31 August 2013

Farm Dog Smarts

I have this dog. Jute.

She's different than any dog I have ever had.

Smart in ways that make me wonder.....

An example:
The horses gather at the gate to wait for whatever is going to happen; could be food, could be trimming, could be a cool rinse off. They stand there and sometimes get anxious because I'm taking too long or they don't like that it's not their turn yet. Occasionally, Ziggy and/or Berlin will bang on the gate or put a foot on it. To which I do not respond. Any attention I give to something I don't want will cause a horse to do it more. Ignoring behavior I don't want will cause a horse to stop that behavior, or at least stop them from associating what they are doing with something I might do.

When I go to the gate where the horses are all gathered about, I expect them to move away, so I can open it. Sometimes they would rather reach for me to be rubbed, than back up and allow me to swing the gate in. Sometimes I rub those overhanging heads, but not often. A rub at the gate, teaches them not to move when I arrive. If they don't move, then I have to back them up, and because they're all bunched up there, the ones closest to the gate have no place to go, so they have to back into the ones in the next row, who then must back into the ones in the third row. Looks a lot like a train wreck, all piled up.

Back to the dog.

Jute is always with me and she watches stuff. A few months ago, I noticed that when I go out to the barn and the horses start gathering at the gate, she lays down on the outside about five feet from the gate. She lays facing the horses. She doesn't do anything, she just lolls her tongue out and pants. If the horses hang their heads over the gate, she maintains her position. If they start shuffling around, she will stand at attention - no movement, no sound. If they settle, she lays down. If one of them reaches a hoof toward the gate, she's right there, but she waits. If they put their foot on the gate, silent and quick, Jute nips the pastern. When they put their foot down, she lays down again. If one of them presses their chest against the gate, Jute turns on her rabid-dog bark to back them off. When they stop pressing, she lays down.

Here we go with the smarts. Now she watches them and she watches me. If I head toward the paddock with a halter, or the feed cart, or the buckets and they are all gathered against the gate, she goes in and backs them off, one at a time until they are all standing about 10 feet away. She grins over her shoulder at me and then bobbles and wags her pleasure in her newfound horse trainer abilities.

It gets better. When I enter with a halter, she observes me and figures out which horse I intend to catch. Now most of you understand the difficulty of bringing the low horse in the herd through the ranks of the upper echelon, without the low horse becoming somewhat concerned about their safety. Walking through the gauntlet like that can be unnerving for the poor horse who always makes it their business to stay far away from the leaders. If Jute sees that I'm heading for Danny Boy, she dances and flitters about - getting herself all worked up. This is her big chance! I halter him and start walking toward "the big boys". Danny Boy is on high alert, wondering how he's going to make it through such a tight spot without some teeth or feet or body slamming. Danny Boy knows that he should not be going close to another herd member without their express permission. Danny Boy also knows that he must follow me. Jute dog to the rescue!

She gets busy clearing a broad path. She's figured out how wide that path needs to be for Danny Boy to feel comfortable. Several of my horses will challenge her about moving them, but she insists, sometimes causing quite the ruckus before the way is paved to her liking. Once the job is complete, she invites us through by leading the way with her tail-in-the-air happy trot.

Smart dog!

29 August 2013

Danny Boy - Part 7 - Changed My Mind....

He's packing away the groceries and I see good, solid, positive changes. He's mentally and emotionally raising the bar each day, so I have to rise to the challenge.


Last week during the ground work, Danny Boy was looking for more. So I changed my mind about riding him and I've been doing that ever since.

Here's an example:

After a ground work session mainly focused on teaching Danny Boy to move away from pressure, I climbed the panel to have him come pick me up. Once aboard, he moved us over to the round pen gate.

Perfect! He wanted out and so did I. But to do that, Danny Boy needed to help me open the gate. That required moving away from pressure. Ah! Mounted work on the very thing I just presented in the ground work session!

