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!"

Monday, June 28, 2010

We Ride!

Yes, folks, the world's biggest wienie rider actually rode today!! My husband finally mowed all that over-grown grass in the riding ring and it looks awesome - like a REAL riding ring! I'd spent some time last March and early in April working with Split and the mounting block. At first we would just walk up and stop - C/T. Then it was walk up, stop, line up at the block - C/T. That culminated in me getting on and riding away. I wondered how much Split would remember from those fews months ago. As always, he makes me wonder WHY I'm such a worry wart! When we first got to the ring, we played Why Would You Leave Me in both directions - very successful. And then I led Split over to the mounting block to see what would happen. Psh! He was way ahead of me. He was like, "Oh, yeah, let's see here. I walk up, survey the area, place my feet just so.....and stop. TA DA!" ha ha ha I actually thought he was beginning to "paw" at one point which is what he'd done when he first arrived and he didn't understand what I wanted him to do under saddle. He'd paw furiously, clearly saying, "For gawd's sake, just TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT!" LOL! But no.....he was just placing his front feet carefully so that he would be lined up nicely. Hmmmm.....coincidence? Let's try that again. Nope - he knew what to do! After messin' around with that for a while, I added another part to the loop:
Lead horse to mounting block, human steps up on mounting block, horse lines self up. COOL! We nailed it on the first try. But we practiced a few more times just to be sure. And THEN, because I'd "remembered" to plunk my helmet on my head, I decided to add "mom gets on" to the loop. I had no intention of riding, actually, but once I got on Split and felt his lovely, warm, even energy, I thought, "Ah, what the flip! Let's go." We had a great ride - just amblin' along around the ring. We watched the birds down by the pond and did serpentines and circles and actually, I started "refreshing" him on neck reining! I don't own a saddle (well, I do, but they're ancient and really not useable) so I ride bareback with just a halter and lead rope. Neck reining is definitely a valuable skill to have when one rides like that. At first Split wasn't quite sure what I wanted (use it or lose, it guess) but as soon as I reminded myself that I DO know how to use my legs properly and I added that leg cue, he instantly complied. What a guy!!!!
I'm happy plopping around my riding ring. Split's happy plopping along with me. I'm a firm believer in that old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And right now we ain't broke.........

This is a great quote for riders like me:

“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.”

We'll be workin' on accuracy for a while! Enjoy the day, friends!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Splitter the Spook

