Monday, December 19, 2011

The Holiday Edition


I
t’s the Holiday Season.   If that’s news to you, then your cave needs more windows.  The Holidays bring with them a lot of stress and some truly odd behavior.  Today’s topic is Holiday Syndrome.

First, I’m not going to ask what your chosen holiday might be.  Nor am I going to succumb to the War and call everything Christmas just to be on the safe side.  I know for a fact that my readers are an eclectic bunch, as are their horses and their ideas of holiday celebration.  All of the holiday season engages us in an inordinate amount of stress and anxiety, not just because we can’t settle on a name for it all, but because we focus our entire sense of humanity and charity on a short period in the winter without any thought about why we’re so damned stingy the rest of the time.

We need to do better than that, but that's a different post.

The Big Conversation, the raging argument over what to call this time period, truly does a disservice to the real problem at hand, to wit:  What shall I buy my horse/dog/cat/gerbil so he won’t feel left out?  

First, I’m pretty sure that your animal partners have no clue there’s anything unusual afoot until the moment the animated deer or inflatable elf suddenly lights up the yard and scares the bejeezus out of them.  For most animals, the winter holiday season is a time of freakiness, highlighted by musical lighting arrangements and owners wearing a lot of the only color most horses really recognize:  Red.  Most likely, if you asked your horse what he wants for the holiday, he’d answer that he’d like his owner’s mind back.  So the concern about what sort of gift to buy him is something probably best put on a back burner while you sort out all the strange human relatives first.

In order to make your holidays simpler, here are a few reminders and suggestions to help you and your chosen animal buddies through the crazy season.

  • ·         Animals are not all fond of wearing clothing at any time of year, not just at the winter holidays.  If they are willing to let you put a red hat or antlers on their heads or dress them as elves or snowmen or whatever floats your holiday boat, and if they do that without biting you or each other, consider that their gift to you.  No need to get more touchy-feely than that.  Taking off the hat/horns/whatever can be your gift to them.  A cookie would also be nice.
Last year we got Tuft his own predator.  It did not go over
as well as expected.


  • ·         Your house pet might feel a little left out when the family is gathered ripping into packages and they have nothing to tear.  He’s probably happy to tear up something you’ve already opened, so just give the cat the box or the dog the paper and let them have at it.  Then give them a cookie.

  • ·         Some horse owners get all fuzzy and decide a “nice hot bran mash” is just the ticket for holiday breakfast for their favorite equine buddy.  He may like it.  Just remember as you shove the kids out of the house to clear the kitchen for your mash-making episode that you’re the one who’s benefiting most from the effort, not the horse.  Give him a cookie, and he’ll be Just as happy.
Pinky is not showing off his new blanket here.  He's
teaming up with Duke to get the thing off him.


  • ·         When you’re already financially stressed and you’re counting pennies to pay off the lay-away at Wal Mart for your kids’ winter clothes is not the time to be fussing over the perfect winter blanket for Fluffernutter.  If he needs one, he probably needed it before this when it was on off-season sale.  And “I’ll buy the most expensive one” because it’s a holiday gift is bizarre thinking.  Get him whatever is on sale that will work, and invest the extra in a really special cookie.  The yummy, soft cookies I bought this year were so special I couldn’t get the horses to leave the barn after they had their allotted one cookie each.  That kind of gratitude and excitement never followed the presentation of a bright purple,  high-necked, gusseted blanket with a lifetime tear-resistant guarantee.

  • ·         Finally, probably the best thing you can do for your horses is to keep them in mind and heart and not disrupt their world any more than necessary.  Just because it’s a holiday for you doesn’t mean they’re going to set aside their herd hierarchy issues and deal with sharing a paddock because it looks so festive or forgive you for the frozen water buckets because you're so obviously distracted.  They’re not suddenly going to be broke to pull a sleigh or enjoy giving rides to your kids, grandkids, neighbor’s grandkids, or paunchy Uncle Walt.  Believe in miracles if you wish, but remember that the horses are horses and believe mostly in the next meal and their sacrosanct spot in line at the water trough.  


