What Makes You [Horse] Happy?

Work: PM1 heat therapy & middle-distance handwalk/PM2 groom.
Evaluation: warm weather = happy, pleasant horse = happy, pleasant me. Bodes well for summer.

Ramblings for the day: Everything from philosophers to Hallmark cards tell us that happiness is within our own heads. But where? How? Anuscha Rees, on a post in her blog into-mind.com, talks about the three sources of happiness: pleasure, meaning, and challenge. You can have each one, a combination of two, or in the best case, all three at once. See her post for a nifty Venn diagram of the intersections. Since horse folks spend an inordinate percentage of their lives in the company of their horses, ideas that apply to life in general ought to apply to barn life in specific, no?

Pleasure: hedonism. “Anything that feels good at that exact moment.” Since her expanded definition includes walking in sunshine, I’ll put my daily walks with the mare here. We stroll. We dawdle. She makes faces at the dog. (For more on our Old Lady walks & the irony thereof, My Two Horses.)

Challenge: satisfaction. Cleaning really stubborn tack. Although the smell of good leather quickly segues into the above category.

Meaning: What matters to you. Keeping the horses fed and healthy and happy.

Pleasure/Challenge: Hard but fun. “like playing sports.” This one’s easy: brilliant jump-offs, having your horse understand a dressage maneuver. (In the latter case, the horse understood it before I did, but let us not quibble.)

Challenge/Meaning: Effort for a higher purpose. Keeping the horses fed and healthy and happy in the rain, mud, cold, heat, dark of night.

Meaning/Pleasure: Fun for a higher purpose. Given the difference between Rodney’s potential and his career to date, I’m going to go out on limb and say that he has engendered frustration in folks other than myself. I’ll go even farther out on the limb and posit that people have made this disappointment know to him, consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, he is a very particular look when he’s done his exercises correctly and, more importantly, knows that he has done them correctly. For the rest of the day, he’s all proud of himself and seems to be saying, Hey, I’m not the dumbest kid in class!

Pleasure/Challenge/Meaning (Joy): The brass ring. I’m beginning to spot the problem. I can think of rides in the past that where fun, hard, and meaningful, such as when I helped a friend’s pony realize that she liked Cross-Country. I can imagine rides in the future, that would be PCM. As for things in the present, not so much.

So what can one do?

Add pleasure: “Bring along a friend. Have a laugh.” I love having the horses at home. After decades of having everything my way, I would make a terrible boarder. But I miss barn buddies. The dog just doesn’t get my jokes.

Add challenge: “Set yourself goals that are realistic but still a stretch.” I have no trouble coming up with extraordinarily complex To Do lists. It’s the getting through them where I lose traction.

Add meaning: “Consider the positive impact of this activity.” I’ll try. Really. I promise. I’ll say three good things to Rodney each day.

To paraphrase her questions:
What is your main source of [Horse] happiness?
What kind of [Horse] things do you do that tap into all three sources?

Guest Blogger: Linda Benson, writer of The Girl Who Remembered Horses

Work: day off

For fourteen years, I had a bimonthly book column in the USCTA News/Eventing USA. It was one of those gigs for which you can’t believe you are getting paid. Editors and attitudes changed but apparently my fixation with books I hasn’t, which is why my second guest spot is Linda Benson talking about her ebook The Girl Who Remembered Horses [Musa 2011]. Welcome Linda:

Thanks for having me, Katherine. My newest book is set several generations in the future, when few remember horses or their connection to humans. Except for one girl, Sahara, who has recurring visions of riding astride on magnificent animals that run like the wind. In a world that has forgotten the ancient bond between horses and humans, can one girl’s dreams make people remember?

Here’s a short summary:
Sahara travels with her clan in a barren environment where recyclables are bartered for sustenance. With the help of Evan, a young herder from the Gardener’s Camp, Sahara discovers a crumbling book containing pictures of humans riding horses, and discovers that her visions are real. Confronting a group of hunters led by hot-headed Dojo, Sahara rescues a wounded horse, but the animal escapes before it can be tamed. Sahara is labeled a foolish dreamer and almost gives up her quest. Following horse tracks into a remote ravine, she finds wild dogs attacking a wild mare and must drive them off in order to save the foal. Now she must attempt to raise the young animal, finally convince her clan of the ancient bond between horses and humans, and learn the secret of her true identity.

