Friday, January 18, 2013

Step Away From the Pony!

Do we sense a bit of stubbornness in those ears?
[photo courtesy of Joe Fisher, who blessedly still thinks I know something about horses]

I've been at this horse stuff for just about 52 years.  That would suggest that I have experience.  My experience would suggest that I can avoid the common pitfalls of Horse Mastery.  That suggestion would be total nonsense.  Trust me on that.

Every now and then someone says to me, "Gee!  You know so much about horses!"  It's usually someone who knows nothing at all about them.  Someone who wandered in off the street, for instance, thinking Duke, who often lives in the paddock closest to the road and is a wonderful lure, is an especially large dog.  Someone wearing a tin foil hat.  Not one to discourage an interest in horses (and always one to discourage newbies from actually buying one), I happily show off my considerable (ahem!) skills, rattle off long, incomprehensible, jargon-rich answers to simple questions, and do it all while glancing knowingly from under the brim of my fave cowboy hat.  I am so cool, I can chill wine by just looking at it.

So one must wonder what went wrong this morning that had me sighing in relief that the batteries in the intercom from the barn to the house are dead because the heat of my verbal barrage would have peeled the new paint off the office walls.

What went wrong was that I forgot Rule Number 1:  Never give in to anger and frustration no matter how likely it is that your twitching eye will pop out of your head if that damned animal doesn't knock off his silliness this minute!  I would love to give some touchingly emotive reason for my behavior, but there isn't one.  There's me, my short fuse, and a mini who keeps a lighter stashed under his forelock for special occasions.

Duke and the  Gate of Hell
Long story short, Duke harbors a deep-seated grudge against his stall dating back to the time I changed out the stall guard for a gate on the same day the Township graced our skies with fireworks right outside his window.  It was for his own good, as was the new water bucket (horrors!), but he was having none of it, and it took two weeks of clicker work to get him back inside.  That was years ago, but minis never forget.

So when my lovely barn brat, Breanna, texted me last night that Duke had mysteriously developed a cut above his eye while eating dinner, I knew immediately that the cut was the tip of the iceberg.  For once, I was right.  This morning I found Duke standing like the gentleman he is at the back of his stall, having managed to eat his evening handful of grain, but having left his hay and water completely untouched all night.  Not just untouched, but pristine.  Not even a hoofprint nearby.

[Insert big sigh]

Naturally, good horse owner that I try to be, this required a complete check of his vitals with an eye toward a possible speed-dial-the-vet chaser.  I'm pretty good at catching him in his stall [choke!], so I got the halter on, took his temp (he loves having his temp taken and his sheath cleaned...little perv that he is), listened to all his various sounds, assessed the size and quality of the manure piles, and, reassured that all seemed well, made the first critical error.  I led him outside to longe in the ring for a few minutes to check for lameness, pain, pissy-assed attitude, and other technical veterinary-type stuff.

Then I took him back to his stall.

For the next twenty minutes he and I engaged in a tug-o-war, his four hooves and 300 pounds firmly planted in the aisle against my two muck-booted feet and 130 pounds planted firmly in his stall.  That's when the language issue arose and both brains disengaged.  I even resorted to grabbing the driving whip to urge him from behind while I pulled from in front, but anyone with sense knows what happens when a frightened horse (and he truly was terrified by my loss of brain function and the volume I achieved therewith) and a whip meet.  If you look, I'll bet you'll find dents in the rubber matting where his little hooves simply sank in and found permanent purchase.

At that point I realized I still had the chickens to feed and water and the trash needed to go out to the street...and I hadn't had breakfast yet!  So, against my will to win this battle, I put him in his outdoor pen where he immediately chowed down on the hay there, drank the water, and heaved a visible sigh of relief (between squeals aimed at getting the herd to join his team) as I stomped away.

I texted Breanna to let her know night feeding was likely to require a full-frontal team effort, and I ate my oatmeal.

To my credit, it didn't take but a few minutes of down time to realize I was the problem in this scenario.  Full of warm oats and calm again, I went back out, fussed over the little guy, cooing earnestly over what a good little fellow he truly is, took him back to the barn, and in ten minutes, using his uneaten breakfast as a lure, had him happily in his stall, groomed and ready for the day back in the same pen but minus the drama.

The moral?  We all scew up now and then.  The cure is to take a beat, back away, gain a little perspective, then try again with an open mind and a kind heart.  And don't bother beating yourself up over your lapse, because you're going to have another....

and another...

until you finally age out of the horse stuff and into full-time oatmeal consumption.

Happy Horse Day!

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