ANOTHER month begins with a beautiful trail ride with Kim.
Ruby’s spasmodic left rear leg is acting up again. She rolls her pastern over, and then pops it up. I had better get on the horn to Doc Lisa.
With my turning sixty-five this summer, I have scheduled my “introduction to Medicare” appointment with Dr. Wheatley. It is so common to hear horse owners bemoan a wound by saying, “I don’t remember when I got my last tetanus shot but, today, Dr. Wheatley administers the tetanus shot, good for ten years, while saying, “Now, you won’t forget when you got it.”
I end the day by shooting off an e-mail to Professor Karmen Hollis-Etter, animal behaviorist and biology instructor at UM-Flint, asking whether she might be interested in partnering with me on Ruby’s training / research. I need consistency.
August 2 ~ A big ole horsefly streams through a stall window while I am spraying Sara and Zena. I use my quart of Super-7 to attack him and send him back out. After spraying Sparky and Sara, and leading them to their pen, I realize that I never connected the chain on Zena’s stall. She has been standing quietly inside, waiting her turn, all this time.
Ruby’s spasmodic leg remains. Doc Lisa will be here after lunch to administer a shot of estrone. Ruby is soooo good for Doc. What a sweetheart.
Debby and Chuck Schultz come for dinner on the porch. Deb was an adult rider here, after I turned my business over to a young graduate from Michigan State’s equine program. While the two of them were out on the trail, Debby came off the instructor’s horse and suffered a horrible leg injury. Better than a year later, she attempted a short ride on Sara, whom she knows well; but the fear was still in her and she has not ridden since. I so miss her presence in my barn – a quiet woman who enjoyed grooming and bathing the horses. We have remained friends with our interests in crochet, reading, and bicycling. Today is the first time Debby has seen Ruby in over a year. It feels so good to have her in the barn, even for this small moment. She loves the new, open stalls. I whistle the horses in from the back. Ruby is the first to come screaming through the trail gate. After graining, Ruby fetches Redball and BooBoo and gives them to Deb. She is tickled.
August 3 ~ Wende brings her nine-year-old twin granddaughters – Allison and Aubrey – down to meet the girls today. They groom and lead Sara and Sparky before we walk up to the house to enjoy a bit of breakfast together. These are truly pleasant girls.
Ruby’s gimp is better today, after Doc’s estrone injection. It is a warm afternoon. I weed the roadside gardens until I am drenched in sweat. On a whim, I collect Ruby’s halter and lead, along with my switch, and ask whether she would like to take a walk. She is quite amiable about grazing her way beyond the arch in the trees. I am quite sure we could stay out there for a fair amount of time. But, we did not fly spray first and it is late enough in the summer to attract a truly huge horse fly. Those devils lay welts, and the last thing I want is for Ruby to go into a bucking spree. So, I ask her to walk with me back to the barn. She is wonderful.
Back in the house, UM-Flint biologist Karmen Hollis-Etter returns my e-mail with a recommendation for a couple books – more books! I think one of them is over my head academically, so I will hold off on that. But, the second, I order. Angelina has been charting her progress through Vanessa Bee’s “3-MINUTE HORSEMANSHIP.” She arrives today, planning to work on tasks (4) Getting her horse’s attention; (5) backing the horse (which she can already do); and (6) teaching her horse to stand still. In preparation for her visit, I design a monthly chart to indicate whether I / we perform specific tasks every day. I want to be consistent and am hoping Ang will help me improve my habit. The tasks I include on the sheet are: Ruby lifting her feet, trotting on the lead, walking on the lead out on the ten, the ABC game, exercises from 3-MINUTE HORSEMANSHIP, and games from John Pilley’s book, CHASER. So, here is what we chart: Ruby lifts both front feet to the count of 19, but she shakes them a bit. She holds both backs nicely to the count of 10. For trotting on the lead, we decide that Angelina will take Sara while I have Ruby. We walk them to the far end of arena, stopping three times along the way. We trot them on the return, also asking for a stop three times. Considering we have not done this in weeks, Ruby does very well. We then trot and stop around the perimeter of the arena and she is barely antsy – almost calm. We do not lead Ruby out on the ten. I have made six more “A” cards, and Angelina hangs them on the arena wall. Sara performs phenomenally but, while reviewing the video, I wonder whether we are saying “touch the A,” when we are near the A’s – cueing her. Later in the evening, when Gary watches the video, he makes the same observation independent of my earlier observation. Sparky performs as poorly as usual; and Zena and Ruby do just okay. For the 3-MINUTE HORSEMANSHIP tasks, we start with “getting your horse’s attention.” The girls are all in their stalls. I stand near, with a treat back behind my back. Angelina walks to the opposite end of the arena, and begins by calling Ruby’s name. The tone of her voice is steady and her tempo is rhythmic. When Ruby offers her an ear, I treat. We do this with all four until each receives between five and ten treats. None offer a decisive “Oh, are you calling me?” We do not practice backing the horses because they are already good with that. We practice “stay” with all four but, I later review Angelina’s notes and realize the task was to simply stand still. (That’s not always so simple.) At any rate, within a few tries, Angelina is able to back five steps away from Sara and walk both ways around her. Sparky will not perform the task for Ang, but she will for me. Same with Zena, but I have to work with her more than Sparky. Ruby does great. Ang backs five feet, and walks both ways around. With Ruby, we play with Redball, hiding it in a tub, behind the wood box, and barely in her stall. She finds it with a little help – we wander in the correct direction and, as she follows, she sees the ball. We can only get Zena to touch the ball, and we don’t work with Sara or Sparky.
