Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Little Moments, Big Steps

June 7
Let me begin by saying that I'm so proud of Penny. If her legs straighten out, she'll make an amazing little guide horse, I'm absolutely convinced. She is so smart and so willing to learn, even when she's nervous. Maybe it's the food, or maybe it's the attention. Whatever the case, she's always game when I come out, even if Cali chases her off, which, unfortunately, happens much too frequently.
Today I had to fly spray both girls. Cali made her usual protest, but that was okay because she wasn't too much trouble to spray, and she didn't resist when I used the roll-on fly repellent on her face. Progress, progress.
Penny didn't like the fly spray one little bit, but she tolerated it as each sprits was accompanied by clicks and treats. She pranced around a bit, but I got the job done. Instead of using the roll-on repellent on her face, I sprayed my hands and rubbed her face. She doesn't mind having her face or ears touched. Even her legs are no longer off limits, at least not if I briefly touch them. Picking up her feet is another matter, though. She'll let me do that for a moment, but then she resists.
Penny is learning amazingly quickly. She usually touches my hand pretty gently now, which is a huge improvement. In fact, several times, I've mistaken Penny for Cali because Penny touched my hand so gently that I didn't believe it was Penny. Only when I touched Penny's short mane did I realize that it was Penny and not Cali. Now, the only way I can distinguish one from the other at a touch is if I deliberately press my hand against the horse's nose. Cali's nose is softer than Penny's, not to mention a bit bigger!
It's above 95 degrees out today, so I'm not venturing out much, though I did go out and give the girls fresh water. I even added a little ice to it to keep it cooler for longer. Then I took a spray bottle of water and sprayed each one down. Again, both horses protested. Cali was won over pretty quickly, but Penny did a little more prancing around before she decided that clicking and treating did wonders and that she could tolerate being sprayed. I think she liked being cooled off, too, because she stood perfectly still for a while and just let me spray and spray. The poor sweeties were pretty hot. Even the fan in the shed is basically just blowing around hot air. And when I come out to see them, they insist on calling to me and waiting for me, Cali standing at the gate, and Penny running into the shed to meet me on her side. How easy it is to fall in love with a horse! They're so uncomplicated and they live in the present, not worrying about what's going to happen or what has happened. They take each moment as it comes. I force myself to remember this each time I think about the past, about how this and that horrible thing happened or about the future and how I have to do this thing or the other, about how stressed I am because something isn't going to turn out exactly the way I want it. I remind myself to live in the moment, to take each second as it comes because really, that's all we've got. It's trite, but we've really got no guarantees. Better to enjoy the moments we've got than to dwell on past miseries or future possibilities. These horses tell me this each time I see them. That in and of itself is worth all the time and effort I put into them and so much more.
June 1-6
Time flies when you're having fun—and working hard!
Penny and I have been working on "touch." She now understands the concept that click equals treat. When she hears that sound, her head turns and she is completely focused. Now she knows that if she even brushes my hand with her nose, that gets a click and treat. Taking treats is a little harder because she still wants to take them roughly, though that's getting better and better. She isn't intentionally hurt me, so I just draw my hand back a bit and give her the treat carefully. I just have to remember to do this when Cali isn't around and preferably when she's distracted because otherwise, she stands and waits for her treat. I tried clicking and treating both of them, one after the other, but I think j's too confusing, or at least, it's too confusing for the handler!
The two horses are getting along well now except when I go in to interact with them. Cali chases Penny off, and Penny chews submissively before she leaves. When they're alone together, they're perfectly fine, even eating side by side. I have to separate them when I give grain or hay, though, because Cali needs to lose some weight, and given her way, she would eat her grain, then go to Penny's and eat the rest of that as well. Penny will eat her grain but will save some for later, and when later comes, Cali has eaten it all! My greedy, precious little girl!
Yesterday, the farrier came to trim the horses' feet. Of course, he's in love with Cali—who wouldn't be?—and thinks she's amazing, which, let's face it, she is. He also says her feet are in great shape, which is no thanks to me. I clean them all the time, but I'm also lucky that Cali has good feet. Honestly, though, I haven't found a farrier who did as good a job as Dolores did. I've gone through farrier and farrier and have been disappointed each time. So Dolores, if you'd come to do some trimming...
The farrier had something to say about Penny, though, and I am very upset about the whole situation. Apparently, Penny's front feet and legs are pretty bad, meaning that both are crooked. Her left front hoof has been trimmed so that it's almost straight now. One more trimming and that leg will be perfectly fine. Penny's right front leg, though, has been twisted, and her hoof has been turned. Apparently, her leg is not looking too great. I couldn't tell when I bought her because she, like many young horses, wouldn't let me touch her legs. Anyway, the farrier believes her feet have never been trimmed because of how bad they are. He also thinks that it's possible to fix the right front leg, but only time will tell. I don't know how much little Penny has, though, and am sad about the situation. If her leg can't be straightened, there's no sense in training her as a guide because guide work will require that she learn to jump in and out of vehicles as well as living quite a long life without being lame, which Penny probably won't do if that leg isn't straightened out. Bruce, Claudia's husband, says that Penny's legs already look much better, but I'm still worried. The vet is coming out on Wednesday, and after her prognosis, I'll make a decision. At this point, I'm torn about what to do. I can't and won't sell Penny for what I paid for her, partly because it's not fair to sell her without making it clear that she's got an issue with her legs. I was impetuous in buying her, and I guess that'll learn me. Hopefully, though, I won't have to pay too high a price for my stupidity. If I have to give up Penny, I might find a mini rescue that'll take her. Otherwise, I can't in good conscience just sell her to someone. Maybe it won't come to that. Maybe she'll be fine in a few months. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. Please let the vet give me and Penny some hope.
