After The School Show

My daughter brought a book home with her from school this week. One of those books kids make in school, folded paper stapled together. I was wondering what class project this was now as I picked it up to look at it. Only to see that it was addressed to me!

The class had drawn pictures of the horses and I and written little stories about what they had liked! How incredibly sweet! The teacher had included a thank you card, along with the thank yous from the children.

As if I needed a thank you! Now I need to figure out if it’s proper to send a thank you for a thank you?

It was fascinating to see the things that made an impression on them. Some of the boys mostly noticed thee pickup and trailer judging by their pictures. Painting was popular and one picture had a blue and a yellow child so they must have liked Harvey and his colors. One girl, the daughter of a friend of mine, noticed every single tiny detail down to the playground off behind the school They were standing with their backs to it. What a memory!

School Show

I took Rusty and Harvey in to the school to do a few tricks for the kids.

It was a perfect day, warm and still. Tomorrow it is supposed to snow. We thought we should hurry and get this in while we could.

I unloaded them with plenty of time to spare and let them walk around looking at things. We grazed near the heavy equipment and the big scary building. The went through a few tricks to see how they were feeling.Harvey wasn’t feeling it but he hadn’t been at home either before loading up. I wasn’t holding out much hope for him.

When the time came we could hear the kids coming clear down the hill. They bounced and sang their way to us enjoying the beautiful day.They all spread out along the side of the parking lot and waited.

I wasn’t ready. As much as you try you can¬† never really be ready. I rushed to get Rusty and get out there.

Rusty was great, he fetched and played ball and rang his bell and painted. He even managed to rope the dummy on his first try! We, I? I guess Rusty was there and demonstrated but didn’t exactly talk ūüėČ I talked about how he helps me teach school and how we do a lot of the same things that the kids do in school.

He didn’t pull the chicken out of my pocket as good as he usually does and was slow going after the toys. He dropped the handkerchief when wiping my nose. Those were the worst blunders though. He happily sniffed children and went about his job in his usual business like manner.

Harvey was not present. He started out by standing and staring off into the distance. The sidepass that he is usually so good at was gone. I was able to send him out around the bale Rusty roped and he did some good, if very slow, Spanish walk. Harvey did chose his balloons in the proper colors and didn’t spook from the children holding them so there was that at least. After we finished the children¬† all took turns petting Harvey’s nose. With the offering of a treat he was convinced to hold his nose at their level.

I think my favorite part was at the end though. The children stood in front of us for a group picture. Harvey and Rusty both buried their noses in the mass of small children, sniffing and soaking up the pets. They both did a great job of not biting off small fingers and being good ambassadors for the breed and positive reinforcement!



School Show, Prep

I talked to my daughters teacher the other day, asked her if I could bring a couple of horses in and do a show for the kids. You know, someday. She said yes! How about here before Thanksgiving.

Oh dear.

Suddenly my mind went blank. I couldn’t think of a single trick any of my horses could do. A some day sort of thing is one thing. Right now is another. I spent the weekend trying to remember what we could do. Then tried to put it together somehow.

This is a quick run through of what we came up with. Some ideas I had the horses said no to. Other things I hadn’t thought of they reminded me about. What we ended up with is a talk about how we teach school kind of like their teacher. Then a demo of the classes Rusty and Harvey help teach. I hope to include them in throwing the chicken and the ball and holding the balloons.

We’ll see if either horse feels like participating when we get there. They alternated between having it down and not having a clue what I was talking about during our few practices. With the new place, people, and distractions I’d say we have a fifty percent chance of doing anything but standing around spooking at things between chewing.

It’s this afternoon. Gulp. Wish us luck!


Working Calves

I never did put an ear tag in Booter. I don’t remember why. Probably just never bothered. I know I had planned on running them all through and giving them their shots and branding them. I never did find time for that. I probably planned on getting him an¬† ear tag then.

Summer is long gone and winter is coming in early this year. The bottle calves pasture is getting short. Before too long all the cattle will be home and the calves will go to spend the winter with the other calves. Right now though they needed a hay bale to make up for the grass that is getting to be in short supply. Thinking hard about it while I gave them their corn I decided they would be better off out with the rest of the cows. They would have the wheat stubble to graze and hay bales are already being put out there anyway. Plus there would be other cattle including calves for them to be with.