August 5 ~ I disappear for a week while Kim cares for the girls. Gary and I take his second son, Doug, and our granddaughter Crystal into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
August 13 ~ I am supposed to join my horse friends for our monthly brunch but, instead, I tell them I am still up north. It would be a fifteen-dollar buffet and calories I do not need, while listening to these good friends discuss the same old boarding stable problems. I am simply losing touch with them. Since returning from up north, I have been busy at home, finishing up the repairs and painting on the stalls, caring for the yard and for Gary – he needs time, too. Other than his doctor, dentist, and an occasional waitress when we eat out, I am his only human contact – unless I plan a family or friend get-together. It is not my marital obligation to keep him engaged, but he lets me know when he feels he is not getting enough attention. We enjoy reading together, playing Scrabble, and 500-Rummy.
Today is our 36th wedding anniversary. We celebrate by driving an hour to Chelsea to tour the Jiffy Mix factory. This may sound silly, but it is an enjoyable day-trip. I have not been doing very well with my training list. My bad.
I spend part of my anniversary wandering my Garden of Eden.
August 16 ~ Today is a big day. Karmen Hollis-Etter, UM-Flint biology professor visits to discuss developing a horse-related cognition research project. She and Gary spend lunch talking about happenings on campus before she and I head out to meet the girls. Karmen is impressed with the arena and how well behaved all four horses are. Yes, even Ruby. After stalling them, we bring Sara out to perform her alphabet “A” test; and Ruby out to fetch and give Redball, first to me and then to Karmen. She has a couple other campus researchers who are interested in what we might be doing. But, she adds that her research project should be something other than what I am doing, because I have already started on these and that muddies the data. I am disappointed because I have just tipped the surface of both the ABC game and the CHASER toys game. Karmen will conduct a literature review to see what other equine cognitive behaviorists are doing, and get back with me. Her obligations on campus are heavy, so she is not sure when she can start. In the meantime, I will compile a list of local horse owners who may be interested in having their horses part of whatever test is devised. While Karmen is here, Ruby does something really interesting. After playing with the horses, I open the barn door to let all four girls out onto the lawn. Karmen and I are standing on the cement pad near the open barn door when Ruby comes back past us to investigate the end of the water tank hose – because it has a new, yellow sprinkler nozzle on it. She then turns to return to the lawn and, as she ambles slowly past us, without missing a beat, she lowers her head enough to graze Karmen’s left thigh with her teeth, and continues on her way. It is not a bite, not even a nip, but it is more than lips on the pant material. Karmen feels the teeth but says she would not define it as a nip – just a … what? Is it an “I know you are here?” Or, a “move over, please.” There is plenty of open space for Ruby to walk past without being crowded. I have never seen Ruby, or any other horse, do this. I will have to ask Sharon Wilsie, author of HORSE SPEAK, about this.
August 21 ~ Shame on me. My schedule has fallen apart. The only thing good about today is that it is the Total Eclipse of the Sun – 80% here. Gary and I make pin-hole boxes to watch. I have finished James Serpell’s IN THE COMPANY OF ANIMALS and will critique soon. I am now reading Stephen Budiansky’s IF A LION COULD TALK.
August 22 ~ This evening, I clean up the back pen, arranging the barrels, jump cubes and poles into five obstacle toys. Ruby and Sparky complete everyone on request – like they had been doing them every day. Zena follows us around not figuring out the tasks. She finally wanders into the indoor arena to stand around with Sara. Sara refuses to participate because it is hay time.
August 23 ~ I am going to start a morning routine – 6-9A work on website – 9-noon work with horses. This morning, I get up at 7A. Alas. In the barn, we all play the “A” game with 10 A’s plus 11 blanks and symbols. Sparky gets 3 out of 10 correct and 7 out of 11 wrong; meaning she only touched three out of ten A’s, and touched seven out of eleven blanks or random symbols. Her score is less than chance – geez. Sara gets 8 out of 10 correct and 3 out of 11 wrong. That’s better. I walk Zena past the cards without testing; pointing out the A’s and giving her treats. Ruby gets 6 out of 10 correct and 2 out of 11 wrong. When we are finished, Ruby trots at my side off-line a half dozen times. She picks the trot up on the long sides of the arena, but not across the ends. She lifts all four feet for me in the arena at liberty. Good girl. With the CHASER toys, I attempt to help Ruby differentiate between Redball and BooBoo; saying “oops” when she picks up the wrong one. She is confused when she does not get a treat for picking up the wrong toy; but does not get flustered. We practice the difference between “touch” and “pick up.” It is breezy today and I wonder whether we should walk outside. I grab my helmet and switch, and we get just past the near corner of the pen before she wants to turn back. I decide that any time she turns back, we are done. I wonder whether this is wise because it is counter to traditional training. In the arena, I take her halter and lead off, and drive her from behind the length of the arena. She just does not get driving, like, “what are we doing?” At the far end, she circles for me, clearly thinking that is what I am asking. I put her and Zena out back; and start building the frames for the stall windows.