I've mentioned before that Split has a very high "fight or flight" response but what's really interesting is that if he spooks when I'm working him on the ground, he knows exactly where I am and goes to great lengths to avoid running into/mowing over/knocking me down. He'd rather get pecked by that killer turkey or jumped by that rabid rabbit than hurt his mom!!!
The only time that I've ever been afraid of him was that fateful day that he bolted with me and now, in retrospect, I realize that it was just a whole crucible of errors that led to his running away and truthfully, I'd have done the same in his position. But I digress...........
One day before I got my hearing aides, I decided to take Split for a leisurely walk thru the meadows around our property - on line, not riding him. We were returning home and were walking along this narrow strip of grass in front of our house. Within one step to my left was our tall privet hedge; on my right was Split; one step to his right was the road. All was going well and we were ambling along on a loose line when suddenly I felt Split's entire body go tense. He stopped, nostrils flared, head up, tail up, prancing in place. I had no idea what was going on.......I couldn't HEAR anything, that's for sure. I stood beside him, not sure what was going to happen next. He turned his head to the right as if to look down the road and I knew he wanted to face whatever monster was coming from behind us but he didn't because he knew he would have to knock me down in the process. All of this "action" took place within a matter of seconds - it wasn't like I even had time to think about what to do next! I turned my head, too, and saw this gigantic, big, bad-a** dump truck-looking rig hauling another big piece of equipment behind it bearing down on us, and could only imagine the banging, wheezing, clanking and thumping accompanying it (remember, for all intents and purposes, I was DEAF then)! I swallowed the lump in my throat as Split turned forward, tucked his tail and sat back on his haunches, prepared to blast off! All I remember thinking was, "Crap! That hedge is gonna hurt when I hit it!" and hoping and praying that Split didn't run into the road if he got out of my grasp. But something - instinct, gut feeling, guardian angel - told me to "stand still and hold on" as that truck went flying past. I've never seen ANYTHING like what Split did that day! He spooked - big time! But he spooked IN PLACE. He had his left eye on me, probably his right eye on that truck - and all of his "flight" energy went down into his feet where it came out as a "horsey tap dance" - his feet were flying but staying right in place!!! As I said, this all took place within a matter of seconds - we both had decisions to make in a nanosecond. Once the scary monster truck had blasted by us, Split stood stock-still and stared after it for a second or two. Then he very slowly turned his head and looked at me for several seconds, clearly saying, "Can you believe that?" He sighed, shook himself vigorously, and continued on as though nothing had happened. I was impressed, let me tell you! He could have run and injured either or both of us but he chose to stay with me and keep us both safe. Amazing!!
Just the other day I was walking him down into our little riding ring and in order to get into the ring, we have to walk thru a narrow chute that has electric fencing on both sides. As we went into the chute, a big ol' turkey flew up virtually under our noses! It scared the daylights out of me and nearly made Split jump out of his skin! He COULD have turned and bolted out of there - which would have resulted in him knocking me down and running me over - but instead he simply jumped a little in place, snorted and stood like a statue beside me. After the initial shock, I had to burst out laughing - and give Split a big hug! I noticed that left eye was once again keeping track of his mom!
