Big horses and little girls

 

Few things put me in a better mood than watching little girls play with very big horses. Tiny human beings learning the power of asking gentle giants nicely instead of demanding and scolding. Watching reservations on both sides melt away and turn into mutual trust.

Any equine can do training with poles, obstacles, and new sensations. There’s no magic secret, just communicating. Exposing horses to new things help them learn to trust that we really do know best—so that when something unexpected happens, their response is to ask us what to do instead of bolting or panicking. This is a game humans and horses play together, where humans come up with challenges and obstacles, and horses show humans that pshaw, that’s nothing.

Training last Sunday turned out to be day of the cold-bloods. I present to you, in no particular order, haflinger Nando, Jutland draft Emilie, and fjord pony, Loke—the cold-blood allstars.

Nando is a big, playful boy who loves people and showing off. Always up for a kiss or an ear scratch, he’s pretty unflappable on the obstacle course.
Nando is a big, playful boy who loves people and showing off. Always up for a kiss or an ear scratch, he’s pretty unflappable on the obstacle course.
Emilie has never had to learn that humans can be scary, and consequently, few things humans do are scary. Balloons flapping on a string in the wind? So what?
Emilie has never had to learn that humans can be scary, and consequently, few things humans do are scary. Balloons flapping on a string in the wind? So what?
Loke, named for the Norse trickster god, lives up to his name. Clever and mischievous as, well, a fjord horse, he’ll do almost anything for his human playmate—as long as she asks nicely.
Loke, named for the Norse trickster god, lives up to his name. Clever and mischievous as, well, a fjord horse, he’ll do almost anything for his human playmate—as long as she asks nicely.
A horse depends on his legs for survival. Horses are picky about what they’ll step on, and big, noisy tarps are often a flat no. Nando required his human to show him but then it was fine. Mutual trust gets you everywhere.
A horse depends on his legs for survival. Horses are picky about what they’ll step on, and big, noisy tarps are often a flat no. Nando required his human to show him but then it was fine. Mutual trust gets you everywhere.
Force is never the answer, and nowhere is this more evident than when a tiny rider easily handles an 800 kilos draft horse. Emilie loves the small riders; they ask for little and reward her so much.
Force is never the answer, and nowhere is this more evident than when a tiny rider easily handles an 800 kilos draft horse. Emilie loves the small riders; they ask for little and reward her so much.
Training with poles and obstacles (the polka dotted object in the back is a plastic bowl full of plastic balls for the horses to try to step into) can be done from the ground or from the back. The horse may find it easiest from the ground at first (so he can watch you not being scared).
Training with poles and obstacles (the polka dotted object in the back is a plastic bowl full of plastic balls for the horses to try to step into) can be done from the ground or from the back. The horse may find it easiest from the ground at first (so he can watch you not being scared). Also, Nando tried to eat the plastic balls.
Emilie takes this sort of training a little further than many. She is completely voice controlled when working with someone on the ground, to a point where she flat out dismisses the riders’ signals in favour of those of the person on the ground. We deliberately trained her this way. With my handicap I may literally pass out in the saddle. If I act weird (or not at all) she will instantly walk up to the nearest human being to ask for instructions. A bonus effect is that insecure riders can feel completely safe with her, because all they need worry about is staying on—the guy on the ground has their back.
Emilie takes this sort of training a little further. She is completely voice controlled and ignores the riders’ signals in favour of the ground handler’s. We deliberately trained her this way. With my handicap I may literally pass out in the saddle. If I act weird (or not at all) she will walk up to the nearest human to ask for instructions. Insecure riders can feel completely safe with her, because all they need worry about is staying on—the guy on the ground handles the rest.
It doesn’t hurt that Emilie thinks playing with people is the best fun.
It doesn’t hurt that Emilie thinks playing with people is the best fun.
The coolest cat of the day, however, was Bella the barn cat. What's a warm midden for, if not sleeping in?
The coolest cat of the day, however, was Bella the barn cat. What’s a warm midden for, if not sleeping in?

Emilie has always had a thing for little girls. Remember this one from a few years back?

Don’t yell at me! Foxi is nervous, not deaf

Foxi doesn’t like being yelled at.

Foxi is a mixed race pony (Icelandic horse and Welsh Mountain, we think, but no one knows for sure). She’s sensitive, intelligent, and bossy. My big Jutland draft, weighing in at 800 kilos, doesn’t want to argue with Foxi. Foxi takes charge. She’s a small but very determined little lady.

At times, Foxi freaks out. While cool-headed and kind, she can flip a switch and go ballistic at two seconds’ notice. Her owners respect Foxi’s needs, keep things nice and quiet, and don’t pressure her for no reason. Foxi is fond of her humans and trusts her teenage rider. Foxi used to have a bad reputation for trying to throw her rider for no apparent reason, but it hardly ever happens anymore.