August 24 ~ Ruby eats her grain near the arch toward the back ten. We return to the barn when she turns in that direction. She trots on a longe line for the first time. It is crazy because, at liberty, she will trot right around me. But, as soon as I attach the longe, she becomes confused. She gives me three small starts for which she receives rewards. When I tap on her hip with my switch, she just stares at it, like, what ARE you doing?. In the afternoon, I attend the second monthly meeting of the Horse Marketing Initiative at MSU. Twice during the conversations, I am repudiated when I make suggestions about the industry. I decide to sit quietly, crocheting a pony, for the remainder of the meeting. When I return home, I send an e-mail to Dr. Shelle, explaining that I do not believe my attendance is in sync with the other members. He surprises me by responding with agreement. Maybe, I should stick with it. Ultimately, I decide it is not worth my time to drive the hour each way. Over the past thirty years, I have sat in on way too many meetings that started like this, and ended with no industry improvements.
August 25 ~ Riverbank Farm, my commercial lesson program, was insured by Farm Bureau for the last five or six years of operation. We had switched from a conglomeration of policies – ARK Agency for business liability, State Farm for homeowners, and AAA for our autos – and enjoyed a huge drop in premiums. But, my stable is retired and for whatever I do here now, I do not take money. I need a farm/ranch policy, but not a commercial policy. Today, Gary and I meet with our old State Farm agent to secure a quote because, as much as our local Farm Bureau insurance agents are good people, we despise Farm Bureau. Every month, their newspaper arrives in my mail. My blood boils as I read their rants about the national Humane Society and the Environmental Protection Agency – EPA. Our old State Farm agent tells us it is going to cost us an extra five-hundred-dollars a year to switch everything over. It takes less than thirty seconds of Gary and I looking at each other before we say it is worth it. In the afternoon, Sara and I enjoy a great bicycle ride with Gary. The upper river trail is firm enough that Gary can pedal its distance. Sara and I trot the entire 30 minutes essentially non-stop. She loves it. We find a wild turkey feather along the way and, as we are leaving the road to head back toward the barn, we give it to a very young girl in a passing car. When we reach home, I am hoping Sara will lie down and roll, so that I can say “lay down” and treat her. I even roll in the new sawdust myself, but no luck. She wonders about me, though! And, I do get her to hold Redball’s rope in her mouth for a nano-second a few times. Afterward, I roll Ruby’s wheelbarrow full of grain through the arch on the ten acre path and lead her out. No sooner do we get around the front corner of the pen, and she – lo and behold – takes off in a canter for the wheelbarrow! Away from the barn! THIS IS A FIRST! When she finishes her grain, she grazes another twenty feet past the barrow before turning toward the barn. I collect the wheel barrow and we walk back together. Inside the arena, we practice trotting a couple little straight lines; and then trotting in a circle on the longe. Well. She still does not get it, like, what ARE you doing with that switch near my rump? I try to make it a game by becoming more active behind her and get three little pop ups with a little trot after each. So, we call it fun, and call it a day.
August 27 ~ I take Ruby further down the trail for her grain this morning. I have not been consistent with this task. When she is finished, she grazes and, when she turns back toward the barn to graze, I take the lead and walk her all the way back. Inside, we practice trotting on the longe line. She gives me two tiny trots and I reward her.
August 28 ~ I take Ruby down the trail for her grain again this morning. She eats ten feet further out than yesterday. Same as yesterday, she grazes until she turns toward the barn, and I then walk her back. On the longe line, she offers little pop-ups when I ask her to trot. She does not know the word “trot” well enough yet. She only responds to it on a straight line – and only when I trot first. In the afternoon, Kim and I enjoy a wonderful trail ride.
August 30 ~ Today is a very good day. Ruby walks well onto the back ten to eat her morning grain; and walks quietly back to the barn – even though heavy equipment is making a racket three houses away. I think they are drilling a new well. Back in the arena, she picks up a couple brief trots on the longe when I swish the switch in the air near her rump. In the late afternoon, Angelina comes over. We saddle Sara and Zena and ride the same park trails that Kim and I rode yesterday. But, it is new for Ang. When we return, she cleans Sparky’s hooves and holds Ruby in her stall while I clean hers. Ruby does not want to lift her right rear foot so, instead of demanding, we slip her halter off and leave without giving her attention or a treat. This sure is backwards to what I was taught. Before putting them out for the night, Ang tosses the six toys (Redball, BooBoo, Bottle, Bag, Spool, and Bone) well into the arena. They are spread far enough that Ruby has a little trouble keeping her mind on her task, but she manages to return all six to the blue toy tub.