Total confusion. Here's why:

From Danny Boy's perspective, moving away from pressure is not a good thing. In fact, his propensity to lean into pressure probably saved his life. When those kids were pushing and prodding and climbing all over him, Danny Boy did not respond. (See earlier posts about the family of kids...) He kept his feet planted firmly when they leaned against his legs, he never went too fast when that long line of kids was sitting on his back, kicking and flailing about. He knew not to respond to all that pressure based activity.

Overcoming the confusion:

My job is to maintain Danny Boy's safety minded wisdom and add the concept that we want him to move away from pressure. His new owner can ride and she doesn't need him to take care of her like she is a child. She loves his kindness, but does not want to kick and then kick harder to cause him to believe that she is, in fact, asking for faster movement.

Back to the gate.

I spent 20 minutes teaching Danny Boy that it is okay to go when he feels me pressing slightly with both legs. I applied a small amount of rhythm from my mecate to assure him that I indeed wanted forward. He was so surprised! Repeatedly, I would press with my lower leg and Danny Boy would look back at me. I tapped my mecate against my leg and Danny Boy would swing his head to front and leap forward. The reins were looped loose so that he would not feel any pressure on his mouth, poll or neck when he went forward. Additionally, I didn't tell him how to go forward, I just asked for it. I accepted whatever he offered and at first his response was leaping.

It took another 20 minutes for Danny Boy to go briskly forward without leaping when I pressed gently. Then another 20 for Danny Boy to realize that I have two legs and when only one is pressing, he should move away from that leg going sideways and not forward.

Interesting concepts for Danny Boy to figure out. We indeed made it out of the round pen with Danny Boy assisting me with the gate. I was very happy with his progress and he was very happy with himself to learn this new concept....

20 August 2013

Danny Boy - Part 6 - Laundry List

By the middle of last week, I'd worked up a long laundry list of things I want to accomplish with Danny Boy.

Laundry List:
Fear issues
Introducing things and stuff on my terms, not his
Expanding the envelope
Equipment is necessary to do the job (if you haven't seen it before, that doesn't mean I'll harm you with it)
Pick me up on the fence (sure I'll mount from the ground, but only if I absolutely have to...)
Open gates from both sides
Start, Steer and Stop lightly, softly
Lead up you lazy beast (I can't stand a horse that drags back and won't walk right along with me)
Get yer feet wet (Basically, when I want to go in the pond, GO!)
Separate your front end from your back end
Go straight (yeah, that TOO!)

There's more, but I'll pick a few to talk about now...

Danny Boy wants to stay safely tucked inside his little envelope, all warm and cozy and familiar. His limited acceptance of gear needs some broader horizons. For instance, what if his owner's grandchild decides to fling a lead rope around and Danny Boy goes ballistic on the single tie because he doesn't like it when little-bitty two-leggers fling things about? That child wouldn't be safe. Lots of rope work this past weekend and now Danny Boy is much better about things flinging about.

Danny Boy will allow me to introduce new things, but he wants it introduced his way. On the first go round, I approach with matter of fact firmness, not too much, not too little. I don't push him over the fear edge, but it's my job and I get it done. Danny Boy prefers that I introduce new things as if I am afraid of them too. Not gonna happen that way. He's becoming less and less reactive to new introductions.

Danny Boy isn't used to me being above him. Seems kinda strange, doesn't it? I mean, when I ride him I'm above him; that isn't a problem, yet, when he sees me on top of the round pen panels, he gets pretty bent out of shape. It's a perspective issue. So I change his perspective. The first time I climbed up there he watched closely. I could tell this was new to him and when I got all the way up there and his eyes went all white around the edges, I knew he needed help in this department. He ran off, of course. He needed to get far enough away so he could focus better. I let the rope out as far as he needed, so he could size me up. He did that head bobbing thing horses do when they have difficulty focusing. Up, down, up, down. Then he just stared, all wide eyed and not blinking. I waited. When he seemed to get a hold of his thoughts, I gently asked him to come a step closer; which he did. I waited. Then I asked for another step and another. Soon, his head was next to my knees and I reached out to rub him. He sensed my hand coming at his head and flew back to the end of the rope again. No big deal. More time needed to focus. No rush. No hurry. More asking to come one step at a time. This time when he made it over to me and I reached to rub, he stood for it. He wasn't comfortable, but he tried. I rubbed, soft and smooth, just the way he likes it when I do it at ground level. He made the connection instantly and softened. He licked for many minutes and then leaned in for more.

