Greatest Fears

This may look like a 4wheeler innocently sitting in the trailer. What it really is is one of my greatest fears taunting me.

Backing a 4wheeler out of a trailer terrifies me. I would rather work on loading, or unloading, the rankest of horses. Those ramps. The lack of control. The thought of backing one out of the back of a pickup, way up high instead if the small drop from the trailer, makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Unfortunately for me, I have pasture to check. Cattle and water tanks need to be checked every couple of days, three days tops. I can either bounce a pickup clear out around the pasture using far more gas and putting lots of wear and tear on a pickup. Or I can bring the 4wheeler, make a much quicker trip, use less gas, use a vehicle that is made to bounce around the pastures. I need to use the 4wheeler. I need to get over my fear.

I’m not going to do that by forcing myself to do it. Telling myself that my fears are stupid, I’m obviously in no danger isn’t going to be of much use either.

Instead I go through careful and stringent safety procedures. I double check ramp placement. I double check that wheels are lined up. I do everything in my power to make sure it is safe.

I only do what I’m comfortable with. There’s no way I can haul it over in a pickup and back it our of the bed. So I don’t try. I can slowly and carefully handle the low trailer, so I do.

What does any of this have to do with horses?

Everything!

If we are scared to do something with a horse it does us no good to do it while we are trembling in fear. Being told our fears are stupid doesn’t help either.

The most useful things we can do are to stay safe, prepare carefully, and slowly build up to where we are afraid so we can accustom ourselves to what we are facing and become more prepared as we get there. Once we work on all these things we may find that the thing formerly so scary is not as scary anymore. I backed out of this trailer today, after carefully double checking everything, without the usual lump in my throat! Pickup bed here we come!

 


Clinic

A good friend and I put on a trick training clinic last week. I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since. Haven’t had time to come up for air much less have time to write though.

I had agreed to do it two years ago. Covid got in the way last year. This year camp was a go and the clinic was back on.

My friend Heather agreed to come along and help me. Without her it wouldn’t have worked. We split the groups up. She taught one trick I taught another. Between us we were able to give people almost enough attention to keep them interested. Her better than me. She was great at in person training. Not so sure I am.

Rusty and Heildorf came along and gave a demo as we got started. As soon as we unloaded they were set upon by nose flies. Again! I couldn’t believe it. They usually only last a week. Of course both clinics would fall in that week. Between that and the new place Rusty was crazed. Head in the air he bounced around, reverting somewhat to his old running people over self. I tied them both to the trailer and got the scarf I had along to do ‘sneeze’. Draping it over the nose band of the halter I used it to cover his nose and keep him safe from flies.

He looked like a lovely harem girl but it calmed him down enough that he was able to focus. We did some practicing. He remembered he was a big boy and had some education. Fortunately. A whole day like that would have been awful. I was called over to the arena so they could introduce the clinicians. His nose protection had to come off.

While there I talked to a lady who said she had some insect wipes that did a pretty good job with nose flies. She’d drop them off for me. As I walked back to the trailer the first group followed me. I was totally unprepared. Forgot my chicken and my handkerchief/nose fly protection. There were tons of people in the first group! Or it seemed that way as I tried to start. Remembered all I hadn’t loaded up with. Tried to remember what I had planned to say anyway.

Somehow we made it through. Not sure how or what I said. Fortunately after that Heather got there to help me out. Also after that first great experience I remember to stuff my pockets with rubber chickens and handkerchiefs. Such important training tools 😉

My main take aways from the whole hot, windy day were the number of people who had no problem at all with feeding their horses treats. We are in far western Nebraska. This is ranch country. Some of the people there lived in town and had horses they board somewhere. Most of them were ranchers. That means cowboys. There is a bit of a reputation that goes with that of being rough with horses. People like to say mean things sometimes, especially in clicker training circles.

Out of this whole bunch, almost seventy 4h kids actually entered in the camp and any accompanying parents, there was one family who said they “didn’t want to ruin their horse, he’s a ranch horse” about feeding treats. I’m sure there were others. They quietly drifted away though, to sit in the shade or find things that did interest them. That worked out perfectly. It gave us more time to concentrate on the ones who were interested. The ones who had already taught their horses a few tricks, the ones who wanted to learn how to teach a trick, the ones we may have been able to plant a seed in that will begin to grow when they are ready.