Yesterday we put Split and Jingle out into the "new" pasture and the grass is quite long. Split started out at a canter but when all the birds flew up out of the grass, he stopped, whirled, and bolted for "home base." ha ha I noticed something interesting as I watched his progress back out into the pasture. He'd go just "so far," just into his "comfort zone," and then come back to the paddock gate to graze in safety. He did this several times before he finally figured out, "OH! They're BIRDS!" And then he was off and running. But going a few steps and turning back to the comfort zone is something that clicker trainers advise riders with anxiety (like me!) to do.......Ride to your comfort zone and maybe a step beyond but turn and go back BEFORE you get into scary territory. Yesterday I saw Split do this "naturally." Amazing what that pony can teach me!!!

"When we listen to our horses, we get an education. When we don't, we get an experience." Mark Rashid

Listening involves more than my hearing aides these days!!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Donker Dog con't!

I always thought that Eeyore was a very cute little critter but I never really understood just how true to donkey personality he is until I actually started living with a donkey! A.A. Milne must have know a real donkey or 2 himself!
Jingle is a smart little gal and she quickly figured out that if her halter was being put on, it was for a specific reason and she wasn't going to like it! She would never, ever bite or kick but instead was quite accepting of her "fate." She would allow me to halter her and then literally lower her nose to the ground, lop those big ears over and stand there quietly - EXACTLY like Eeyore! She was clearly saying, "I don't like this. I don't want this. But you can go ahead and do what you want." I could "hear" Eeyore's voice in my head! LOL
The first time I tried to lead her into the barn so that the farrier could trim her hooves, she dug in her feet, pulled back and just sat there. How embarrassing!!
I'd spent lots of time getting her used to having her legs and feet handled (no clicker for me yet.....hadn't yet become "enlightened") and just assumed that because she followed me willingly at liberty all the time, she would do the same with a halter on! Well, you know what they say about "assume!"
By that spring, Mary Arena had started pounding clicking into my head (yeah, I'm a little slow on the uptake sometimes.............ha ha) and I thought (DUH), "Wow! I bet this will work for Jingle, too!"
Jingle LOVES clicking! She did learn to lead very well altho I must say that she still goes into "Eeyore mode" when she knows that the farrier or vet are on their way and believe me, she KNOWS the difference between when I put the halter on for vetting or trimming and when I put it on for playing!! Anyway, Jingle looks forward to our walk-abouts and leads even better than my beagle!
She steps right along, ears up, eyes sparkling, clearly enjoying our outings!
People always slow down when they see us walking along the edge of the meadow next to the road. They honk, they wave, they stop and say HI. But the best one was a guy who pulled up beside us and said, "Hey, what is that? A pony or a donkey?" I said, "It's a miniature donkey." "Oh," he said. "That's the cutest thing I've ever seen, man!" ha ha I'm going to start telling people that Jingle is a "Donker Dog" - part donkey and part Golden Retriever! She is, after all, a red donkey, so I think I can fool people!

