Monday, December 26, 2011

Getting to know you...getting to know all about you!"

Christina and Kanani making one another's acquaintance: December: 2011

A kiss goodbye until the next time we meet...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Who, ME? I'm Not Spoiled!

"What's THAT?"

Kanani: Two new friends brought me a present yesterday! I didn't know what it was, at first, til my human called it a "lei." She held it up and let me sniff it but I wouldn't let her put it over my head like she seemed to want to do!

Me: That's what you do with a lei--wear it.

Kanani: WEAR something made of yummy apples, carrots, peppermints, and some kind of delicious green stuff?????...Are you out of your mind?

Me: The green stuff was parsley--and the lei also had orchids, ribbons and peppermint lifesavers on it. I wanted to get a photo of you wearing your lei like a proper Hawaiian horse.

Kanani: Well, I just wanted to eat the darn thing! Once I realized there were carrots and apples on it, that is. Heck, I discovered that I love the parsley--and the peppermints are my new favorite treat, EVER!

Me: You would have gotten a tummy ache if I had let you eat the whole thing. So I just let you eat a little bit and the rest I took home for another time.

Kanani: They brought me cookies, too! When do I get my cookies?????

Me: One at a time, my greedy friend--if you're good, that is. You have to EARN your cookies, you know. I can't have a spoiled horse.

Kanani: Who, ME? I'm not spoiled!

Me: Ha! Did you see the hat they brought for ME? It kind of says it all.

Kanani: Oh, the one that says "Owned by a Friesian Horse"?

Me: Yep, that's the one.

Kanani: Well, I DO own you, don't I? You're my very own human--my groomer, trainer,hair dresser, poop-picker-upper, goody supplier, shoe-buyer, all-around slave and best friend!..Um...what did you bring me TODAY?

"Do I smell an apple?"

"Hey, there's carrots on here, too!"

"Are you SURE this thing is edible? What's that floppy white thing?"

"Yes!!! It IS edible."

"Wait a minute! What's that string thing holding all this stuff together?"

"Yum! I LIKE presents!"

"Making faces at my new friend, Barb!"

"Me and my new friend, Judy!"

"Me and my slave--I mean, my human!"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

September And The Perfect Chair:

I've decided that this blog can't ONLY be about my travels and my beautiful horse. Sometimes, I have other things on my mind. As the anniversary of a certain earth-shattering day in September approaches, I am once again--as always--plunged into reliving memories of what was happening each day as the end of my husband's days on earth approached. It's been seven years, but the memories (and emotions) remain as vivid as the day they happened.

The other thing I seem to do every year at this time is...clean.

Don't ask me why I clean. I haven't a clue. Except that women have always cleaned when they didn't know what else to do. We clean when we are hurting..when we're afraid...when we're grieving and when we're angry. We clean when we're excited or "getting ready for something." We clean right before we have babies. And before weddings, funerals, birthdays, holiday celebrations and the arrival of company, delivery persons and cleaning ladies.

Cleaning is therapeutic. It gives us something to do while our minds may be busy elsewhere. And it makes us feel good to get rid of dirt, dust, grime and stuff we don't really need anymore.

Which brings me to the chair.

For quite some time now, I have been aware that my old chair wasn't really doing the job I needed it to do. It only faces one direction when I need it to swivel around so I can see the view outside or the TV or visit with guests. It doesn't recline when I need to put my feet up. It doesn't rock when the child/old person in me wants to sit and rock and ponder life's many twists and turns.

Why do I keep clinging to it? Just because I bought it once and now think I'm stuck with it forever?... Oh, now I remember. It matches the sofa. And it opens up into a single bed. Which I have used twice in the ten years I've had the chair.

But I didn't really know I needed a NEW chair until I saw it in a furniture store I happened to stop at while looking for a basket to replace the dingy old basket I pitched in my fit of cleaning. The chair swiveled. It rocked. It reclined....AND it was the perfect color!

Now, I have no business buying a chair right now. Not long ago, I bought a horse. A chair is NOT in the budget. It doesn't even whinny. But there it was...singing a siren song that life is short and it's time to conquer old sorrows and renew one's commitment to living life to the fullest. Time to have a "comfort spot" where if I AM gonna cry again for crying out loud, at least I can cry in comfort, damn it!

