Monday, April 27, 2020

Me and Dave

Dave the rooster stood his ground, cocked his head and looked me in the eye. He took a step left, then another, and I held my line while I moved a few feet right, then stopped just about a foot past him. He fluffed his feathers, stretched his wings and went back to giving me the side eye. It occurred to me that chickens give the best side eye of any species, except maybe dinosaurs.

We stood and contemplated each other. I was patient. I could wait until he decided whether  he wanted to spend the day outside, soaking his battered bones in the sun, or hide in the laundry room, safe from his status hungry son and the dog that tore him up.

I wanted him outside, which made Dave want back in the laundry room. Because I blocked his route to his hiding place he went ahead and looked out the door, then back at me. Out the door, and back at me, you'd think he didn't have an eye on each side of his head. I didn't push him by taking a step toward him, if you step too far into a chicken's bubble, they'll come at you. Dave is a big old Dorking rooster with five, not four, taloned toes and  spurs the size of, well, my spurs. Even banged up like he is, I'm not sure the odds in a battle would favor me.

This is not the first time Dave recovered in my house with horrendous injuries from a predator. It's the second. The last time I kept him in a pet carrier for three days until he was more upset than hurt, and let him out. After that, Dave started hanging out with me and the dogs while I worked. Eventually his hens came along with and did their happy best to destroy everything I tried to plant. They also ate bugs like crazy, so we settled into an uncomplicated partnership.

This time, I couldn't figure out for the life of me what got him. His coop is varmint proof and he's been healthy for many months. Which is a good thing, because this time the wreckage about totaled him. Torn wings, a lame leg, bites on his neck and a chewed chewed up head and comb, told me he was done. So far, Dave's recovering in spite of my dire predictions.

My dogs guard him well when he's hurt and their sudden hostility towards a tenant's Labrador explained a lot. Dog friendly Dave's terrified screeching when he sees the Lab gave me the details. The dog and it's owner have a short time left on my place. I'm surprised the mauling didn't sway my rooster from his new life as a member of my dog pack, it seemed to strengthen it.

Dave feinted right, but I was ready for him and took a step closer as I cut off his retreat. He settled, then crowed, turned his back and I was able to guide him outside. I'm sure he'll be back tonight.

Friend and mentor, Tim Unzicker, once told me, "Each animal has a bubble around them and you need to learn how to manipulate the space, not dive into it. A horse will have a different bubble than a buffalo or cow. Figure out the bubble and you're in charge."

Through the years since, this bit of good sense stood by me countless times. I learned to move and separate cattle, llamas, horses, sheep, goats and chickens, on foot and on horseback. Each species has a different place in their bubble that will turn or stop them. Learning to work cattle taught me how to control them and Tim taught that to control the bubble meant to control the critter. My guess is Tim never thought I'd end up bumping a chicken bubble, but there you go.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Just One Time

My time as a horse trainer was drawing to a close. I was selling off investment stock, finishing up contracts and promises and gearing up to leave the last place I'd landed, foundation buckskin breeders that also rode cow horse. It was interesting and a little pitiful to end my career riding almost the same not-quite-good-enough type horses that I began with.

Drawing boundaries with people was a brand new activity for me. My first effort was quitting this job, I was determined to be kind, polite and direct. It didn't work out as I expected, and I was under quite a bit of pressure my last few weeks as a horse trainer. I had one more colt to start and he belonged to me. Loki's foal was a cute, runty, aloof little thing. He didn't want to be pet, caught, fed by hand, or talked to even after weaning. He was too short to sell and I hadn't messed with him enough to get much for him and I liked him.

I had a niggle of an idea with him, it came from no need to hurry but no time to really concentrate on him either. I decided it was time to test consequence and sequence, the cornerstone of my training program. I was going to teach my colt no more than one behavior or response per session, and if I did it correctly, the next day we'd add the next step, built from our last session. If I knew what I was doing, and seriously thought things through, I had a feeling it would work. Didn't have a clue what my little Scrub end up like, but it was nice to think about and a private challenge.

The yearling colts were raised on pasture, then kept in a large corral until they were gelded, taught some manners and halter broke. I could handle every single one of those little shits - except my own. He's scramble the fence to avoid looking at me.

Our first lesson was about contact. I walked into the corral and started watching him, which was enough to get him trotting out, tail flagged and looking over the top rail away from me. I kept a steady gaze on his ears and would stay even with his shoulder from the middle of the corral while he  moved. I stopped, relaxed, and looked away any time he paused. Nothing else. He could hide between his brothers and I would still stop. He could bolt and fart and stomp and I would still walk along just behind the point of his shoulder and stare at his ears.

A bunch of horses can always figure out who I'm hunting, and while it might be fun at first, eventually playing wild mustang got old and they'd stop moving, close ranks and kick out the one I'm after. It took about forty-five minutes with these knuckleheads, but seriously, with six bored yearling stud colts in that pen and I couldn't expect less.

Scrub got pretty white-eyed when he realized his siblings had sacrificed him to the enemy, and didn't seem to give a hoot whether he lived or died. He took off running again in little spurts, with a lot of stops and turns, but didn't last long, he was tired. His head still looked over the top rail and away from me, and he whinnied to the broodmares on pasture across the road. Loki answered him and he bawled to her again.

Then, I got what I'd been waiting for. Scrub flicked a fuzzy little ear toward me to reestablish my whereabouts. He'd lost track of me while he tattled on me to his mama. Our first session ended when he flicked that ear. I turned around and left.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Let's Get to It

I'm neglecting you again.

Can I make it worse?

I have about 10 half finished stories hidden back here.

I've been mulling things over and getting stuck. Sometimes, a story pops up, just like the old days, and I start writing and the whole thing eventually just fades off. I haven't been able to get ahead of it.

This isn't unusual for me. I will begin a project, a new tack room, a book outline, a rock wall, mulching my pasture, and suddenly stop. I wander off to another unfinished project and stare at it, wondering why it's still not done. Eventually, I see a problem I hadn't before, something crooked, or awkward, and I know how to fix it. So I'm back at it again.
I'm not sure whether this is me not wanting to admit there's a problem, or knowing instinctively, but not logically, that something is wrong.

Logic finally meanders on in and I untie the knots.

I do believe I've at least loosened some of my blog knots.

I need you to meet who I am now. Not growly, tired, frustrated Mugs, well, OK, that's still the same, but I've been doing a lot of thinking. Faced facts I wouldn't before, sorted out what needed sorting and realized, I can't write anything but how I see it. For reals.

I want to start out with a list. Remember how you guys used to get all mad at me for oh, hating blankets or drop nose-bands? Then I'd go through all the angry responses and either flat out tell you why or write a related story?

I'm hoping my list will remind some of you and kickstart others.

I hate box stalls, but I think every horse needs to learn to live in them.
Horses need to learn to stand tied.
I hate nosebands and tie-downs.
I use spurs.
I like spade bits on bridle horses.
I don't clip and rarely brush.
My horses have been barefoot for years, but it's only because I'm cheap, I absolutely do not ride the barefoot wagon.
The majority of horse whispery clinicians have turned a colt's first 30 days of training into a life-long project for their customers and a career for themselves.
People who dance with their horses at liberty with Enya blasting through the speakers are generally full of crap.
Horse communicators are lying to you.
Not all Mexican dancing horses are brutalized untalented messes.

There's a start. Let's see what happens.

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