Sunday, May 30, 2010

Welcoming Summer on the Farm and Finding the Missing Variable

 Welcome Summer!

Kids, little ones in particular, need a farm.  They do'n't need to live on one.  The occasional no-holds-barred full-immersion farm experience will suffice. 

What's special about growing up a little "country" is there's a built-in work ethic and a tendency to ignore the petty nonsense that sucks the life out of life and replace it with good, clean, dirt.  Here Dillon Culnan, my grandson and the best two-and-a-half-year-old barn hand ever born, works hard (if slowly) at bedding a stall in the barn.  Granted, it would have taken him the whole weekend to bed one stall, but what better way to spend time?  Spongebob will always be there on the big screen in the living room, but Grandma's farm will eventually fade away to (hopefully fond) memory.  And where else can a child learn that effort isn't always rewarded but is still worthwhile?  Leo will have pooped in and otherwise sullied this sawdust minutes after he set hoof on it, and the lesson that the same job may have to be done over and over indefinitely but to the best of your ability is not wasted.

And where but on a farm can a budding worker learn to drive a "fwuck"?  Try this in the inner city, and the authorities are likely to look askance.   Here in the middle of Horse Heaven, two-year-olds of many species learn things they might otherwise miss.

Besides, the expression on Cliff's face was even better than Dillon's.

Someone said that every pony deserves to belong to a little kid at least once in its life.  Same goes for "big neighs".  Dillon is no stranger to the Zipmeister.  This greeting was enjoyed by both equally.  No cookies required on either end of this love fest.  It's just fun for the sake of it.  How great is that?

So, summer is finally upon us here in the Twigs, and with the sun and thunderstorms and heat and multiplying wildlife, it's easy to get distracted.  Let's not forget that heat is just as hot (if not hotter!) to our equine partners as it is to us.  Get those water troughs scrubbed and add some float valves for endless clean water.  Hang a fan or three in the barn.  You'll appreciate it as much as the horses will, and circulating air is key to keeping the flies at bay.  Watch for sunburn on white skin (especially muzzles) and for fly and tick bites everywhere (including yourself).  And enjoy!

Finding The Missing Variable

By now even my friends are getting tired of hearing my tales of Zipwoe.  But there's something new to add that's worthy of another installment.  This is a training hint that is overlooked so easily as to render it nearly invisible, but it may be the biggest of all the issues you'll face.  To wit:  The Variable!

How many times have you watched a clinician do something awesome with a horse or read a book or absorbed a video, then had no luck at all in translating all that at home with your own horses?  It happens to me all the time, so I'm guessing there's at least one other horseman out there feeling that pain.  

Years ago my lovely daughter bought a set of John Lyons training videos.  It's a very big, very expensive set that was de rigeur among Natural Horsemen about a decade ago.  In the series is a video for every purpose, from halter-breaking a foal to retraining an old horse to do something new.  We watched the first few, took notes, and jumped into the program with both feet.  I, for one, found myself floundering.  

As luck would have it, Jess met another trainer who told her that the reason the videos weren't as effective as they might be was that Lyons, whether in a purposeful  marketing ploy to sell his full (and even MORE expensive) trainer certification program or inadvertently, had omitted some fine points from the video clinic.  It was those missing fine points--those un-accounted-for variables--that were ruining the stew.

I took this to heart.  After all, I spent four years as a psych major in college ruling out variables galore in experiments.  A few more couldn't hurt.  BUT....therein lay part of my problem.  By trying to control all the variables at once, not only does a trainer wind up impossibly complicating the situation (was it the new dressage whip or your orange underwear that made Fuzzbutt suddenly accept that there were two leads to be mastered?), but it also leads to unnecessary concern about things that may wind up unrelated to the situation.  I managed both errors.  If I hadn't been so attuned to the variables, I would not have spent so much time over-thinking why Zip had decided to quit moving at the ripe age of 12.  On the other hand, I would have missed the locked rib.  On the third hand, I might have ....  

You get the picture.

Katy, here, certainly does.

So when Jess got aboard the Zipper on Sunday in an effort to help me figure out whether or not he was (as suspected) stonewalling...or reliving remembered pain...or the phase of the moon was wrong....or whatever, I watched very closely everything she did.  She was successful where I had failed, so this intense scrutiny was mandatory.  

A day after she left, I hopped on the big boy myself.  I had noted everything from the girth/pad/saddle combo she'd chosen to how she wore her hair, and off we went in a passable imitation.   Not passable enough, however, as I wound up spending 30 of the 80 minutes of the ride yelling, cursing, whaling with my legs, pulling with my hands, and crying into his mane before he deigned to return to work for reasons unrelated to my behavior.  

Jess and I rehashed both rides.  Yes, I could have spent more time in the half-seat as she had.  Yes, I could have avoided the cursing since she only said sweet and kind words to him.  Yada, yada, yada.  

It wasn't until I replayed that mental video for the eightieth time that I remembered her boots.  What I remembered was that she wore them.  I didn't. I, as always, was riding in Ariat riding sneakers and canvas half-chaps, not in tall leather boots with a nice, solid heal.  