I've been working with Penny on letting me touch her legs because I knew that the farrier would come, but frankly, I hadn't gotten very far because I only had a few days to prepare. At this point, I am a novice trainer, so I didn't think I could get too much accomplished.
Before the farrier came, I told him that I wasn't going to manhandle Penny, and he agreed that I could do whatever I wanted to calm her. He isn't at all averse to clicker training, though I don't think he does it with his own horses. At any rate, when the farrier touched Penny's legs, I clicked and treated like crazy. When he picked up each foot, I clicked and treated. Everything he did to her earned lots and lots of clicks and treats, which I think contributed a lot to Penny's association between clicking and treating. So the farrier got his job done with Penny no worse for wear.
And now, on to Cali. She is still the best of the best, the cutest of the cute. Now that Penny is here, Cali has become even more obedient, even more biddable, probably because she's extremely jealous. When I call her while she's on grass, my girl now comes right over, takes her treat, and lets me pet her, which doesn't sound like a feat but really is, considering that a few weeks ago, she would take the treat, turn and run off to eat more grass, and simply walk away when I got close to her. Now she takes her treat and will find the deck steps for me. Then I'll treat her, and she'll turn around and grab a mouthful of grass. This is because I taught her that finding the deck steps deserves the reward of a few bites of grass. A few weeks ago, Cali would walk around those steps to get to the gate so that we could leave. Now she realizes that finding steps means grass, and she loves the game. She also loves to run up the deck steps and find things such as chairs, tables, her bucket, hoof picks, the door, and the hose. Smart girl! The only problem is getting her off the deck. Believe it or not, She loves being on the deck more than she loves grass. To coax her off the deck, I've got to go down the steps myself and wait at the bottom until she's convinced that the game is over. Then she'll reluctantly come down.
Today I was at a doctor's appointment while both horses were on grass. I asked Bruce to take them off the grass and put them in their respective pens, and when I got home, he had an interesting Cali story to tell me.
Apparently, Penny was reluctant to come off the grass. With me, she doesn't hesitate to let me touch her and take her off grass, though she won't actually come to me, so finding her is an interesting challenge. Anyhow, Bruce left the gate open while he was taking Penny into the shed and was letting her out into her area when he happened to feel a soft nose on his hand and looked over to find that Cali was in the shed beside him! My jealous girl, who never ever goes into the shed off of grass on her own was so jealous that she came willingly into the shed and didn't even try to leave when Bruce was leaving. Again, the best of the best, the cutest of the cute!
I didn't do too much with Cali today because I had a horrible migraine and was convinced that I needed a vacation from myself. Still am, but I'm not sure how to go about doing that just yet! I had fruitless doctor's appointments for most of the afternoon, so when I got home, it was past seven. The girls weren't getting hay tonight because they'd feasted on grass all day, so I decided that I'd play with them. I worked again with Penny, clicked and treating for "touch" and then working carefully to touch her legs. I only worked on the front legs today because I really wasn't in the mood to be kicked. Little as she is, I still don't relish the prospect. Penny didn't approve of being touched, but lots of clicking and treating allowed me to rub her front legs, where before, she would pin her ears and try to bite me each time my hand touched those tiny legs. She's still not happy about the prospect, but she's getting to where she understands that I'm not going to hurt her. This is an amazing accomplishment considering that two weeks ago, this horse had never been handled, or at least, not gently, as far as I can tell.
Tonight Bruce was putting up a fan between both stalls, and Miss Cali decided that she would stand right underneath the saw while Bruce worked. She didn't even flinch at the loud noise the saw made or the electric screwdriver or when he pulled some of the boards out to put in the fan. She was covered in sawdust and didn't care at all. Silly girl! And when the fan was in and on, Cali stood beneath it.
Penny, on the other hand, was a different story. I had to constantly click and treat her each time we heard a loud noise. Bruce let me know before he did anything, so I was prepared and didn't flinch myself at the loud noises. At the end of the ordeal, Pennystock didn't try to run away but stood with ears forward, ready for the next treat. Just a few days ago, Penny would take treats, but her ears were always pinned. Maybe it's a sign of anxiety? I'm not sure, but it doesn't matter now because she's happy to take treats when new things happen.
But Penny was still afraid of the loud fan and didn't want anything to do with the shed for about ten minutes. When she saw that I was walking in and she would be alone outside, though, she changed her mind and came in, at which point, there was more clicking and treating going on. So much for trying to be on a strict diet regime with the girls!
