Spring Cold

Spring Cold is somehow worse than winter cold.

We’ve had a taste of warm. A reminder of summer to come. We’ve been lured into forsaking our long underwear, scarves, and accoutrements. Remembering and realizing that we will need them again is hard, until it’s time to break ice again and thighs have frozen solid. Then you remember the things you forgot. To late to go back for them, to early to remember the next day.

After a day or two without the wind is back. I pitch hay to the horses, against the wind. It all blows into my face and I feed them on the ground instead of the feeder trying to keep some of it where they can catch it as it blows. Everyday as the wind howls I sing the song of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald to them. Apologizing because “it’s too rough to feed ya”.
The exact lyrics if there’s actually anyone out there who doesn’t know the song:

“When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’
“Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya””
Here’s a link to the song, wonderful, terrible, epic stuff that I really can not listen to, especially on days like this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vST6hVRj2A
I finally got my father in law to just set the rest of the bale in to them. There are times we stop worrying about saving hay and dust. The dust blowing through the air is worse than what Rusty will get from having his head buried in a bale.
As I look out across the hills there are clouds of dust kicking up from any field left without enough cover. The corrals are blown down to hard dirt. Any loose debris is drifted in the corners like brown snow drifts. It reminds me of stories about the dust bowl and how there were, supposedly, whole lines of machinery parked along fence rows that got buried under drifting dirt. It seem s ludicrous, until days, weeks, when the wind blows like this.
We have the benefits of windbreaks and electricity, the internet to keep us connected and entertained. Our house is a basement house, only the top half sticking out. Still I hear the wind whistle and moan, unable to shake the sturdy foundation. I think of pioneer women being driven insane by the isolation and that endless wailing wind. I think of my daughters friend from school who lives in a big old frame house sat on top of a hill. She tells of how her room shakes and rattles as this wind blows. It makes me want to burrow deeper underground. I feel a sense of solidarity, sympathy, and complete understanding.
Soon I may run screaming of into the endless prairie.

Tail Tells, HorseWhorls

I love Readers Digest, there is always some gem to be found in there.

In this months it was an article talking about pets and what they are trying to tell us. Included was that when a dog wags their tails to the right they are curious, interested, engaged, they are working from the left side of the brain. When dogs wag their tails to the left it shows they are worried or fearful, working from the right side of their brain.

It is along the same lines as a horse spooking and running to where they can put their left eye on the thing that scared them. The right side of the brain manages reactions, fear, emotions. Because the left side of the brain is more strongly connected to the right side of the body and vice versa the left eye is connected to the right side of the brain.

But, the same article informed us all that all dogs really prefer to be inside. With one such blatantly false statement it left the rest of the article in doubt, so I went looking for other sources.

(Yes, many dogs undoubtedly do prefer to be inside. Not all, not by any stretch. Dogs who are suited to the weather and outdoor play with plenty of enrichment in their environment, much prefer playing outside to being stuck inside all day.)

I was able to find lots of support for this statement! which was great because it goes right along with everything I believe to be true.

Dog tails are not whorls, but they are outside clues to the inside workings of the body, Tails can offer a wealth of information, aside from which direction they are waging to. They can tell us if the dog is happy, scared or aggressive. A wagging tail does NOT automatically mean a happy dog. I’ve seen people who misinterpret that and get themselves in trouble with dogs who were clearly asking to be left alone.

Do you know what your dogs tail is trying to tell you? This is a great article that covers the basics. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/interpreting-tail-wags-in-dogs

What about horse tails? Because they don’t ‘wag’ the signals they give are a bit different than dogs. They can clamp down to show fear. They can flag up in the air to show joy and exuberance. They can be carried to the side to show physical issues, pain onside or outside the body. Does anyone else have a clue we can read in a horse’s tail?


Sensible Single Whorls

Those single whorl horses. They have an amazing reputation in the horse whorld. Steady, dependable, unchanging. They are the unicorn of whorls.

Yes, this is mostly deserved. It’s entirely possible that they can be those things.That single whorl shows a lack of extremes. Extremes are good to avoid with anything in life. The middle of the road, a little of everything and not too much of anything.

