Sunday, April 21, 2024

Getting On

 I have yet to fully SIT on her but have had a few sessions to see how she reacts and get her adjusted.

The vids are chronological.

The last is very long but this is how I am doing it. To edit it shorter would take away from the essence of what is happening. I am trying to be aware of her movement and reactions and don't want to push her beyond tolerance. Especially since I am alone (I know, I know - everyone says don't do this alone... and yes "stuff" can always happen but I am reading her as really not caring much at all...).

Goofy Stuff

 The first video is old, but... I found it funny that she mostly licks with the underside of her tongue.

The second is from a few days ago when I had her grazing in the yard. I was on the side and heard hooves in the garage. I guess she had found it an interesting place. Again, thought it was kind of funny.

The large palm frond in the last video fell from one of my trees in the last storm. She was the one who first picked it up and chewed it but by the time I got my phone out to document she was somewhat bored. The end is good though.

Bill and Ethel the Donkeys; Kai's Athletic Disapproval

It's my opinion that Kai really does not like Bill the Donkey (aka "Billdo") sexing after his aging girlfriend Ethel. And she shows off her disapproval through her athleticism.



I have still been working slowly with the mustang... a work project made it impossible to keep up (though six weeks is a long time!).. We attended a casual obstacles session at the Pine Ridge Equestrian Center. As expected, she is fearless and curious. Here are a few videos. No probs at all with the pool noodles.  On a "tunnel" obstacle she bit one of the tarps and slid it off (not the purpose of the obstacle), and the tire was perfect to start, but that was a fluke. After that she just stumbled over it. ...She licked the mailbox.... (typical).

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Putting Simple Concepts to Use - My Personal Beliefs - and More at the Construction Site

What we do now is not necessarily a forever thing. Like all things in horsemanship, the answer to many questions are: it depends..... 

So we are doing a bunch of things that may (or will) change over time. She is learning a lot right now and my main goal is building confidence and trust. Once we have what I feel is enough of that, some of my work with her will change. 

Little "tricks" I learned from somewhere and now regularly use:

Matching Steps: when walking, keeping in rhythm with her; matching steps - synchronicity in the movement, I feel, can only help in being connected.

Rhythm: I often wave the flag back and forth gently, like a metronome, when we walk. It reinforces my personal space... but horses do well with rhythmic intention in all things.

Smelling poop: she is allowed to smell poop on the trail anywhere, anytime. For now. I am quite sure it has helped her feel secure and confident, to know not only that there are horses around, but that whatever information she is gathering for from the poop, gives her a better idea of where she is and who is around. She is allowed to be a horse. We are not in a hurry. All is relaxed and good.

Backing: periodic backing her up as a basic safety measure and reinforcement of my personal space. Never a bad idea. I try to use this in a lighthearted way. And actually, attitude should be its own category. A light attitude can be sensed by the horse, and if you can throw in a ready-for-a-laugh, humorous position, even better.

Flagging rather than yanking, or bumping the halter when eating grass. I can't always do this -  so I do end up bumping with the halter, but I am looking for the best way to make "moving on" her idea rather then mine.

Consistently using particular words: most commonly (and she knows it very well already), "ready?" when changing anything, but also "touch" or "touch it" when inviting her to be curious, "graze" and pointing to the ground when I am going to allow a grazing session, "no" (usually said in low tone and drawn-out in anticipation that she will get it - and to try again... like "no-o-o-o-o...?", and "OK" (for so many things - much like "ready", generally indicates a change of some sort. 

X's and O's in your body language: when you think about it, it makes sense... an "O" shape is softer and more friendly than an "X". I am thinking (or try to) about what message I am sending my horse all the time. If I feel she's missing a point or needs redirection I will adopt a more "X" feel. When she's soft, I am soft (and vice versa hopefully), and I am using more of an "O" shape to my body. Standing tall with both arms out is an "X" and when energy is brought up it will push her away. When I shrink down, connect my arms and create an "O" shape it is more inviting.

THE MOUTH: I am sure I wrote about this in a previous post, but in my experience the mouth is the biggest source of sensory input (under "normal" circumstances). I am constantly "reassuring" her with lip touches from my hand (at least reassurance is what it feels like). 

