Checking Fence

The cows have been locked in the corral for a few weeks now. It isn’t so much that we want them in as that we can’t get them out. The lanes and gates are full with drifts. The fields covered in snow.

I’m ready to get those calves weaned and get the cows out of the corrals!

There’s no way a 4wheeler or pickup is going to get through the drifts to check the fences in the fields. A horse can though. So I saddled Rusty. This wasn’t a bareback sort of a job. Getting on and off to work on the fence and lunging through snow drifts is easier with a little help. I thought as I left Rusty tied to the pickup and climbed through snow drifts to get my saddle. I was a little overly optimistic.

The end of the drive is still drifted shut. Rusty objected to having to walk through drifts. I urged him on. Once we got to the other side I thought maybe I had worried too much. The corn stalks had caught quite a bit of snow. Each row of stalks was clear down to the ground with eight inches or so in between. The alfalfa was blown mostly clear. It’s so fun to see the effects debre left in fields has. We know it catches snow, how much snow is great to see. I had to listen to people talk all through Christmas about how this snow didn’t do any good. None of it was left on the fields, out in the open. Only places with drifts will get watered by it. I guess it’s easy to say that from a seat inside house or car. Getting out and riding through it gave a wonderful idea of how much this snow helped. Where there was something to catch and hold it.

A herd of fifty plus deer scattered in front of us, before we got close enough to see them good. One must have been sleeping. He popped up right next to us. Pansy briefly gave chase, but thought better of it as the deer quickly outdistanced her.

Rusty was full of himself. Stopping to stare in terror at the deer. Or refusing to hold still so I could get a picture. We pranced and snorted. I let him trot through the deep flat snow for awhile in hopes of using up some of that energy. Between treat bag and pliers it was an interested go. They all bounced around getting into the way. I held onto pliers and reins and tried to keep everything under control. Circling and pawing when I held him back Rusty was having fits. He was ready to go home.

Turning back in the direction of home down the last fence line I was so busy trying to hold it all together that I didn’t realize until we were in the thick of it how bad the snow was getting. Up on top of the hill where the wind should have blown the worst, the drifts were the deepest. it’s amazing how much snow a single barbwire fence will catch. We have a neighbor who pulled out all his old fences, just because he isn’t running livestock on his crop ground. His fields are blown down to dirt where the fences used to be. Instead of covered with good moisture bringing snow like the fields around them.

Rusty was beginning to struggle through the snow. It went quickly from a few deep drifts to deep snow with a few huge drifts. He lunged up onto the top of a drift, it held his weight. I held his mane. We stayed together. Then his front feet broke through. His front end sank out from under me. I went quickly from trying not to get left behind to trying not to get pitched over his head. Fencepliers clanked and treat bag got in te way as I struggled to stay with him and out of his way. He fought his way through the drift to the relatively shallow snow on the other side. I made him stop and take a breather.

Looking around I tried to judge where snow might be shallow. It hadn’t seemed so bad just a brief moment ago. Surely we could get back out of this mess. All around the snow looked the same. Corn stalks peeked out the top of the snow. Or in some places didn’t. Our only option was to keep going. Head for the places that looked slightly more shallow.

I got off to walk.

Together we climbed. Sometimes staying on top for a few steps, then sinking to the ground. Rusty was in a hurry. I was holding him back. If I kept him close it was just asking to get stepped on. If I let him go to the end of the rein he was walking circles around me. If I let him go he’d go right through the fence at the end of the field.

If he could run circles around me he could carry me.

I got back on for the last stretch. He charges ahead. Without any more big drifts we didn’t have any more close calls. Through the wire gate and we were out. It had only been a little under a half mile but it felt like we had run an endurance race. Rusty was lathered. I was panting. The ground was bare beneath us as we left the gate.

There was a big drift up ahead. I was watching it wondering where the best crossing would be when Rusty gave one of those big teeth jolting shakes. As he zipped on I noticed my reins weren’t hanging right. They went straight down. To my bridle he had shaken off his head!

Rushing home, with a very big drift just in front of us, and he had shaken off the bridle.