Remember that if it's winter in your locale, you need to be sure every animal in your house and barn has what they need to survive.  If you buy silly gifts, make sure they're safe for the animals.  And if you can spare more than a minute or two, a scratch behind the ear, a pat on the head, or a thorough grooming will be much appreciated. 
Seasons Greetings From Me and the Herd

Happy Holidays!  May the New Year bring you and your non-human family everything you desire and a small dose of sanity to top it off. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Value of This Horse Life

Pavan Sukhdev: Put a value on nature! | Video on TED.com

"The economic invisibility of Nature...."  That has a very sad and forbidding sound.  Pavan Sukdev has it right.  It's not just about the Amazonian rain forest and the ecosystem.  It's about our own survival.

Open space. You can almost hear the hum-buzz of the bugs
and the grateful chirping of the birds,
and the coyote killing the groundhog.
Oops!
When you are worrying about making your next board payment, it's probably hard to see the value in what you're doing, but it's there.  Your feeding that horse and keeping him healthy means that the vet and the barn owner also get to eat and pay their bills.  No, I'm not being sarcastic...very much, anyway.  I'm talking about the local ecosystem, the "benefits that flow from Nature to humanity for free", what your horse ownership does for you and for the system around you.

You pay, and the people you pay get to pay other people.  You buy tack, and somewhere a guy with a cow skin laid across his work bench gets to buy another roll of waxed thread and have a burger while he works.  You buy a slinky, and the spangle industry feels a friendly bump.  The land your horse is turning into a mud-wrestling pit as you read this is open space that is so very vital to the planet and the local ecology.  Fields, trees, even the bits of undigested grain in his 50 pounds of daily manure requirement feed and house other animals.  Do you ever think about the flies that buzz so happily around your manure pile?  Yes, they're annoying, but without them there would be no maggots, and without maggots there would be some serious pile-ups of biological materials that they devote themselves to breaking down.  

Doesn't that suggest that you're doing a good thing?   Something to be admired, even?  It does, and it should.  I know first hand how hard it is to explain this lifestyle to people not involved in any way with livestock.  It's hard to explain to other livestock people why we keep animals that don't give milk, lay eggs, or put steak on the table.  In my book, that gives us an extra gold star on our mental health reports.  We do it just to do it.  
20,000 people appreciating what we do

Sometimes we get so caught up in the economic minutiae of the world that we forget that all of that other stuff is mere human construct.  Wall Street (occupied or otherwise), politics, religion....all of it is meaningless in the face of Nature.  The planet simply is.  We play on it as we choose.  It's my belief that those of us who choose to husband it even a little should respect our roles and ourselves whether or not we feel the love from everyone around us.  

In this economy, it's hard to justify horse ownership, but we must justify it to ourselves.  Certainly, human construct or not, we also need to be sane and make sure our responsibilities are covered before we stretch farther than we can reach.  But with the holiday season nearly at an end, I think it would behoove us all to step back and simply appreciate who we are, what we're doing, and the land and the animals that allow us to do it.  

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Cheap Luxury We Really Can't Live Without


I
 pretty much knew before I read this article that horses were not the item.  There's nothing cheap about them, and only non-horse people consider them a luxury item.  We horse folk know that they are a total necessity, right up there with food, water, TiVo, and Ariat breeches.  So of course I had to try to guess what the "cheap luxury" in question might be.  Boxed wine?  Burgers not served through a window?  

Go ahead and guess.  I'll wait.....



The Cheap Luxury Americans Can't Live Without

Okay, how many of you horsey types guessed it would be manicures?  I'm still laughing at the idea that my discretionary income might be targeted at some cute young technician who has my hand trapped under a lamp for an hour.  I will confess to enjoying the occasional pedicure, but I do not have the patience for a manicure.  Tried it.  I was a dismal failure.  You can't even turn Equus magazine pages with your hands under a dryer!  And how long does a mani last in the barn?  My do-it-yourself version is nearly impervious, mostly because I use clear nail polish that's a version of the laquer used to seal the outside of an airplane, because the first time you scritch that cute equine under the chin, the sandpaper that is his hair simply peels lesser polishes right off.