Most of the time a single whorl comes with a straight profile, squared off muzzle, a very rectangular shaped head. All the things that come with a steady dependable horse.

Most of the time.

Those times when they don’t are the time people say whorls don’t work. They say they had a single whorl horse and he didn’t fit any of the expectations!

That is why we can’t just look at the whorl when we have a single whorl. It tells us there are no extremes to be seen in the whorl, not that there are no extremes at all. Sometimes the head shape will show us differences in temperament, sometimes it will be other whorls on the head. A center whorl is a good solid steady starting spot but it isn’t the entire journey. Here more than any other whorl the details are the important thing. Is the profile dished? Rounded? Are there quirk bumps? Or is the profile straight to keep that center whorl sensible.

When all the features are aligned a single center whorl is the perfect whorl to look for for people who want a quiet, dependable horse who is the same horse every day, without the drama and excitement of more complicated whorl patterns. Baby sitters and trusted rides single whorls are usually the trusted stand by that people reach for again and again.


Cowboy Camp

Heildorf is off to cowboy camp.
I am a positive reinforcement trainer. It might seem odd to some people that I sent my horse off for some cowboy to ride. Aren’t cowboys mean to their horses? After all, we call it cowboying a horse for good reason right?
There is so much going on here, I’ll try to keep it short and simple.
I sent Heildorf off to be ridden by a wonderful trainer who did a great job with him. She helped him find a way through his fears. Showed him that he wasn’t going to be hurt or chased.
It wasn’t enough though.
When a horse has serious phobias thirty days, or sixty, isn’t long enough to make them go away. When he got home he was better but still jumping and wanting to bolt. More than I was comfortable handling.
A friend of mine volunteered her husband who has been away from colt starting for awhile due to injury. Not injury from colt starting, I should mention that.
I was a bit worried. When he showed up to try Helly out he was talking about trust accounts and rewards and I lost any worries I was holding.
He hopped on and dealt with the bolting without fear or reprisal. Just sat it calmly and the two of them were off. With a calm person in the drivers seat Heildorf is being shown, calmly and patiently, that he doesn’t have reason to fear. He is allowed to show his fear, then comforted by the lack of reaction, then given a job to do to take his mind off of the fear.
Positive reinforcement is a wonderful tool. Horses learn so fast and happily with it. Could I have gotten Heildorf through his fears using only that one tool?
Probably. Eventually. Until then he would have been still scared. Still hating what we were doing together. It was a long process that wasn’t nice for him.
The work he is doing now is the equivalent of ripping the bandaid off quickly. It faced his fears head on. Fears he has already been shown, patiently and kindly, are unfounded. This isn’t forcing learned helplessness onto him. This is Holding his hand and jumping into the deep end together then holding him up once they are in there.
Heildorf has spent the last week moving cattle, crossing water and deep ditches. He has been roped off of. He is getting out there and being given a job to do.
He is perfectly calm and happy with all of it except that one deep phobia of seeing a person behind him out of both eyes when standing still.
Working cowboys, not the wanna be cowboys who live on the edge of town or on a few acres, have to spend their days with their horses, depending on the horse to take care of them and keep them alive. They get the reputation unfairly. For the most part. There are bad ones in any group of people.
Heildorf is being rewarded, loved on, and handled with a calm consistent hand. I’ve watched him take comfort in that. Let out huge sighs, releasing the tension and relaxing with the work.
I’m not saying all horses who are afraid should be ridden through it. I am saying that getting over fear is a long process. It is a process. Heildorf has been working through it slowly and carefully. This is just the next step in the process.
Being given a job to do is good for almost any horse.


When we are looking at horses, to buy, to choose for a particular discipline, looking at the whorls first can save a lot of heartbreak in the long run.

There are no bad whorls!

But, there might be whorls that aren’t as well suited to certain pursuits. On the other hand there are some whorls that end up being good for the role the horse ends up playing in life purely by accident.

This lovely mare is a rescue. She is almost completely blind. The believe she can see a sliver out of the right eye and that is it. This nearly blind mare is going into training. How far the training goes will depend on how she does and how she feels about things but she’s almost ready for a first ride.