I pulled back on the reins, knowing it would pull on his neck. We ride with a neck rope sometimes. He knows what it means, if he chooses to acknowledge it. He paused, I gave him a cookie. He accepted it, then was off again before I could be off. I lifted the reins so I had leverage nearer the throatlatch and pulled back again. This time I hopped right off before giving him his cookie for listening.

Already off I stayed off for this drift. It stretched across the road and was as high as his belly at the lowest spot. He lead me again, pulling me along at the end of the rein. It held his weight, except when it didn’t He lunged and sped and we were through it in no time. Now we could take a plowed path the rest of the way home.

He and I were both ready to be done. He was walking his fast Morgan walk and had us there in no time.

Yes, he was able to get through where nothing else could have. Did it mean we should have? Probably not. Had I realized what we were getting into we would have gone around, or turned around and gone back the easy way. Already stuck in a bad spot, he did an amazing job of getting us home safely. He was careful not to step on my legs when they were hidden under all the snow. For all his hot impatience he was still very good. We got the fence checked. A job well done.

Other than a couple of places along the yard it was good. All those deep drifts we struggled through hadn’t covered the wires at all.

Nature vs Nurture

The environment we grow in strongly affects the way we grow. There is no doubt about that.
Who we are affects the way we react to that environment.
It’s a constant give and take.  Now lets take that to horses.
No matter what the environment there are some character traits that will stay with a horse no matter what. A sensitive reactive horse is going to be sensitive and reactive no matter the environment. That can be channeled so the sensitivity is supported and treasured so the horse can express their feelings as devotion and enthusiasm. The reactivity can be used to advantage instead of punished and driven into learned helplessness.
The way the character is handled does not change the character.
A bold, confident horse, sure of their ideas and opinions in life can be a blessing. Fearing nothing they will carry their rider through any challenge. Or, in a different environment, they will be the bane of a timid rider, running them over and insisting on their own way of doing things. These are the ways environment can affect the temperament, but they don’t change the temperament.
The base we are working from is there, unchanging, no matter what factors affect it throughout a life time. Different temperaments will show different responses and a different way of reacting to life in general.
What we see when looking at whorls is what that temperament base is. What foundation we are working with. Not how they have been brought along through life.
That is why whorls have so much to share. By looking at the foundation of the horse’s temperament we can see how to best proceed with them to bring out the traits we would like to see most. Yes, all horses need patience and understanding. Some horses need repetition, others constant new exciting experiences. Some people have a type they know they click with, others could miss out on a great horse if they follow the old superstitions about whorls.
As in all things, the whole picture needs to be taken into account, never just a small piece of it.

It’s For The Dogs

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with a dog.

Our last dog was practically perfect. She came when called, didn’t cause trouble, and was always there with us, happy to hang around. She was also somewhat neurotic, especially when it came to food. It worried her greatly if there were people involved when she was eating and she was very picky about what she would eat.

So we didn’t do much training.

This new dog is a huge puppy. She’s friendly and enthusiastic. Her nose is right at table height and her mouth is large, wet, and she likes to greet people with it. She’ll happily eat anything that gets close enough to reach with no shyness or worry.

She needs lots of training!

I know and love horse training. The basics of training dogs and horses are the same. I hear the gasps and denial already from more traditional trainers. No, I’m not going to round pen a dog. But when training with food all species learn the same, and even plants which opens up new and interesting thoughts and ideas of what is ‘alive’ and what isn’t but I digress.

While the basics are the same the devil is in the details. It’s been fun these last couple of weeks figuring out some of those details.

Some are very simple.

We don’t want her bagging at the table. So we ignore her. Letting our elbows absorb the wetness of that ever exploring mouth, protecting food and plates by blocking her access. Then when she gives up and lays down at the door I rush to reward her. The whole family gets in on it, pointing out that she should be getting a treat if I’m late or running to feed her themselves. It’s fun and no punishment is involved. Already, within the first couple of days, she will make a lap around the table then go lay down to wait.

So much faster and more effective than some of the methods I’ve seen, like squirting them in the face with a spray bottle. The funniest was when one person was feeding from the table, while the other squirted feeder and dog with the spray bottle. Obviously nothing was learned there.

A more difficult and subtle learning is teaching her to please only walk on my right side.