I’ve known her for three months, and I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out what Foxi’s issue is. She was bred for trail riding with tourists, at a farm where teenage girls handled the horses largely unsupervised by adults. Teenagers aren’t incompetent and most of them handle horses just fine, but they do need adults to be there, keep a clear head, and help them out when things go pear-shaped. Teenagers can be hard working and have all the good intentions, but very few have a decade or more of horsemanship experience to draw on (for obvious reasons). Foxi was judged to be too volatile and was sold off—to a pony riding club, where her story repeated, until her current owners adopted her.

The other day, Foxi was a bit upset that she was left last in the paddock at turn-in. She galloped up to me and asked to be let in—and I obliged. I don’t usually walk with the livelier horses and ponies because of my handicap, but she really wanted to go in, and she asked very nicely. So we walked. Foxi set a quick pace to catch up to the others, and I pulled lightly on her halter to slow her down.

Foxi froze, then started dancing nervously.

I told her to relax, just slow down a little, we got this.

Foxi breathed out hard, relaxed, and walked at my pace the rest of the way.

In other words, Foxi was an inch from flipping her lid but decided not to. Foxi isn’t misbehaved or badly trained. Foxi is afraid of being yelled at. She needed me to reassure her that yeah, sure, you walked a little too fast but it’s cool, we’ll just slow down and everything will be fine, don’t worry about it. What she expected was for me to yell at her, maybe even hit her, and when I just told her everything is fine, everything really was fine.

I can’t help but wonder how many times, before she was sold to her current owners, Foxi has asked a human for reassurance only to get yelled at, or hit with a riding crop.

A lot of equine anxiety bounds in humans teaching our horses to be afraid to ask for reassurance from us. We must teach new riders, young or old, to pay attention to the language of horses. To think of their horse as a partner, rather than a piece of sporting equipment. If your co-worker asks you a question, you answer it. You don’t yell at them or, heaven forbid, pick up a riding crop to make them ‘submit’. This does not change just because your equine co-worker has double the amount of legs.

I walked with Foxi to the paddock this morning. She slowed down on her own and waited for me.

Cats, Cats, All the Cats

Well, close, anyway. Pictures of cats and barn kittens from the last month or two. It’s been quiet around here for health reasons—turns out the foot isn’t broken but they’re still sending me to a specialist to find out why it’s still double size—but at least there’s still cats.

Bella, she of the Loud Voice and the Cuddly Temper. Youngest barn cat.
Blackie, She of the Sharp Claws and the Even Sharper Tongue. Oldest barn cat.
Blackie’s kittens were explorers. Particularly the two blue boys.
We managed to find homes for all six. Five out of six are now barn kitties elsewhere.
Rumour has it, though, that the two blue boys are more living room kitties than barn kitties.
Happiness is a nest of kittens.
No, seriously.
Miv, He of the Big Tummy and the Smug Grin as he Eats Your Dinner. Not a barn cat, probably descended from a potted plant and a sofa cushion.

June’s garden pictures

This summer continues to be colder and windier than average, but nonetheless, the sun came out enough in June for me to get at least a number of good flower pictures.

I also managed to acquire a bone bruise on my left shin (at least I didn’t break it, so there’s that!), so horse pictures are in short supply this month as I sit quite still and quietly swear to myself about the pain.

Bee garden. Feed them!
We turned a patch of the lawn into bee paradise, planting wild flowers native to hedgerows and meadows and doing absolutely nothing to them but let them grow in peace. The result is beautiful and the bees love it.
Clematis flowers
Our pink clematis is singing on its last verse and will likely be replaced next year. It did manage two beautiful flowers all the same.
yellow columbine
Columbine is one of my favourite flowers, wild or domesticated. The plant as a whole is not much to look at, but the flowers are little pieces of intricate art.
blue columbine
Of course, blue is my favourite colour so blue columbine is even better.
hay harvest
June is also the month of the first hay harvest. When I was a kid we’d all help out and it still works that way today. Of course, all I’m capable of doing is sitting on the first bale and shouting encouraging things to the workers, but it all counts, right?
bee garden
The bee garden quietly turned itself into an ocean of cornflowers.
cornflower
Blue is my favourite colour. Guess my favourite flower?
bee garden
It just keeps getting more and more colourful.
black kitten
In the barn, Blacky’s kittens are growing up and will be leaving home soon. This one’s still up for grabs, incidentally. She’s adorbs and playful, and loves people.
stripy kitten
This little girl is also still unspoken for. She’s a bit more cautious but loves licking faces.
grey kitten
This girl was the first to be claimed. She was only a few days old when one of the barn girls adopted her.
stripy kitten
Look at my pretty little face. You know you want me.
blue kitten, stripy kitten
The two blue boys are spoken for as well. They’re going to be barn cats!
grey kitten
First to get picked, first to the top. She’s insanely active, this one.
bright night clouds
June gave us the curious nightly phenomenon of glowing skies. This photo was taken at 1 am. The sky was really that bright.
bee garden
Pink is bee friendly.
rose
For those bees of a more sophisticated taste we have roses in bright orange and bright yellow. Sitting outside is like being steeped in rose perfume at this time.
Morning glories
These are wild morning glories that we brought the seeds home from Malta for, years ago. They don’t look much like the morning glories we’re used to, but they’re pretty!