After The Storm

The day after the storm passed was spent digging out. My husband and his father dug their way to the highway.
The cows shook off their winter white blankets and soaked up the sun.
I hiked out to the corrals where the cows spent most of the day on the thirteenth. When we went out to feed them in the evening the cows came running to the tractor as they tried to dig out a gate enough to get through to the cattle. I went ahead on the four-wheeler to check for calves.
In the pens, in the shelter of the big cedar trees, the wind was blocked. Instead the trees filtered the snow as it howled through them. It sprinkled down on the cows like the fine mist from a sprinkler. Breathing was nearly impossible. Every breath sucked in as much moisture as air. The wind in the shelter still beat down on the cows. They were coated in white, huddled together in the corner.
We couldn’t leave them there. Half of them had run to the tractor. I chased the rest to join them. The gate couldn’t be opened any way. The cows got fed in the pen with the lake. The wind was blowing still but the snow came in snow form not mist. It was possible to breath.
In the corrals the next day I found drifts where the cattle had been. Huge drifts that well covered the fences. we did lose one calf in the blizzard. Born over night in the worst of the weather, there was no way he could have made it. Had they stayed in these corrals I think there would have been many cows gone instead of that single calf.

As we get dug out and warmed up by the very welcome sun all I can think is how lucky we are. Not only in having good shelter and not losing more than a single calf, but also that we only got this snow. That it only wiped out fences and buried us in its blanket. On the east side of the state they are being washed away in epic flooding. Ice is breaking loose ripping out bridges and homes. Barns that keep cattle safe through blizzards during calving are being swept away cattle and all as the ranchers watch helpless to save their herds. Life will never be the same. Counties will never be able to fix all the infrastructure that is lost. Families will never replace loved ones who give their lives trying to help.

The news will never mention us. We will be here though, continuing to fight, and help, and do all we can to save animals and friends. Here are links to some ways to help.

Cowboy 911

Farm bureau


Settling In For The Night

We’ve spent the day checking cattle and keeping them tucked away as best possible. There was one calf. We brought him and his mom up and put them in the barn. She was a good quiet cow and when we put the calf in a sled behind the fourwheeler she sniffed him then followed him in nicely. She even willingly walked through the little door in the barn and stayed. We haven’t found any sign of others.

They left the cows out in the big pens this morning when they fed. When we went out this evening to feed a drift blocked the gate. As we worked to get it open to allow the payloader through the herd came running. If they were willing to wade through the lake I was willing to let them. I took the fourwheeler up to finish bringing the rest of the cows down. The sturdy row of cedar trees, a thick and sufficient windbreak for any blizzard was just serving to diffuse the snow. Hurricane force winds drove through the branches blowing a fine mist of snow down on the cattle. It was like breathing underwater. Any thought of leaving the cattle that hadn’t already come running was gone. I chased the remnants down though the gates.

Hay bales were out and waiting for them in what shelter was available. The wind was still blowing but without the fine mist that was drifting down on them in the other pens.

We went back out as it was getting dark and checked everything one last time. The cows were huddled up tight. Eating hay or squeezed into what shelter they could find. There was nothing else we could do. I went in to feed the horses after walking out through the cows. They were warm and still wet from the little bit of time I had made them go outside. Smoke had been horrified by that and spent the time pacing and wanting in instead of eating and drinking like the rest of them. They all happily ran back in when I had opened the door and called. The hours I had spent hauling hay into the barn so we would be prepared seemed futile now as they quickly trampled it into the mud on the flooded floor. Better wet feet and in out of the storm than standing out in this.

We still have electricity although it has flickered a few times as I write this. We have neighbors without. It is warm enough, in the upper twenties, that we would probably skip the generator, put on some extra blankets, and wait it out until morning. There is nothing else we can do for the cattle but worry and pray. They are all behind shelter. A wind like this quickly makes the usual shelter useless. The wet compounds the issue. All we can do is  wait for morning and hope the storm has passed.