Well. I bought the chair. It's nowhere near as exciting as sitting in my saddle on my horse. But, oh, it's so comfy! A dream chair in every way.

Moving past cleaning, I've rearranged my whole front room, tossed out a couple of old throw pillows and bought a couple new ones to pick up the color in the chair.

Now, I am least for another year.

Maybe next year I'll arrange to travel in September.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saddle Talk:

Me: Do you think you can ignore that dust devil whirling up the hill towards us?

Kanani: Um...well, maybe. Maybe not...

Me: How about if we turn our backs to it and side-pass to distract you?

Kanani: Wait. What IS that? Never saw anything like THAT before!!

Me: Now, now. I'm sure they have dust devils--okay, tornadoes--in the Netherlands...No?????

Kanani: LOOK! It's coming right at us!

Me: OMG!!!!

WHAM!!!!!!!! BLAM!!!!!!!!

Me and Kanani: Cough! Cough! Cough!...Gasp! Gasp!...Snort!...Wheeze!...Blink! Blink!

Me: Sputter, sputter...Oh, Kanani!...What a good boy you are! You stood rock still and took care of me!

Kanani: Snort!...Geez, Mom, what'd you expect?...Snort!

Me: Good boy! Good boy! Good boy!

Kanani: Enough with the "good boys." Where's my carrot?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Waxing Philosophical:

Okay, I'm getting old (a month or so shy of being 68 and my older sister is gonna be 70--yikes! How did THAT happen?). I've also gone distressingly plump. Not that I regret a single year or even a single pound. I've found joy in all of it and am blessed with many glorious memories, only a few not so good ones, and a family of which I am unabashedly proud. Every single one of my "chicks" (immediate and extended family) gives me pride, joy and reason to celebrate. They are each unique, amazing individuals--and don't even get me started on grandkids, nephews, spouses of chicks, etc.

But sometimes I do wish I were a wee bit younger, thinner, richer, healthier, etc. We all wish for certain "improvements." One of the best things about having a horse is that when you climb on top of your horse, you forget about all that...stuff.

You realize that "stuff" is all it is. Stuff and baggage. Why carry it around?

Riding a horse reminds me to live in the moment, because--by gosh--if I don't, I might fall off because I'm distracted worrying about something else!

Even worse, I might miss out on some "fun." Sheer, wonderful FUN.

Horses--dogs, cats, all animals, in fact, and children, of course--seem to have the gift of "living in the moment." I doubt they ever worry about how old or fat they're getting. They take life as it comes, right this moment, and seem to enjoy every moment that's even remotely "enjoyable."

That's my goal--to become more like my horse. To live in the moment. To let go of past hurts, present worries, any inclination to guilt I might rightfully or wrongfully possess, and all fears for the future.

NOW is all I've got. This beautiful moment full of promise, potential and the possibility of having fun!

Anyone up for a ride?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fabulous Trick Riding: Lorenzo The Flying Frenchman
(View footage of him working with his horses.)

What must it be like to be able to achieve what this young man in his 30's is doing with horses?

I read about him in a book review. Seems there's a new book out about Lorenzo, the Flying Frenchman. It's subtitled: the Amazing Man and his Remarkable Horses.

It inspired me to Google him and learn more. According to the book review, Lorenzo is a shy introvert who doesn't talk much and spends all his time with his horses on the beaches of Camargue in his native France. His mother says he has few friends: "His horses are his friends."

At age 16, he was "discovered" and began appearing on television. His young life has been marked by many personal physical injuries (back, shoulders and knees) and tragedies, such as the loss of beloved horses to cancer and disease. Yet he continues training and performing, exhibiting complete devotion and commitment to the well-being of his beautiful white Portuguese Lusitano mares.

It is said that he has never sold a horse; he just keeps working with them until he solves the riddle of their personalities.

What a worthy goal for any horse owner!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Doing Less To Get More:

This pose is what is known as FFA or Full Friesian Alert. Sure enough, a moment later, Kanani kicked up his heels and was out of there!


What if you had a friend who only came around when she wanted something?

