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March 5, 2014: Horse Training: Getting Soft around the Edges

There was really just one notable difference between today and yesterday. The most obvious was that six inches of snow fell overnight, and more was on the way. I guess winter still has a tight grip on this area. The snow covered the ice, but it did not stick to it. If I didn’t have studs on my books, I would have spent the majority of my day on my sorry ass. As it was, I spent just a part of the day on my sorry ass.

I got up, dressed, let the dogs out. Oh oh, I forgot to latch the upper gate. No matter, Rainbow and Ryder both had their perimeter collars on. And no matter, in seconds all three dogs were barking. I didn’t pay Jenna’s any mind

Looking up the frozen Tatina river from Rohn

because her barking is actually of little consequence. She will now bark to be let in when the door is wide open. Go figure.

I filled two water buckets and headed downhill, in the direction of the horse enclosure. Oh oh, Hrimfara was standing outside the pen. I scanned the immediate area and then noticed that all the horses were out and Raudi was leading the entire procession in the direction of the area behind the garden, an area that I call the back forty compost heap. I told myself that this was not good – if any of them ate too much old hay they might colic. And then where would I be? I didn’t think that right now Dr. Wellington would not be able to get up the driveway. I looked again. Ryder was behind the last horse, Tinni, who was munching down on the dropped hay in front of the gate. Stupid dog. Smart horse.

I picked up my pace, slipped, and fell on my butt. I then called Ryder who momentarily stopped barking and stood deep in thought. Quite clearly, she was weighing her options. Come to me and get a treat. Or follow the horses and continue to be on the move. I won the border collie coin toss. She came bounding over to me. I gave her a treat before putting her in lockdown (that is the area behind the upper gate).

I next went down to the tack room and grabbed some treats (hay pellets) for my equine friends. Tinni was closest to the gate. I held my hand out, and he went to sniff it. I slowly stepped backwards, and coerced him into the pen before giving him his reward. I also gave him a scratch on the neck and praised him profusely.

One down, three to go. Hrimmi, Signy, and Raudi saw me feeding Tinni, and because they wanted in on the action, they raced down the hill in my direction. Hrimmi and Signy saw the treat in my hand, and like Tinni, followed me inside the enclosure. This left Raudi to contend with. Raudi has been pretty good about such things. But what always comes to mind in such instances is the time when she was three, and in the dead of winter got out of the pen and raced at top speed around the edge of our property. The snow was deep, and I floundered about trying to catch her. My hand went to my mouth, when she fell into the snow pit that in the spring holds pen water runoff. However, she bounded out of it, and kept going. This time, the nearly eleven-year old mare calmly followed me back into the enclosure.

Raudi then ambled over to the hay that I’d set out for all the horses and set to determining which pile was the best. The others paid her no mind. Cleaning the pen took no time at all because the bulk of the manure was buried under the snow. I am well aware that I’ll pay the price when the snow melts.

As I picked up the manure, I gloated some about my good fortune. I’m really glad that the horses are treat trained. I’m not stupid enough to presume that they came to me because they like me. Like has nothing to do with it. The horses came to me because they knew that they’d get something to eat. I’m no more to them than a walking, talking snack bar. The downside of my being a treat dispenser is that the horses do mug me, which can be distracting. But I determined a long time ago that dealing with a few well-placed nudges is far easier than dealing with a runaway. It’s a real pain in the ass to have the horses run off, either on the home front or on the trail.

I have (lately) been more liberal than usual in my use of treats. This has me wondering if I’m losing it. I have a family related precedent for senility. Many years ago my Aung Margaret became (as they then said) touched in the head. She’d previously been a stern and no-nonsense woman who disliked cats and dogs. One day, seemingly overnight, she had a change of attitude. My sister Eleanor and I entered her apartment with our small dog. Our Aunt Margaret began to coo and feed the dog, first stale egg salad sandwiches and then Oreo cookies. It was odd behavior, but because it made both my aunt and the dog happy, we made no attempt to stop it.

So I am wondering if I too am now getting soft around the edges. No matter. Tonight I’ll sleep well knowing that if the horses do get out tonight, that they’ll be easy to catch in the morning.

Next: 65. 3/6/14: The Writing Life: Honoring the Process