Monday, November 25, 2019

Talking to my Horses

This is Madonna and I at a practice, probably seven or eight years ago. 

We sat in a companionable circle around our campfire's fading coals.The wood was mostly ash but a few surviving chunks sent up an occasional flare. It wanted either more fuel or a bucket of water, but nobody felt inclined to make a decision. The night was warm enough, we were tired, full, and everybody had at least a beer or two in them, and the conversation, like the fire, kept flaring up. 

It was the end of the first of a three day clinic, being put on by me and none other but the Big K.
We had worked hard enough to get comfortable with each other and the jokes and razzing was getting easier.

"You know, I don't like the way your horses behave on the ground," an attendee said to me.

"Say, what?" If there was a joke in there I wasn't hearing it.

It was suddenly very quiet.

"Don't take this the wrong way, they're incredible once you get on them, but they're totally different on the ground."

I heard the Big K snort and knew he was trying not to laugh. Instead of making me mad, his derision helped me get sorted. This was a green rider who was trying to learn, plus she had dropped a load of cash and travelled a long way to get here. 

"So, let me ask you," I said, "have you seen them kick or bite at me?"

"Oh, no, not at all," she said.

"Lean on me, push me or crowd me?"

"Mmmmm nope."

I continued, "Have they stepped away when I saddle, refused a bit or been hard to bridle?"

"Well, that's not what I'm talking about," the attendee started to sound a little pissy.

People were starting to grin and snicker a bit, it was going to be tough to quit.

"How about be hard to lead? Not move where I tell them to? Refuse to walk in a stall or trailer?"

"Do you want to know what I mean?" Pissy was turning the corner and heading straight to bitchy.

"Wait, I know, did they yank a foot away, pin their ears at me or tail slap me in the face when I picked up a foot?"

I had gone too far, now she was mad and quit talking. After a minute or two though, she couldn't resist getting back at me. 

"You talk to them," she said.

"Yeah, I guess so," I said.

"They talk to you too." 

I was about flummoxed. "Well, in their own way I guess they do."

"They have opinions!" Her voice was triumphant. You'd of thought she caught me in some secret, giant, trainer lie. 

The Big K couldn't hold back the guffaw that had been building in equal proportion with his beer intake. "Come to think of it, Janet, your horses do have opinions!"

I didn't like the way this was headed but I had to give it to him. Odin had single-hoofedly dismantled a temporary stall and round pen our first two nights at the ranch. Several of the panels were never going to be the same.

"I'm not getting you," I told her.

"I asked, why don't you clip Madonna's bridle path and you said, "Because she doesn't like the clippers."

"That's right," I said.

"When I tried to pet her muzzle, you said she didn't like her face messed with," she said.

"Right again, and when you reached up to scratch her ears I told you she didn't like her ears handled. My horses don't have the habit of sucking back, I'd like to keep it that way," I said.

"You told me not to walk straight up to Odin because he doesn't like people coming at him when he's carrying a rider, and that's just ridiculous," she said. 

There was a smugness to her that made me want to just smack her one, but, I was the professional, and she was not. I took a deep breath and attempted to explain how things worked with me.

"From the day we start them, horses are doing what we tell 'em, and to them, most of it makes no sense at all. We handle them, tie things to them, sit on them, make them move in completely unnatural ways. We control their food, their water, their exercise, make them live in blankets and box stalls and they need to be cheerful and compliant while we're doing it."

"That's what they're supposed to do," she said.

"I agree," I said, "that's what they're supposed to do. Sometimes though, I think, Why are they supposed to? What is the actual purpose here? You know what? There's an awful lot of times when I come up with absolutely nothing. So I don't do it.

"My horse hates having her face handled. She has to hold still and be haltered. She has to accept her bit and let me fold her ears into the bridle. If I need to look in her ears or nose, then she better let me.

"What she doesn't have to do is let people kiss her on the nose, or shave the inside of her ears. She sure as hell doesn't need a bridlepath or shaved fetlocks. 