There are some horses who wouldn’t be able to begin a riding career without good eye sight. This mare’s head shape should work in her favor to help everyone down this chosen path.

Her forehead whorl is slightly high and slightly to our right. That shows a horse who will display slight right brain extrovert traits. Emotional, sensitive, reactive. How strongly those traits will show depends on the shape of the head and all her other features. A right brain extrovert can be scared of everything and reactive to the point of difficulty. Especially when handled roughly. On the other hand, they can be sweet and loving and put all those nerves towards wanting to please. It’s all in the extremes and how they are handled. The ’emotional’ can mean they love to the extreme. They want to be with you, they want to be loved.

Her whorl is paired with ears set wide at the base and wider at the tips. Those add stability, willingness, and intelligence.

From the side is where we start to see so much more to her character. She has a strongly dished profile, more sensitivity and emotion to go with the whorl, but below that she has a very impressive moose nose. The moose nose counters the sensitivity and adds boldness and confidence. Not that she wont be sensitive but it will be grounded. She will feel your every emotion and be brave enough to act on your every request. If you offer her right brain side support and comfort.

I hope to hear more about this lovely mare as her training progresses. She ended up having a perfect whorl for the job, purely by accident.

 


Cow Horse

It’s been pretty busy around here. We’ve started calving. Rusty has been busy earning the title of working ranch horse. He and I have been checking cows, moving anything that needs moved and sorting pairs. He’s starting to figure out for real how this cow stuff works.

We pair clicking and treating with pressure and release, so I can cue him quickly and help make sure we are where we need to be to get the job done. But I can also let him know exactly what he’s doing right and should do again. With that he is quickly learning how to get down and cut a cow. That and his very cowy bloodlines so he does come by it naturally. Not show worthy cutting of course, but good working style.

Come join us here as we play with a yearling heifer.

It gets a little messy at times, he is still learning and the conditions aren’t the best, slick, with hills to work over, and at least one chunk of cement I clearly remember looking down at as we ran over it. Thinking that that could hurt. Most of all the rush of sitting on a horse who is working on their own back and forth with the calf is always amazing.


Targeting

When I was a small child our horses spent their winters turned out in the corn fields. Now that would scare me half to death and I would never do it. Back then we didn’t know any better and they were fine.

One of the benefits of it was that we spent a lot of time riding through the corn stubble. Even later, as I got older and they no longer wintered in the corn stalks, it was still a great place to ride.

As we rode through the corn stalks we developed a game. A version of teaching ‘touch’. We would spot ears with the corn still on. A great treat for the horses! The only problem was getting the horses to find the treat.

So we started teaching our horses touch! Kind of. We would position them so when they dropped their head they would land on the corn and taught a head down cue. It became a great game with the horses paying close attention to us because there was a reward waiting for them when they listened. We all learned to listen to each other better and what cues meant. They learned to touch, to go to the things we asked them to.

It was a great game. One we still play today.


Double Whorl Club, HorseWhorls

They have a bad reputation. Watch out for those double whorls. Nothing but trouble. Said to have double personalities, wildly swinging mood changes. Jekyll and Hyde temperament. Avoid them when you can.

And yet.

There are a select few of us who like our double whorls.

What is a double whorl?

For this purpose it is two whorls stacked on top of each other or next to each other. There are other whorl patterns with two whorls but they aren’t usually included in this. Although they are welcome to join the club!

Yes, two whorls does show a horse that has a little extra. You can even quite rightly say that they will have double personalities. Twice the whorls mean twice the horse. They have so much to give, with the right person. Intelligent and sensitive they need a rider who is confident and willing to listen to them. Who will offer support and not get made at small, or large, meltdowns. One who enjoys the idiosyncrasies and a more exciting ride than quiet uncomplicated horses will give.

When given these things a double whorl horse will give all they have to offer.

There are differences in the horses depending on whorl placement of course. A stacked double is going to be different than a side by side double.

