Monday, May 24, 2021


 I had an interesting text convo with a reader from the old days, one who pretty much hung around and made it to the new days with me. 

We were talking about her head shy horse and what to do with him. She certainly didn't create the mess this poor horse is in, but she's dealing with it now, and it's one bitch of a problem. He's so afraid of anybody handling his head or face he's potentially dangerous, although he doesn't have a mean bone in his body. 

In some ways, a good minded horse that becomes so frightened he'll crawl a wall to get away from you is more dangerous than an angry, touch-me-and-I'll-kill-you, evil-minded bastard. The bad-minded horse will engage, where the good one might kill himself, or you, in a blind panic.

This particular horses is stalled at night with daily turnout at his new home. This is perfect for a mind reset. For most of his prior life he never came out of his stall. Did his owners create the problem through ignorance, or cruelty? I don't know, and it doesn't particularly concern me. 

My concern with a horse like this stems from his complete inability to cooperate. A horse who doesn't understand the need to cooperate with humans ends up at auction, or passed from one bad situation to another until he's dead. It's that simple. 

I get cooperation through mutual respect. I want the horse to be clear with my expectations and in return I acknowledge their mental and physical needs.

A great example is my dun gelding, Scrub (aka Odin). As a foal, he did not want to be touched by humans, anywhere, any time. So, I didn't. I handled his mama, gave her scritches, checked her feet, doctored a nasty puncture, all the usual stuff I do with a broodmare on pasture. As time went on, his curiosity overcame his distaste and he began to sniff me and pull at my shirt. I ignored him until he almost crawled up my leg trying to get my attention. Then, I scratched his butt, right above the dock of his tail, and quit right when he started to really get into it. 

Fast forward to his three-year-old year. He still preferred minimal handling, but he tolerated what I needed to do with him. I could halter him out in the field, lead him away from the herd, he stood for the vet and farrier, loaded in a trailer, and then rode quiet. He never raised a leg in threat, bit, or shoved into me. When it came time to ride him he was soft and easy. 

Through all this, he came to appreciate being groomed, liked people to find his scritchy parts, and would come to visit periodically of his own accord. He absolutely hated having his ears handled, or a hand placed between his eyes. So, I didn't. He would spook and blow if a person walked up to us and extended a hand to pat his forehead, so I defended him and always asked for space.

There was no reason to do anything else, as long as I didn't need to doctor him or put on a bridle. Then, I expected him to tolerate me, and he did. The rest of the time, I respected his need not to be crawled all over. 

These days, many years later, I can scratch his ears, rub his face, mess with his forelock and whatever else I can think of, he is the friendliest booger you could ever want to meet. I waited for him to choose contact and it paid off. 

Can I kiss that soft part between his nostrils? I don't know, I'm not all that kissy. 

I want a horse I'm working to do my definition of his job.  That's pretty much all there is to it with me as a trainer. The rest is up to them. I give them choices, and find when a horse knows there are choices to be made, they try harder to sort out what I want. They also know some things don't come with choices, and when I tell them it's time to listen, they snap to. They also think. If there is an obstacle that worries them, they know I'll give them a reasonable amount of time to sort it out. It helps save us from complete shut downs, spook and bolts, or tossing me on my head.

Anyway, back to the head shy horse.

There are a few things about this horse that tells me he's going to be an easy fix. The first is he will approach his new owner in the field and ask for attention. The second is, as long as he's wearing a halter, he will come to the front of the stall and allow her to attach his lead. This tells me he is indeed a kind and forgiving horse. It tells me he knows that accepting the lead is his ticket out to the field. It tells me some bonehead really effed him up, but I digress. 

What I recommended is that she stand outside his stall and offer him the halter. Hold it open for him to stick his nose in and wait. Wait as long as it takes to sort out what he has to do to get outside and let him choose to be haltered. It's his job to accept the halter. She might be waiting a while (sometimes days) but it always works. No halter, no field. The key is to be still, to wait, to ooze horseaii. Probably no eye contact. The important part of this is no cooing, no reaching toward him, and no quick movements to grab him, because 'good grief, his freaking head is right here and I've been waiting a year and if I can just throw the leadrope around his neck...' because now, whether you catch him or not, you took away his choice. He has you pegged as yet another sneaky bastard and won't fall for that again. 