By the end of the weekend, Danny Boy was rushing up to have his head, neck and back stroked. On Monday, he came right up to the fence for me to mount. He understood the exercise completely and really thought it was cool. The first time I got on from the top of the panel, I just sat and rubbed him all over. Then I climbed back on the panel and rubbed him from there. He sidled up closer and I returned to the saddle. More licking and a lot of yawning. I repeated this several times and then put him away. Made perfect sense to him!

Cool stuff, as Danny Boy learns about the items on my Laundry List. I'll be adding things daily....

17 August 2013

Danny Boy - Part 5 - Moving On


They are amazing creatures.

Danny Boy is proof.

He does not want to hold on to the past. As I trigger each memory, as each one unfolds and rises to the surface, Danny Boy chooses to press through. He doesn't shy away, he doesn't lock down or disappear, he faces his fears and then races toward the solutions that are his new life.

- - - - -

When we arrived home last Saturday, I didn't do much with Danny Boy, other than allow him time to graze and get comfortable in his new surroundings. On Sunday, I took Danny Boy out and started looking him over.

His body turned the pages of the story of his life. There was the chapter on starvation; I flipped my fingers over each protruding rib, each vertebra and hip bone. There were a few pages dedicated to his lack of stamina - weak muscles, tendons and ligaments. And then there was the section on his feet - paper thin walls, pared out soles, squared off toes. But the thing that made me hurry into the house for my camera, were the scars along the outer surface of three of Danny Boy's hooves.

Armed with my Nikon, I began a closer study.

Generally speaking, it takes 9 to 12 months for the hoof to grow from the coronary band to the ground. Each of these scars grew down from the coronary band. I can't know for sure, but it appears that  Danny Boy got caught in something, and judging by their shapes and depths, it was most likely barbed wire, somewhere between 7 and 10 months ago.

This led me to read deeper into the text of Danny Boy's body and here is what I found:

These scars are permanent and deep enough that my vet would use them as identifying marks on  Coggins paperwork. Again, I can't tell you what happened. All I know is that something happened. I have strong suspicions, based on Danny Boy's response to anything that moves too quickly around his head on his left side.

But here's the deal - - - Danny Boy does not want sympathy and he could care less about my empathy. Danny Boy is looking for solutions, because he does not want to hold onto the past. He wants to move forward and press toward a future filled with promise, healing and hope. Right now, he requires some help to overcome his mental, emotional and physical scars but once he gets that help he will fight to the finish to move onward.

So everyday, knowing the open book that is Danny Boy, I challenge him to conquer his fear. I use equipment that scares the hell out of him. I never use the equipment on him, but I do use it around him. And everyday Danny Boy responds by moving into the light, into the new promise. Everyday, he overcomes another part of his past. He leaps ahead, refusing to remember the old and relishing the new.

Because one thing is certain....

Danny Boy knows that in this new life no one is ever going to harm him again.

16 August 2013

Danny Boy - Part 4 - He's Been Beaten

It really doesn't come as any big surprise.

I mean, how can it?

The horse was with a man who drank himself out of the lives of every person he loved. The anguish of that horrible decision had to exert its way out somehow.

Maybe the horse understood that if the man beat him, then he wouldn't beat his wife and children.

- - - - -

That first Monday, I saddled Danny Boy and brought him over to the round pen. I already had all the usual stuff hanging on the bridle rack - a rope, stick and string, a flag, and my nice long purple longe whip. Once inside, I would use the equipment to check Danny Boy's state of mind.