And when she comes, all she pretty much does is boss you around? Even if she gives you treats--which start to look a lot like bribes since you have to perform first to get them--and even if she does pleasant things like groom you and brush out your snarled hair (plus some unpleasant things like sometimes giving you shots or nasty-tasting medicines)--wouldn't you start to wonder if she's really your friend or not?

Is she the one you would pick to hang out with? Would you drop everything you are doing in a heartbeat to come running every time she calls? (Especially when you know she's just going to make you work for her?)

What if she almost NEVER plays with you or just keeps you company and all it really comes down to is just WORK, WORK, WORK--stuff you might never do on your own, like trot in perfect 20 meter circles or walk calmly past scary things?

From a horse's point of view, this is pretty much what they know of us, their human "friends." Amazingly, they still tolerate us. They do what we want--mostly anyway--even if their hearts aren't really in it. But trust us? Walk calmly out of a burning building with us--or even just calmly past a mailbox they've never seen before that reminds them of a fire-eating dragon?

In an effort to have the best possible relationship with my horse, I am following the advice of renowned horsewoman, Carolyn Resnick, who spent years studying wild horse herds and how horses form bonds or friendships with other horses. Aside from pecking order in a herd, horses DO pick their friends--the ones they feel safe with and most want to be with. These are the ones they go out of their way to hang out with. Their "friends" become their passive leaders, the ones they will follow anywhere--to the next patch of grass, to the waterhole, to wherever, no matter if it's a new, strange or even scary place.

We're not talking the alpha horse here,the one who runs around chasing other horses away from food and water every chance they get, sometimes biting and kicking them and generally making life miserable. Alpha horses are respected but rarely liked and trusted. Most humans dealing with horses fall into the alpha horse category. We command respect, but not trust, and we only rarely become beloved, sought after "passive leaders."

According to Ms. Resnick, if I want to move into passive leader status, I must spend time just hanging out with Kanani. Time where I don't ask him to do anything, send him anywhere, or require anything of him. In fact, I must ignore him and let HIM come to ME and DECIDE that I am the sort of horse he wants to hang out with and willingly follow.

I am advised to take a book and a chair into a big pasture or arena and just sit there and ignore my big, nosy friend. Horses usually need quite a bit of time before they become curious enough to approach a human, sniff 'em and check 'em out all over. Not Kanani. He already has an over-abundance of curiosity and has followed me around since day one. However, when I take him into the big arena, he still spooks at puffs of wind, noises from the field next door, axis deer jumping around on the other side of the fence, the ironwood trees rustling....whatever. Although he will quickly return to me, he still feels the need to whirl and run when something scares him. It makes no difference if I speak soothingly to him or not.

Ms. Resnick claims that such spookiness means that Kanani has not yet accepted me as a passive leader who can protect him by my very presence. He still needs to discover that he can be out there with me and TRUST my signals--my calmness in the face of scary happenings. He has to learn that he need no longer worry about his surroundings because I'm in charge of "worrying" and moving us to a new place if we're in danger.

So guess what? I am adopting yet another strategy that surely looks ridiculous to other humans. (If there are any around.) I am sitting alone reading a book in the big arena with Kanani while he convinces himself that I am a leader to trust.

It's called "doing less to get more."

Once he accepts that he can be out there with me--withOUT spooking--he will be ready for the next step, taking my direction while we're out there, letting me ride him, etc. in a nice, calm, quiet manner. FFAs will be a thing of the past.

I LIKE the idea of allowing a horse to train himself. Once he learns to look to me for reassurance in the spooky arena, he will do the same everywhere else. If I don't spook, he won't spook. That's the theory, anyway.

Interesting, eh?

(And maybe life-saving since I have been known to get thrown off spooky, bolting horses in the past!)

Kanani checks out my chair and book just prior to tipping it over.

As I sit in my chair trying to read, Kanani looms over me--and keeps watch on our surroundings just in case something bad is out there! He intends to see it first.

Have you ever had a horse read over your shoulder?