Beginning Of The Storm

It starting raining last night. When we woke up the animals were cold and hunched. The temperatures were hovering right at freezing and everything was soaked through. A beautiful way to start out the storm.
I went to check on the horses only to find the cold and wet. They have lots of shelter but freezing rain makes everything miserable. I took them into the barn.
When I went out to check on them it was raining, freezing sleet and rain. It blew sideways with the wind, even here at the buildings behind the windbreaks. By the time I came out of the barn it had turned all the way to snow, wet stinging snow. The puddles everywhere were starting to crust over with ice, the brown patches that showed through where the rain melted away the snow, were turning white again.
The cattle, left out in the bigger, farther away pens for the night were now stuck out there by the rushing river that separated them from the buildings. One of the reasons we had planned to bring them up in the first place. In leaving them out where they had room to spread and were more easily fed, we had not counted on this much rain combined with the snow melt. Getting them through the water would be a battle.
There is lots of shelter out there and the pens are up higher, on a hill, so not full of the puddles that have filled the rest of the corrals. We wanted them up for our convenience as much as anything. They will be ok out there we will just have to work harder to get out to them, no short walks protected by wind break.
The snow is still fairly light, no whiteout conditions yet. We still have electricity! It is getting farther below zero. But snow is easier on the animals than rain, better still if they weren’t already soaked. I need to get back out and check on the horses again. We’ll see what this storm does and if it really gets as bad as they are predicting!


Calm Before The Storm

I like a good blizzard. There’s something about watching the snow accumulate, about being safe inside while the wind howls, about knowing the animals are tucked away safe with plenty of feed and shelter. I like snow. It’s very important for us out here in the high plains, where spring storms make up most of the moisture we get for the year. A good blizzard can make or break the summers grazing.

As I get older though I am starting to worry more. What if the house caught on fire when the roads were blown shut and the fire department couldn’t get here? What if one of the kids gets sick or hurt and we can’t get to the hospital? It makes being snowed in a little less fun. With the storm that is coming in now the weathermen are having a little too much fun. They are enjoying their chance to forecast the storm of the decade.  Hurricane force winds, feet of snow. Hopefully they are overstating it as they usually do. If they aren’t though, if they aren’t we are starting to calve and that makes everything worse.

There is no magical “good” time to calve. Any time can be a bad time. The middle of summer whit hot weather, dust, and bugs can be harder on a newborn than snow and cold.

Last year at this time we had green grass and warm weather. Now we have blizzards, big ones. The cattle are already in the corrals where they are forced to stay in a sheltered area. Cows aren’t smart about this. Not all the time. Some cows will choose a perfect, warm, sheltered place to calve. Others will go out into the most open, wind swept place and leave the calf to die. For normal snows we’d leave them where they are. Lots of room to spread out and the tree row for shelter. For the one forecast we want them close, where we can get out to them. Where it’s even more sheltered. Where it will be closer and easier to get any calves born into a shed, try to get them warm and keep them alive.

Today we have warm weather, whether that’s a blessing or a curse it’s sometimes hard to tell. We will use it though, getting ready. The animals will use it, resting, eating, soaking up the warm.



Happy Habits

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying that people are just as happy as they make up their minds to be. That sounds simple enough. People suffering from depression will tell you though that it’s not just that simple. We can say that we are going to be happy now! all that we want. That doesn’t make it so. Unfortunately.

Our brains are wonderful and amazing creations. The same things that allow our brains to work so well, to have the ability to adapt to new things, to work nearly mindlessly on a task that we know well, can also work against us. Our brains become wired to think in certain ways, when we think thoughts regularly our brains develop to follow those paths. They forget that there are other ways they could go.

This helps us to not have to think through our daily routines every step of the way but it also allows us to get stuck in ruts.

If you have been thinking unhappy thoughts there is no simple way to decide you are going to think happy ones now. Your brain has already ran this wiring, it’s not going to abandon all that infrastructure just because you decided! Building new circuits, happy circuits, isn’t easy. Remembering to and being able to think happy things all day to rewire your brain is not easy. I don’t really think it’s even possible. Not just by deciding to do so.

I hurt  my finger a couple of weeks ago. It had a small run in with my horses mouth. He wasn’t aiming for me, we were both in the wrong spot at the wrong time. It still hurt though. It was the pointer finger, on my right hand of course, which means there are a lot of things I usually do that I could not do. Not in my usual way at least. I found new ways to do the things, usually involving my under used left hand.

