Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Gored Goat: Part II

First of all, I love my goats.  Yeah, I should have had them de-horned, but aside from that, they are really fun, curious, loving animals.  I had two that I bottle fed as babies and they were the sweetest things EVER.  When I'd walk out the door, they'd come bounding to me, kicking their little feet up in the air.  My husband and I would take them hiking with us through the hills and carry them over creeks.  I love goats.

When I lost my two bottle fed babies to urinary calculi, I grieved harder than I ever had before.  Three weeks of grieving, actually.  My farrier at the time, who was also a friend, was over visiting with his wife one day and I told him all the things I'd done for my babies, but lost them anyway.  Trying to cheer me up, he said next time I get goats, I should kick them every once in a while and they'd probably live longer.  I'll never forget those words.  It lightened things up.

So, in fact, when I did get my next goats, I didn't feed lots of supplements (which probably caused the UC), and I didn't take them to the vet for every hiccup, but used home-style cures instead.  (My first goats had died at the vet's after unsuccessful surgery).  And, sure enough, nine years later, they're going strong....except for the stick in the stomach thing a few weeks ago.

Do you ever notice how, in an emergency, animals can really be quite calm, even if that's not their normal personality?  That's how Scotty, the gored goat, was that day.  He was standing out by Old Red (the goats always adopt the oldest and weakest members of the herd) and stood still while I examined the stick.

I had hoped it was stuck in his fur somehow, but on inspection, it was embedded.

I did what I had to do, pull hard and get it out fast.

Poof.  It was out.  There was a hole the size of a dime, but hardly any blood.  I sprayed the wound with Scarlex and put him on observation.  He was fine.  And, I didn't even have to kick him!

It isn't even really much of a story, except that it became symbolic of what having lots of animals has given back to me, in a word, mindfulness, or living in the here and now rather than the fictional future or the imaginary past.  If it wasn't for a gored goat every once in a while, or panicky horse, things I can do something about, the things I can't do anything about might overwhelm me.

We spend a lot of time thinking, why me, why this, why that, when it's all just life.  People do die, people do leave and follow their own paths, people do keep sicknesses to themselves in hopes that they can beat it, I suppose.

But no matter what life gives me, I have my animals to ground me.

I like that.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Teeter-Totter Bridge, Car Wash, & Fire Pits, In Other words, Hell for Horses

What looked like an easy course, as we arrived with our trailers to the De-Spooking Trail Clinic, turned out to be not so much.  A teeter-totter bridge, side-passing across a long, fat log, burning flares, revving chain saw, opening and closing gates, popping balloons, various animal skins, car wash, and, oh, so much more.  Cowboy thought he'd died and gone to hell for horses.

But what a great opportunity to help them through their fears. 

I took my grand-daughter with me who has been riding since she was 3 years old and has a gentle strength and quiet way of working with horses.  She had her sweet trail horse, Penny.  Cowboy loves Penny and, as you can see below, wanted to be with her.  Working on herd-bound issues turned out to be our #1 concern.

Mom, you go play with those scary things, I'll go hang out with my girlfriend until you're done.

These pictures were taken during the in-hand portion of the clinic which we hadn't even signed up for, but since we arrived early, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity before the riding class.  What I learned is that since Cowboy and I don't do groundwork anymore, he's only confidant when I'm joined to him in the saddle or he's joined to my side.  That's not so good.  In fact, at the very beginning of the clinic, he was more of a cautionary tale for everyone else.  He was frightened and he felt trapped in the obstacles when I'd push him away.  He didn't really settle down until about half way through.

Penny, on the other hand, did great.  Or, as great as any horse is going to do in an arena full of every scary obstacle a horse will ever encounter.

The trick was getting them to acknowledge the obstacle first, get comfortable (haha), then lead them through it.  Cowboy did not want to acknowledge the obstacles.  He wanted to tell me that we needed to get the hay out of there!

Not surprisingly, Cowboy did much better during the riding portion of the clinic, and several of the trainers remarked at what a different horse he was.  After five hours, though, he was happy to hit the trails and get a little break.  Trails=easy, Clinic=Super-scary-hard-work.

But it was great!!  Everything I value in horsemanship, real job-related stuff: opening and closing gates, pulling logs behind, side passing in tight areas, crossing water...or foam that looks like water, SCOPE outdid themselves in this course. 