Kanani did relax long enough to munch a bit of hay along the fence line--at which point I tried to sneak away and put my camera in my car. Alas, he wasn't relaxed enough to stay there and eat but thundered after me and stood by the gate awaiting my return, leaving the rest of his hay untouched. (Sigh...This may take longer than I think!)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Body Language 101:

A backwards kick can convey many messages. I think the kick in this photo conveys sheer exuberance but it could mean a lot of other things. (See below)

As sensitized as I am becoming to horse language, I did not approve of the way Kanani barged into the run-in shed a few days ago headed for the hay net I had just filled. After all, I was still standing in front of it fastening the clips. In his enthusiasm to get to "his" food he easily could have run me over and never noticed.

It was the perfect opportunity to try out a little horse language of my own. I instantly decided to behave like his Mom--or the head mare in a pasture. Presenting my hind quarters to him, I made backward kicking motions with my legs.

Was he ever surprised!

It was much more effective that if I had held up my hand and shouted no--or even smacked him for barging into my space. (Most good horse folks will tell you that smacks should be a last resort in a dangerous situation and may even anger and accelerate aggressiveness in some horses. And on no account should a horse be hit in the face. That can cause REAL problems!)

Snorting in surprise, Kanani spun around and raced to the end of the paddock. He did bang his head on the wall as he spun. But hey, he would have done the same if I actually had been another horse bent on disciplining him for rude behavior.

The second time he returned he was much more respectful but still high headed and nervous. So I sent him out again in the same way. I never said a word or touched him. I just presented my hind quarters and repeated the same horse-like backward kicking motions. (Luckily, no humans saw me or they would have thought I was totally nuts!)

The third time Kanani returned, he came like a well-chastened youngster, which is to say S-L-O-W-L-Y, head lowered, licking and chewing. This is universal language from a junior horse acknowledging the authority of a senior horse. It means: "I'm sorry. I'll behave now. Please let me join you and I promise I'll be good."

Only then did I allow him to approach and "share" MY hay as any good, benevolent leader would do.

Following this "attitude adjustment," Kanani has been super respectful of my space. He has not once offered to hurl himself toward his food whenever I am nearby. Instead, he now waits to be invited. And he seems even more determined to stay glued to my side and be my best buddy.

All because I set aside human nature for a few minutes and tried speaking to him in horse language!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dancing With Kanani:

My handsome dance partner is focused on something he's not too sure about. If I'm reading him correctly, he's trying to decide if whatever interests him is a threat or not!, what can I do to set his mind at ease?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After many years playing with horses, I have a bag full of tricks and techniques designed to help me convince a horse to do what I want. They work pretty well--except for when they DON'T work. As almost anyone who dreams of "dancing" with a horse can attest, tricks and techniques are not a substitute for speaking fluent "horse."

I need to know how to "read" my horse because horses never lie. Their body language can tell me exactly what they are thinking/feeling if I know how to read it properly. Of course, I also have to know what my own body language is telling my horse! And then I have to know how best to use my body, mind and emotions to influence my horse to dance with me.

What I have learned so far is that there is ALWAYS more to learn.

Yes, I know the basics--but it's the mastery of subtleties that separates the gifted dancer from the clumsy hoofer. It's what truly allows a predator species (me) to climb on the most vulnerable body part of a prey species (the back of my horse) and perform a dance of grace and beauty, seemingly effortlessly, to our own special music.

Now, I know how to get a modicum of respect and be the dominant horse telling Kanani what to do, when and how to do it. (I learned all this a long time ago in a round pen. And I know almost all the cues that supposedly work when riding. Heck you can read about 'em in a book. Sort of like how you can learn how to be a good parent or a golfer from reading books. Right?)

The thing is I also want to earn/keep Kanani's trust and maintain our friendship. I want him to continue to want to be with me and be my buddy. I want him to WANT to dance with me. And that's not so easily accomplished.

Here's what I know: Just like people, horses really don't like being dominated. Over time, a dominated horse can become dull and resentful. He may even embark on a course of continual, escalating challenge. In a dominance relationship, partnership/friendship definitely flies out the window and pretty soon, the horse will run and hide every time he sees his human coming. Someone--probably the human--may even get hurt settling dominance challenges.