I'm just realized I'm going to have to change my advice a bit. Since he already makes the connection between the lead and going out, she might want to try standing at the stall door with it (as she does now) and a second halter and lead hanging on her arm. Wait until he comes in for the lead and take him out. Then, add to his job description daily, maybe rubbing him with the second halter a bit, then the next day, draping it over his neck, etc. Eventually, he will let her put the second halter on and understand his job. No sneaking, open communication, just making it a little easier for them both and building on what he already knows.

I respect the space of all horses in stalls. It's their safe place and I want it to stay that way. I don't punish them by tying them in the stall. I don't give shots, vet them, pick at them, play with them, none of the stuff we humans think of while they are trapped in a small space with no way out. When I clean their stalls I try to maintain a friendly, business like attitude, and get out. I'm the same when I feed. I expect the horse to be quiet, get out of my way, no aggressive anything, no bumping me, and no pawing or banging the stalls at feed time, or ever, for that matter. It's my job to feed, clean, and respect their space, and theirs to give me mine. 

Don't get me wrong, I talk to them like we're doing coffee at Village Inn, but the rules stay the same.

When the head shy horse accepts the halter without fear it's going to be an enormous step forward in their working relationship. It will show up in every future step they take together. 

If you're wondering about friendship between them, well, that will come later, all she has to do is wait.

P.S. Back to the blue Corriente next time...

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Blue Corriente

I settled into my new life as the reporter, columnist, and cartoonist for a small town newspaper. It was a bit surreal, dressing for work, leaving my dogs home, and boarding my horses. 

The job was interesting, the people I wrote about were fun and tickled to be featured, and my writing skills took a satisfying leap forward. 

I didn't miss the job of horse training, but I missed the time in the saddle something fierce, and the cows, I ached to work cows. Lucky for me, I found a boarding stable a few blocks from the office, run by Jay, roper/rancher/boarder who knew his way around a horse. 

We got along fine, he honored my request not to tell boarders about my training background, and I began to enjoy getting on my horses and just, you know, riding. One afternoon, Jay asked me to help him sort a lame steer out of his holding pen and soon after, told me I could work his cattle. 

I was in heaven. Did I care if they were Corriente roping steers? Not a whit. I was creative in how I used them anyway, I didn't want them ducking under a loop because I'd been taking them down the fence, and for the first time ever, I could just dink with them. So, I did. 

I trailed after them at a walk, played with the bubble (the air space between horse and cow), picked a random spot in the arena and made the steer stand quiet, ran them up the shoot for the ropers, and taught my horses how to wait patiently in the box. I even played with learning to rope,  ranch classes were beginning to take off and I thought I might give them a try. That didn't last long, I only had one thumb left, and the gnarled, twisted, and sometimes missing pieces of the ropers fingers made me nervous. It was the most fun I'd had in memory and both me and the horses were becoming pretty handy, you know, practical handy, not just show pen handy. Jay spent a lot of time watching me work. At first, I'm sure he was keeping an eye on his cattle, but eventually, he just seemed to enjoy it. 

One cool evening I turned my horses out in the arena and kept an idle eye on them while they rolled. Clouds of hair and sand came off them when they stood and shook. Jay came up next to me and handed me a beer. I rolled it across the back of my sunburned neck and felt like I was back where I belonged.

"I wondered if you'd work a cow for me," he said.

"Sure, what do you need?" I was puzzled, Jay could work his cattle anyway he needed.

"There's a blue heifer in the pen. She runs crooked right out of the gate," he said. 

"I'm guessing you hazed her pretty hard?" I said.

"Well, that's the tricky part. She'll hook you if you crowd her and she'll turn right into a horse when she feels a loop. "

Now I'd like to think Jay would have shared this tidbit before I started pushing her around, but you never know what some of these old cowboys consider funny. Corrientes are small, quick, and horned. An aggressive one would normally be a quick cull at a roping arena. "Jay, just what are you setting me up for?"  