Before they could go though, Booter would need an ear tag.

As much of an individual as he seems here with his two buddies out in the main herd one more black calf blends in amazingly well and it would be hard to find him again. There’s a good reason people use ear tags, it’s not just because they’re pretty ūüėČ

My son and I went out this cool drizzly morning after the calves had eaten their breakfast and walked them slow and easy into the barn. I dropped a pile of cake on the floor for them to clean up, a reward for going into the barn. Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to involve a clicker.

Opening the back gate on the chute I fed Ghost a few pieces of cake. Booter was very obliging in shoving her out of the way and barging into the chute. I fed him a few pieces of cake until he was settled down, then left a pile on the ground for him to eat while I closed the back gate. He got a little upset about that but calmed down as soon as I went back to feeding him. Now to get his head through the head catch.

It will open in allowing the cow, or calf, to push it closed as they try to fit through. He is much smaller than a cow so I was worried about him slipping right through is I didn’t get it opened the exact right size. Holding the cake in front of his nose I was able to lure him slowly into the catch. With¬† horse I would teach them to touch a target then reward them instead of luring with the food itself. Booter doesn’t know how to target and I’m not worried about further training implications with him so we lured, it was easiest. After feeding a few times in the catch he stepped forward far enough that I could close it. He pulled back a bit but wasn’t too upset. grabbing the tagger I put the tag in his ear.

Or tried.

When I pulled the tagger off the tag came too! Grrr. Looking down at the button, like the clasp that holds an ear ring on, the tagger had pushed through it and ruined my button. He had done so well too. Now I would have to go for a new button. I let him back into  the chute and went back too the house.

Returning with a large supply of buttons and a refill of cake we went to work on getting him back into the chute. It took a little longer this time but he went in. I got the button in right this time and he is now sporting a fancy ear tag with his name on it. I gave him a handful of cake and let him out. He walked a few steps and stopped to chew on some weeds. Obviously he was very upset by the whole thing.

Then I called the girls. Ghost walked right into the chute and stood happily to eat a few pieces of cake. Blossom followed her just the same.They all stopped just out of the barn to chew on weeds, then went back in the barn as I cleaned up after ourselves.

Now it was time to run them out to the herd.

We grabbed a fourwheeler and went to get the gates open. The calves jumped and bucked and ran all around on the way out. The new space was exciting to explore and they were feeling good. Out in the corral they slowed down a little but went into the herd without hesitating. No one started beating them up immediately, that was good. While cattle wont kick and bite a new comer the way horses will they will still beat up on them pretty good. When no big fights ensued I left them to settle in with plans to check on them later.

So, thoughts on teaching cattle to go in the chute using positive reinforcement. It did work good with tame bucket calves. Obviously semi wild range cattle would be different. Do I think it would be kinder to tame each individual calf down so they could be put through this way? No. I do not. Not only is it impractical, the time and effort involved in working with a few hundred head is not efficient. Also though, the stress of the taming compared to a few seconds, a few minutes tops on average of stress in¬† putting them through the chute doesn’t seem kinder. Bucket calves are already used to humans. The stress of taming them is usually a necessity because of a mother who wont or can’t raise them. Healthy calves out with their moms are left alone as much as possible in general. We want the mom¬† to do her thing and raise her calf naturally. We try not to get involved.

Yes, we should work with herds to get them used to humans and quiet to walk through and work it makes their lives and ours much easier. Making pets of the whole lot of them is not going to happen though. In the end I was very happy to get to do some training on Blossom and Ghost on going through the chute, letting them see that it wasn’t a big deal. Hopefully they will be sticking around as heifers. Many people do run their cattle through the chute once without any sort of work or catching them as a training procedure. I think that that is the most practical way to go about the training of many cattle.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on them out with the bunch, I worry about them with the big girls. This is worse than sending children off to school!


Fall Ride

The last few days Rusty has been calling demandingly every time he hears me come out of the house. It’s been a busy week and I haven’t been able to answer his calls. Today I had the chance.

I let him out to graze for awhile, get the craving somewhat fulfilled so we could work without fighting the need for grass. When I came back for him he happily left the grass to play with me.

