Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for a lot of things but one of the biigest, after a wonderful life with Bernie, my husband, is our animals. I am grateful for a life with our wonderful animals. I am grateful for our ponies and mules and all they have been teaching me, and for their great companionship.
I am grateful for our dogs. I am grateful that Lucky was saved from a horrible life by the Lassen County California Animal Control and that she found her way to us. I am grateful that her puppy, Diggity, who was born at the shelter on Thanksgiving last year, has made it to one year old after surviving Parvo, a broken leg and a venomous snake bite. I am grateful to all the veterinarians, animal rescue people, law enforcement and litigators who do their very best to keep animals safe and healthy.
May everyone Have a Happy Thanksgiving and may those who have animals take a moment to be thankful for them and all the people who work to keep animals happy and healthy.
The Trust Technique, A Simple And Effective Way To Build Trust, Confidence And Connection With Animals
Mindfulness and Attunement, Two Important Concepts For Improving Connection When Working With Animals
Recently, among enlightened animal trainers, there has been a lot of talk about two very important ways of being when building a good partnership with an animal. They are, number one, being present, a clear, non-thinking, non-judgmental mind frame, "anchored in the here and now," and number two, being super aware of the animal's reactions, also called attunement. Attunement in this context is an awareness of an animal's reactions on a deep level so that the animal feels seen, felt, and understood without judgment in a harmonizing way. It is now clear to many how useful both of these aspects are when working to build connection with animals. Many well-known and enlightened trainers have their way of working with and imparting these concepts.
The Trust Technique
In my opinion, one of the most elegant, simple and effective ways of using these concepts when working with animals is James French's Trust Technique.
The Trust Technique's main premise is the understanding that people and animals share feelings. The Trust Technique's method of "Creative Reaction" is made up of two parts. One is for the human to become present, using what the Trust Technique calls the present moment, in which one stares at a spot on the ground, keeping their body absolutely still. This puts one's mind in a non-thinking state. The person shares this space with the animal by focusing their spot right in front of the animal's head. Animals respond strongly to a person completely in a non-thinking, meditative state. They usually get sleepy and when fully peaceful with the feeling, they will lie down and enter a healing, dream-like state.
The second part is for the human to carefully regard the animal as it responds to the feeling of peace, coming out of the present moment and completely listening on a felt level to the animal every time the animal's mind comes up and then reentering the present moment to re-offer the feeling of peace as the animal's mind comes back down. Because, as James French says, "peace and unpeace can not be in the same place," the animal will eventually, if well regarded, dump their unpeace and become peaceful.
What happens during a Trust Technique session is the unfolding of a special kind of micro-story that is experiential and non-verbal and does not need to be put into words. It is shared between the human and the animal, who are present together and vitally aware of one another on the most profound level. It is a completely felt space between the regarded (animal) and the regarder (human).
The micro story revealed by the animal during a Trust Technique session is most often indicative of the main emotion that causes the problem or issue for the animal in their relationship with their human partner or in life. Because humans and animals share feelings, when they interact this feeling is shared between them. It does not matter whether the feeling originates with the animal and is picked up by the human or vice versa or if the feeling is shared between them; working with the Trust Technique can break these negative emotional cycles.
In the Trust Technique the human takes responsibility for the relationship by entering the present moment, a non-thinking and peaceful state. They then offer this feeling to their animal and regard them carefully as they react to the feeling. This deep state of awareness and attunement by the human allows the animal to feel fully felt, seen, and understood.
There is healing and the ability to change for the regarded when this story is deeply felt but not judged by the regarder. The animal can then reevaluate how they feel about themselves, the other and/or their situation in the present moment and begin to let go of trapped stress, physical pain, and/or emotions. Because the emotion is occurring in the here and now it can be dealt with through the whole body and can be let go of if the animal is allowed to express their reaction fully.
Over time, this work can lead to the forming of new neural pathways in the animal's brain and more authentic perceptions of the world around them. That means that an animal can, for example, let go of something they may be holding on to based on a past experience because they are able to process the old emotion, let it go, and form a new understanding based on new information from the here and now, where nothing, say scary, or painful or frustrating is occurring.
By getting present with the animal and carefully regarding them as they work towards finding peace, the person also becomes more peaceful and is now reacting only to the animal with them and not a version perceived by them, either from the past or the future. This state of both the human and the animal reducing their thinking levels puts the relationship on a better course, one with an enhanced shared feeling of trust and confidence in one another.