"Ah, nothing, she's just a real looker and I want to turn her out at the ranch. If she's nuts she isn't going to do me any good, and if she's mean, even less. I thought you could do some of your cowhorse stuff on her and get her moving off a horse instead of into them."

"OK then," I said, "tomorrow after work?"

I saddled Madonna and long-trotted along the rail on a loose rein. She knew we were working cattle as soon as I slid the hackamore over her nose and was focused and cheerful, a place she only frequented when there were cattle. She was going well in the two-rein, but the hackamore kept us honest. A bridle made it too easy for me to correct instead of ride and gave Madonna something to fret over instead of pay attention. 

She was justified in her worry because she fed off mine. I was getting used to the new drug cocktail my neurologist has concocted and had lost trust in riding with a steady hand. The entire purpose of a horse straight up in the bridle was perfect communication between hand and horse. If my mare couldn't trust me we were never going to get there. 

The blue heifer was easy to spot in the pen filled with black, brown, and speckled steers. She was a beautiful blue roan color, doe-eyed and dainty. I could see why Jay wanted her to work. She was huddled in hock-deep mud with about four or five dull, used-up steers. A sour steer might be the dullest, slowest, pile of hamburger a person ever met. She watched our approach, bright and alert.

Madonna was beginning to fuss. She didn't like mud, she hated pools of pee in mud, and she knew we were going to jump a rusted bunk feeder to get to our target. In situations like this, it helped to be mounted on a horse bred to face and follow the things that spooked her most. As soon as she knew which cow we were after she hopped the jagged-edged feeder without a second spook. 

I rolled my shoulders until they cracked and sat back. I can curl over my horn like a circus monkey when I'm nerved up and I did not want to come over a shoulder in that muck and face plant in front of a stabby little heifer. 

We shoved between two sullen steers, and when they didn't get out of our way Madonna pinned her ears and bit first one then the other, hard enough to make them scatter. She snorted, I looked up to focus on our cow and she was gone. It took me a minute to find her, tucked behind the barn wall, a good fifty yards off.

"Dammit Madonna, keep your eye on the ball," I said. Her ear flick told me she was about to say the same to me. 

This was going to be a long afternoon.

***Mugs here: I'm thinking of switching over to WIX. I can't comment on the comments here at blogger and am about to lose my email notification abilities. Any thoughts? I've been out of the game too long.

***I tried to make it easier to comment...did it work?

Sunday, May 16, 2021

House Breaking


Technically, I'm having a tough time housebreaking my puppy POTUS, and it doesn't help that he is so freaking enormous, I forget he is a baby. He's five months old and doesn't have the nighttime routine down yet. Today, I found out why.

At five am, I opened the door to let the dogs out. Paladin, the Sarplaninac was first out the door. The pup trotted out with her and sniffed the ground. Good start to the morning and it made me hopeful. Then Paladin lifted her head, sniffed the incoming breeze and a low growl rumbled from deep in her chest.  POTUS darted back inside and sat next to me. He didn't pee in the 40 seconds he was out.

I took him upstairs and opened the kitchen door. Brockle trotted outside and sniffed the air to the southeast, the puppy followed and did the same. Then, Brockle moved to the fence and began to bark. POTUS flew back and sat behind my legs. I grabbed my jacket and coaxed him outside. He came with me, but he cried and leaned against my legs, he wanted me back inside.

My two older dogs have taught him well. There were predators nearby, they had work to do, and the puppy was not invited. He listened to them without question and didn't pee outside because the big dogs told him to stay on the porch. I wish I trained as well as they do.

Previous me might have made assumptions about this pup. The first would be wondering if he may be timid. The second might be that POTUS is going to be difficult to housebreak. Go back to the waaaay previous me and I might have taken this as deliberate disobedience. Lucky for both of us, I know he is not timid. He is aware of his environment. He gages both my and the big dogs' reactions before making most decisions, well, except for stealing my slippers, those he just grabs and runs.

If I forced him outside or was angry while mopping yet again, I would be in direct contradiction with the big dogs. Their logic is sound, the puppy is not old enough to encounter coyotes. I wonder if this type of contradiction could plant the seeds of fear aggression. 