I love this quote:
"I am a prince and you are a prince; who will lead the donkeys?"
-Arabian Proverb

Have a great day, everyone!!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How Jingle Came To Be Here..............

I love my little mini donkey! Not only does she keep my pony company but she has this lovely, serene demeanor that never fails to have a calming effect on everyone with whom she comes in contact.
"Asspirin Acres Joan of Arc" came to us on Christmas Eve day. The tag on her halter said simply "Joan." Well, THAT wasn't going to fly so we all tried to think up a more "Christmassy" name for her. "Dominic" was rejected right out of hand (my daughters think they're funny) and neither Noel, Holly, Carol (eek!), nor Mary seemed to fit, either. I finally said, "Let's call her Nellie." THAT set everyone back a bit because Nellie was my mother-in-law's name. When my family said, "Why Nellie?" I replied, "Because she's round, has brown hair, is cute and she seems very gentle." (All qualities possessed by my deceased mother-in-law.) WELL, to my surprise, everyone thought it was a great idea.....until we actually CALLED the little donkey "Nellie." Back to square one. I finally said, "Grandma loved Christmas. Let's think what Grandma loved best about it and see if that give us any ideas." My oldest daughter said, "She always used to hang that Jingle Bells banner across the mantle in the kitchen." And - BAM - that was it......"Jingle!"
I'd been looking for a companion for Split - who'd lived as a bachelor his first year here - and had always wanted a mini donkey. I finally wore my husband down - he gave in just to shut me up, I think - and began making calls. I was surprised at how expensive mini donks are and wasn't having any luck finding a rescue donkey. I contacted Asspirin Acres in Vergennes, VT but Marshlyn didn't have any geldings for sale at the time. She later called to tell me that a woman to whom she'd sold some donkeys several years ago wanted to sell them back and would I be interested in one of those geldings? The price was right and the deal was struck. But then the owner decided she couldn't part with the donkeys after all and I was right back to where I started from - donk-less. A few weeks later Marshlyn called to tell me that one of her mares who'd been sold several years previously was being shipped back because she was barren. Marshlyn is a very responsible breeder who honored her contract and replaced the mare but suddenly had a barren mare - obviously she wasn't going to fit into their breeding program and would I be interested? The only catch was that this donkey been running in a big herd out in Nebraska and had no training and very little socialization with humans. Not a problem for me - I was willing to take a chance.
Marshlyn's husband had to be in this area on Christmas Eve day so that's when we arranged to have Jingle delivered. The second she stepped hesitantly off the trailer, we were all in love with this little critter!! She followed Mike out to our pasture (reluctantly at times but she allowed herself to be led) and he recommended that we put Split in the paddock and turn Jingle out in the pasture so that they could sniff each other over the fence. Poor little Jingle looked so lost and all alone out there. She just stood and hung her head. However, if we were to approach her, she would take off in a panic so we took turns sitting in the paddock, all bundled up in winter clothing, hoping she would come to us. Finally my husband said, "It's getting dark. We can't leave her out there all alone and with no shelter. We've got to bring her into the paddock so she can at least get into the barn. You've got to let Split out into the pasture so that they can get acquainted." GULP! Split had been running around the paddock calling to Jingle all afternoon and when we opened that gate, he shot out of there like a thoroughbred at Saratoga! Jingle took one look, went, "GAH! I'm out of here!" and she, too, took off running! They raced around the pasture, Jingle dodging left and right to avoid Split, when suddenly she screeched to a halt. This surprised Split so he put on the brakes, too. He approached her very cautiously - head down, sniffing and snorting. He got right up to her rear end and quick as a wink her little hind feet flew out and landed 2 solid thumps on his left cheek! (He actually had muddy prints there for a day or 2!) He skittered backward and stared. Very slowly, Jingle turned and began walking back up toward the paddock. Split followed respectfully behind and they have been the best of friends ever since.
Jingle didn't warm up to her humans very quickly. She was quite afraid of "the two-leggeds" and any attempt to touch or pat her resulted in her running for her very life. My daughters would go out each day and sit in the snow (they weren't little kids then, either - they were in their early 20's and late teens) and wait and hope that Jingle would come to them. One day Colleen came rushing into the house with the announcement, "Mom! I got one finger on her!" What a break-through! ha ha Slowly, very slowly, Jingle came to accept that we were not going to hurt her and she began to come up to us to get her chest or butt scratched. By spring I could actually run a brush over her and put the halter on her but leading her was another matter entirely!!! We've all heard the expression "stubborn as a mule" but that could be changed very easily to "stubborn as a mini donkey!" Jingle had a lot to teach this "old gray mare" and that's where clicking came in handy!! But for now, I have to write..........
TO BE CONTINUED.............................. :0)