This process of attunement, brain-to-brain coupling, or what is achieved through "mindful regard," as it is called in the Trust Technique, is possible because of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are neurons in all mammals' brains, allowing them to react to others' reactions as if they were their own, causing the synchronization in brains. Once synchronizing the human can help the animal to bring their mind down by holding a meditative state.
This kind of communication transfer, attunement, brain coupling or "mindful regard" can lead two brains, the human's and the animal's, to synchronize beyond and regardless of the communication content and together find peace.
Over time, this kind of work can lead to a deeper sense of trust, confidence, and connection between the animal and the human.
Example Frida The Distrustful Mule
I have found the work with the Trust Technique so effective with my own animals that I decided to train to become a practitioner. During my training, one of the animals I have worked with is a little mule named Frida. Frida is very shy of strangers and has trust issues when dealing with humans. She is scared to be caught by anyone but her owner, who worked for two years to gain the trust to catch her without driving her into a stall. She is fearful of being touched, handled, and haltered.
I visited Frida six times to practice the Trust Technique with her. It took three visits for her to come up to me to be touched voluntarily, with no treats or force. In fact, I strongly felt that this little mule wanted to get over her fear of humans. Below are my notes from the 3rd session doing the Trust Technique with Frida.
Today's session added a new color. It felt like a new dimension opened up to me today. I entered the barn. Both Frida and Picasso were standing right at the gate of their corral. Both their thinking levels were low *(3), so I just entered the corral without offering the *present moment before I entered as I had done in the previous two sessions. Neither of their thinking levels increased. Picasso started to sniff my pockets for treats, which I did not have.
Frida was eager to see, too, and though she still was cautious and kept Picasso between us, she did not seem alarmed at all by my presence. She reached over Picasso's back to sniff my hand. I offered them both 30 seconds of the present moment, as neither had increased thinking due to my entrance. They both did some *licking and chewing. Picasso started to sniff my pants and my boots. Frida stepped up and took a good sniff of my hand. Both's thinking stayed at a 3. They were trying to make certain I did not have any treats.
I offered the present moment again. Frida stepped up to me and stuck out her nose. I held out a crooked finger to give her a slow stroke on the nose. My hand made contact. She accepted it at a level 3 but, then left *to walk a small circle and have a lick and a chew to release the unpeace this touch had brought up. I regarded her until she'd finished her process of release and re-approached me again. I was standing very still the whole time.
She came right up in front of me and stood very close. I did 30 seconds of present moment. She stuck out her nose again, and I again offered her the touch. She allowed my touch to stay with her for a moment, and then she walked another very small circle and had another lick and chew. I did some more present moment, and she came back into my space and stuck out her nose. We did this process for a while. She would come in for the touch, then walk a small circle in one direction or the other, do a lick and chew and be back again.
After we had been doing this for a while, *she added a little rhythmical tail swishing to her little small circle walk. I decided on the next approach: I would deliver the present moment but then not touch her even when she stuck her nose out towards me.
She came in very close to me while I was doing the present moment, stood right in front of me, and raised her nose so that it touched my belly just above my hands, which were folded in front of me. Her chin and halter strap came to rest on the backside of my hands for a moment. She rested with her head there, but then she realized that the halter was touching my hands, and she jumped back, walking the biggest circle of the day, away from me (all the other circles had been very small and close to me). She came to a halt about 15 feet away from me. I was standing very still and had not moved at all since coming out of the present moment to regard her. She looked over at me, then did a whole series of *wide open-mouthed yawns and eyeball rolls.
She then walked right back over to me, stood right in front of me, and stood very close. Her nose was almost touching my stomach. It felt like she was really asking for my help to give her the confidence to stay for the pats. I did the present moment. She stuck her head a little closer as if she wanted me to touch her forehead. I moved my finger very slowly up to her forehead. She tilted her head slightly as if asking me to touch her. I did, and then she made her small circle, and I regarded her.
The next time she came back and did the same thing, I imagined as hard as I could her accepting the stroke. I envisioned her staying for the whole slow, gentle experience as I moved my hand down her forehead in a very sweet caress. She presented her forehead. I gently reached up to offer the caress, and she stayed for the whole thing. Then she took her small circle walk and came back for another round. Again, I imagined first just what it would be like, and it was. She stayed. Then I pictured her taking multiple pat strokes on her forehead, and she did. She stayed!
A note on Picasso. Picasso stuck around being my helper for the first 20 min or so. Then he left and went to snooze in the empty stall attached to the corral. Right near the end, when Frida was starting to accept the pats on her forehead, Picasso came over and stood right next to Frida, facing me. He was at a level one and sometimes 0. It seemed like he had reappeared here to be her support as she found her confidence to stay for the pats on her forehead.