Now my hand is feeling better. I’m able to use the finer again. In theory. After struggling so hard to figure out how to do things without using my right hand I can’t remember how it was done using the hand. My brain reran the wiring. Now the dominant paths through  my brain uses my left hand, or at least the other fingers on my right hand. Being forced to do things a different way made my brain rewire a new way.

I think anyone who has broke an arm or had some body part put out of use has experienced the same thing. Our brains often have to be forced to accept change. Like the rest of our bodies we don’t do it willingly.

What can we do that makes us look for the positive? Requires us to find the best in others? Forces us to search for what is right and good and reward it enthusiastically? All those lead us to happiness, if only there was a way to channel them and even reward ourselves for following thought processes in those directions. That’s starting to sound disturbingly like a self help commercial. Especially when I then start plugging training with positive reinforcement.

Think about it though. I go outside and Rusty is already calling to me. He heard me come out the door and wants to play. It’s nice to be wanted, I click him and offer a treat for being happy to see me. We then spend the next half hour or so focusing strongly on everything he does right. He is thrilled. I’m proud and happy right along with him. By the end of our time together I am floating. I go back inside focusing on all the really great things that happened between us. Life is great! New pathways are being developed in my brain like crazy. The next day I go back again, we focus on the positive again. Those pathways are reinforced just as much as Rusty is.

By training others in a positive way we are training ourselves to be positive. We are learning to look for the good as opposed to waiting for the bad so we can correct it. We want them to win, and help them towards it as best we can. If we do this everyday. Even better if we do this with multiple animals throughout the day. If we start to use positive reinforcement on all the people around us. We can train our brains to follow much happier pathways in no time.

Best of all, emotions spread between people. If we start to be happier, our friends become happier. On the other hand if we are angry, people we meet and talk to will reflect our anger. Not just the ones we see in person but people we text or talk to online too. All it takes from us is a word or a gesture. If we focus on using positive reinforcement with our animals we can get in the habit of it. Treating others with kindness, in our training and interactions, is a mood booster its self.

By training with positive reinforcement we are not only forcing our minds to think good joyful thoughts but also practicing kindness to others. How can it help but lift our moods and train our minds to be happy?

My New Bitless!

So many new things recently.
I’ve been looking at and thinking about bitless bridles for awhile now. Not because I have anything against bits. I love mine and think that GOOD bits can be a very useful tool.
Why not experiment though?
I had a basic idea of what I wanted and didn’t want. I thought we’d be ok without the extra leverage of the cross under straps. I was also concerned about the horse being able to receive clear communication.
It can be amazingly hard to search for the sidepull type of bitless, well, we’ve just started calling it the bitless, it’s not exactly a bridle. I searched all the usual places. Amazon carries them as do most of the big tack suppliers. So do a lot of people on Etsy.
I went with Etsy. If we can get things from small companies, or even just a person making something to sell, why not go with that instead of giving money to the big boys? There were so many beautiful options I had a hard time deciding. Finally I narrowed it down to the things I really wanted. As opposed to all the pretty extras.

I really liked this one but was unsure about the way it attached to the bridle…/bitless-rope-side-pull-attachment-wi…?

I thought this one was beautiful but wanted the double rings, one for the bit and one for the headstall…/side-pullbitless-bridle-attachmentcu…?

So I went with this one. Pretty, has the double rings, no cross under action.…/249575234/braided-side-pull-hackamor…

I ordered the one that was black and purple. Very pretty but I’m a brown kind of girl and not all that into bling. As pretty as they are in all the bright colors I just like the traditional leather, all plain and boring. I sent her a message asking if she had any in brown instead of black that didn’t have the leverage from the bottom. She sent me a message asking if I wanted that instead. At the same time I got that email I got one saying it had shipped. I was a little sad but had ordered the black so, oh well.
I was very excited and couldn’t wait for my new bitless. When it came I tore into it and… It was brown!! She had sent me exactly the one I had wanted.
It was up near freezing that day so when I went out just to try it on and see if it fit I ended up saddling Rusty up and going for a ride instead. he hadn’t been ridden in at least a month, probably more. It was cold out he was excited to go out through the cows. I was a little concerned about getting bucked off with no real power to get his head up if he got overly exuberant.
I didn’t!
Instead he was light and responsive and didn’t seem to have much trouble adjusting to the difference in cues. I think we both really like it. Can’t wait to try it on the others.
Getting pictures was a little difficult. He only wanted to stand on top of me. I think this gives the basic idea though. I don’t really know the exact proper placement of these things. This looks like the right place. I wont get mad if you look and see how very wrong I am and want to tell me