This book had its start over six years ago, in 2005, right after Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters got us all wondering how we might live if some horrible calamity changed everything we knew about the world around us. Concurrently, as a horse woman, I noticed the changing status of horses around us, brought on by economic conditions and the fact that more and more of the human population are becoming urban dwellers. So this was the seed of the story, the idea that began this novel – what if that bond between horses and humans was actually forgotten? Add to this my own interest in why some women are so fascinated (shall we say – obsessed) with horses, which led me to pursue a college research project called “American women and their passion for the horse.” Why, indeed, are some of us so Horse-Crazy? Is it cultural? Passed down from generation to generation? Or possibly genetic?

This mixture of fact and fantasy, research and wonder, and my long years as a horse person led me to explore these concepts through fiction. The result is The Girl Who Remembered Horses, which is billed as Young Adult, but perfectly readable for ages 9 to 109. Although the bond between horses and humans is ancient, it is also fragile, and I believe horse people in particular really identify with how dreadful this world might be without the knowledge and friendship of these wonderful animals.

The Girl Who Remembered Horses is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, and most online booksellers. The Girl Who Remembered Horses has its own Facebook page. To learn more about Linda and her other books, including two new books due for release in 2012, visit her website or her blog.

And here’s a question for readers of this blog – Can you imagine a world without horses?
Previous book post: Keeping Secrets by Maggie Dana, reviewed by Ellen Broadhurst.

Life As a First Draft

Work: AM heat & short walk/PM groom
Evaluation: Easy day. Although I was proud of him for holding it together yesterday until we finished, his fit means that he found the work taxing. It is beyond me why he finds wandering around his own pasture to be difficult, but that’s not my call to make. I groomed until he dropped his head and yawned.
In addition to heaps of money and the admiration of millions, one of my goals with Rodney’s Saga is to understand blogging. So, I thought I’d take a day away from the horses at the end of each month to reflect on writing daily, writing online, and writing about myself.

Not only do I remember the days when magazines used to pay folks to write articles, I remember when newspapers where laid out on light tables and photos were edged with line tape. Having thoroughly dated myself, I want to say that I am not anti-technology. I recall my wondrous glee the first time I watched a page emerge fully formed from a printer instead of being hunted and pecked out of a typewriter. I’d be happy if I never uncapped another bottle of Wite-Out. But your formative experiences stay with you, which means I still put two spaces after a period. It’s too ingrained to change. I have to global replace when I’m done. Outside of a few links, I still think of the screen as funky-looking sheet of paper instead of exploiting the medium from what it can do. (For a better stated version of this argument, Craig Mod on Books in the Age of iPad.) So, I blog in order to understand 21st C media.

When I was writing monthly posts, I would come up with an idea, draft it, polish it, ask my writing buddies to read it, and send it off to be illustrated. Entire weeks would go by when I would not think of the blog. Life online wasn’t much different from life in the dead-tree world. That has changed with a daily blog. Now every event is a potential blog post. For example, a friend sent me a gift and I thought, Oh goody, I can get a blog post out of this. She’s a blogger also, so she understood.

I have become obsessed. If I am not fiddling with the day’s post or taking notes for future ones, I’m checking the site stats or wondering if I should add video. I have no idea where this is coming from. Until now I have been a firm proponent of Johnson’s adage that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” It remains to be see if this is enthusiasm for a new project or the start of a dangerous addiction.

To more experienced bloggers, how do you keep from disappearing into the vortex?

Baby Steps

Work: AM heat therapy & handwalk/PM groom & groundwork – weave cones, reverse, 360o turn, and crossrail.
Evaluation: The long walk from yesterday but by ourselves. He led me up the hill but didn’t charge and was almost dogging it on the easy sections. In the ring, he did 90%, including the walk back to the barn, on a loose rope. At the weave cones, I could see the moment he started to follow me – I was walking backwards – instead of being hauled around by his nose. The afternoon would have gone even better if I hadn’t kept zapping him with static electricity shocks. He seems to take them more personally than the mare does. Afterward, he stood quietly while I removed the halter. Whereupon, he pealed out of the barn bucking, kicking, and zinging around the pasture. House rules say a horse must be respectful when under tack but free time is his/her own. So, no harm, no foul.
Rodney has taken to meeting me at the grooming area when it is time for his heat sessions. I find this cute.