It was an incredible experience for me today, and I could really feel the communication between Frida and myself. I love this Trust Technique so much. I can truly sense its effectiveness.
* Present Moment in the Trust Technique is practiced by staring at a small spot on the ground in front of the animal's head and keeping the body still. This focuses the mind in the here and now, a non-thinking and authentic space. Staring at a spot in front of the animal's head invites the animal to share this feeling of the present moment with you. This state makes an animal feel peaceful and sleepy.
* Thinking Levels in the Trust Technique are defined from 0, a complete dreamlike, asleep state, to 10, which would be a full-on panic.
* Licking and chewing is a sign of acceptance of the present moment. This is usually followed by the animal's thinking levels dropping.
* Movement like walking circles and tail swishing are expressions of an animal's unpeace rising to the surface. This is part of the process the animal must go through to be peaceful, as peace and unpeace can not be in the same place.
* Yawning and eyes going sleepy are signs of an animal releasing, coming down and giving into the feeling of the present moment.
By the end of my six sessions, Frida was beginning to trust me a lot more. She would come up for pats of her own will, though still shy and nervous of quick moves. I shot the selfy video below during the sixth session, our last day working together. In the video, you can see her voluntarily staying to be petted even though she is still a little nervous.
I later held a Trust Technique consult with the owner. When I asked her to name the emotion she felt
when thinking about Frida's trust issues, she said, "It made me feel a bit frustrated." At first, I failed to see how they were both sharing the feeling of frustration. I understood why the owner, who had been trying so hard for two years to gently and slowly gain Frida's trust, was feeling frustrated by her slow but evident progress. I had a harder time accepting that Frida’s main feeling was also frustration. Then I thought back on my sessions with Frida and how hard I had seen her try to overcome her fear of interacting with me. That's when I realized that Frida was also frustrated by her own slow progress in getting over her fear of humans. She really does wish to interact with them. The Trust Technique is helping her to finally change her perception. She is learning that it is ok to trust.
To learn more about the Trust Technique, receive a free introductory course or buy the highly informative and comprehensive video course that will allow you to use the Trust Technique with your own animals effectively; click this link. https://trust-technique.com/product/messages-of-trust/tt/316/
If you live near Lenoir, NC, I am currently looking for both horses and dogs to work with for my training. I am offering free consultations; if interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also have a page about the Trust Technique: www.consideringanimals.com/the-trust-technique.html
Diggity is growing quickly. At 7 months old he's almost reached his mother's height at the shoulder, but he's not as long yet or as filled out, and his head still needs to grow a bit more. Physical growth is a completely linear movement but training surely is not.
Lucky and Diggity are S L O W L Y, learning the things they need to know to make life with us and our mules and ponies harmonious instead of a mule and horse chasing hell. We are far from harmony yet, but we are on the winding path in that direction. It's a slow and jagged upward curve. Some days you just want to turn back and wish you'd never started the climb up, but you keep going because you get glimpses of just how beautiful the view will be from the top and from the effort of the struggle to get there. Sometimes hard is good for you. You grow from hard too and so, Bernie and I also find ourselves on an upward curve, bouncing up from the troughs to new heights with the help of humor, organization and cooperation.
About a month ago Diggity got his cast off. I did not get around to posting on it till now. Below are a few nice photos of Diggity and Lucky enjoying their life at our farm.
It makes me happy when I look at them to know that Diggity is all better and that Lucky has a new and very good life. She is a Lucky dog to find love and a Frisbee after her rough beginning.
About a month after Diggity survived his bout with Parvo Virus, his mother, Lucky, ran into him at top speed and fractured his right hind leg. It was splinted at the nearest vet's office, but they put too small a splint on his leg and wrapped the bandage too high and tight on the inside of his leg that it cut off the circulation to his pecker. We saw that Diggity's little rocket was hanging out of its pocket too much and took him to another vet's office, where they tried to tuck it back in with some lubricant which worked long enough to get home from their office.
When I called the clinic back the next morning, they told me that they had no appointments available that day so to take him to an ER. Back Diggity went to the ER clinic that helped him survive Parvo. They re-splinted the leg with a longer splint and were careful to make sure the splint no longer affected his pocket rocket.
All went well with an appointment a week to get the splint re-wrapped to keep up with his growth until one morning, when I found Diggity trying madly to chew on the splint by his toes. It smelled terrible, and I quickly realized that the foot must have gotten infected inside the splint. Of course, it was a weekend, so back we went to the friendly ER that now knew Diggity very well.