I have a bad knee. It tends to dislocate. A really fun thing where I get to reach down and push the knee cap back into place, which is as sickening a thought as an actual undertaking. This new dog has bumped into that knee and knocked it out. It wasn’t on purpose, obviously. and she wasn’t doing anything bad. She’s just big and playful.

In order to avoid more of this we’re working on keeping her to the other side.

She isn’t on a leash so there is no holding her on that side. Instead I carry something in my left hand. Not to hit her with but if something is swinging around there blocking her way we’re setting it up to be easier to come up to me on the other side. I also try to avoid petting her when she’s on the left side. Small things to start to form a habit.

This is a learning process, and a fun one. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together. Hopefully she will learn some tricks. But that foundation is the important thing as we’ll get that down so she can be a good member of society, the most important thing in horses too. Then we’ll add that extra frosting of tricks.

Women’s Work

When working cattle everyone has a job to do.

These jobs are assigned based on everyone’s skills and where they can best be used. Granted it doesn’t always work out that way. In which case others may need to jump in and get the job done.

We will just assume that in general, everyone is going to quietly go about doing their job.

In order for the work to go smoothly, everyone needs to do THEIR job. When a job is ignored to watch someone else do their work, then there’s a job out there not getting done. That can create a big hitch in the get along.

Allowing people to do their job while taking care of your own still applies if one of the people working is female. Being female does not magically mean that she will need a man to come along and ‘help’ do her job. Being female does not mean she will be weak, incapable, or incompetent. In fact there’s a good chance that being female will mean that she is skilled, hard working, quiet and easy going in her way of working cattle.

Odds are the men who are convinced that the poor little woman needs his help will not be.

If he were skilled and capable, he’d see work being well done and leave well enough alone.

By all means keep an eye on your fellow workers next time cattle are being handled. If a job isn’t getting done, pitch in. If you think a job may not be able to be accomplished because of the sex of a hand, maybe check in your britches to make sure you aren’t compensating for an undersized pee pee.

Back To Work

I played with Rusty today.
It had been forever. A good month or so since we played at all and most of the summer since we did anything serious.
I couldn’t even remember what it was we should be working on.
So we went with old favorites. Spanish walk, some trotting, turns on the quarters.
Need to be sure that there is much less time between our next session.



Threshold, in this case, refers to the level at which the horse becomes afraid.

Keeping a horse well below threshold means they are never worried about anything.

Getting a horse way over threshold removes any ability to learn. They wont take any offered food to help calm them down. They are too afraid to eat. So feeding for calmness wont help. A horse who is scared can’t think, they wont remember anything you try to work on while they are in this state. Other than that what you did with them made them afraid. Keeping a horse well over threshold without any way to escape the fear brings on a state of learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness is when a horse has given up. They can’t escape the fear so they shut down. They seem fearless because of their lack of reaction.

With most of the training we do, we want to stay well below threshold. Our horses will be happy and gobble up all that we can teach them. By working in this area we will build a solid foundation of trust so when we cross that threshold they will be better able to rely on us and know we will get them out safely. All training to help them over come fear has to come before the fear is present.

By pressing close to threshold without crossing over, we can sample fear in small doses and show the horse that we will keep them safe. Offer a taste of fear, then back away, give treats, offer support and comfort so we become the safe place when there is danger. Not physically the safe place of course 😉

Once we have crossed threshold it is too late to do any training. All we can do is our best to get them back to a safe place, mentally and physically, so we can recover and meet the challenge better prepared next time!



On the way out he protested softly.

I turned up the gravel lane on the way out to the pasture. He stopped. Pointing his body on past the lane towards the other gate into the pasture. Not paying attention, not enough at any rate, I thought he just didn’t want to go for a ride. I asked and he gave in, ouching occasionally on the rocks as we walked up the lane.

I was leading the one child as the other rode along beside. Out into the pasture where a small bunch of cattle are spending their summer is a favorite ride destination of theirs. With the windmill, pond, and big hills to go up and down it’s understandable that they would think it’s a fun place to ride. If I were riding I would think it was fun too. We had ridden there for the last two days, this made a third.

On the way back across the pasture, we were pointed directly at the gate that lead down the lane. Rusty kept veering off to the south. Where are you going? I would ask him. Look, home is straight this way.