Despite my whining, I do recognize Rodney’s many redeeming features. In addition to having talent and looks, he’s as sweet as can be. He adores being loved on and has a bottomless need for affection. He wants to do his job, to the point that he stresses if thinks he might not understand the lesson. [Previous Horse would just tell me to talk to the hoof.] While he may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, it is the rider’s responsibility to explaining things in a way that is understandable to the horse; not the horse’s responsibility to understand the rider. Despite his come-aparts, he is not a hot horse. Under all that bluster is a lazy horse needing to be pushed forward, which is good for a rider with an electric seat. The dressage instructor in front of whom I tried Rodney was amazed that I got so much out of him without carrying/wearing standard dressage aids.

The problem is that when he panics, he does it so quickly and completely that he goes to a place where he is unreachable. We are getting to the point that we recognize the signs but have not learned how to head off or defuse the attacks.

What is your horse’s best/worst feature?

What is going on inside that pretty head of yours?

Horse Work: AM heat therapy, “extended” walk in company/PM short liberty session.

Evaluation: On our group walk, Greg led Mathilda, I led Rodney. At her time of life, Mathilda doesn’t do anything without a steady stream of carrots. Rodney spent most of the walk mooching his share. I don’t think he noticed how far we were from the barn. Still, he did it & he didn’t get tense whatever the reason, so I’m putting it in the plus column. Our liberty work consists of walking back and forth between us getting carrots. You may be sensing a trend. Today he had to walk over a log. No carrot if he walked around. This is actually a complicated conditional statement, so another in the plus column.

Rider Work: Bike. Attack germs in the water or in the underbrush on Monday left us with nasty, itchy rashes on our forearms and bouts of lethargy from Thursday to Saturday. I mention it both as an excuse for lack of exercise and because it seems odd to have so much of a reaction from so small an affected area.
When Rodney flings his head up while harkening to external noises or internal voices, I worry about ever taking him off the property. Thanks to my wonderful, hard-working husband, our pasture has a superb fence encircling it. Since our ring is in the pasture, he – the horse not the hubby – is always enclosed. He’s as safe as a cavorting horse is likely to get. I worry that the smallest hint of indocility at a lesson or a show will result in the horse galloping madly down the highway.

The irony of this particular worry is that Previous Horse was a complete fruitcake at shows. At the very least, he would scream and rear like the wild stallion he wasn’t. At one show, he was unable to deal with the cows in the next field. We tried a chain over his nose. No response. Chain under his lip. Ditto. We finally controlled him with a chain thru his mouth, mostly as it gave him something to frantically chew on. At his last show, at the mature age of 24, he managed to get all four feet off the ground, at the same time, while tied to the trailer. It never bothered me. That was just Caesar.

The difference was that I had Caesar’s number. I couldn’t always get him to cooperate, but I could always tell what was going on between his ears. In my first post with Rodney, I thought I had his number. I cited the ability to ignore a fit as the #1 of my Top Ten Reasons You Know You Found the Right Horse, “When he pitches a widget that would incite panic from a different horse, you laugh and tell him to get over himself.” Either I was mistaken at the time or I have lost that understanding since. Can a connection once lost ever be retrieved? It seems hopeless, but then I have been know to wallow in the occasional pit of despair.

Does your horse act up at shows?


Work: PM heat therapy & short grooming
Evaluation: Cold weather puts him in a mood. Some days it’s better to just walk and come back tomorrow.

Went to a Western used tack sale and bought two wool saddlepads: A Navajo-style plaid and a inch-thick felt. Rodney appears to enjoy warm over cold. He loves his heat therapy and his tude goes up as the temp goes down. So, if/when I ever put a saddle on him, thick wool might do a better job than fleece or modern pads in keeping his back warm and loose. I also have sheepskin halfpads, both real and faux, but was not impressed with them on Previous Horse.

Anyone tried Western tack on an English horse or vice versa?