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! 

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