One delightful grandma, there with her grandchildren and obviously an experienced horse woman, asked Heather why I was telling people to use scratches instead of treats? When told that many people didn’t like to hand feed horses, she scoffed. “Why would anyone worry about something like that?” They fed treats all the time, she couldn’t believe there were people who wouldn’t. That did prove to be true throughout the day. Hand feeding wasn’t a problem. Tricks weren’t a problem. The only problem was time to get to everyone. Time to get the idea of what we were trying to do across.
I had planned on trying to push the idea that we use the same training we use for tricks no matter what we are training. Not sure that got across. We may have some horses who pick up their feet better than they did before from our work on the simple bow.

I know we had many parents who got great photo opps from Heather’s work in teaching hug. Those parents quickly understood the purpose behind it as they rushed to get pictures. Oohing and awing over their children and horses.

By the end of the day Rusty had had enough. He was hot and bored. He was done roping, he was done Spanish walking. Our demo was fairly well pointless. Which is unfortunate because the last group of the day were the ones who really got the idea and managed to teach the basic tricks best of all. It might also be that Heather and I were reaching our stride and getting the idea of the teaching down pat. It was more likely that it was the oldest group and they were able to do the training. There were a few girls who had a simple bow down by the end of the day!

 


4H Horse Clinic

I go tasked to do a little clinic for 4h. I love the idea of 4h, even if I can not figure out how to do it for anything. So I happily accepted.

The day of the clinic dawned HOT. I was sick to my stomach, because having to do anything with, or especially in front of, people makes me so nervous I can hardly stand it. The pickup with plenty of room and air conditioning had broken down the day before.
We squeezed into the front of the trusty old single cab pickup. It roared on down the road, happy to be out of fence checking duty.

At the arena with time to get the one shady spot, set up, and get the horses used to the new place we waited.

In no time at all pickups and trailers started pulling in. Not a large number but a good amount for us to practice in front of for our big clinic coming up in a couple of days!

Children, big and small, new to horses and life long riders came leading their horses. A local horsewoman who is very active in local horse activities and a great roll model to the youth in the area came with her husband. She is a great person and a great friend, I was happily surprised to see them pull in.

We got down to business.

I had been practicing a routine at home with Rusty and Heildorf. Last month. Before kids got out of school, cows needed to go to pasture, and summer activities took all my spare time. We’d had two times to go through it in the days before the clinic. I found many places where my mind went completely blank. I took guesses and forgot my balloon popping on the bridge altogether!

Oh well. They were forgiving. Now we have two days to practice before we do it in front of much larger less forgiving groups. Gulp.

After the demo we got started. The official theme of the day was over coming fear. I hadn’t practiced anything but figured I knew my stuff well enough to improvise. The trusty curtain rack was the toy for us to play with. We took turns going through, practicing stopping to reassure our horses, not forcing, offering lots of rewards.

I had planned on talking about how we can use scratches as a reward, and did, but everyone there was very happy to feed treats!

One girl had been working on teaching her stout enthusiastic 24 year old horse to kiss! I told her we could work more on that is she’d like. Then never got a chance to 🙁 It’s so hard to get to everything!

The horsewoman and her husband do clicker training! A mixed bag of clicker and Parelli. Their horses were getting clicked and treated like crazy. Two sisters there because their whole family is new to horses were m ore than happy to offer their horses food as a reward for their good behavior. My best friend who came along for support and to offer her help, which was priceless, was willing and interested.

Out here in the middle of nowhere, ranch and cowboy country, we had a clinic of random riders who were all interested in rewarding with treats, interested in tricks, and in no way bothered by the idea of using positive reinforcement. How cool is that. We get a bit of a bad rep among positive reinforcement people. Many people seem to think that the cowboy type is rough and tumble, bucking horses out, and forcing them to their will. I’m not going to say that type isn’t out there. It’s there no matter where you go in the horse world. It’s not all there is though!

The clinic was going great. Then we got attacked by nose flies! Anyone who isn’t familiar with nose flies is lucky! They are large buzzing flies, similar in loos and size to bot flies. They fly around, or according to some UP, a horses nose. Predictably, horses aren’t fond of them. To the extreme.
The first horse they found was the youngest girls. They went for her horses nose, the horse started in with some enthusiastic nose flopping. She was a great old horse though and restrained from getting overly violent. Other horses started swinging their heads around and striking out with their front feet.
I’ve had horses rear then throw themselves to their knees rubbing their noses in the dirt trying to free themselves of the pests. It was time to stop. An arena full of small children and horses fighting nose flies is the stuff of nightmares.
We called an early stop to the fun and rushed to get horses into the safety of the trailers. Even stopping early it was a good day. For me at least. I hope the others enjoyed it too and were able to find something to take away from it.