Although the fracture was not yet healed, they decided to take the splint off and wrap the toes with ointment and gauze and put Diggity on a strong antibiotic. The instructions to us were to bring him in first thing the next day to our regular vet and have them decide whether to re-splint the leg for the remaining weeks. The next day Diggity was re-splinted at his regular vet's office, and we planned to bring him in every four days for re-wrapping until the splint could come off for good.
On March 3rd, x-rays were taken, the bone was declared healed, and the splint was removed. Now Diggity is working on building up his stiff little leg. Hopefully, he will have some better Luck now. Bernie joked that our dogs should be introduced as Lucky and her puppy Unlucky. But we like the name Diggity and don't wish to curse him any further.
We are overjoyed that after 7 days at the Carolina Animal Specialty & Emergency Center we were able to bring Diggity back home. He needs to, eat and sleep and regain his strength but little Diggity and his energetic mother, Lucky think he is all set to play hard. Diggity caught Parvo from another puppy on a transport from California to our farm.
If I'd known better I probably would never have put him on a group transport. I have since learned that this is too hard on pups as young as Diggity and that a pup needs to have all three series of puppy shots not just two sets to be safe to be in public places where a lot of other dogs might have been. I am so thankful he lived.
Diggity, came down with Parvo virus on the 28th of January. He caught it from a puppy that was on his transport. I now know that Diggity should not have gone on a transport without having all three sets of puppy shots. They are just still too vulnerable to catching diseases. It is also questionable that any puppy should travel on a group transport across the country. It's just too stressful for them at that age and too risky. It's a hard lesson to accept that I put poor little Diggity's life in danger.
All I can hope is that he will make it and that this message will help others to make a better decision than I did about transporting a puppy this young so far.
Please send Diggity all the positive get well wishes you can.Come on Diggity a big world is out there waiting for you to explore. Your mother and Bernie and I are waiting for you to come home to us!
Sorry for the delay in reporting on the arrival of the tremendous duo Lucky and Diggity at 7pm on the 23rd of January. It’s been a crazy, hectic, fun and sad beginning. Lucky is sleeping peacefully beside me tonight on the couch, but little Diggity who we have already fallen madly In love with, has contracted Parvo virus. He got it from a puppy that was put on the same transport he was on. All the dogs were supposed to have been vaccinated and cleared health checks before they traveled. The transport said that they did have a health certificate for that puppy that got it on route.
No matter where the blame lies poor little Diggity is fighting for his life tonight. He is in an isolation unit at a local emergency vet clinic. We are hoping with all our hearts that he will pull through. The rest of the story of their arrival and an update on Diggity will come soon. Please think positive thought for the little guy. He’s a tough little puppy.
Here’s a few photos from the first couple of days we've had them with us.
I was in the barnyard pulling the saddle off Pie today when the call came in from Donna, saying the pups had been picked up by a nice guy from the transport service named Tim. They are on their way! Well with a few stops for other pup's to get on and off the puppy bus, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Those pups will have seen a few states by the time they reach us. I can hardly wait.
This morning when I awoke and turned on my cell phone there was a message from the dog transporter asking if it would be alright to pick Lucky and Diggity up a day early for their ride across the country to our farm. I quickly wrote back that that would be just fine so long as Donna at the shelter was all set to let them go. So the great news is tomorrow a little black and white border collie and her eight week old puppy will get on the dog bus and start their journey to our house.
I could not be more thrilled. Bernie has built them a nice outdoor run. We bought them a little wooden dog house when we were picking up hay, and I bought them a very soft bed to sleep on at night in our cabin and some lovely toys, and nice things for the young Diggity to destroy. They will be indoor and outdoor dogs, mostly just being where we are, and where they wish to be.
I am so excited. We are ready for the dogs!
Hot Diggity Dog! Lucky and Diggity are coming in the New Year! How did we get Lucky?
First, we hit a deer with our car in Susanville, California, while on vacation camping with our little home-built camper. We were stranded in Susanville for nine days as we worked through finding a way home with our camper and getting the insurance to declare the car totaled, which it clearly was.
We got lucky because three airbags deployed, seat belts worked, and the car and camper stayed upright as we careened with the hood up over the windshield for 500 feet crossing an access road, plunging over a bank and smashing into a fence.
We got Lucky because the tow truck owner’s wife, who was the Animal Control Officer in the town of Susanville, had just taken 115 animals from the worst abuse case in history in the county into custody.
We got Lucky because we met her at the shelter while being invited to visit all the incredibly nice dogs that had been rescued.