But before the equipment, I always check to see how the horses feel about the round pen. Until I put them in, I don't know if they've ever been in one before. But they all have their own unique way of telling me.

Danny Boy walked right in without reservation. I waited while he looked around, nickered a sweet hello to the two neighbor horses who always come to observe and then nuzzled my hand. I turned him loose after checking the cinch and he walked off, poking the ground with his nose in exploration.

As Danny walked about, so did I. I paid him no mind while he was busy. I picked up deadfall until I couldn't find one more piece and then I gathered my longe whip and carried that around, swishing it about like a boy pretending he had a brand new fishing rod.

Danny Boy's investigation came to a swift halt. I had become much more important than mindless snuffling along the ground. With eyes bulging and muscles quivering, Danny Boy locked eyes on me.

Ah, I thought, too bad.

I stopped the movement and walked a direct line away from him, dragging the whip along behind me. When I reached the far side of the pen, I turned and leaned against the panel. And I waited for Danny Boy to resume his exploration.

He could not. His mind flew to the beatings he'd received and he acted them out right in front of me. I propped a foot on the lowest rung and draped my arms, knowing I'd have to wait. His behavior had nothing to do with me. Danny Boy needed to act this out on his own. The only thing was, I didn't know how long it would take. That timeframe would give me valuable information on how to proceed....

It lasted as long as it lasted. Honestly, I can't really say that I paid attention to how long, because I paid so much attention to how it felt. I struggled to keep my emotions locked deep; Danny didn't need any more negative energy flying about. He was producing plenty, all by himself.

Danny Boy flew about, whipping himself into a frenzy, avoiding any connection with me. And then he just stopped. Panting and drenched with sweat, he quivered. I observed, but did not move. The next bit had to come from him.

Hindquarters facing me, I couldn't see his face. He was running sweat off his belly and fetlocks; puddles in the dirt. Then the quivering stopped. He went back to normal skin movements, wiggling the flies off. He shook his mane and flopped his ears. Wonderful! And then he looked over his right shoulder at me. Rivulets of sweat ran off his chin, dripped in his eyes. He blinked and lifted his right front and landed it one step closer to me. All the better to watch me dead square and centered. I remained where I was, still, smiling, content, relaxed.

Danny Boy moved another step closer, then another. He licked; I watched his tongue flick down and touch his chin. Intent on my eyes now, he made steady progress over to me and stopped when his forehead touched my chest. And then he leaned. I wrapped my arms around him and rubbed.

We stayed that way for quite awhile.

15 August 2013

Danny Boy - Part 3 - Comin' Home

We were late.

Late getting up.

Late loading the truck.

Late getting there.

We were very late.

- - - - -

When we finally arrived, I handed over the loot and the the seller disappeared. She returned with a smile - it was good. We exchanged paperwork, Coggins for a Bill of Sale. Then we adjusted the ramp in the rutted driveway, hoping to make it solid. 

I gathered my rope halter and headed in the barn. She'd switched horses around, Danny Boy was in a different stall. I went in and moved to rub him, but he never gave me the chance. Danny Boy left his food to swing his head into the halter. She commented on that unusual behavior and I smiled when Mike looked over at me and crossed his arms. He'd seen it all before, a thousand times. One thousand and one wasn't any different. We both knew Danny Boy was ready to leave and I was his ticket out of there. I didn't feel this warranted explaining. 

Danny Boy had not trailered much and the ramp was a Boogie-M. I opened it wide and then settled in to allow Danny Boy a good look see. I wasn't going to rush him. Unfortunately, the seller did. She started poking and jabbing and pushing. I phrased my demand carefully.

"Back off!" Spoken with utmost love for the horse and loudness for the human and entirely without question regarding what I expected. 

She stopped.

I smiled and she stepped away.

We started over. "Do you need me to help?", she asked.

"No, I'm going to take my time with him, but thanks."

Danny Boy visibly relaxed.

I waited and he sniffed the ramp. He pawed it two seconds later and thirty seconds after that he stomped it with his left front. That got him a rub on his forehead.