"Odin has a funny reaction when I'm sitting on him and a stranger walks straight to the only place he can't see. Sometimes his reaction isn't so funny. I think it has something to do with feeling trapped, caught between front and back. I'm not worried about it, and there's no good reason for people to be all up in his blind spot. 

"So I help my horses and respect those small pockets of space. You know what? I guess we do talk. Because they know they can tell me what they don't like and sometimes, they get a choice. I find it makes it easier when they have to do what I say. They know I wouldn't insist unless it mattered."

That gal chose not to talk to me until late the next day. It was okay by me, I liked talking to my horses better any way.

Hey Old Fogies!

I have a writing opportunity, (well, I'm going to apply anyway) and it is possibly a good fit for me and my horse stories.

Do you mind giving a Mugwump a hand?

Tell me your favorite story from Mugwump Chronicles, or two or three, or a hundred.

My submission needs to be about  500 words, so I can't submit Sonita or Tally's whole story.
Think on it and let me know?

Yes, I have another post, the last one I wrote was depressing, so I saved it back until I come up with a better way to present it. I'm almost done with this next one.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Don't Should on Me

Several years ago, in yet another self-improvement attempt, I decided to get rid of the word should. I might not be able to tear it out of the dictionary, but I could rip it out of my own vocabulary. I truly think that word is the reason for many world problems.

It was terrible trying to root the sucker out, until I figured out why. In order to quit using the dreaded should, I had to mind my own business. The insistence that I was right in every and any situation, and the overwhelming need to impress said rightness on all those around me, well, it had to stop - even if I was right. That was a rough antacid to chew.

Eventually, after I beat myself up pretty good and often, I got a handle on it. I still didn't understand where I was going with this, or why, it was just an experiment that wasn't quite right, and I was getting a little obsessive over it.  I kept thinking, I shoulda done this, or I shoulda...oh, there you go. I had to quit shoulding myself too.

Want a challenge? Decide to quit shoulding others when you're a riding instructor and horse trainer.
Imagine your first conversation with a client, fresh out of the show pen, who still doesn't realize she ran her reining pattern with her romels crossed, and you can't say should. Or imagine asking your boss why he didn't show up or call the barn for a full week after his due date home from his last show.

Watch him shrug and say, "I needed a break."

Think about the week you spent, cleaning extra stalls, feeding, riding, and placating clients that weren't even yours, then don't utter should even once in your response.

It was a struggle, but eventually, not only the word, but the reasons for it faded off. Instead of jumping into what should or shouldn't be done, I began seriously thinking about why should was the automatic go-to. It appeared to me, it was a control word, a judgement without thought, a glove thrown down without reason.

It entirely turned my approach to horses on its ear.

"My horse won't stand to have his ears clipped."

Does he have to?



"Because he should."

Once that word was kicked to the curb a whole new slew of questions arose. Why did the horse keep fretting? Clearly, he didn't want his ears clipped. Why not? Did the noise scare him? Were the blades dull? Was he picking a fight?

Without should involved, a slew of questions opened up, most of them involved with how the horse was handled. This was not a discussion most clients wanted to have. They want their horses to do what they should. If the horse didn't, well, I was supposed to step in and make him.

I might say, Now, if it was me, I'd quit clipping the horse's ears. A horse keeps bad stuff out and good stuff in with those hairs. Being a horse, it wants to protect its ears.

"It's the way it should be, the judges expect it at the shows."

I figure if the judges see my horse's hairy ears, I'm going too slow and might want kick it up a notch.

"You should have done a better job teaching her to stand still."

Which was true. I gathered up the horse and spent the next three days desensitizing the crap out of her.

It just kept on coming.

Why should a horse happily leave the herd?

Why should a horse stay content in a stall?

Why should a horse load in a trailer?

I'll stop now, you get the idea.

I found myself replacing should with would. Right there is where, in my secret My Friend Flicka soul, I became a better horseman and trainer.

Friday, November 15, 2019

I always Learn the Hard Way - Mean or Senile?

Oh my gosh you guys, I just realized I left you with an unfinished story. So very wrong of me. I'm not that mean spirited, just confused at times and forgetful at times. I'll try not to pull that one again.

Back to my tale.