Both of these horses are so amazing that I can't believe how blessed I am to have them. Many days, they're the only reason I get up. Many days, I feel completely alone, and Penny and Cali are my solace. How lucky I am!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 30, 2011
Today I decided to start teaching Penny that the click means a treat is Coming. I made a mistake early on and gave her treats randomly as we were walking or when I saw her in her pen. I think I shouldn't have done that, but at the time, I wanted her to associate me with good things. Now, when she sees me, she automatically looks for the treat and pushes and shoves at me. When I give her the treat away from my body, she bites my palm. I don't think it's intentional, but I don't want her to get into the habit of doing this.
So I decided to treat Penny like a big horse and stood on the other side of the stall door in Cali's part of the shed. This created some problems because when Cali heard the click, she turned to me, wanting her own treat. So I asked her to wait, then clicked and treated her for waiting. I clicked and treated Penny quite a few times and in between, I clicked and treated Cali for waiting. I think that Cali got confused, though, and am going to find somewhere else Cali can be while I'm working with Penny. I don't want Cali to think that click doesn't equal treat, and I'm afraid that might happen if I continue to click and treat Penny, not her. I've heard of people who've trained multiple dogs at once,; how they do it is a mystery to me.
When Penny dropped treats, Cali would put her nose under the door and get what she could. Penny reached down, too, and Cali squealed at her. I think Cali is warning Penny away but am not really sure if that's the case. Hopefully, they'll tolerate each other someday. If not, I guess Cali won't have a friend like I envisioned.
As Penny was eating her hay this evening, I pattered, rubbed, and scratched her, talking quietly as I did so. Even when I touched behind her front legs, she didn't flinch. I guess she's getting used to me. I couldn't tell if her ears were back or not, but since she still kept eating, my assumption is that she wasn't too upset. I am so lucky to have these two amazing, smart horses! Now, if only I could figure out how to teach them to get along!
May 31, 2011
This morning, I had to use fly spray on both horses, as mosquitoes and flies have gotten horrible. Cali decided to protest, which means she saw the bottle in my hand, turned around, walked out of the then, turned back around, and walked into the shed, whereupon she let me spray her without any fuss. Why she does this, I haven't figured out. My guess is that she's simply telling me she's not happy about what I'm doing. Sometimes when I'm getting ready to brush her, she does this. It's funny, but I'm thinking I should listen to her and perhaps click and treat her for not doing it, if I can catch her not protesting about being sprayed, that is!
When Penny's turn came, I had to brush her first and so set the bottle of fly spray down on the floor. Penny let me brush her with no hassle. I suspect that's because I didn't even try to do her legs. When I finished brushing her, I walked over to where the bottle was and she put her nose on it. This is when I should have clicked and treated, but I wasn't prepared. Handler error! I exchanged the brush for the fly spray, let Penny sniff at it, then sprayed some in the air away from her face. She wasn't disturbed and didn't even flinch when I sprayed
her—except when I tried to do her legs and her tummy near her legs. Then she tried to kick and danced around some. I talked quietly to her, but her ears stayed pinned. If it hadn't been necessary to spray her, I would have just left her alone, but as it was, I didn't want her to get bitten by mosquitoes. She hasn't had all of her vaccines yet, and I don't want to take any chances. Bruce was outside, so I asked him to spray Penny while I talked to her and tried to soothe her. She wasn't happy about the procedure, but we were able to spray her down, at which point, I gave her some hay pellets. Of course, this is something we'll have to work on.
One of the things I really want Penny to learn is manners. I want her to understand that she'll only get a treat if she stands with her head far enough away that she can't mug me. This is something I didn't do with Cali, something I paid dearly for in the beginning.
When I went to Penny, she nickered at me and put her nose over the stall door. Cali was outside on the grass, so there was no interference, jealousy, or confusion from her, which meant I could focus exclusively on Penny.
First, I started clicking and treating from outside the stall, putting my hand down far enough that she had to lower her head to get the treat. A few minutes later, I decided to go into the stall and stand beside her. She stood on my left side, the side she'll learn is guide position, and tried to get at the cup of treats in my left hand. I raised my hand high enough that she couldn't touch the cup, and then Penny started mugging me, moving over to my right, nipping at my sleeves, nudging me with her nose. I didn't respond except to say "uh-uh." When she moved away and stood quietly for a second, I clicked and treated. It took several more times of this for her to get the concept that standing away from me gets the click and treat. I still don't know if she really understands. Time will tell, but I'm so excited because I feel like I'm getting somewhere with her.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 28
Cali and Penny—another eventful day
This morning, I found that Penny had barely eaten any of her alfalfa and grass and chose instead to eat some of Cali's timothy hay which I had given her. It's a good sign because I'm changing her diet from sweet feed and alfalfa and grass mix to timothy hay and Purina Horse Chow and Strategy 100. Even though she's a yearling and needs lots of food, I figure she'll do fine on this diet, especially given that the grass is so rich right now. Penny decided that she really likes hay pellets, and since she won't touch her sweet feed or the Purina grain, I was happy to hand feed her some hay pellets. She's funny about it because she tries to take a lot into her mouth, then drops some on the floor and eats it. I'm happy that she's eating a little but wish she'd eat more. She still worries me a bit, especially since she doesn't drink enough water.