After some ground work, the children who had been ‘helping’ me went off to ride in the combine. All the kids. That’s our two and one cousin, squeezed into the combine with my husband. Apparently they fit. With everyone occupied I saddled up Rusty. Of course by the time I had the saddle out clouds had come in and it was rapidly cooling. The effort involved in getting the saddle out is always well punished. I saddled up anyway.

Rusty set out at a good walk, with a few small spooks and leaps thrown¬† in. A cool windy day like this wouldn’t allow for anything different. Each time he went sideways the saddle and I nearly came off the other direction. When I got off to open¬† the gate into the cow pasture the saddle came clear over with me. I managed to land on¬† my feet and pushed it back onto his back. We usually ride with a ridiculously loose cinch, but that was a bit much with a hot pony on this cold day. I tightened my cinch.

Through the gate I led him to another gate to get on. Rusty stepped over to the gate nicely for me. He got tired of waiting as I tried and tried to flip my reins over his ears and left. I followed him through the corral calling him a few names, like sweet darling Rusty! What else would I ever call him?

Halfway across the corral he noticed me back there and turned walking up to me as sweet as could be, happy to have someone to visit with.

I put the reins over his head before climbing onto the fence and we rode off through the cows.

The ones that are home already are turned out on wheat stubble from this years wheat crop. They disked it lightly and fall rains brought up nice green grazing that will hold up to the cold weather. The cows are loving it. I asked Rusty to trot with the silly thought of continuing our work on speed control. We’ve been working on differentiating between an extended trot and bringing it down¬† to a slower speed. This was not the time or place to work on it.

He was very willing to trot, but thought maybe I’d prefer a nice lope? I had nothing against that. He leapt happily into a lope then kept leaping. As he crow hopped along into the wind my hat was trying¬† to blow away. There wasn’t a spare hand to hold it on as I needed both hands to keep Rusty to controlled leaps. Another thing it was not the time or place for. We came back to a walk.

It’s never a good thing to charge through the middle of the herd anyway. They all looked good. My cows were all there. The calf that had been limping was walking much better.

Through the next gate we kept going into the cold wind. The brown and pink  hues of fall were subtly beautiful under the dark cloudy sky. I was wishing I had brought a hat or gloves. It was no longer warm enough for a sweatshirt. I had gone through the effort of putting a saddle on  though, we were going to ride even if I froze solid.

In  a big loop we circled the alfalfa, passed the grain truck, paused to eat some corn, then back to the yard where we did work on trot transitions out of the wind a little and with less room to tempt long hard gallops. Two or three times of feeling distinct hesitations when I asked him to slow down and we called it good for the day. I turned him out and hurried inside to try to bring some feeling back  to my hands.

The children  all followed shortly behind me. As fun as the combine had been hey were all about to fall asleep so they got out and ran home when a pass brought them near the house.




Words Of Encouragement

I don’t talk¬† to my dad very often. Not because I don’t love him, I do! He’s a great dad. Neither of us are much at the phone thing though.

We had one of our rare conversations the other day. I said how much I had appreciated that he took me out with him to work on vehicles with him when I was younger. I liked knowing how to change my own oil and check fluid levels, it’s good to have some vague idea what’s going on under there even if I don’t apply that knowledge regularly.

Then he told me something that I guess I knew but¬† that the actual hearing of meant so much to me. Now I think about it every time life gets hard or I need to do something I’m not sure of.

He said that he had loved taking me out to work with him. That he had wanted me to be capable and confident, an able woman who could take care of herself and do whatever needed done. Now look at me, it had worked. He was proud of me for being able to do what needed done and not dependent on someone else to do everything for me. Not just working on cars, but in  all aspects of life.

I nearly cried.

Now every time I am faced with something I don’t know how to do, times when I don’t know what comes next or how to go about it, times when I don’t think I can do it and am tempted to wait and ask someone to do it for me or just give up, I remember that my dad is proud of me, that he thinks I can do it, and I dig in and do everything I can to get it done.

Be that encouragement in peoples lives. Tell them when you are proud of them, offer support and encouragement. You could make the difference between success and failure for them.


Clicker Training Cows?

