pay other than the fun of being around the other kids and the horses! By August she was still slaving away happily - and had never even sat on a horse's back! I finally asked, "Are you interested in learning to ride?" (Am I a dumb mother, or what?) The rest, as they say, is history. From the moment that kid plunked her butt in the saddle, we all knew we had a rider in the making. Katie is one of those people who sit in the saddle and know instinctively what do to - she has balance, she has feel, she looks gorgeous. Boy, was I jealous! LOL She rode all fall and winter and by spring had "out-grown" the beginner ponies and was assigned to Angel. Angel was a gorgeous bay QH who must have been appendix with quite a bit of thoroughbred him, judging by his build. He and Katie were the proverbial match made in heaven! By summer, they attended their first show together. Angel was an old hand; Katie had never ridden in a show before. They rode away with their division championship and their fate was sealed. They became an inseparable pair. But Angel had some lameness issues that were raising their ugly head more and more as he aged. His ankles were shot - totally arthritic - and his hocks were pretty much gone, too. He was OK for light riding but there were times when he was too lame to ride, even tho he was given daily supplements, had his hocks drained, and was receiving Adequon (did I spell that right?). During those stretches, Katie would patiently take Angel out to hand graze or if the weather was rainy or it was during the winter, she would walk him in the indoor.
Time marched on for the next few years and to our shock and dismay, one summer Penny announced that she was divorcing her husband, retiring, selling the farm and the horses, and moving south. By then, Angel was in almost constant pain, and the very difficult decision was made to put him down rather than try to sell him and risk having him abused by hard riding or an uncaring owner. Katie was devastated and begged me to bring Angel home to our little place down the road. But the bottom line is that I was in no position to care for a chronically lame horse and Katie would soon be off to college. It was hard on both of us but Katie understood. On "the appointed day," I allowed Katie to skip school so that she could go to the barn and spend time with Angel. She gave him his last grooming, his last bath, his last peppermints.
She took him out to graze in the warm sunshine and waited until the vet arrived. We all gathered in the pasture where Angel would be put down and buried - the back hoe and tarp were standing by. The vet explained to Katie exactly what would happen when he put Angel to sleep and asked her if she would rather go and wait in the barn but she took a deep breath, stood up tall, and said, "No. I'll stay with him." She was so brave as she hugged him good-bye one last time and stood beside him as he took his last breath. She stoked his neck when he was gone and then quietly walked away.
The pictures I found on her bed today were taken that day - pictures of Katie grooming Angel, grazing him, walking him to his final resting place.
I realized then that my daughter is really going to be a fine adult. She's strong, she's kind, she's loving (she's also stubborn, head-strong, opinionated.......LOL!!!) - she's just finding her way right now. Besides, I know she'll always have Angel in her heart to help her along the way.
A girl and her Angel...........He is gone from her life but lives on in her heart.
He taught her well.

"Horses and children, I often think, have a lot of the good sense there is in the world." ~Josephine Demott Robinson

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ramblin' on.........

Well, here I am again. What shall I write about today? Last week was a crazy one! I had to sub at school several days and was trying to get some yard work finished up, flowers planted (and now look at this weather! BRRR!!), some dog beds sewn.......I did get in some clicking, tho! Split loves to see me don that fishing vest! So many pockets, so many treats.............
Split's the kind of guy who needs to be challenged a lot when we click. He grasps a concept very quickly and once he's got it, his attitude is, "I know this. WHY do we have to keep harping on it?" So I tend to shake things up as we go along. He enjoys trying to figure out what I want next. Once we have a nice, clean loop, I have to think up another task for our loop or switch gears completely and come up with another loop. He's also the kind of pony who will tell me when he doesn't get it - no stuffing emotions with him! - or will inform me that I'VE screwed things up. No one likes to be told that but I'm learning to accept his criticism and input with a joyful heart! ha ha It sort of sets one back on their heels when their animal says, "Listen, Ma, you need to slow down and relax! Just go with the flow, Ma.....go with the flow........." Split's communications aren't explosive like so many others experience with their horses (and kudos to all of you who are working through those issues!!!!). He's a subtle kind of guy - he'll shake his head or perhaps stomp one hoof or he'll walk away or turn his hiney to me (I call this "getting the horsey finger"). I used to take all of that personally as in "How DARE YOU disobey me?" I would get angry and frustrated that Split wasn't doing as I'd asked! After all, he's a HORSE and I'm a HUMAN. Hmmm.......How the "mighty" have fallen! LOL Split does not tolerate fools gladly and I'm quite often at the top of the fool chain with him. But when we do "click;" when we do get the communication flowing between us, there is nothing better! We become like ballet dancers, giving and taking; supporting and complementing each other; moving as one creature. Those moments are glorious and I wish I could create them more often but I'm trying! And part of that trying is letting go of that time-honored tradition among horsemen that "you have to show them who's boss" or "don't let them get away with that." You all know what I mean. It's tough to change 45 years of thinking but it CAN be done! Our horses - indeed, ANY of our animals - are willing to teach us IF we're willing to listen. And that's hard, too. They're ANIMALS, for heaven's sake! Who are THEY to tell US what to do? And yet, they are wise beyond our comprehension and they try so very hard to *tell* us what we're doing wrong but we, as a human race, are incredibly deaf to what they're saying.
WELL.....this has taken quite a turn, hasn't it? I started out thinking that I would ramble on about clicking and have segued into communication but let's face it, clicking and communication go hand in glove. Once cannot be successful at clicking unless one has begun to communicate with the animal - on many different levels. And THAT'S why Split came here. He came to teach me humility (thanks for dumping me on the kitchen lawn, pal! ha ha), patience, to love myself, to stop judging and questioning myself, to be present in the moment, to LISTEN, always LISTEN.
A friend told me that God may have taken away my physical hearing but He replaced it with a different kind of hearing. (Thank you, Toni!) That is one of the most profound things anyone has ever said to me!!! And it's true! I try to remind myself of that every day!

We leave you with this quote for today. There was no author attributed to it, unfortunately, for they are wise words:

“Friendship is a comforting smile, a familiar voice that warms the heart, and the freedom to be the person God intended.”

I believe this holds true for us humans and our animal friends!
Enjoy the day, everyone!