I do allow feeding treats from the hand, but I believe this is a many-layered option. Some horses it seems, can not be fed by hand (in my opinion it may be possible but they will need additional training). Like Zante my previous mare, Kai relishes the treats but I am mindful of how I give them. And like Zante, Kai has now learned that she gets the treat when I say "away" and raise my flat palm up to her face. She has to turn her head the other direction. We are working on making the duration of the head "away" longer than a few seconds. 

Horse skulls are really big, and really hard. You don't want one swinging into your face when they are expecting a treat (or any time)! Just as with feeding itself, we constantly work on manners; she has to wait for her grain and for her treats. Feeding has become very easy and she is not the least bit pushy, which she was initially.

Also - I love my friend's comment years ago, "I'm just a Pez Dispenser"...! Ha ha...!  Maybe we've all been guilty of this at times. 

When, why and how you give treats is worth being mindful about. But don't punish yourself (your horse may end up doing that for you)!

Additionally I stick my fingers in her mouth, a lot... for various reasons. I have found it helpful for interrupting a thought process - kind of get them to think. Kai was on a rampage in the yard yesterday when my neighbors' horses both left for a ride. She tore around, galloping and bucking for a number of minutes. I came out and wanted to help her feel that she is not alone. After another few minutes of me playing with her (trying to turn her frenzy into a "fun" session, essentially) she was calm and when I felt I should, I had my fingers in and out of her mouth, which then further calmed her. To top it off I used some Jim Masterson methods. She went back to grazing. Also, just letting the horse know you CAN put your fingers in their mouth... makes things like medicines, worming, etc. just that much easier. 

Be sure to be careful and know where the gums vs. teeth are!

So... back at the construction site across the street: 

She is basically so chill: we are both generally relaxed while walking. I did catch her in the second video below of having a little alert reaction to something. I thought I'd include this to show she IS actually a horse and not a unicorn.

Anyway most of these just show how mouth-oriented she is. She bites and/or eats practically everything. 

So far no actual ingestion of cellophane wrap.

If you made it this far in this very verbose post, thanks for watching and reading!

Monday, March 4, 2024

The Obstacle Arena Across the Street

Here in Pine Ridge (FL) the new-house-building is a bit insane. The formerly-empty lot across the street was purchased and is now under rapid construction. I'm so sad to lose even more of my park-like-setting here, but it has provided another opportunity with Kai! 

So yes, we have trespassed a number of times 👀 

The main thing I garnered from her original adoption video was that I believed she was more curious than afraid; this has proven to be true. 

The first weird thing that arrived was this plastic "cage" protecting a drainage/town water thing. After it arrived she spent more time in the smaller paddock looking across and essentially "asking" to go check it out, so we did. As you can see it is black, shaped weird, and ripples in the wind: potentially quite scary.

In the next few days we walked all around. Her take-it-all-in demeanor is awesome. I reassure her with lip touches.

As usual I had to discourage her from actually eating things. This time it was the concrete mix.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

More Walks; More Amusement

We walked to the Equestrian Center (EC) yesterday.. Took mostly road and one segment on the horse trail. No Tori. She is really improving nicely with not eating grass and not having to chat with other horses. 

All went great. But not without incident. Expect the unexpected! We had just gotten on the horse trail from the road and the last segment of the walk before we hit the EC.

We were passing by a 10-foot-high or so grove of Palmetto. Suddenly - and fluidly - Kai heads herself into it. This is a tiny bit odd maybe, but at home, with the large palmettos in her big paddock, if she wants to get from point A to point B and palmettos are in the path, she plows right through the center. Yeah, this is kinda weird but I'm used to it.

So she continues walking with me, parallel to the path but three feet deep into the palmettos. At this point of course: “where is my camera!” But as usual I am late.

Then she stops, backs up... looks like she's going to sit down!...  and Ah ha!… she is … scratching herself?? .. By now I've got the phone out but of course she comes towards me finished (and seeming pleased with herself). 

So I thought I would give her another chance… I walk in the reverse direction to see if she will perform the same "scratching technique". However instead of going parallel now she goes perpendicular ...and right INTO the grove!

Lost the lead line; lost the video. The grove is thick and tall, and I could not follow her. A possible panic for many people (no line on her...) but I I was pretty certain she’d come right back. I kissed, and out she comes, calmly walking up to me. 