Finally we got to the gate. He stopped again. Just like he had on the way out. I paused, and asked him again. Politely, the horses don’t get drug around. He stood his ground just outside the gate. We had come this way for the last two days, he knew it was the way home. Still he stood, unwilling to budge.

I thought about the way he ouches over the big pieces of rock. Good for letting us feed up and down the lane in wet muddy weather. Not so good for his tender feet. I had thought that it was ok because he could walk along the edges where dirt had gathered. Not enough to protect his feet apparently.

We turned south, the way he had been asking to go all along. A slightly longer rout, out around the corrals, avoiding the rocks. He set off happily and enthusiastically.

All that time he had been trying to tell me there was a problem. He had been worrying about it. Thinking ahead even as we approached the lane that bothered him so from a long ways off. He had told me on the way out, but given in when I didn’t listen.

About time I heard what he had to say. I guess we’ll be going around from now on.



Good Horses

Three rides, three days in a row. I only got to ride one of those but at least we’re getting out with the horses.

Today we saddled Lady for my son, they then lead the way for the whole ride. Rusty stayed on a lead and walked nicely, slowly, beside me carrying his precious cargo. She says that’s why he walks slower with her, I’ll go with it. We went out along the pivot, down the side of the hay field.

Near the far end Rusty stopped. Lady was walking beside us just then and stopped too. I said come on Rust lets go. He said no.

Looking back at him to see why he was refusing I saw a strand of wise across the front of both of his legs. Grabbing the leadrope up short to hold him still, because he wasn’t the one who had just told me he needed to 🙄 I looked over at Lady. Her front feet were clear of the wire but it was wrapped in front of her hind legs.

We were a long ways away from the fence where the wire must have come from. Deer must have gotten caught in it and pulled the strand of electric wire clear out into the field where we found it. I ordered children off the horses.

They immediately jumped off.

Haha, no. The sat there wanting to know why. Would I help them? Did they really have to? Once they were finally unloaded my daughter stood holding Rusty while my son and I carefully walked Lady out of the wire. He stood with Lady then while we walked Rusty out.

No one spooked even slightly. Both horses were calm and relaxed the whole time. Both kids stayed the same. I was ready to load them up and keep on with our ride. My daughter was far more responsible and went to work getting the wire back to the fence where it belonged. My son and Lady stood quietly holding Rusty while I went to join her. Then we finished out ride.

Two good horses, two good kids, one good ride.

Cowboy School

Heildorf has been away at cowboy school.
He’s been learning how to work cattle, how to calmly and quietly cover many miles while listening to his rider for cues while at the same time watching the cattle himself to see what is going to need done. A true practice in teamwork.
He’s learned to have a rope thrown off his back, to hold a calf in front of him to be doctored, or pull it behind him to take it to be worked.
He’s crossed water in deep ditches. He’s climbed steep hills. He’s been in big groups of horses and people. He’s been hauled all over the place. He’s developing into a well trained working horse.
His time away at cowboy school is almost over. I can’t wait to get him back and see what all he’s learned.


Kindness Always Wins

The kids have been working with their bottle calves. each child has a calf they are going to show in 4H. Each child is supposed to be training their calf to catch, wear a halter, and lead.

My daughter has a big black steer who is quiet and friendly and she is doing a great job training him.

My son has a fiery little red steer who isn’t thrilled to be caught, doesn’t want scratches, and doesn’t lead.

He was working with his steer the other day. I had caught and haltered the steer. His job was to get the calf to follow on the lead. The calf said no. He didn’t want to. That was it.

My son was getting a bit frustrated. I was trying to take turns working with each of them and pay attention to a cow who really wanted petted and goats. It must not have been going well when I wasn’t looking. From across the pen I heard his voice. “Kindness always wins, right mom”?

He had gotten frustrated and was ready to fight and pull. Then he stopped and thought about it.

Instead of fighting he stood quietly with the calf and petted. He scratched the calf’s itchy spots and they spent undemanding time together. Then pulled the halter and let the calf go. I’ve never been so proud of the boy. He got lots of hugs too. We talked about how that time spent together doing nothing but enjoying had put him so much farther ahead than dragging the calf around ever would have. How, yes, kindness will win and is always the best way to work with our animals.