We brought the small bunch of cows home today.  Just twelve pair and a bull a couple of miles from home. All of my cow calf pairs are inn this  bunch. I like to have them in the bunch I keep an eye on, plus I get to play with Poppy over the summer that way.

I’ve received a few sideways glances for my clicker training with Poppy. No one has said anything but I sense some wonder about why. I don’t blame them.I often wonder if there’s any point. I don’t have a goal with here, we’ve done some targeting and manners training. I’m out of ideas after¬† that, but it’s fun to play with her.

We got to  the pasture bright and early. I drove one fourwheeler with both kids and my husband and his father brought the pickup and trailer with the other two fourwheelers. No horses this time ;( It can be  hard to make them work logistically. Children are easier carried on  fourwheelers too.

There was one calf who has been limping for the last week. We didn’t want to make him try to walk home, so we dropped a rope on him and loaded him in the trailer. He could wait there until we got the herd home then get a ride. As we worked on that the cows took one look at us and headed for the proper corner. They knew it was time and which way to go. That wouldn’t normally be surprising,¬† cows are very able to learn routine like that, even if it’s only carried out once a year. But this is twelve cows out of a herd of about two hundred. What are the odds of getting the same twelve? Poppy has been there before and one other of mine. The other two are first calf heifers. They had not been there. That leaves eight head that may or may not have done this before and Poppy was not in the lead.

We finished loading the calf and followed the cows to the corner. there was a little gate, very narrow and not in the corner. Also not a gate they’ve ever been out. They usually go into the pasture next door and home with those cows. The pasture was sold though and we don’t have it rented this year. They were going on their own for the first time. We gathered them into the corner and waited. That’s what you do with cows, guide them in the right direction¬† and wait. Yelling and running around making a fuss¬† only gets them worked up and less likely to find the way you want them to go and far more likely to go over fences and the opposite direction.

Nobody would step through the gate. A couple looked, stuck their noses through but didn’t want to take that step. We waited, crowding a little closer. Poppy took her turn to sniff the opening.

I had an idea.

Clearing it with my husband before breaking cow moving protocol so thoroughly, I walked around the little herd t the side we wanted them to go to. Searching through the dead dried grass I found a few blades of green, then I stood and called Poppy.

From the other side of the fence she sniffed curiously. We had brought her and ear of corn this morning. I like to bring her special treats and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have her primed to come to us. What great foresight ūüėČ Stepping through an¬† unfamiliar gate was scary but she finally took that chance and licked the grass from my hand. That was all it took. As though a great barrier had been broken the other cows flowed through behind her.

I walked out of their way and stepped back over the fence to get my trusty mount.

The rest of the trip home went without indecent despite a whole field of hunters and needing to cross a highway. Now they are home where we can feed them and they have shelter for the snow that’s supposed to start tonight. Only the big bunch left to go. They will be fine in their big pasture with a creek bottom and trees for shelter. They can enjoy being wild a little longer before they come home and domesticate for the winter.


“(A) form of pressure that you exude is when you think you are in a contest of wills and you must always win. On the contrary, I believe we must strive to never fight with a horse. Our predator instincts could unexpectedly trigger inappropriate action – that is,¬† we might do the wrong thing, and it might harm our future abilities to be with and work with a particular horse. ”¬†¬† ~ Sharon Wilsie, Horse Speak The Equine-Human Translation Guide

Training with dominance leads us to feel that we need to dominate.

Our actions are guided by our thoughts. If we think of our horses as needing to submit we will treat them differently than if we think of them  as students that we are responsible for instructing carefully and lovingly.


Children and Horses, 3

If training horses is like raising children…
No matter how we raise our children or train our horses it is guaranteed that they will embarrass us if people are looking.
Our horses can have a trick down. Perform it flawlessly time after time. As soon as we try to show someone they will have no clue what we are talking about.
Our children can be perfect little angels. As soon as we take them out in public they will scream and cry and fight.
It’s some kind of law I believe. A requirement for horse and child alike.
It’s important to remember this before we judge. Remember what it’s like when you do things with your horses and children and how very difficult it is, before deciding someone else is failing as a parent or trainer. Life is difficult. We don’t need to make it worse. Offer kindness and consideration before condemnation. Offer help before criticism.