Learning The Ropes

I realized I haven’t shared Rusty’s first encounter with a rope on his page!
It wasn’t dramatic, just an interesting example of letting a horse say when they are worried about something and don’t want to be around it.
This is just a tiny bit of what we did that day. It is sped up because clicker training is SO boring! There’s no running a horse in circles, no spooking or bolting. Just a horse hanging out chewing. And chewing. And chewing. It takes forever to get done chewing! 😉
Rusty is allowed to leave if he wants to. He isn’t going to learn to be scared of things by being allowed to leave when they are too much for him. The opposite is more likely to be true.

Roping Horse

Rusty and I have been working on getting him over his fear of ropes. I guess I didn’t share that video here. He had no interest in being around a rope.
We are working on getting him used to being around ropes.
As usual letting horses come up with their own ideas and do things at their own pace makes everything more fun. Rusty came up with his own way to work with and around ropes.
I think we are going to go with it.


Stimulus Control?

With clicker training the first thing we usually have to do is convince our horses that we want them to think for themselves. We take horses who have been trained traditionally to stand quietly and wait for us to tell them what to do and we tell them we will give them food if they can think of a way to earn it. Once that ‘clicks’ with them it blows their minds.  All of a sudden we have a horse who wants to do things. They often go from well behaved to over enthusiastic.

This is what we wanted from them. Now that we have all that enthusiasm and try, what are we supposed to do with it?

Our once well behaved horse is now pawing and exploring with his mouth. Touching everything he can get his nose on. Following us around and doing all the tricks he knows, trying to earn another treat. We’ve created a monster!

Now what?

Horses don’t automatically know when and how we want them to think for themselves and when we want them to do what we say. We offer them choice, then only want them to choose when it is handy for us. We’ve asked them to have ideas and opinions and that is all they are doing.

It is up to us to explain clearly what we want from them, what actions will earn them a reward. To put actions on cue and explain that we will only give treats for the action when we have given the cue.

As always the fault and responsibility falls on us. Luckily for us we know that responsibility equals power.

First, is it really hurting anything to have your horse exploring and wanting to play? They can make a nuisance of themselves, true. If they are loose wandering around with us they can start mugging or throwing behaviors at us in an attempt to find one that will be rewarded. The easiest way to take care of the problem is to put them back out to pasture or their stall when we are done working.

To actually solve the problem we need to teach them that behaviors are only rewarded when we ask for them. Teaching a strong default behavior of standing still looking straight ahead gives them a behavior that is very desirable to us that they can offer when they want attention and a reward. They can choose and explore all they want, we will only reward for the things we want. If we stand quietly and ignore behavior when we aren’t asking for it, then reward them as soon as they stand still they will quickly learn that random behaviors don’t earn treats.

We need to be consistent with our clicks, only rewarding what we have asked for or are looking for. As hard as it can be we need to stay all done after we have given an all done cue. Even when they offer something really good after we give it. Time after we have given the all done cue can be spent scratching and grooming. Those can  be another way to reward instead of treats after we have finished official work. A good grooming when we are finished working can also be an extended all done cue. Horses are creatures of habit, we can use habits to let them know when we are working and when we are finished.

We get what we have rewarded. If we aren’t consistent we get behaviors that aren’t consistent.

In the end though, perhaps the best way to deal with your pet monster is to remember that they are thinking, feeling animals who want to play and want to please. Instead of thinking of them as nuisances, we can take joy in their interest and curiosity. We can let them explore and offer behaviors. We can watch what they do and learn about them from the behaviors they offer when we aren’t asking. Some of my horses best tricks and talents were their ideas. The difference between brilliance and nuisance is all in how we look at it.