Stacked double whorls show a horse who can be quiet and excitable, spooky but trustworthy. They draw from both the introvert and extrovert sides of their temperament. The change from introvert to extrovert and back can come as a shock, leading to the double personality claims. The wider the space between the whorls the greater the differences in the temperament. When the whorls are touching, or nearly so, the swings will be small. When they are far apart the differences greater.

High double side by side whorls show a horse who is a left brain extrovert, with some right brain extrovert mixed in. They are sensitive, extremely quick learners. Bold, calm, curious, and confident, they can concentrate intently on a job but will get bored with repetition. You have to give them a reason to be interested. They can be a super power in the right hands. Without steady confident handling they can completely run over a person.

No, these horses aren’t for everyone. People who aren’t fans can take the whorl as a warning and find horses who suit them better. People who like them get to be members of the double whorls club. A select and rarefied group. Are you a member of the double whorl club?

 


Growing up we were never told that we shouldn’t feed horses.

The lack of formal horse education was a wonderful gift to be given. Without being told all the things we should never do with horses, we didn’t know any better than to just do what worked. We fed our horses treats. Anything they would eat. We might know a little better now and not feed things like baloney sandwiches anymore.  We didn’t know we weren’t supposed to listen to their opinions and had conversations instead of making them respect us.

Not knowing that all these things were even a thing, we were able to form our own ways of communicating and working with horses. We didn’t carry all the baggage to get in the way of our relationships.

As adults, or close to, we were informed of how things were ‘supposed’ to be. But like with adults who were taught the opposite of what we were as children, we already ‘knew’ how horses should be treated and didn’t accept the new information. We kept on keeping on in our own way. The new training was considered and maybe even experimented with. But the old ways were always there, lightly buried and ready to be dug up when it was clear they worked better.

I could never understand why I would ever not give a cookie with the bit. Horses took the bit so much easier. Before I ever heard of positive reinforcement it was plain that if I scratched a horse or gave cookies when they did what I was looking for they understood that they had done good and did it again so much easier.

I was told over and over again that my horse was testing me and didn’t listen as good to me as he did to others. I needed to make him behave! It was clear to me if no one else that he may be rotten, what others considered rotten, I loved his spirit, but he gave me one hundred percent. He would think for himself and do what he decided was best. We didn’t always agree, but I soon found out that his ideas were usually the right ones. He saved us from all sorts of trouble and together we came up with tricks and ideas. Other people would get on and he would plod quietly. Not offering ideas, or giving the help that he did with me. The spark was hid. Waiting until we could get together again and do more.

Sometimes a lack of knowledge can be the greatest aid to learning. We don’t know what can’t or shouldn’t be done, so we do it anyway.

 


Teaching or Training?

Teaching and training are synonyms. Technically they mean the same thing. As with all synonyms the devil is in the details. The exact nuances implied by using different words can make a big difference.
I enjoyed these definitions of the two words.
Teach:
Teaching can be defined as engagement with learners to enable their understanding and application of knowledge, concepts and processes Teaching is the process of attending to people’s needs, experiences and feelings, and intervening so that they learn particular things, and go beyond the given.

to guide the studies of.
Train:
Training is teaching, or developing in oneself or others, any skills and knowledge or fitness that relate to specific useful competencies. Training has specific goals of improving one’s capability, capacity, productivity and performance.
At the risk of sounding pedantic the words we use matter.
Why do we teach children but train horses? If we look at these definitions teaching is engaging. It is working with the student to help them understand. It is attending their needs. This can be seen as a conversation, working together to enable them to do their absolute best. To enhance skills and abilities to ‘go beyond the given’.
When we train we are imparting our skills upon them. We are working towards a specific goal that is predetermined. It isn’t a bad thing. When there is one specific job to be done we need to learn, or train, how to do that job. It doesn’t allow leeway though. It is a one way conversation.
Next time we are out working with our horses maybe we should pause a moment and think about whether we are training them or teaching them. Do they get some say in the matter? Are we working together to help the horse reach the absolute best of their abilities in a way that they are allowed and welcome to have a say in.
I think I might just start calling myself a horse teacher instead of horse trainer.