There are a lot of solutions out there. There are charts and crates and alarms and leashes to tie them to my waist. I'm certainly not criticizing any specific method. Current me has become more of an observer and thinker before acting kind of woman. POTUS is bright, sensitive, and already developing quite the vocabulary. He understands where I want him to poop and more than happy to oblige until he is forbidden to evacuate anything but the immediate area because the big dogs are on alert. 

My solution is this - I'm moving the final feed of the day back two hours. This will push poop time back to bright daylight, and fewer coyotes. Also, if the dogs are working, I'll leash him and go for a short, calm, walk away from the action until he poops. 

I'd like to think this is the solution, unfortunately, there is a small glitch in my system. Brockle and Paladin are complete jerks. Any given quiet, boring day, they will position themselves strategically so neither POTUS, nor the little dogs can go outside without passing them. Then, they take a nap, because they made a rule where nobody can go out until they decide to let them. This normally doesn't happen until there is at least one good dump in the house from somebody and I get to bring out the mop.

"Move," is a command all my dogs understand and comply to. I use it often. If I catch on to what they are doing, I can holler the name of the culprit, then "Move!" and the troublemaker will move aside. Because of this, no rotten dogs have been whacked with a mop in my process of sorting this out. I'm pretty sure this is not truly my big dogs being punks, but an instinctive positioning to guard us while they sleep. I prefer to humanize them and consider them dirty, rotten scoundrels messing with the weaker members of the scrum.

The dogs being blocked have learned to rat out those doing the blocking. They will bark until they have my attention and I fix the situation, although, on snowy winter days, everybody stays quiet, and my mop time triples. I'm pretty sure the scrum then morphs into a cabal, the dogs unite, and devise a plot to poop in the basement en masse. Then, they blame the current government.

Damn dogs.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Conversations On the Fence

 Boy oh boy, have I been through it the last eight, nine, ten years? Has it been that long since I wandered off the blog?

I am not the same Mugs who left here. Life has educated me in many ways that I wasn't prepared for. 

I'm quieter. I think, observe, mull, dwell, and absorb the chaos that swirls around me. Then, I spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to meditate. I'm too twitchy, my mind jumps from here to there and does not want to focus on an inner light, thank you very much. I can't escape the appeal of a deep interior quiet though, so I keep trying.

If any of you old-timers join back up with this particular posse, I'm not sure you'll agree with my turn of thought. I am still horsaii to my bones. If I didn't have my dogs, well, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be. The last few years I've been both making peace and searching for it. Ironically, I have cut some long-term ties I thought were forever, sometimes, with a sudden sharpness I never knew I carried. So, the conversation could be interesting and I hope a few of you join in.

The one thing I know, an unshakable fact, is that I am myself here on the Chronicles. Maybe a little writing will help my current search for who the hell I actually am.

Long ago, I hid from the readers of this blog the fact I had one arm. I didn't want it to become a focal point around my horsemanship. Now I don't give a shit. I've survived too much to think it matters. 

I have Parkinson's Disease too and was recently diagnosed as living a lifetime of clinical depression AND plunked down about three-quarters of the way around the spectrum. 

There, the worst is out of the way. I talk about it now because I realize how intrinsic all these things are to my life with horses. Since this blog was always about living with horses, to hide any of it is kind of a lie, and I'm not willing to go there.

And here is a story:

"Stop asking your horse what it thinks when you're on the fence."

I can't say the Big K was shouting, but I could have heard him just as well from the other side of the arena. "We could have stepped into that turn a little earlier," I said.

"You missed a plus half at least," he said.

"It was a good turn," I said.

"It could have been a great one, but you have to pick the perfect moment and tell that mare to turn. You can't go into a huddle and talk about it. Your horse doesn't understand a score sheet, she's just going to pick the softest route every time."

"Mmmm, you mean like a real cowhorse? I lost points because she set up that turn the way she did?"

"You lost points because you didn't set up the turn, she did."

"But she had a valid point," I said.

The Big K didn't think I was funny. The little group of eavesdroppers sure did though. He muttered something about needing a beer and stomped off.

"So Madonna, do we want to follow him and buy him that beer? Nah, me either." I stepped down loosened her cinch and led her back to the stalls. We were out of the money that day, by half a point.