"To carry his load without resting, not to be bothered by heat or cold and always be content: these three things we can learn from a donkey."
Indian Proverb

Enjoy the day, friends!

Monday, June 21, 2010


I need to plunk my butt down in this chair and write more often. Time has a way of getting away from me. My oldest daughter just moved to South Carolina, my kitchen is being gutted and redesigned so I'm currently living out of boxes and milk crates and bags which are scattered throughout the first floor of my house, my middle daughter is planning her wedding, and my youngest just announced that she got a teaching job for next year - IN SPAIN! Boy, it never rains...it POURS around here!! LOL
Thank goodness for my constant link to sanity - my animals! I have a lovely little beagle named Jellybean whom we adopted from the Humane Society 24 hours before she was to be euthanized. I never liked beagles; never wanted a beagle. Well, so much for that............because now I can't imagine life without this shorty, pudgy ray of sunshine! She's an absolute delight!
I have a feral cat who showed up on our doorstep several years ago. He was scruffy and angry and extremely aggressive toward any animal who approached him, including humans! I've never been attacked by an animal before but he came very close - I can still see those flattened ears, huge eyes, fangs, and claws coming at me!!! So we decided to "live and let live" and GrayKitty was fed alongside our old cat, Rosie, who was the only animal GrayKitty would allow into his personal space. Eventually we won him over or he decided we weren't all that bad and he began to look forward to his interactions with us. Now I can pick him up and sling him over my shoulder and he purrs so loudly that you can probably hear him a block away. He's a character, tho, and if things don't go his way, you're apt to get a swat with the paw or a little bite that says, "Back off, idiot." He's also a clown who loves to do the unexpected and then he sits back with those squinty eyes and a smirk on his face, obviously delighting in the humans' startled expressions.
Last week the vet came to give Split and Jingle their booster shots and when I was writing out the check, GrayKitty jumped up into the back of Kristin's truck. From there he jumped up into the open drawer of her wooden cabinet, stretched out on top of the syringes and packages of needles, crossed his front paws and looked at us as tho saying, "Well, what do you think of this?" We burst out laughing and Kristin asked if she could take some photos because she'd never had a cat do THAT before! After she took his "portrait," she jokingly picked up an syringe, pointed it at him and said, "Do you want a shot, too?" Quick as a wink, GrayKitty turned and bit the hand with the syringe!! She dropped it like a hot potato and said, "Gee, you'd think he knew what I was saying!" OF COURSE he knew what she was saying! What a cat!
Split and Jingle and I have been having great fun! The other day when the temps were hovering around 95 degrees, I decided to give Split a bath. Split doesn't particularly like his bath but I suspect it's due to the cold water. His former owner has sent me pics of Split quite obviously enjoying his ablutions up in Canada but she has a nice wash area with hot and cold water. Me? I just have cold water so "deal with it" has been my motto. I decided to take a different approach recently. I walked Split up to the hose and, as expected, he snorted and backed away. No biggie. I waited and he targeted. C/T. All S.O.P. for us. Pretty soon, he was fine with the hose so I turned it on. Not so "ok." ha ha He's not freaked out - he just steps back and snorts a little. I had the nozzle on "mist" and pretty soon he was literally playing in it - flapping his lips up and down and running his muzzle thru it. Each positive interaction earned him a C/T. THEN I switched to "shower." Hmmmm..............He wasn't so sure about that and definitely didn't want it touching him. I allowed him to walk away (the length of the rope - about 12') but, being Split, he always came back to investigate. I decided to try something different. When he finally put his muzzle into the spray to check it out, I turned off the water. He was surprised! This was a new development! He nudged the nozzle and I turned the water back on. He was startled but just moved his muzzle out of the way and stared at the water. He put his nose back in the spray and the water stopped. Nudged the nozzle and the water came back on! He was thrilled with this game and I was getting a really good laugh at the expression on his face!! Next time he "started" the water, I showered his legs. He wasn't happy about that and walked backward a few steps. I went with him, gently showering his front legs. He reached out and touched the nozzle and.........the water stopped! "Well!" I imagined him thinking. "I can turn this thing on and off by myself!" This was a great game for Split because he has a very smart brain and loves a challenge! We kept playing as I moved the hose from his legs to his body, neck, and, using the mister, even to his face (which he loves!!). I allowed him to "tell" me when he'd had enough by letting him nuzzle the nozzle. Inevitably, he would always ask me to turn it back on, too! It was wonderful to see the progress once Split realized that he could tell me when enough was enough! I didn't click during any of this because I wanted Split to understand that he could TELL ME when he was uncomfortable. I didn't want him to just tolerate the spray because he wanted his treat. This approach seemed to work well in this particular situation and I enjoyed experimenting with it.
But the click? Well, ya just can't beat it! I use it all the time and I've had some wonderful walks with Split recently. We go out into the neighbor's meadow and play games there. I can lunge him out there, too, and I know that the people driving by are thinking, "Wow! Look at that beautiful pony!"
I've been taking little Jingle the mini donk for walks, too, and she's completely different than Split. But I think I'll save that story for another day.

Here's a great quote from Ray Hunt:
"Believe in your horse so your horse can believe in you"

Have a great day, friends!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wide Open Spaces! LOL