Penny and Cali are still separated and will stay that way for another week or so. I want them to get used to each other before I try again to put them in the same area.
Penny was very good about letting me take off her blanket this morning and stood quietly beside me even thghgh all I was doing was petting her and talking quietly to her. She didn't try to move away, and when I left and returned to her, she nickered at me and put her head up far enough that I could pet her over the half door separating her from Cali. I really wanted to groom her, as both she and Cali are unbelievably muddy, but that will have to wait until she's a bit more relaxed around me because I don't want to have to tie her up to gffoom her. I'd prefer not to have to tie her up for any reason, so I'll work slowly with her at grooming, picking up feet, etc.
In the evening, I decided that both horses needed a walk, and I cajoled a friend into coming with me. Because Cali is obviously jealous of Penny, I took Cali and worked her while my friend took Penny. She stayed behind us so that Cali would be in the lead. The only problem was, Penny was afraid of Cali and kept pinning her ears and showing the whites of her eyes. My friend told me that Penny started walking behind her, which made me worry that Penny would no longer want to walk, that she'd be afraid now.
After some time, I let my friend take Cali and I took Penny, instructing Joann to walk quite a distance ahead of us. Penny calmed right down, and her ears went forward. Where before she had refused to go faster than a very slow walk, now she trotted beside me, ears forward and curious. I could tell she was enjoying herself and quite eager to continue. Even when we passed a woman walking her dog, Penny was only curious, not afraid at all. As long as Cali was well ahead of us, she was fine. Note to self: Cali and Penny should not walk together until they have adjusted to each other.
I took Penny back home after we had walked for about forty-five minutes, and then it was time to take Cali on an excursion. After all, I owed Cali and wanted her to know that she is and always will be my girl.
We walked for quite some time, and Cali enjoyed herself, even though I refused to let her have grass. Granted, it was past her dinner that, but she was working and knew that grass was off limits with working girls. I have to admit that when grass was at face level, Cali would snatch a bite as we were walking. I couldn't really catch her at it because she didn't even pause as she grabbed a mouthful. My friend started telling me when we were coming up on tall grass so that I could remind Cali to leave it when I knew that temptation lay just ahead. Like the good horse she is, she ignored the grass, though I suspect from the way she turned her head slightly that she was staring longingly at it. The grass is very gree right now, which undoubtedly makes it hard to resist.
When we came to curbs, Cali always stopped at them, then crossed right to the other curb as she was supposed to do. But there was an incident where she crossed and then veered into the road, confused about where to go. At first, I couldn't figure out what was going on and thought that Cali just wasn't doing her job. Why couldn't she find the curb? What was her issue?
My friend told me exactly where to go, and then we stopped to reconoiter. Neither of us could figure out what was going on for a moment, and then my friend finally figured it out. She said that Cali couldn't find a curb where one should be and was looking for it, so she veered to find it.
I turned around and made Cali cross twice more;, this time, she crossed the street and found the sidewalk without any difficulty. I wanted her to find a spot where I could figure out where I was, and she did. I have to be careful, though, because I won't always have a friend to tell me what's going on.
In many places, there were no sidewalks, so Cali and I had to walk in the street. The whole time, Cali had her ears pinned, and she started trotting, obviously looking for the next sidewalk, and finding it, she immediately took me straight there. My smart girl knows enough to understand that being in the road can be dangerous.
Once, after we crossed a street, we went across a ditch, whereupon Cali stopped to show me the decline, then the incline. My good girl. And when we came across a manhole, she took me around it rather than showing it to me as she does with most other things. Apparently, her feet are small enough that she could have gotten one stuck in it.
As we were walking past some bushes, I got hit in the face with some ovhanging branches. Immediately, I stopped, pulled one down, and asked Cali to touch it with her nose. Then I turned around and walked her past them again. This time, she took me around them, and subsequent overhead obstacles were no problem at all. I think Cali just had to be reminded that she has to look out for things that wouldn't be hazardous to her but might to me.
At one point, there were steps leading up to a road. I wanted to tffy them and see what Cali would do. She has become good at going up flights of stairs. Going down, however, is another matter entirely. As I thought would happen, Cali did not hesitate to take the steps, though she was good at not rushing as she used to do. I didn't want to take the road where the steps lead, so we turned back around and I asked Cali to try going down. The steps were spaced far enough apart that Cali was able to go down without much difficulty. Still, she was not happy about it and laid her ears back a bit. Encouragement and clicking and treating helped, and we made it down without any unfavorable incident, which proves to me that Cali can do just about anything I ask if it's safe, even if she is nervous.
The more we walked, the happier Cali became. I thought she'd get tired after an hour and a half of walking, but she didn't. By the time we finished, she was still ready to go, and I felt bad about putting her in her pen, even though it was because I needed to feed both her and Penny.