They also had plenty of volunteer trainers on hand to help us through the hard parts.  The picture below is Penny getting ready to side pass over the log and a trainer there helping them learn to do it.  I didn't get Cowboy to do it in-hand, but he had no problem in saddle.

The teeter totter bridge was probably the most scary of all, but was actually kind of fun when the horses got the picture.  It became like a game for them..or me...or both.  I'd be on one end of the teeter totter and then as soon as he started walking across I'd go right down with him at my side. 

Any day with horses is a day well spent, but this one was better than most.  I got to spend the day with my grand-daughter, and I couldn't have been prouder to see what a sensitive horsewoman she'd become, and we got to spend a whole day with the horses we love so much.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Gored Goat: Part I

What would you think if, walking out to your pasture, you saw your goat with what looked like a spear through his gut?  What would you do?

A.  Run to him screaming, "I'm going to save you!"
B.  Do nothing and hope it falls out.
C.  Call the vet.
D.  Walk over calmly, like a stick in his stomach is NO big deal.

This scenario happened at my place and I wanted to do A, B, and C, but ultimately chose D, as it went along very well with all the other trickery I practice to get things done with my super-duper-stubborn-bucky-large-horned pygmy goats.

I used to think very little of bucking pygmies until someone told me they aim for major arteries. Then I began to notice that Scotty was, indeed, really and truly, aiming for my aorta.  Oh, how I've chastised myself for not having them de-horned!!  WHAT was I thinking?!?!?

Ohhhh, he's so cute, I can't possibly burn off his budding horns. 

I mean, how big can a little goat's horns get anyway?

Oh, THAT big.

I'm going to back track for a second now to say that I've had a helluva winter.  My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and all the pink ribbons and, "She's got this!," words of encouragement did not prepare me for the reality of her chemotherapy.  Why does the general public think that breast cancer is a slam dunk? And, I include myself in with them.  All you hear about is this and that latest break-through---it's an eensy-weensy bit misleading, don't you think?

And, in December we became verifiable "Angel's of Death".  We flew in to Omaha to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday and, the day after we left, he was taken to the hospital where, three days later, he passed away. What the #@##?!?!

If that wasn't enough to deal with, my youngest son decided to join the Guard and even requested to be sent to boot camp, "ASAP".  Yes, he literally wrote "ASAP" on the line where you request a date.  Guess what, they sent him ASAP.

My stream of consciousness walking out to the barn sounded something like this:

"Is the chemo going to kill my mom rather than save her?  Did my father-in-law know he was going to die, but didn't tell us?  Is my son going to have to go off and fight ISIS?!?!

OMG, What's that thing sticking out of my goat?"

To be continued.....

Monday, March 30, 2015

Practicing Benign Neglect, or Least Intrusive, Horsemanship

Benign: "gentle; kindly" 
Neglect:  "To pay little or no attention to; fail to heed; fail to care for or attend properly; fail to do or carryout, as through carelessness or oversight; habitual lack of care."
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what I would call my style of horse care.  There is a term, often used, "benign neglect", that seemed to sum it up pretty well.  You hear it used with parenting, gardening, and in a host of other situations, including horsemanship, and I think most people take it to mean letting a horse "be."

The problem is, I have a hard time with the word "neglect".  Although I know what the phrase means in spirit, the word itself implies inattention and carelessness--even laziness and worse, abuse.  However "gentle and kindly" your intentions, if it equals abuse, you should, at the very least, have your horses taken away.

I saw what "abuse" looks like two years ago when a criminally insane horsewoman boarded about 50 horses next door to me.  In actuality, she is said to have owned over 200 and rotated them in and out of several pastures she rented in two states.  When a neighbor would complain that the horses looked skinny or weren't being properly cared for, she'd come in the night and take them to one of the other pastures.  Although we called our local law enforcement, her game was pretty good, and it took several months to gather enough proof to actually press charges and confiscate the horses.  Of course, many had already died and many others had to be put down.  They were starved, sick, lame--you can read about it in the Spokesman Review.

So, for personal reasons and the above reason, I don't like the word "neglect."