Male And Female whorls

I spent the last week doing some very unscientific studying. As I helped teach a class at vacation bible school I looked over to notice a child with a forelock whorl!
Ok, some people would call it a cow lick above the forehead. In the same group was one with a double whorl. I whipped out my camera then remembered that they weren’t horses and it may be frowned upon to take whorl pictures.
After some thought I did it anyway.
That got me paying attention to all the whorls. As I made laps around the table helping them with our projects I took note of all the whorls around the table.
I have stared at the back of my husbands head and tried to decide if his whorl set to the right side of his head meant he was right or left brain. Since I believe he is a good combination of each I never could decide.
After looking at the children sitting at my table all week I realized I’ve been thinking about it wrong. Most of the boys had a whorl to their right. The girls were harder to tell, most of them had longer hair that made it hard to tell where the whorl was for sure. They seemed to mostly have whorls set to their left though.
As I talked to a mother afterwards who has horses and knows about my whorl interests I mentioned the forelock whorl. Her sons is set to his right. She said she has a forelock whorl too, interesting heredity there, but hers is set to her left!
The boy with double whorls also has at least one brother who also had double whorls. I need to look at the rest of his family and see how many others carry doubles.
How to go about that??? Horses are so much easier 🤣
 
On a related note, in dogs it has been found that the sex of the dog has great influence on the direction of some whorls.

Talent Show

There was a message from the school saying that the first act of the talent show would be outside.

I didn’t dare to hope that there might be a horse involved. It’s a rural school, lots of kids have horses. It wouldn’t be too odd if some child had decided to bring a horse.

I pulled up to the parking lot and there was a stock trailer parked in the place I always take when I have a trailer on. It was looking good, odds were it was a horse! As I walked in there were parents standing outside the door to the auditorium holding a lovely little palomino paint pony. When I pulled my daughter away from her class to change clothes for the act she was a part of she told me that a friend from her class was going to do tricks with her pony! Her pony was way better than my horses and could rear! This I couldn’t wait to see.

We all gathered around outside the school and a tiny little blond girl lead the pony out. She was darling and smaller then the pony. She had no trouble holding onto him and despite some nervousness at the crowd he did exactly as she asked. Together they showed his well balanced and controlled rear then a beautiful bow. It was great seeing a small child having no problem asking this difficult tricks of her nicely behaved pony.

Of course after the presentation I went over and said hi. The mom had trained the pony and was happy to have such a wonderful little guy around for the kids. He knows more tricks and I can’t wait to get to see them! This poor family isn’t getting rid of me so easily.


Fixin’ Fence

Spring is come. The grass has been green for awhile now. Growing as much as it will on a year with no moisture to bring it up. It’s time for the cattle to go out to pasture.

We run on average about a month behind the usual schedule, the one that’s normal for most cattle people in the area. It works for us. The corn gets planted, the cows eat hay, the pastures have a chance to grow. In the fall we leave the cows out later too. There’s still grass to feed them and we don’t have to start feeding every morning until later. It works.

Every spring the fences need gone around. Make sure snow banks haven’t flattened miles of fence line. Repair the damage done by antelope and deer and elk over the winter. Keep up with normal wear and tear from cattle and age. It’s long, hot, boring work. Slowly covering every drop of fence line. Checking each and every post for missing staples. Patching and stretching loose wire as you go.

The pickup growls as we cruise through the pasture. Its big engine wanting to be free and roar down the road instead of idling along. Its impatience with the job builds as it guzzles gas and roots at the bit. A fourwheeler would be easier on the pocket book and get around the pasture with less jarring of my back. The steel posts bouncing in the back clanging against wire, fence stretchers, and the heavy post driver require more carrying capacity.

The ceaseless wind sings as it howls through the wires and cools the sun peaking through fluffy clouds. The clouds hint of possible rain, then laugh as they pass us by to give much needed moisture elsewhere instead.

My dog is happy to accompany me. She rides in back getting out when I do. Laying in the shade under the pickup or sniffing after scents only she recognizes. Like me, there’s no where else she’d rather be. Streaked with dirt and sweat, sore from the work and the rough ride, my muscles ache but the ache is of god use and ability to get the job done. The tired is well earned, the dog and I will both sleep well tonight. We know our worth and our ability. Neither of us is thought any less of for being female. We are simple good, capable workers.