Now, I don't want to be a pushover either. When a human behaves submissively, often unwittingly, and relinquishes leadership to the horse, even a well-trained horse can become pushy, spooky, flighty and in charge. Not only will he NOT do what his human wants, but he will be afraid to even hang out with his human because the human doesn't offer security. And horses--being a prey species right down to their bones--most of all want to feel safe and secure. Even the most dominant horse still has a little foal inside him that wants a leader to look after him and make him feel safe. That way he doesn't have to be scared and on alert all the time. (Bullies usually are scared to death at heart!)

To complicate matters, every single day that I go see my horse, I find a new horse waiting for me. And I'm a new/different person. While we both remember things, have developed habits and "know" each other, we still change from day to day--and on any given day, one of us could be having a really bad day and be in no mood whatsoever to be in partnership and "dance" together.

So I am brushing up on my skills and (yes) reading books, watching DVDs, etc. where the horse whisperers of the world--or at least the self-proclaimed gurus--are supposedly sharing the subtleties of communication I yearn to more fully master. Since I left the horse world some years ago, I am happy to report that horse training has continued to evolve and progress toward a more compassionate, benevolent and informed leadership role for humans.

A few enlightened gurus are even going back to the old ways that indigenous peoples who first tamed wild horses had to master. They are closely studying how horses talk to other horses and what even the slightest move, stance or gesture means to a horse. And it is really coming home to me that EVERY move I make means something! As does every move HE makes.

If I want Kanani to truly dance with me--and LOVE doing it--while we both endeavor to keep from stepping on one another's toes, achieve unity and maybe even progress to fine art, I need to master ALL those moves and what they mean.

I can't ever forget that Kanani's toes are lots bigger than mine. (Which is to say that I have more to lose than he does if I fail to master fluent horse!)

The dance classes are well underway and progress reports shall be forthcoming.

Kanani's ears are back, "listening" to me. That's a good thing. But why on earth am I leaning to one side, potentially throwing him off balance? Not a good move for a dance partner. Aaaargh!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beneath the Feathers: The Ugly Truth

Little did Sarah know when she hugged Kanani that this horse needs a hug! Read on to find out why.

Some breeds of horses sport "feathers" on their lower legs. Friesians are known and prized for their luxurious feathers or hairy lower legs. But all that hair can cause problems--one of which is known as "scratches", a skin problem that can escalate into bleeding sores, lameness, swelling, pain, scarring and other nasty consequences. Wet weather and mud can cause the condition--but so can moist heat, as when a horse sweats under his feathers in a hot climate and the hair doesn't quite dry out.

I've been battling scratches since Kanani arrived and I first noticed that he had a lot of scarring beneath the feathers on his back legs. Seemed likely he was prone to the condition, as many Friesians are. When some of the scar tissue on Kanani's legs suddenly looked a bit puffier than usual, I thought I better have the vet check him out and see what he might suggest.

He suggested clipping all the hair off his lower legs so we could see what we're dealing with! (They NEVER clip feathers off Friesians in the Netherlands--and Friesians are disqualified in horse shows if they are clipped. Dumb rules, I know, but rules just the same.)

Well, we clipped. And the extent of the scarring was fully revealed. The vet says Kanani has "chronic scratches" and never will get over them entirely. You can only control the condition, not eliminate it, once a horse has had a really bad case.

So now I am researching how best to do that. For the moment, the medicated shampoo I've been using will work fine. He no longer has hair to hold in moisture after shampooing and rinsing. For long term and next rainy season after the hair grows back in? That remains to be discovered. Other than keeping him clipped, even the vet isn't sure of the best approach!

Kanani's hind legs after clipping. Deep grooves and nodules tell the tale of past bouts with scratches. Poor guy--he's had it rough at some time in his life before me!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his (her) horse." (Robert Smith Surtees)

Below is daughter Sarah, riding Kanani. Hope to get more pics of family members riding my sweet boy!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kanani: Left Brain Introvert?

Have been studying Horsenality--the science of figuring out what sort of personality type your horse has so you can best tailor your training/handling methods to that particular type of horse. (Yes, it's actually a science. Who knew?) Like humans, horses often display characteristics from all personality types, but will still generally fall into one category more than any other.

