31 May 2011

Those Mini Donks...

and one billy goat really got Ziggy's attention a few weeks ago.

In fact, he ran off. Which is kind of surprising for him, as Ziggy is not a spooky horse. He's been around the block (and around and around) a few times and knows a lot about things. But the abandoned house in our neighborhood was badly overgrown and our home owners association decided to plop a few grazers onto the property to help out with the mowing. When the two mini's appeared virtually out of no where, followed by one itchy billy, well, it was just too much for Ziggy and off he went. The nice thing about this horse is that he always keeps the rider in "the sweet spot", that place in the saddle that no matter what the horse does, you don't feel like you'll come off. He didn't go far, just enough that he could turn around and look real hard without feeling threatened.

Still, I was surprised and knew I needed to fix that little spot in him.

So this morning I saddled up and headed out and about. My plan was to pass those two mini donks and the itchy billy as many times as I needed to get Zig used to them.

The abandoned property is situated on a corner. One side is flanked by a quiet neighborhood street and the other side by a well traveled county road that adjoins the subdivision. There's a 50 foot wide easement between the pasture fence where the critters live and the busy road. The easement is divided by a ditch that runs through the center, so the land slopes, forming a "V" shape, which keeps the horses on their toes and thinking about where they put their feet. A spooking horse in this situation doesn't lend itself to safety and there's another problem...

We live out past anywhere. We are surrounded by cattle ranches, state forest land, and farmers. The people that travel the county road have places to go and things to do - in other words, they don't go slowly and they fully expect a horseman riding along the road to be proficient at handling their animal. They wave, they honk, they speed - slowing down never enters their mind. So when Zig spooked at the donks and goat, he took me into the road and oncoming traffic. I didn't care much for a repeat of that.

Pass number one had the three critters grazing along the county road. This gave Zig plenty of time to eyeball them and make a decision about his response. As we drew nearer, he got quite upset, so I gave him some things to think about. A myriad of chores and duties took his mind off the three who were running to greet us and onto something more pressing - ME! I kept him busy until he was fully rational and ready to investigate. I find this to be a much better option than hoping for the best. When I assign chores and duties the horses understand that they are important, they need to pay attention and best of all, they wrap the horse's mind and emotions around my wishes and cause their feet to move in speeds and directions that I determine. Hence, Ziggy calmed right down. He realized that the two minis and the goat stood very still while he did his chores. They were there waiting patiently for him to acknowledge them - the friendly little buggers - with their little noses pressed through the hog wire.

Ziggy took several tentative steps towards the sniffers and smelled the air they blew at him. He raised his head sharply and let out one of those bugle snorts horses are so fond of. I was busy watching the traffic and gauging Ziggy's response. The reins were just loose enough that if I needed them, I wouldn't have to make a big adjustment should he decide to leave. He didn't. Instead, he powered up his big horse brain and stayed close to his new friends. I was pretty happy with this.

We moved on down the fence line with the three in close pursuit. The billy was so itchy that he pressed his body up against the hog wire while he walked. The sound of the fence straining and popping put Zig back into is silly brain, so I gave him more chores. When the fence sounds continued and Zig realized that the sound didn't hurt, he settled right down. At which point I stopped the chores. The remainder of the fence line down county road was without incident - with one small exception. The youngest mini donk called after us in desperation. I guess he really enjoyed our company.

Pass number two occurred two miles later - it takes that long to get around the loop. Zig was calm and relaxed and he perked right up when he saw his friends trotting over to see him. The excitement of being visited twice in one day was too much for the billy and he jumped up on the hog wire and hooked his feet. In the panic that ensued, I thought Zig would come unglued again. Instead, he started grazing, leaving the goat stupidity for me to fix. I got off and rectified the billy; he took the initiative to invite me to scratch him. He really is a cutie, just not all that smart! And while I was down, all three got a good dose of fingernails before I mounted and headed home.

No need of pass number three, but tomorrow I'll reverse direction and see what happens in the other eye...

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