So what you see in the video is this- and apologies for the crappy recording but I did not expect this!

And just as a review...  a screenshot from the video for emphasis!

Back on the trail... we arrive at the EC. I’m not allowing her to eat any grass. She is being super. We pass two paddocks with two horses each in them (and they are very interested in us)... we stop and look from a distance of 40-50 feet. Resuming the sandy trail walk to the round pan.... she decides she’s going to have a roll. 
Here? Now?? Yes.

I love this horse!

We did some actual "work" in the round pen - yielding hindquarters, some "lunging" at liberty... she still gets sticky at times; seems to decide somewhat randomly when she will travel happily one direction vs. another. I try and make it a game - interspersing "fun" (hard to explain... and sometimes I think she thinks I am nuts, but the idea is to not take everything too seriously, allow her to be  the horse she is, and sure reward every try). 

As in my last post, I have had periods of anxiety over whether I am doing right by her. 
I have to admit that actually it has been a fantastic experience so far. I often don't communicate as many positives as I feel. It is really so fun and gratifying!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 26, 2024

Questions, Self-Doubt, and the Inevitable (not-easy) Answers.

 The adopting-a-wild-mustang thing might be something best left to professionals or "naturals". 

So many questions and doubts along the way. Especially when you know that what you do (or don't do) now will likely influence her forever.

The main thing I want to put forward here, though, is that the answer to nearly every situation I encounter is "it depends"....!

Most people who know me know that I didn't grow up around horses and really only started my horse "thing" at age 41, after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 37 and during an interval of good health, taking a dude ranch vacation in Wyoming.

So, I have been a student since then.

As with domestic horses (or child, or any being in your care), when they are yours, their distress is your distress. Galloping around the paddocks with nose outward like she’s going to jump….  (=largely distress)! She was doing this for the first 7 to 9 days.  ....I wasn't sure if I should interrupt the behavior... get her attention to try and soothe her... or, does she just need to “learn” to be here, and alone? (Note: some of the running was pure joy IMHO, after being "captive" in a small training pen for the previous 3 1/2 months).

I can usually come to a conclusion for most of my questions like this…. But documenting them will keep me reminded that this is so not a simple or straightforward journey.

Without dragging her around by her face, what is the best way to discourage her from eating grass when I am trying to walk her - or do anything - on the grass?  

The constant face-bump with the rope halter seems quite annoying to me, and is not all that effective (so far anyway). So, is this a matter of John Lyons’ “it takes 1000 times of doing something before creating a pattern” (not a verbatim quote): do I just stick with it until she knows I will not waver? 

Unfortunately then, I am screwing it up because I do want to reward her with grazing after we successfully completed a big walk. Using a flag behind her or a stick, which usually she’s quite sensitive to, does not faze her if she’s managed to get the grass, even though in the round pen it is generally very effective.

For now I am taking the approach: at this time, under no circumstance, can she graze while we are walking. The problem with this is that it is nearly impossible, as long as Tori (my dog) is along, since periodically I need to remove sharp sand burrs from her paws or get her back with us when she goes squirrel-hunting. Answer: don’t bring Tori. …OK, not my fave answer! Tori helps with the overall feel of fun and pleasure and confidence and safety during the walks. Her value on the walks is great. 

However... it may be best to not include her.

How do I get her attention or work on feet when I do not have a round pen or suitable arena without the distraction of grass?

How bad is it that she does not have someone to share a paddock with? 

How bad is it that she doesn’t have an equine friend to touch noses with? 

How close should you get when you are leading your horse near other (fenced in) horses?

How do I “respect her opinion“ when what she wants is not in the plan or recommended? 

Two main things are showing up: eating grass as mentioned, and her asking (quite firmly) to go back to visit with horses (pseudo-)met along the way…. she showed me her obvious desire to go back to spend time near some horses that live next to the horse trail. It was a challenge to get her to go in my direction… Pulling on her face, flagging her, even touching her rump, did not result in much. She would move forward 2 to 4 steps and stop again, looking longingly in the direction of those horses. Should I indulge this? I had the time and could have actually gone back although it was about a quarter mile behind us. What would the result of that be? Would it be helpful? Would it make things worse?