All of this made me wonder about the internal dialogs we carry on.  I won't go into the whole "bubble" thing again.  You know your sphere of reality is yours alone, yada, yada, yada.  To complicate things even more, each of us has a story that we tell ourselves that makes it possible for us to get through our day without killing ourselves or someone else.  Have you ever thought about what story you've decided to own?  I have.

So today we're going to discuss "redirecting", which is a not-so-new concept in psychology related to "reframing" and closely allied with "denial" but more positive in effect.  We're going to start the discussion with a book recommendation:  Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, by psychologist Timothy D. Wilson.  No, I'm not going to make you go order it and read it while I wait.  I'll trust you to do that later as homework.  

And that right there is some prime redirecting.  By telling you I trust you to do that, I call on the story that you've put in place that tells you who you are (an honorable, responsible, and intelligent human being) and how you respond to things around you (with perfect elan at all times).  Cool?  You betcha!
 
"My inner narrative says that I reflexively take responsibility
for your decision not to jump this very intimidating
obstacle, and that I'm okay with that."




Briefly, redirecting is not much different from the concept called "reframing" in NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming), but everything is new when you change the name a little.  It means putting a positive spin on something not-so-positive to make it fit in with your personal narrative, the story you buy into to make sense of your place in the world.  For some, that's a religion-based tale.  For others it's whatever makes it possible for you to move forward out of the cycle of regret and pain that often accompanies trauma no matter how mild.  You got yelled at yesterday by your boss/spouse/child/random service representative.  That sent you into a mild depression as your negative self-talk ("I'm such a slug!) threatened your Queen of the  World persona (okay, maybe that's only my persona).  To move forward out of that cycle, you had to reframe the situation ("He's such a turd!  He yelled at me because he's jealous that I'm Queen and he's not.") or you had to redirect the situation to whatever narrative you've adopted ("I will let this go because I know and he knows that in the Great Plan of the Hairy Fungerer of the Universe, I will eventually be promoted and he will die an unruly death at the hands of the HR bitch.")


That's Psych 201, Advanced Service to the Ego.  


As applied to horse people, the issue becomes just how far will you go to explain away your inability to ride Turkey Trot today?  Do you have a story that accounts for your absolute abject terror at the very idea of hopping aboard a snorting, wild-eyed maniac horse who has your demise in his sights, and do you really need anything more than "My children would miss me if I broke my body before I made dinner"?  How about the one that gets you out of riding that 30-year-old former trail horse on a drizzly day?  What's in your narrative to cover the 50 extra pounds you've put on that keep you from getting into your riding clothes?  And is there something about your allergic  reaction to the word "exercise"?  

For many people, the Will of a Deity is sufficient explanation and narrative to cover pretty much every eventuality.  But you, my faithful and highly intelligent reader, are prepared to delve into your inner self.  


It may seem elementary, but the things we tell ourselves to help us survive life on this big blue ball affect us in ways that are often counter-intuitive.  Some of the research revealed in Timothy Wilson's fascinating book indicates, for instance, that parenting is not nearly as intuitive as we thought, and that our narratives, adopted from various sources for various reasons, can make us fail dismally.  Perhaps the most intriguing study cited involved post-trauma patients who were asked to either join a group counseling setting and discuss the trauma or go home and write about the incident in private.  Conventional wisdom says that talking it out is the key to getting past the trauma.  But...not so!  Going home and quietly reframing and redirecting the story until it fits with your personal narrative turns out to be far more effective.  The group didn't move forward.  The private writers did.  


So when you're faced with one of those equestrian situations that threaten to destroy your confidence and shake your self-image, instead of calling all your horse buddies and whining and ranting and sharing Idiocies From My Past, try writing about it.  Reframe the hell out of it until you can make sense of what happened, then go forth and try again.  The cheap luxury you can't live without is insight into who you really are and why you do what you do.  Only You Can Prevent Meltdown!