Today was a productive day for the horses and I. Penny learned that she could trot along at my side if Cali wasn't around, and Cali got lots of work and a refresher in a few things. Things keep getting better and better. How blessed I am!
May 29
This morning, I decided to try to groom Penny. I had groomed Cali and put on her new fly sheet, and it was time that Penny got beautified for her fly sheet as well. Unfortunately, the fly sheet doesn't fit her. She's a lot smaller than I thought, but the experience of grooming her and putting on the sheet taught me a little more about Penny.
Penny doesn't mind being gromed. She ate while I groomed her. Apparently, she likes Cali's timothy hay more than her alfalfa and mixed grass hay, so that's wonderful. Anyhow, her mane and forelock were no problem to groom at all. Neither were her back and sides. Even her tummy was fine—until I got to just behind her front legs. Then she turned and tried to bite me. I soothed her for a moment, scratching her neck and waiting until I felt her ears go forward. Then I gently touched her behind her front leg, still scratching with the other hand. Against my cheek, I could feel one of her ears go forward, and then I stopped touching her legs. I did this a few more times, and she relaxed more. I'm a little worried about how she'll deal with the farrier, but I guess farriers are used to this kind of thing. Hopefully, Penny will be okay, or at least not completely terrified when she gets her feet done. I know that she had her feet trimmed about two months ago, so it's not completely foreign to her. However, I'm not sure exactly how she reacted or what happened between her and the farrier. What I'm going to do is work with her and see if I can get her used to being touched on the legs and then see where we go from there. I'm sure it'll take some time, but I think that with some clicker training and a lot of love and patience, she'll be fine.
Late in the afternoon, I took Cali for a walk. As usual, she did her fantastic job quite happily and did not want to return to the yard. My friend came over to help me walk Penny, and I had her hold Cali that I could get Penny out. In order to get Penny out of the pen, I had to take her through Cali's side of the shed and then out of the gate. To avoid any problems between the two girls, I had Joann hold Cali while I went in and got Penny. I kept telling Cali to wait as I took Penny out, but she still pulled to get to Penny. Getting Penny out wasn't such a simple feat, either. There are plastic strips which Bruce tacked up to keep wind out of the shed, and they flap a great deal. Unless the horse sees that it's a way out, and unless it's not afraid of the flapping, it's a little daunting to walk out of the shed. Penny was nervous about going through, as she had been the other times I'd taken her out. Even when I parted the sheets and showed her there was a way out, she was still nervous, possibly because of the noise. I don't know, but at least she decided to walk through when she saw that I was doing it.
Here's another fascinating thing Penny has started doing. When there's an obstacle directly in our path, Penny touches it with her nose. I'm not making this up, I swear! Maybe she's just exploring it. I don't know. Whatever the cause, she touched her nose to things like a bucket, a tree, and the latch to the gate. The latch might be because Cali always shows me where the latch is when I come to get her. I can't say what's going on, but it's intriguing.
Our walk was uneventful, at least in the beginning. But there were storms in the forecast, and a tornado watch had been issued, even though we hadn't yet seen storm clouds. Joann and I decided to stay only a block away from home so that we could get back if it started raining. Well, the sky started to darken, and I suggested we head for home. Joann agreed. Apparently, we didn't do it soon enough, though. After she heard a clap of thunder, Penny got nervous and ended up biting at me. She started hurrying, and I just told her quietly that everything was okay. I know she was scared, so I wasn't really annoyed, though it had hurt. Little horse teeth do hurt, by the way.
After we got back, I fed both horses despite the fact that it was too early, simply because I wasn't sure when the storms would begin. It's a good thing I did, too, because for quite some time, we had some severe weather. The tornado watch turned into a warning, and the sirens blared for quite awhile. I was out with Cali and Penny when they started, so I hurried to give both of them some hay and then headed inside.
This evening, I went back out to check on the horses. Both were fine. I gave them both some hay pellets and petted them for a bit. Penny has started really enjoying the pellets and keeps searching for them when I have my treat bag with me. I guess she's telling me it's really time for some clicker training! Another good thing is that she's started to eat the Purina Horse Chow. I hand fed her some hay pellets and some Horse Chow, and then I put some in her dish. She went right to work.
While I was visiting both horses, I decided to stand between both of them so that they could touch noses. I wanted to see what would happen if I held both halters and had only half the door open so that neither horse could really get to the other. Well, Cali squealed once. Penny did a lot of chewing. I don't really know what that means. Then, for about thirty seconds, they just stood nose to nose, neither of them moving a muscle. It was then that Cali did something I have NEVER seen her do. She peed in the shed! Since we've moved to East Lansing, she has never peed in the shed, as she prefers to do it outside. At my parents' home in Dearborn, she was shut in the shed and used shavings for peeing and pooping, but here, she uses the shed as a run-in, so I don't have any idea why she did this. Interpretations, anyone?
Well, it looks like my life is definitely not going to be boring, and I'll be too busy to whine about much. Taking care of two horses, even two minis, is a lot of work, and stableboys are hard to find, not to mention you actually have to pay them. Starving students don't have the luxury of real money.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cali and Penny