This is a learn-as-you-go-game. I am of the mind that each horse and each situation is its own unique thing. She is doing very well with what I am doing thus far. It is tempting to think I am "on it" and know what I am doing. But I don't. I just know that if a situation comes up where I really don't have a tool or skill, the first step is stay calm... and as Mark Rashid would, employ miso no kokoro... in Japanese, "mind like still water".

More than anything I take the route that my brain and heart have more influence on her than any technical skill or task I might employ. 

I am listening to an audiobook by John Saint Ryan (A Voice For the Horse), much of which clarifies Tom Dorrance's concepts in True Unity.  Dorrance is the master of them all, but I found this book to be extremely difficult to decipher. Saint Ryan's discussion and stories are giving me insight.

Pic for interest :-)

I thank my personal or online trainers who have most influenced me in this heart-centered, softness-seeking journey: Terry Church, Anne and Stephen Duchac, Mark Rashid, Bruno Gonzales and Karen Rohlf.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Off-Property walk #7

Our biggest walk yet - around the block (partly through the woods which we had done before). This included much more road-walking, and we stopped at the neighbors', whose horses are the ones Kai can see about 50 feet from her paddock's back corner shown here:

Kiki is a 24 yo quarter horse who is (frequently) in season, and looking to Kai for romance!
Kai was appropriate in her response: tolerating only so much until she had to tell Kiki to back off a bit!

Kiki and Sassy

Some of the road walking:
would like to get her back at a safer distance, though she has been compliant all along, never rushing forward or ahead of me, or past my space, and stopping right when I do. Still, with her lack of experience I would like her at this stage to remain 100% behind me by about four feet. (Working on it....!!)

Overall for her experience, it is amazing how okay she is with everything. A very loud sports car starting up, heavy equipment across the street (lots of building happening here in Pine Ridge), dogs coming at us, etc.

Today we will either load up and go to the Equestrian Center (a mile away) to play in the obstacle arena or round pen or jumping arena, or, I will take her for a longer walk, our first on the actual horse trails! Tori would much prefer this option since at the EC she will have to be tied and on leash (anyone that knows me knows she's rarely on leash... 😯).

When we got home I rewarded Kai with a little grazing session. My grass is pathetic... but weeds are good...!

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Video Catchup : Kai's Mouth

 These were taken during a meeting with Kai at Kelby's with no real work happening. I just wanted to catch up on simply being with each other.

Lots of people are wary or warn not to play with a horse's mouth, with fears or beliefs that they become more mouthy and can bite (same for giving treats). I don't. I believe that it is a source of comfort and curiosity for them. 

I let Kai feel each finger; I rub her gums between her teeth and cheek; I play with the area where there are no teeth (the bar). She feels good when we do this. I used to do it with Zante and I swear it helped our relationship immensely. You DO have to be a bit careful. Just pay attention! And enjoy it; it's fun.

I also let her smell anything new. This day I didn't have anything except my cell phone. Makes for a not-award-winning video.

Kai Home and Meeting the Donks

 Bill and Ethel the donkeys live behind us. Bill (the "paint") was not into meeting Kai initially.

Ethel (brown) is pretty blind so does not have the same reactivity. This is just a silly clip. Love Bill's ears. And Kai's body language.

Too Much to Write, But I'll Try

The previous post (Feb 13) is the first in a long while. Lots to catch up on.

Kelby the trainer was in a vehicle accident the day after she got her new mustang (she was accepted into the 2024 Makeover), from TN by way of GA. She will be OK but has a good long recovery. 

So - Kai is back here.

I have tried to edit the various videos I've taken into short connected clips and I am useless thus far, so I'm uploading some screenshots from the videos and added below.

The following is what I wrote Saturday:

Saturday February 10, 2024

It’s a beautiful spring morning; cardinals are singing (a classic sound I know so well from living in MA) and crows are calling. The sun is slowly making its way higher into the sky, and temps are cool but mild and pleasant.

I am taking a breath ...and a moment just pay attention, quietly.

The last week flew by. 

Kai stayed at the trainers for a few days after Kelby the trainer was in an accident, broke a vertebrae in her neck and needed to get the training horses out. 