Today I accounted for that variable.  Today the leather paddocks and matching tall, leather half-chaps (the ones that take skin off my calves when I zip them up, but it's in the name of success) came out along with the dressage whip (for show only...Zip couldn't care less if I beat him with it as long as he doesn't have to move).  Lo and behold...  Yes, we CAN!  We can walk, trot, canter, and do all the cutesy things we used to do.  Jess took one variable to task, and I beat another into submission!  

Now that's what I'm talking about! 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Today is WTF Friday!

This pensive young miss is probably wondering what I'm wondering, to wit:  What is wrong with people today?

For starters, my morning email included yet another story about someone's horses having been shot in their pasture for no fathomable reason.  One dead, one injured, and a black pickup speeding out of sight summed up that owner's morning wake-up call.  That was followed in quick succession by the testimony of a lunatic who murdered kids in a schoolyard and a news clip about the argument raging over the President's new Supreme Court nominee for her choice to remain childless.  As if having children is somehow a sign of wisdom and sound decision-making.  Have you been to Wal Mart lately?  I rest my case on that one.

The very next thing to cross my eyeballs was the newly-viral video of a bunch of cute little girls at a dance contest doing a passable job with the song "All the Single Ladies".  If you haven't seen the video, you must not own a TV, as ABC News saw fit to make this the breaking news centerpiece this AM.  Go ahead and google it so you'll see what I'm talking about.  I'll wait....

Our society seems to have lost its collective consciousness.  We're adrift in a sea of stupidity. We have Sarah Palin and her fellow Performance Artistes up the wazoo and we're actually discussing them as if they have meaning.  We have people with guns shooting things that don't need to be shot (sad, when there are plenty of things that do).  We have a stream of negativity aimed at a bunch of little kids whose only transgression was that they were taped by someone who could not resist 1) posting the video on YouTube, and 2) using a racy title which was sure to draw both unneeded prurient interest and terrible fire and brimstone from folks who might be hard-pressed to explain to their spiritual leader why they were drawn by said racy title to view the video in the first place.  We have media execs reaching rock bottom for "news" they hope will titillate the viewing public.  We have a brilliant jurist labeled a waste because she chose not to birth babies.  

Are we serious??  I mean, can we not find anything real to do with our time? 

Possibly the most important thing that has happened this week will go almost unnoticed, tucked away as it is in the corner of the news reserved for the really loony stuff.  A 26-member research team has determined that lizards are dying at an alarming rate and predicts that 40% will be gone by 2080.  Not very interesting, is it?  But the lizards are a harbinger of change.  They're in there with the Dodo birds and the bog turtles on the list of things we had better take a look at now before they're gone forever.  Whether you are a Global Warming fan or not, this should be food for thought.

Moving Right Along...

A few posts ago I launched a ramble about fear and how fearing being afraid can be worse than actually having something real to be afraid of.  A reprise seems timely on WTF Friday.  

In case you were among the gazillion folks who didn't read that post, it was a treatise on how easily we can become frozen in time by fear.  In this case, the fear in question (mine) was not aimed at a terrible thing that was going to happen, bringing in its wake broken bones and an inability to mix my own martinis.  I was afraid that if I tested the results of my effort to "fix" my lovely gelding, Zips Moneypit, the results would illustrate my total failure.  In turn, I would doom myself and my horse to a wallow in the pits of uselessness and depression.  Neither of us would ever reach our full potential.  He would forever be an un-actualized equine athlete, and I would forever be restricted to the kiddie table at equestrian charity dinners.

Wheel-spinning in this subject arena is about as productive as obsessing on whether the Republicans will ever again vote for passage of a bill without reading aloud from the Iliad in its original Greek.  When the words "Who cares?" begin to circle the edges of your mind, you'll know you're on the mend.

What I did was jump the shark.  You know that moment.  It's the one when you're going great guns in some effort that means something, and you see the climactic moment standing like a puissance wall on the horizon, and in your haste, you get there as quickly as possible only to find that there's nothing on the other side but weeds and a few stink bugs.  Zipper was doing incredibly well within the framework of my brilliant plan to help him overcome whatever it is he's busy overcoming.  So well that I began to see the green grass at the end of the manure pile.  SO well, that I shortcut the plan.  Standing in the weeds and bugs, I berated myself for my lack of patience and wondered if the world would ever be right again.

What I learned is that it doesn't matter.  That's right.  It just doesn't matter.  Fear is more often than not a mercenary in service to the ego.  We want to feel good about how other people feel about us, and we forget that they're busy worrying about how other people feel about them and aren't paying attention to what we're doing anyway.  I got ahead of myself because I needed to stop the fear.  I did that.  That's when I jumped the shark.  That was the Big Moment, and then it was done.  As for the rest...whether or not Zip will ever get past his squirrelly-ness is open to debate, but it doesn't matter.  Whether or not I've found the key that unlocks his frozen brain doesn't matter.  It may help if only one of us (Zip) is obsessed with the problem.  What mattered was getting past the fear, recognizing the pointlessness of my obsession, and I did that.  I may not be renewed for next season, but at least I can face the future without that overweening mental paralysis.  

Moving on is better than not.  That's all.