Yes, folks, Split and I hit the wide open spaces, today! The wide open spaces of...............my lawn and driveway. Yes, it's embarrassing to admit that those are wide open spaces for us but hey, we've got to start somewhere, right? This spring I've been working in our dirt paddock which, altho not very level, is the closest thing I have to a "round pen." I do have a lovely little riding ring but it's actually part of one of our pastures and right now it's knee-deep in grass. Working my pony in there would be akin (in my mind, anyway) to taking a kid to the candy shop and telling him, "Forget the candy, kid, you have math work to do for the next hour." ha ha Anyway............I led Split out onto the barn floor and he was like, "OMG! Where am I?" even tho he's been there too many times to count in the past 4 years. He got all tense and his nostrils flared and he snorted and looked around for potential killers. I went into the "Grown-Ups Are Talking" stance - something with which Split is familiar and is calming to him - but also decided to take a bit of a CAT (Constructional Approach Training) approach to this as well. I also thought, "Well, if this is as far as we get today, this is as far as we get." Quite a mind shift for this old gal! I stood and waited for Split to tell me when he was ready to move on. While he was scanning the area for danger, he spotted my dog's blanket (she likes to hang out with me while I work outside) on the floor and immediately went into flight or fight mode. He stretched his neck out and sniffed the blanket. Rather than click and treat this behavior, I waited. I've learned something very important about Split - I can actually interrupt his thinking or calming behaviors with the click which can then, I believe (at least with him), lead to frustration but more about that later.
He sniffed that blanket, he backed up, he stretched forward and sniffed again. He licked it, he played with it and finally he sighed and turned to me, clearly asking, "How was that?" THAT was when I clicked and treated! I told him, "That was awesome, pal!" Then we took another 2 steps up to the open barn door and Split was all googly-eyed and snorting at the wide open spaces beyond!!!
Again, I went into the Grown-Ups Are Talking stance and simply.....waited. Split looked and snorted and scanned the "horizon" and then he put his head down. He was using this to calm himself! This is always thrilling for me and I've learned (or Split has taught me) not to interrupt this process. I waited while he looked and went into head down several times. Finally he just........walked out the door! As calmly as could be, he walked out and started grazing. He was also very good as I lead him across our very large back lawn (lots of nice grass there!) - he walked beside me and only once or twice stopped to grab a snack.
As we approached the picnic table and the Adirondack chair and the big shovel and the rake.....all those terribly scary items......I felt him tense up and begin to look around apprehensively. No worries. I let him stop and look around. He finally went over to each thing and targeted it on his own - C/T! He even tried a "bite" of the picnic table! ha ha I decided to stand up on the bench of the picnic table and at first Split was amazed by this - he looked at me like, "What the heck?" but then he came over and nuzzled my foot. I stood up on the table top.
THAT startled Split a bit but he walked over and looked at me calmly - C/T. All of this was very impromptu - I hadn't thought about doing this beforehand. Then I got it in my head to start walking around the perimeter of the table top! Would Split follow?? He wasn't sure at first but after being C/T for the first few steps, he thought it was a great game! He would follow me all around the table as I walked the perimeter of the top! Can you see where this is going eventually???
Yeah - I could mount up from the picnic table. But not today! LOL
From there we went to playing Why Would You Leave Me in the driveway. I have a circular drive so utilized the horseshoe shape to my advantage. What I found interesting was that when I was on Split's left, he was much more relaxed and less anxious no matter where we were in the driveway. When I was on his right, he got VERY tense and would actually LEAN on me if he got nervous. How interesting!!!! Could it be me? Click and treat yourself if you answered YES! I am decidedly more comfortable walking on Split's left but I didn't realize it. So we worked with me always being on his right and as I relaxed and paid attention to my shoulders and hips, I could see a change in him as well! At one point, when we were finally working as a team to the right, I stopped and Split - God bless his little pony soul - actually turned to me and nuzzled ME, clearly telling me, "Good job, Mom!" AWWWWW! Can you say, "Give the pony a peppermint?"
There were some interesing moments when Split saw or heard a loud motorcycle or the local garbage truck. I felt him tense up and he'd stop and stare. Rather than force him along (as I would have done in a previous life), I went into the Grown-Ups Are Talking stance and simply waited. Split DID go to head down many times! I didn't interrupt it - I waited til he told me, "I'm OK now" and then I C/T. I'd love to hear from others of you what you think of this and if it's worked for you! I love clicking and will defend it to the death (bring on the epees! ha ha) but I think sometimes I actually muddle the things by clicking too much or at the wrong moment which interrupts the process, leading to some of Split's frustrations with me. I think he's saying, "Hold on! Hold on! I'm thinking this over!" And I have to respect that.
This is such an awesome journey that all of us are on! I'm learning far more from Split than he is from me, I'm sure!!!! What will be interesting is when I take my little donkey out for some clicking. I wonder how she will react to everything?? I'll be sure to let you know!

This is a fun quote for today:
“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” Arnold Glasgow

Enjoy the day, everyone!!!