May 27

Yesterday, my new yearling filly, Penny, arrived. I was so excited ! I
could hardly stand it. My plan is to try to train this little filly
and see if she can become someone's guide, or, God forbid, if
something happened to Cali, she might become my guide. I know, I know,
I haven't ever trained a guide, and Cali and I haven't been a team for
too long. Still, I think I'm up for the challenge. Even if Penny
doesn't become a guide, she could still do some other work, such as
helping someone in a wheelchair or something else equally important.
I'm pretty inexperienced in some ways, but I know enough about Cali
and therefore horses, to say that I'm sure I can do this. Of course,
I'll need some help along the way. Hence, the myriad questions I'll be
posing to lists I'm on, but questions are good. Learning is good.
First, let me give a little description of Penny and her lineage, as I
find it fascinating. Penny's full name is IPO's Pennystock. Her
father, IPO, is a three-time national AMHR champion and is in the Amhr
hall of fame, and her grandfather is also a national champion. Her
mother is a granddaughter of Buckarooo, a famous little stallion.
Penny is a liver chestnut, which I have learned means she is a
chocolate brown all over, including her mane and tail. Although Penny
is beautifully proportioned, she wouldn't win in halter shows because
her coloring isn't striking. Of course, I don't mind and think she's
adorable. She has an Arab face, I think, and is very fine-boned. The
breeder estimates that she'll be about Cali's size, and although Cali
is probably the largest guide horse, I don't think Penny's size will
be a problem.
When I first met Penny at a mini expo nearly two weeks ago, I wasn't
intending to buy a mini, I swear! My only interest was to look at tack
for minis and to see babies and moms. Penny's breeder, Max White, was
showing one of his mares and had brought along two mares and their
foals, two precious little ones that will be a little bigger than
Cali. We were about to leave when Max mentioned that he had a little
yearling filly if we were interested in seeing her. Now, who could
pass up the chance to see another little mini? I know Claudia, the
friend I live with, and I sure couldn't, so we went out to see her.
Max told me matter-of-factly that Penny was a little skittish and that
she probably wouldn't let us handle her but that he'd try to see if
she'd be cooperative. She didn't resist when he went to get her. This
sounds really weird, but as soon as I touched her, I just knew she was
mine. There was nothing else to be said. Max warned me that Penny
wouldn't let me walk her on a lead rope and that in fact, she was
always out on pasture and handled only for vet visits, but when I
asked if I could take her lead rope, he relented. This little horse
just walked with me as if we'd been doing it forever! It was amazing.
Bystanders commented on it, and I was thrilled. There was a connection
between us that I can't explain. It was like the connection I felt the
first time Dolores brought Cali over and she walked out of the trailer
and lined right up to me. I just knew this was meant to be.
Anyhow, I digress. Back to my story about Penny's arrival yesterday.
When Penny arrived, I took her halter and stood outside with her for a
while. Whenever a car went by, she would turn and look, her ears would
go back, then forward. She was also interested in her reflection in
the Explorer parked in the driveway. She nickered at the little horse
she saw, and I laughed at her.
I took Penny into the yard for a while and just stood with her while
she relaxed a bit and had some grass. I checked to see where she would
and wouldn't let me touch her. Her face, back, chest, and tummy are
all fine, but her legs are off limits, apparently. That was the only
time she tried to kick me. Because it was raining out, I took out
Cali's old raincoat, one that I'd bought and didn't fit her, and put
it on Penny. It fits her perfectly. What I don't like about it is that
you have to put it over the animal's head before you can fasten it, so
if an animal is at all nervous, you have a problem. Also, it's a tight
fit on a mini, even a little one like Penny. She did fantastically,
though, as I encouraged her the whole way and was careful to make it
as quick at possible. I inadvertently leaned against her a few times,
and she was fine with that. Now, this is a horse that hadn't even been
taught to lead, so I was astonished at just what she'd tolerate.
Then I made the mistake of introducing Penny to Cali. They had met at
the expo, but of course, that was on neutral territory, so all that
happened was a little squealing on Cali's part and a lot of ignoring
on Penny's. When I put Penny into Cali's pen, there was quite a
commotion. Cali kept chasing Penny round and round, and when Penny
tried to escape by running into the shed, miss Cali followed her.
Penny kept whinny and ran out again. I heard a lot of crashing around,
like Cali had kicked the wall of the shed. At this point, I decided to
intervene. I know horses have to work things out, but Cali was
protecting her turf, which meant that she wouldn't take kindly to
Penny's intrusion. So I went into the pen and took Cali out. Penny had
had a stressful day and hadn't pooped at all since she'd arrived, and
I wanted her to get a chance to poop, pee, and maybe eat and drink a
little. Cali came with me, and she got a bath, as she'd gotten muddy
from running around so much. Her area is a morass right now, due to
all the rain we've been having, and I wanted to take her into the
house and keep her occupied for a few hours so that Penny would have
some time to herself. Although Bruce, Claudia's husband, has built an
extension on the shed and partitioned it for the two girls, they
wouldn't be separated, as they'd have the ability to go into the shed
or out if they so chose. That's why I decided that Cali had to come
and stay in the house for a while.
Cali was patient while she got her bath, even though the hot water
wasn't on and it was pretty chilly out. Then I took her inside. At
first, she wouldn't listen to anyone. She pushed past everyone, turned
away when she was called, and generally made a nuissance of herself.
Then I walked over to her, took her halter, and said firmly, "That's
enough, Cali. You may be the boss in the shed, but here, you'll be a
good girl and do what I say." Right away, she calmed down.
I took her into my room and worked on some basic obedience like
coming, touching my hand, lining up, and finding a chair. Then I asked
her to wait, and for the next hour or so, she was wonderful. She just
stood patiently by while I worked. I will say this for the umteenth
time: Cal is an amazing, brilliant little horse!
By the time I went out with Cali, Bruce had partitioned the shed and
pen off so that each of the horses had a section of their own but
could touch aroses through the fence. Both had stalls, so they would
be out of the wind and rain, which made me happy. This is just a
temporary fix until Bruce can open up a larger section of the yard and
give the two horses more room. Hopefully, by that time, they'll get
along better. One can hope, right?
I fed both horses and noticed that Penny was shivering, but I thought
maybe it was due to nervousness. I jave her extra hay and let her be.
This morning, when I fed both horses, Penny was shivering. I think
it's because she was body clipped and the weather has been cooler than
normal. I took out a foal blanket that's heavier than a summer sheet
but not as heavy as a winter blanket, and after I put it on her, she
stopped shivering. I feel bad because I should have done this last
night. Sorry, Penny. I'll try to do better.