I led him away and then right back. He followed me two footed onto the ramp and stopped. Another rub and another short bit of walking. She observed from the sidelines.

Back to the trailer and this time he went on. He didn't like it and I didn't ask him to stay. He backed out quietly for another rub. He was starting to look for those.

No walking this time, just back on. He felt easier, more confident. That rub thing again. He closed his eyes and really savored it. Licking, then yawning.

I asked him to back out, but he was content, out of the heat. I nodded to Mike and he went around and shook the butt bar. Danny Boy glanced back and wondered. Mike rubbed him and shook the bar again. No response. Mike plugged the pin and raised the ramp. Another look from Danny Boy, but mostly curiosity. We locked the rear double doors open for air flow on the interstate. Then I tied Danny Boy to the ring while he munched on the hay bag.

We three chatted briefly before the final close-up and when we were ready to go, I held the door and waited for Danny Boy to give me permission to close it. He eyeballed me, stuck his nose as far out of the trailer as he could and then swung his head to the center of the trailer and held it there.

Permission granted.

Danny Boy didn't move a muscle the entire way home.

14 August 2013

Danny Boy - Part 2 - Tryouts

It was late.

It was hot.

My client was exhausted.

And we still had one more horse to go....

- - - -

We went to Tampa early and the first horse was a bust. Sweet, but too rough gaited for a wounded lower back.

The second horse was all the way up in Ocala.

He was a bust, too. A really bad bust. Filthy language was lobbed our way when we refused the horse after seeing how badly deformed his mouth was. (Sigh... seriously lacking southern hospitality.)

The third horse got on The List. Up top - way up top - after he calmly stopped while my client was riding and the van skidded and then crashed into the truck on the road right beside the arena. Yay. At least I had one. I had reservations, he was green, but nothing a bit of training wouldn't cure.

Number four was, .....well... he was gorgeous, injured, brimming with personality, and WAAAAYYY too much horse. He was a lot of fun for the agent's exercise rider, though.

So the agent took us over to see horse number five.

The place was neat and tidy. All mowed and trimmed. The ancient barn was clean, but dimly lit. The exercise rider came along to help out. She waltzed into his stall with her bridle and saddle and I watched him politely leave his food. The way she approached, he should have pinned his ears.

Unceremoniously, the exercise rider bridled him, then saddled him and led him out. She was in a hurry to get home. But I'd already seen all I needed. I knew we'd found him.

I locked myself into trainer brain, blocking out the agent's non-stop chatter and followed the horse out to the ring. The seller walked beside me in silence. There was something going on between them. I kept a mental eye on that. Whatever they were hiding, I would find it or the vet would find it.

Still, trainer brain told me this horse was perfect. He was big enough, his barrel was wide, like his chest. He wasn't strong, he'd been starved too long to be strong. Fixable.

His shoulders were bigger than his hindquarters; he was trained to pull himself along on his forehand. Fixable.

He sauntered up to the mounting block and stood stock still. Yay! He did not move while the exercise rider mounted. Another yay. When she gathered up her reins, he softened to her hand. Oooooo. YAY! When she moved him off, he offered slow and careful. Then he made the connection. "Ah ha! You can ride! How about something more lively?" And I watched him walk right on out, big, steady, even strides. He figured the rider out fast. And I heard the seller quietly say what a good boy. I glanced over at her and had to agree. Then Danny Boy tried something else. Every few walk strides, he'd lift his neck and head and hop on his right front. The exercise rider and I grinned at each other and she let the reins way out. His offer to canter was unmistakeable. She rubbed him and moved him off into a swinging, smooth trot. She gathered him into vertical and showed us he wasn't bracing against her hand. She let him back out and he never changed speed. Yet another yay.

We found the perfect horse.

I wanted to yank that girl right off, right then, and put my client up. Patience, patience!