The wide open empty prairie doesn’t care about sex. It only cares about strength. The weak it will smash, blow away with the ceaseless wind and glaring sun. Still happy to push anyone to insanity who can’t take the emptiness and being alone.

Arms straining, using balance to make up for a lack of brute strength I heft the pounder over my head and drive another post. The ground is soft but there is still satisfaction in a blow that drives the post halfway in the first try. Pausing to catch my breath and admire the sweeping views over undulating hills I think that there is nothing I would rather be doing. No cushy job that could take the place of open empty country and good hard work.

Post set, wire clips on, my dog and I climb back into the pickup and creep down the fence to find the next place in need of repair.


Doing Nothing

One of the most important things we can do with our horses during training is absolutely nothing.

Training is fun and can be exciting. Our horses want to be doing things all the time. When they do things they get rewards! Horses like rewards, otherwise it wouldn’t be a ‘reward’ would it. When we go out to work with them they start offering all the things they think might earn them a reward. We want one thing but they are offering kisses, pawing, picking up anything within reach.

It can get frustrating!

In order to avoid this we need to remember that we get more of behaviors that we reward.

When we want our horses to stand quietly and wait for us, we need to reward standing quietly and waiting! This can be hard to remember. We are wired to to look for something that we are doing. How can we reward being still when it isn’t doing something!

Just like treat manners standing quietly manners need to be taught and revisited regularly.

The next time you play with your horse pay attention to what is going on between tricks and be sure to take the time to wait patiently, stand quietly, and reward enthusiastically for doing absolutely nothing.

 

Here Rusty knows what is coming. He wants to get to it and get the job done. Instead we work on doing nothing, standing quietly without offering any behaviors. Just being still. It’s harder than one would think.



Oh Deer

This picture doesn’t look like much. It was a big problem though.

The grass is getting green. This is as green as things are going to get around here. It’s bone dry. The grass wont last long. While it is here there is no point in even trying to work out of the corrals where the horses can hear the sirens call and can’t even begin to focus.

Working with Rusty and Heildorf yesterday they stared high headed and intent off towards these trees.

Because I listen to my horses I asked what they saw over there? They couldn’t tell me, but they could tell me that there was SOMETHING over there. So I went to look. We have huge herds of deer that feed on our corn, wheat, hay ground, and pastures. Don’t let anyone convince you that wildlife and agriculture somehow don’t coexist. It’s no uncommon to count fifty head along our driveway coming home in the evening.

Today they were all here in among the buildings grazing happily in this tree row.

It was more than the horses could handle.

Once I realized what was there I tried to get a picture to show all of them. They were leaving as I got closer, they were smaller then the fence I had to try to get a picture through, and they blend in well with the brush.

You can’t see any deer in the picture. Trust me. I looked really close.

This is the reason I couldn’t get anything accomplished with my horses yesterday. Even if it doesn’t look like anything more than a picture of a fence and some trees.


Rewarding The Wrong Behaviors

My daughter is brilliant. I know all parents think that. You’ll just have to take my word on it.

My son is sweet, and darling, and a bit of a handful. He is emotional and tends towards full blown fits.

I like to think we manage to avoid issues most of the time with preventive maintenance. His sister likes to push his buttons though and is very literal in her interpretations and upset when he isn’t. It leads to meltdowns. I admit to asking her more often than I probably should, why she had to do that! Couldn’t she just let him be?

I admit also that I give him what he wants more than I should just to get him to stop. I know it’s wrong, I know the behavior that is being encouraged. I know better. But the screaming! Sometimes there are things you do to survive.

He’s a great kid, but pointing out the good qualities doesn’t help us to the point of this story.

His sister sits back watching as we try to avert meltdowns, or at least get hi to stop a tantrum. Then she looks at me with her big serious eyes and says “You just reinforced that behavior. Stop giving him what he wants when he cries and whines because that’s reinforcing him to do it”. You don’t know judgement until you’ve seen it from an eight year old who knows better. The horse groups on facebook are nothing in comparison.

With her strong positive punishment I am learning to do a better job of holding out and waiting until he does something that I want repeated and rewarding that.

Who knew this would be so hard. I’ll take horses any day over trying to train children. If only we could turn them out to pasture when we’re done playing. It would make child rearing a LOT easier.