Penny didn't eat or drink much last night, which was really worrying,
so I decided to see if she'd try some of Cali's timothy hay pellets,
which I use as treats when we're out. Penny is on sweet feed and
alfalfa grass mix, which I don't think is good for minis, as they're
too high in sugar and protein. I'm going to wean Penny off of them and
get her on Cali's diet of Purina Horse Chow and timothy hay, but in
the meantime, she refused to eat her grain. I was really worried about
that because really, what horse will pass up sweet feed?
However, when I gave Penny some hay pellets, she had no problem eating
them. The funny thing is, she'll only take one at a time, chew it up,
and then touch my hand for more. I guess it won't be too hard to
ration her treats. I wonder if she'll be as motivated by food as Cali
While I was out with Penny, I discovered that she really likes to be
scratched. I'm not sure how I'll introduce her to clicker training, if
maybe I'll use scratches instead of food at first or if that's unwise.
I don't know that food is really motivating to Penny, except for
grass, I think, so I'm going to have a little challenge on my hands.
This afternoon, a friend and I went walking. I took Penny along just
to get her used to being led and also to see new things in a
controlled, safe way. She was really interested in everything and
sometimes pinned her ears at new things, like barking dogs, but after
a moment, her ears would go forward and she'd just walk on. She really
isn't skittish at all, especially when I let her know that everything
is fine. I pretend that all these new things are just routine, and she
seems to pick up on my confidence. We didn't walk down busy streets,
so when a car was passing us by just before we were going to cross a
street, I had Penny stand, wait, and watch. She was concerned about
the car and her ears went back for a moment, but she didn't startle at
all. Instead, she just watched the car go by. I'm glad she's wary of
cars because that's going to be important WHEN she becomes a guide.
I also noticed that as we were walking, she was content to walk on my
left side and just a little behind me, but when I asked her to walk
beside me, she wanted to cut in front of my friend and lead. I had to
get her to walk beside me again, which didn't take me very long. It
pleased me that she wanted to be in the lead because I think this
bodes well for her future. You want a guide that is willing to make
some decisions, a guide that wants to lead the way, one that is
willing to accept directions but will also take the lead if need be.
This is how Cali is, and I think that's a major part of what makes her
such an awesome guide.
We only walked for a few blocks, but in that short time, Penny saw a
mom with her two little kids, one in a stroller, quite a few barking
dogs, tempting bushes and grass, and cars in driveways. We heard kids
playing, people running power tools, and a few cars coming from behind
us. While Penny was concerned at all this, she didn't startle even
once, which made me proud, as if I'd accomplished something.
Then we went to my friend's yard, which had a few interesting things
in it, including logs set in a circle with an opening at one end so
that it looks like a fort. I wanted to see what Penny would do if I
asked her to walk through that "doorway," and although she hesitated
and pinned her ears for a moment, she walked right through. Then we
went home, and she was allowed to relax. Granted, we were only out for
about half an hour, but I think she did an amazing job. Unless I'm
completely wrong (which is always possible and maybe even probable),
Penny seems very curious and definitely smart. Of fwhrse, for whatever
reason, she might not make it as a guide, but either way, she's a
marvelous little horse, and I've fallen in love with her.
When we returned, Cali was very upset. She kept marching around her
area, splattering herself with even more mud. Treats cured her of her
jealwhsy, though, and I hope the hugs and kisses contributed as well.
Penny is an awesome horse, but Cali is my baby. I want to do them both
justice. It'll take a whole lot of work, time, and love, but I'm
willing to invest all that into both of them. One day, I hope to start
a foundation for people with disabilities who want an alternative to
service and guide dogs. Horses aren't for everyone, or even most
people, but people should have the opportunity and ability to choose.
I don't want others to have to save up for years for a horse as I did,
even though it makes me cherish Cali even more. Instead, I want horses
to someday become available to people just as guide dogs are. They're
much more work than a dog, but there are advantages to having a horse,
including their life span and the fact that horses, unlike many dogs,
aren't clingy. They're content to go out and graze when they're done
working. I like dogs and would get a German shepherd if I ever needed
a dog for some reason; however, a horse suits me better. So one day,
I hope to help others have the same choice I did. Again, a great deal
of time, effort, and money will have to be put into this, but I'm up
for the challenge. Life is about challenges, after all, and world,
bring them on!

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Little Horse with a Big Story

Today, Cali and I attended the annual Michigan National Association of
Social Workers http://www.naswdc.org/ conference as presenters.

Well, I presented and Cali did what she does best—work and look completely adorable.

Claudia, my friend, was pretty nervous about the whole thing, while I wasn't at
all. In a novel, that would have boded ill for me and I would have
made a complete mess of things. Luckily, this is real life, and my
lack of nervousness just meant I was completely relaxed about the
whole thing.

As usual, Cali was a huge success. People told me I did a wonderful
job, and when I thanked them, I had to add that Cali makes the whole
thing even better! She was the most perfect of the perfect, the
sweetest of the sweet. Everyone fell in love with her, despite the
fact that she wasn't as cute as she might have been.

So, the story goes like this: Due to unforseen circustances, I didn't
give my girl a bath yesterday and so rushed to do it this morning. She
was an angel while getting a bath (I think it helped that the water
was hot!), and I didn't have any trouble at all with her. The only
funny thing was that she decided by drink the hot water from the hose.
I pulled it away pretty quickly because I didn't know if it would make
her sick. Call me overpretective because well, I am. That's probably
the reason I won't have kids. God only knows what I'd do to them, for

Anyhow, I dried Cali off as best I could, but we were running late,
which meant I didn't have much time. I figured she'd aear dry pretty
quickly, especially since we were in the car and the heat was on, but
as all too frequently happens, I was WRONG.