Picked Kai up yesterday, Friday, and then stopped at Sumter Equestrian Center next door to have her hooves trimmed under sedation… (not ideal, and not what I would prefer but fronts needed doing, and this takes pressure off me to complete the challenge of the feet before they get TOO long; she still is not giving all four happily and consistently).

Kai's return home could not be without some drama although the trimming, the sedation, the trailering home, the delivery, etc. all went well. 

She was eating everything in sight and this had me a little concerned, but there really wasn't a lot I could do about it right now. Mostly she seemed content enough to be here.

After a few hours hanging with her in various parts of the yard I decided  she was fine and I’d go inside and take a break. 60 seconds later as I was just out of sight, Catherine my neighbor started screaming at me from her (abutting) back yard, shouting that Kai is stuck. I chuckled, and visualized her in the midst of a bunch of vines because that’s where she had been eating (virtually everything). I was already somewhat worried about her getting colic from eating weird things, but that wasn’t the concern for now.

It turned out she had stuck herself between two trees, literally… and could not free herself. 

You can’t make it up.

It appeared to me that she got lodged at the soft point between two protrusions or tubercles of her (primarily) left femur. The right side was similarly lodged but it was more obvious on the left. It seemed like three hours, but it was just a little over a very intense 80 minutes or so that it took us to collectively get her free, and it was 5 pm..... dark is not all that far off. We tried everything… including Jeff, Catherine’s husband, using a ladder to climb above the horse and lodge himself between the trees in an attempt to get them to split enough for her to squish out. I knew this wasn’t going to work; she was between two 12-14-inch diameter, 80-90-foot-tall longleaf pines. They bend in the wind at about 60 feet up, but not down here at 3-5 feet off the ground. 

This is a situation where any horse person would recognize the potential panic it could cause for Kai: a human (the ladder was bad enough…) looming rather unsteadily above her back end… where lions and cougars attack.  

There ended up five of us; also difficult, because typically mustangs as wild horses are not fond of multiple people surrounding them at once, and Kai is generally used to dealing with only one human at a time.

We discussed using a chain saw but debated the noise and proximity to her hind legs…. Jeff volunteered trying to use his larger electric saw….. and IT WORKED!  Some careful planning of where to cut a wedge, and having Catherine, John and Tracy (my other neighbors) pulling the rope to get that tall tree to land without hitting her.

My only regret is that I was so ensconced in the situation I only took this one photo, and it just does not come close to describe what we had going on!

Once the tree fell, the funniest was how she just walked out slowly, casually, calmly... went about six feet before putting her nose down to eat some palmetto!

And as a note: she was AMAZING through all this. I cannot tell you how stuck she was. Periodically she made efforts to free her self, pushing forward or backward, ending in frustration. She seemed like she consciously stifled her panic... knowing it would not help. It was heartwarming when I consoled her and I swear she understood, at the very least, that we were trying to help (in pic above she had probably just tried to squeeze through or backward, because the lead line is nearly taut, which it was not ever, unless she showed she wanted to try).

She was so stuck, and Catherine and Jeff (much more horse experience than me) confessed later that they were fearing she'd break a leg and/or we'd have a put-to-sleep situation.

And, even with their experience, neither of them had ever seen this happen.

Sigh... apparently she was not injured.

Last night at 1;30 AM, I heard the sound of logs rolling… (I was thinking that the cut-down tree and resulting logs were tumbling down the hill even though we had moved them between any and all trees with the potential for this to happen again). Taco, Tori and I all startled and jumped out of bed. Approaching the back lanai, I realized it was Kai galloping across the back paddock (and there are a lot of trees back there... yikes! Eye injuries! Tripping on stumps or branches! Crashing into the fence! So many ugly possibilities...)!

But as can often be with horses (and myself being alone and in the dark) what really am I going to do...?

I tried to determine if it was out of panic - or possibly joy.  

Hoped for the latter.

Nothing eventful came of that and I am so thankful. 

She is still (now writing this Wed 2/14) periodically galloping "victory laps" across the paddock.... It has me worried (like, quite worried... and probably the subject of the next post), but, at least she feels good.

Also have not photographed the tree debris..... this is some of it.

So that is the update. Next post I will throw in some more silly stuff. Thanks for reading!