My knee gave out with a dull, stretchy, snappy kind of pop and I fell forward into the graceful technique developed by years with Parkinson's Disease. That would be, no arms out, no drop and roll, just, BANG! flat on my face. I was bruised, and if I thought about it, pretty scraped up, blood was already pooling under my forehead and soaking into the torn knees of my jeans.

I looked up, felt the itchy tingle between my eyes of an imminent nose bleed, and met the cold, intent stare of a very pissed off rattler, coiled about two feet from my face. "Well, shit," I whispered to Mr. Snake, then lost sight of him in a seven-pound blur of snarling, yapping, chihuahua fury.

Both of the little dogs were going at the snake, first one would bite and duck, then the other stepped in and did the same, they performed an odd little dance with their target, Mr. Snake. Their only relation is size and attitude, but right that second I knew they shared a wicked dose of courage. I also knew the morons were going to die if they got bit.

"Off! I said off!" I whispered. "You little assholes, OFF!"

Whispering didn't add much to my authority, and complete disobedience joined their shared qualities. It was seriously time for me to get out of there. I flexed my injured leg and pain shot from knee to hairline, which was doing its best to stand on end. My extended fingers twitched and the snake threw a short strike at my hand, the min-pin/Italian greyhound dove in and snagged him behind his head.

What a mess I'd made. When I fall it's almost impossible for me to stand again, hence, my need for a service dog. Who was probably sound asleep in the house, next to my phone...and, my "Help I've fallen and can't get up" button. All I could think of to do was stay in my frozen state until Mr. Snake decided to move. Of course he wasn't going anywhere because my Riki Tiki Tavi wannabes were on task with a vengeance.  One of my favorite Parkinson's jokes, "Hold still!" ran a never-ending loop through my mind.

I felt a sharp poke in my side, heard a snuffle, followed by another hard poke in my armpit. Oh no, Brockle was just behind me. I knew he would jump into the fray and get bit. The first real ripple of panic went through me. He pushed at my pit harder. I couldn't give him a command, I couldn't scoot him back, we were so screwed.

Brockle gave me another hard push and got his nose between me and the ground. Then, with the little dogs barking and shrieking at the snake in my face, he laid down and began to scramble under me. It was fast, he wiggled until he got under my shoulder, I braced an arm, and he pretty much just hoisted me up and out of there. Mr. Snake drew back, and the Chi grabbed a mouthful and we staggered off.

I will never have another dog like him. He just turned eight and I'm shopping for his replacement. It's just about killing me.


One by one, the constants in my life oozed away.

First, I lost interest in reading, then I stopped writing. Music became a cacophony, no matter what I listened to, nails on the blackboard. Television was only background noise to help me sleep.
The dogs were un-walked, the horses stood idle and began to look old.

I stopped, frozen in place, and watched my family fall apart, friends fade away, and business associates look the other way as we passed each on the street. I did however, manage to hold my husband's hand, and speak with him into the night, every night, until he finally died. I think we were both relieved when the end came. We travelled one bitch of a road together for eight long years before he finally let go. 

I admit, I was a little envious. He was at peace, or becoming compost, I don't know which, but either appealed to me more than what I faced. Although, if we went at the same time, we'd be grousing and fussing all the way into eternity and we deserved some space. There was finally time for me to take a breath. So I stayed.


Last night, I saw a cloud of bats swooping through dusk. I ran outside to check things out and as we closed in on each other, I understood they weren't bats at all.

They were dragon flies - huge, whirring things - that swirled around my head, so thick I stood in their shadow. I had never witnessed a swarm? herd? flock? of dragonflies before, and my Missouri mule mind wouldn't accept the image. It insisted on being tricked, they must be bats, I live on the prairie and open water was miles away, no water bugs here.

I opened my arms wide and a few astral travelers stopped for a breather. They perched up and down my arms and, like their tribe? gang? murder? still faced the weakening southern sun.
Yep, dragonflies for sure. The cloud over me thinned, and its shadow followed over the garden, across the pens and disappeared into the tall prairie grass across my fence.

My new friends left me and trailed after their companions. It was probably for the best