When we got to the NASW conference, Miss Cali was still a little damp
and her hair was going everywhere! She was spikey and so NOT cute! So
I took her into the bathroom and brushed her. Okay, so I carry a brush
and shampoo in my backpack. It isn't a crime, right? Anyway, amidst
numerous questions from women who came in to the ladies' room, I
brushed her as well as I could, meaning that I made her look only
marginally better. Despite that, during the conference, many people
commented on how beautiful she is. My only rejoinder was, "That's
because she's so awesome!"

After the conference was over, Cali took me straight to the bank of
elevators and did not hesitate when one of the doors opened. She
walked right in even before I realized that a door had opened. Of
course, I was impressed and gave her lots of praise.

After the conference, we went to my parents' house for dinner. As soon
as we got out of the car, Cali made a beeline for the fence of her
enclosure, showed me the fence, then put her head down to graze. This
is something she did last summer. It's something I taught her because I
wanted her to show me the fence in order to get my bearings before I
allowed her to stop and graze. And again, she impressed me. Obviously,
she remembered the rule.

When Cali was put into her pen, she decided it was time to roll, and
roll she did. There was straw and hay on the ground to keep down the
mud, Cali decided it was just fine to roll and get dusty. I would
have cried. After all, I'd only just given her a bath in the morning,
but I decided that a horse is a horse, and mine is just Cali.

I am normally meticulous about brushing Cali before I go anywhere, but
after dinner, when we were ready to leave, I found that Cali had once
again rolled. There was straw in her mane, tail, and forelock, and she
was happy. I brushed out some of the straw with my hands and said,
"Fogret it." Then we went home.

Every day, Cali amazes me, teaches me something new about people and
love and horses. she taught me today that I underestimate her and even
myself, that I'm capable of doing more than I think, and that she is
simply magnificent, best of the best, cutest of the cutest, and
sweetest of the sweet. May she have many more happy, healthy,
love-filled years! And may I be deserving of her love and trust and
loyalty. Often, I tell her how much I love her, and I hope she really


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cali can, Cali does

I am completely exhausted after a long, grueling day at school. The
last week has been hard because I've had a horrible migraine that just
would not let up, and now I've got so much catching up to do.
I thought that since I haven't been working Cali for a few days, she
would test me today. I thought I was in for a little bit of a
challenge. How wrong one can be!
When we got to school after an hour and a half of a car ride, Cali was
the perfect girl. She found the button for the elevator, and when we
heard the ping and she saw an elevator door opening, she knew that was
where we were supposed to go. Smart girl!

We got to class, and I found a good spot for her. The classroom is
actually a computer lab, and it's carpeted, which meant I had to find
a place where Cali would have enough room to lie down if she so
chose. That, she often does, to the delight of my classmates.
I sat down and settled myself, intending to tie Cali to my chair, but I
inadvertently let go of her leash. Cali walked sedately off, but
not where I thought she would go. My assuption was that she would head
for the door (and please, God, don't let it be open, I thought as I
stood up to go after her), but it turned out that Cali had no
intention of going to the door. Instead, she walked up to my professor
and lined up beside her, calm as can be. Mortified, I grabbed her
leash, and we went back to where we were supposed to be. Not exactly
inconspicuous, but how can you be with a miniature horse at your side?
Then, during our measley ten-minute break, I took Cali outside to
potty. She had never peed here before, so I wasn't sure she would,
especially since she had to stand in about four inches of snow. But no
sooner had I given her the command than she did what she was supposed
to. Talk about a wonderful horse!

When I walked back into the classroom, the professor was just handing
out more computer printouts (sigh) and asked what I had been up to. I
told her, and she congratulated Cali. A job well done.

On the way home, we stopped at a tractor supply store and bought a few
things I needed for Cali. Okay, so she insisted on stopping at the bag
of green apple treats, and okay, so I bought them for her. Every once
in a while, I can do that, right?

Cali did a beautiful job guiding in the store, as there were many
obstacles. You can imagine how a tractor supply store would be full of
horsey delights, but my girl just walked on by. There was only one
slight mishap. Someone had left a bag of feed at the edge of an aisle,
and my foot caught on it. I stopped Cali and made her backtrack. She
pointed out the bag, then carefully took me around it. Precious,
beautiful, special little girl.

Then we went back out to get into the pickup truck. Cali has learned a
new technique of getting in, as she has slipped several times, mostly
on ice. Now, what she does is gather her back legs under her, pushing
them forward beneath her, and she leaps up more than forward.
Apparently, it makes it less likely for her to slip. I'm so happy she
figured this out on her own instead of just giving up. In the morning,
when we'd left for school, she slipped twice and had to be helped up
by partially being lifted. Cali is probably the biggest of the
miniature horse guides, so giving her a lift is a challenge, and a
workout! But she wasn't afraid at all, and simply seems to have
learned what to do.

I know to many people, this doesn't seem like such an awesome Cali
day. But to me, it is a day when I reaffirmed that Cali does her job
as well as any other guide. It is a day when I woke up and felt
healthy enough to get what I needed done, and it is a day when
everything I saw made me remember why I'm grateful to be where I'm at.
Life is hard sometimes—complicated and full of challenges that we
think we might not be able to handle. But we can. Cali has shown me
that Cali CAN, and she DOES. Therefore, what more can I do but follow
her grace? If Cali can try, if Cali can persevere, it is my duty, my
privilege, to keep on keeping on as well, because I can't let my sweet
girl down.