And yet, my style does go along with that basic philosophy of doing "less" with the caveat of keeping a very close eye on their every need, bump, scrape, bruise, weight loss, weight gain, lameness, or anything we might consider "off."

Wanting to come up with a term that more accurately describes our style, I gravitated toward unintrusive--or, in reality, least intrusive.  It doesn't have the same ZING, but it's much closer to the truth.

Intrusive: "Causing disruption or annoyance through being unwelcome or uninvited."

Least Intrusive:

This style is all about providing the very best of the essentials and watching over the herd like a mother hen--or mother horse--but only interfering with the overall lifestyle of the herd when absolutely necessary.

In the years I've lived with horses I've come to realize these three things matter most to overall health:

1. Let them be with the herd.
2. Provide the best feed.  (Clean water & salt fall under this, too)
3. Maintain the feet.

Being with the herd reduces stress and stress related (lower immune function) illness. It helps them re-calibrate their minds and provides exercise, discipline and socialization. I believe that most of what a horse learns and what we hope they will learn, starts with the herd.  The herd heals, protects, and maintains order, all the essential elements for relaxation, confidence and trust.

I've heard people say, this or that person doesn't do anything with that horse, they should get rid of it!  I disagree.  If the horse is out on pasture and has the above three needs met, I don't think it matters what a person chooses to do with them.  The horse isn't going to feel bad at all if you leave it alone.

On the other hand, I used to board at a stable where some owners would pay for a stall and feed and not show up again for months. In one case, the boarders said they hadn't seen the owners in a year. That was heart-breaking to hear.  The horse didn't have the freedom to interact with the herd, graze or roam--it was denied all the natural things they need and the human interaction as well.  In that case, I'd be the first person to recommend re-homing.

I've been at both ends of the horse care spectrum.  I've been the person who floated the teeth annually, immunized every six months for everything (and I do mean everything--including strangles--annually), wormed every three months, and hand exercised them every day.  I was the Queen of tinkerers.

I'm not that person anymore, nor do I miss her.

Today, my horses have the very best ferrier care, the very best feed (orchard grass and alfalfa--separately) I can find (purchased each summer), and 24/7 turnout on their pastures.  The only reason I take them away from each other is to ride, train, and feed special needs foods (34 year old Red).  If one gets too fat, they have to come in, and I hate to do that. I may try the grazing muzzle this year as a sort of compromise.  The reason I buy alfalfa and grass separately is because I want to know exactly how much of each they're getting. For the most part, they only get the grass, provided 24/7 in round bales, but on cold days, I throw them out some alfalfa for extra protein.

The intrusion into their lives is the least I can justify.  We've had no illnesses in the herd for the last couple of years.  (Knock on wood).  Our horses are the happiest and healthiest they've ever been.  They're relaxed, content, and eager to see us when we come out.  Red is old--34--but he still gets around great and is #2 guy.  Shadow has always had bad arthritis in his knee, and it gets worse with old age, but like Red, he still gets around and is #1 in the herd.  Cowboy is still sound and trail ready 8 years post P3 fracture and coffin bone displacement.

Some of that is just plain LUCK and I'm thankful, but some of it is definitely because we concentrate on the 3 things in that list and being the least intrusive we can possibly be while still watching their every hiccup from the periphery.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Gallop: A Poem by Idaho Poet Robert Wrigley


The yellow pines thrash their manes
and rear. You can almost hear
beneath their stationary hooves
the billion root-hairs clench and click,
the nicker and neigh, the nowhere wind
goes by on the way to nowhere else,
bringing joy and hysteria to the trees.
In the interludes between gusts
they shuffle and sway then stand
almost immobile in the downpour
of shed needles—at last only a single
branch bobbing like a twitched flank,
then stillness, the sound of what was
fading in the east, the sound of what’s coming
coming nearer from the west. They grow
restive. They wait until it comes
and gallop in their stillness again.
A poem by Robert Wrigley, who has published ten books of poems, including most recently Anatomy of Melancholy and Other Poems (Penguin 2013) and, The Church of Omnivorous Light (Bloodaxe Books, 2013). He teaches at the University of Idaho and lives in the woods, near Moscow, with his wife, the Pulitzer-nominated and best-selling author, Kim Barnes.  I was privileged to have had him as my Introduction to Literature teacher way back in 1985.