Kanani appears to be a Left Brain Introvert. This means that on the plus side, he tends to be clever, calm, dependable and consistent. On the minus side, he may be easily bored, pushy, argumentative, have a tendency to buck or charge, be stubborn, too food focused, disinterested or lazy. (Don't worry, he hasn't bucked or charged yet! Doesn't have a credit card, anyway.)

He has many Extrovert tendencies, too--as in charismatic, mouthy, playful, smart, fast learner and occasionally willful and bossy.

He is definitely food-focused and will do anything to earn a treat. When he decides to be argumentative ("My saddle slipped twice in a row, so now I don't think I'll stand still any more for you to get on me!"), a treat for good behavior is a highly motivating factor. So is turning him in a small circle until we're both a little dizzy and he decides it's easier to stand still when he's told to do so rather then keep making mindless, energy-expending circles.

The fact that he's far more left-brained than right brained indicates that he's generally calm, brave and confidant (also dominant) and I must be on my toes to remain in charge.

Only occasionally does he exhibit right brain tendencies and become hyper alert, high headed and bracy or downright distrustful. (On the plus side of right brain tendencies, he's perceptive, forgiving and bonds like glue.)

Now, after studying all this, I'm trying to figure out my "Humanality" type. (Yes, we all fall into one of four distinct personality types with overtones of other types thrown in for good measure.)

Am I a Left Brain Introvert like Kanani--or a Left Brain Extrovert? Or maybe I'm a Right Brain Introvert or Extrovert?

All I really know about all this is that I, too, am definitely food-focused.

Uh, oh. Time to eat!!! So bye for now.

"Don't bother me. I'm a deep-thinking introvert."

"Whadidya bring me? Huh?...huh? There better be treats in that bulging pocket!"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In Memoriam: Wildeman

Word came to me today about the death of Wildeman, our marvelous Haflinger, who went to work in Michigan teaching handicapped riders after I moved here to Hawaii. His photo had been on the school's website until last Spring as a featured "teacher," and when I noticed it had disappeared, I wondered why--and had this subtle intuition that perhaps he had left this world. An email today belatedly confirmed it.

He died peacefully last Spring and was found in the school's pasture when staff went out to bring him in for lessons. They think his heart just finally gave out.

That, too, does not surprise me--because this horse had a great and generous heart that worked overtime as he tried his best to please his humans.

We bought him as an "unbroken" three year old, part of a trio of Haflingers for sale at an auction. Friend and instructor, Peggy, took his brother and half sister, while we took Wildeman.

Thus began a relationship that yielded many ribbons, trophies and championships over the years. Wildeman (along with his brother and half sister) became a star in the horse show world when he really would have much preferred staying home eating grass. He performed in English, Western, dressage and driving. Few could beat him in any discipline. He and his brother dominated Haflinger competitions for many years and he was the grand champion driving horse at the Ohio State Fair.

Most of all, he was a treasured friend--sweet, gentle, kind, a little bit lazy at times, a little bit spirited at other times, occasionally opinionated, and always...always a confidante and empathetic listener. You could tell him anything. He was wise in ways that most humans never achieve. He seemed to know what you were thinking and feeling without any words needing to be said...and he was there for you.

Was he perfect? No, and I have old Wildeman-related injuries to prove it. But even those were pretty much MY fault. A bucking fit on a cold frosty morning told me that he'd been given too much grain by the staff at a boarding barn where we had him so we could keep him working all winter long. When he kicked my cart to pieces at a show and tossed me high into the air, it was because of a pinched nerve I had failed to notice despite a few obvious clues.

Perhaps his favorite human in the world was Christina--for whom he worked his heart out and gave his all on so many occasions. They were beautiful together.

Wildeman taught me so much, and he went on to teach handicapped kids who can't run or play like normal kids. He gave them the joy of riding a fine horse and having four sturdy legs under them, instead of two sometimes useless or uncoordinated ones. Astride Wildeman, they could move across the earth with the thunder of hoofbeats echoing in their hearts, and they could share that special realm of rainbows, smiles and magic.

That's what a good horse does; he brings you magic.

Wherever he is now, I hope there are green meadows, clear running water, wildflowers to tickle his nose and a few horse buddies to hang out with.

Goodbye, old friend...'til we meet again.

You weren't just good; you were the best.

A kiss on the nose for a fabulous horse!