She put him through some wonderful work and he responded with purity and delight. He lifted his shoulders and arched his neck. He loved having someone other than a little kid up there. He flopped his ears a few times to let her know. Fab.

She demonstrated his canter to the right. Spectacular. She wasn't able to get the left lead, but that was not his fault. I didn't want it to turn into a fight and I asked her to leave it alone and hop down.

We adjusted the stirrups long and my client got on. He treated her with the same respect and dignity he offered the exercise rider. He had my client figured out in an instant and then proceeded to care for her. He slowed so she could get nicely arranged. He moved only as fast as he felt she was capable. I fell in love. He was perfect. When she asked for more, he gave her exactly what she wanted.

As I observed all of this, the seller quietly approved of my client's riding. I was beginning to like her, trust her even. I called out a few pointers, and then told my client if we were going to purchase this horse she'd have to canter. The seller immediately spoke up and overrode my comment, "You don't have to canter right away, just take your time and do it when you're ready!" I smiled at her and KNEW I could trust her. She passed the test. We needn't have worried, either one - Danny Boy up transitioned to canter and did a cute little rocking horse all the way around the ring.

The perfect gentleman.

I asked the seller what she wanted for him - she replied and the agent got upset. Aaahhh. I figured out the trouble. Firmly, I asked the women to work out the price and give it to me. They spoke quietly and when the seller came back with the number, I was delighted.

They had no idea what they had.

I didn't squabble even one single penny.

13 August 2013

Danny Boy - Part 1 - What We Were Told

They wanted him back then.

Back before they went bankrupt.

After that, nobody wanted him.

The locals took the ones that wanted to run, jump, or three-day.

Danny Boy just wanted to survive.

As best he could.

When he was all that remained, the very last one, the Mexican maintenance man figured he should take him home. Out of a job, with a big family to support, he took this horse.

- - - - -

Somewhere early on, Danny Boy was started. There are mixed reviews about whether he made it to track training. If he did, he certainly didn't advance enough to earn a lip tattoo. Regardless, whoever started him, did it right and Danny Boy owes his life to them. They didn't hurry him, or push him to succeed, or harm him in any way. I can tell, because horses always fall back to what they first learned and in everything I do with him, Danny Boy returns to gentleness, kindness, and a genuine desire to trust.

Pretty amazing, really.

In the work I've done so far, Danny Boy doesn't know much about the fine art of carrying a person. Yet, the agent and seller told me he knew enough to take care of the maintenance man's young family. Apparently, the Mom and kids frequented town riding on Danny Boy's broad back; all sitting in a line while the oldest guided him using a braided bailing twine "bridle". They told me stories of past Christmas Parades, they even showed me pictures and a video, with all of those children happily ensconced along his back.

And the Dad used him, too.

The story goes that when the father couldn't find work, he resorted to alcohol to solve his problems. He rode Danny Boy to the local bar each night, tied him to a tree and drank himself into oblivion. Every morning, the townsfolk would see Danny Boy, patiently standing wherever he was left, nibbling the bark on that big old tree. It wasn't unusual for someone to notify the wife, whereupon she would send one of the kids to ride him home.

Eventually, the man abandoned his family; leaving the wife with five children and two horses. In April,  she'd had enough. She quit Florida to return to her family in Kentucky. The Mom told the seller to find some money for the young TB filly and to keep Danny Boy for her children's lesson program.

So there he was, unwanted once again, 300 pounds starved, with thrush so bad that all four of his feet bled, now a part of a county wide therapy program for troubled kids.

And what did he do? The same thing he did for that Mexican family. He cared for them. He became Old Reliable. Anyone could get on him, anyone could lead him, anyone could handle him. He always did his best to treat them kindly.

When the veterinarian called me after the vet check, the first thing she told me was, the young girl who helped her do the flexion tests, tripped and fell right into Danny Boy's path while he was trotting. The vet freaked out, but Danny boy didn't. He swerved sharply, stopped and carefully turned back to snuffle the young girl's hair.

Yes, he's that kind.

Pretty amazing, really.....