We got Lucky because when I stuck my hand into her little cement cell, she pressed her head against my hand as hard as she could. She looked at me with so much love in her eyes that there was no way I would be able to forget her or leave her behind.
We got Lucky because Bernie’s heart had also melted when he met all those wonderful dogs that did not deserve what they’d been dealt.
We got Diggity because before Lucky got rescued, she’d gotten lucky with a male border collie. She surprised us all when the vet doing her travel paperwork, discovered she was pregnant. She delivered five pups. Four females and one male. One male? I could not resist.
Hot Diggity Dog, we will have pups again! Diggity and Lucky will be having a ride on the puppy bus across the country to our home around the beginning of January.
To read about the crash, follow this link:
and this link.
Follow the links to read about the Lassen County abuse case and rescue
Happy New Year! Be kind. Be positive. You might get your own kind of lucky.
Bernie and I left on Oct 3rd on a road trip to the West. The point was to see some land, meet some people, visit some relatives and get a sense of where we may go on our next long ramble with the horses and mules. It's been an interesting trip. Not all experiences need to be fun to be worthy. This trip seems to be proving that point. This trip is a teacher. The personal correspondence from me to several friends and the accompanying photos sum it up the best I can.
From an edited postcard written to the Pearsons:
Crater Lake was one of the high points of this long strange trip. As you know, things have gone a bit South since then. Moved from the hotel near the junked car to an RV park to be outside. The wagon was towed over by the garage that has our smashed car. So here we sit at our RV site, the smallest camper around by far and the only one with nothing to pull it. I think people think we are fascinating gypsies, fun to watch but not to be. Hope to see you all again soon after this wild ride comes to an end.
From an edited and embellished email to my friends P & S,
What a long strange trip it's been! Yesterday evening as the sun was setting and we were heading out across the first expanse of Nevada desert on our way to Reno from northeastern California, thinking of playing the slot machines, washing up in a warm shower after days camping, and eating a fine dinner in a joint with white table cloths, Bernie says to me. "I can't miss it!"
I look up in time to see the body of a big deer in the center of the windshield. There is an awful car-shaking thump and then white everywhere around us, airbags have deployed, and the hood of the car has flown up, covering the windshield. The car is still hurling along, and we are going for the ride of our lives. A terrible smoke surrounds us that smells like some chemical that might kill us on its own. We can't see anything past the whited-out windshield and the airbags. Our seatbelts hold us tight as the car rumbles on over rumble strips, then grass. For a moment, we feel airborne. Then I feel the impact of something slamming the back of the car. It's the wagon, but I don't know this and think we are being rear-ended. We are boosted forwards. Then again, the slam from behind. We are still moving. It's been a long time. I am thinking any moment, the impact will come from the front that might kill one or both of us or maim us for life. I try to be ready, but how? Then everything stops at once. There is a huge heaviness, and I know we must get out of the car quickly. I open my door in the dark, but it only opens a little way. I push hard with desperation and can open it enough to wiggle out some. That's when I get tangled in the upper strand of a barbwire fence which the car has come to rest in and on. I manage to rip myself the rest of the way out. I stumble to my feet in a cow pasture in the dark. Bernie is out the driver's door in a flash. A few people come running through the night to make sure we are ok.
The California highway patrol is called. A nice man from an auto body shop that has seen the crash from his truck stays with us until the highway patrol arrives. The man from the auto body shop thinks our car is likely totaled, and I agree with him as I can't imagine what I see is fixable.
The officer sent by the highway patrol is also a nice guy. He talks with us. Calls for a wrecker, locates the now dead seven-point mule deer we've killed with the front of our car and evaluates the 30-foot section of barbed and wire fence we've taken out as we came in for a landing with the hood up over the windshield.
The officer says it will be at least an hour before the wrecker can get there. So Bernie, forever pleased with his home-built wagon, gives the officer a quick tour of the inside of his wagon. I'm not sure if the officer is a visionary or just polite as to me, the inside of the wagon only looks like a well-shaken mess of shit, blankets, mugs, broken juice jars and firewood for the little wood stove altogether in a giant jumble.
The tow guys get there. Pull the car off the fence and up the ramp onto the tow truck. The red wagon is picked up and placed on a tow bar behind the tow truck. Bernie hops in the back seat, and I sit in the front next to the tow guy. There are flashing yellow lights, and everything looks shiny. He tells me that he loves his job; however, he sees a lot of dead people. Some swerve into oncoming traffic when they are trying to miss a deer, and others aren't as lucky as we were to walk away from a car in which the airbags have deployed. He, like us, thinks we are lucky. He tells us of stupid individuals that get stuck in the sand way out in the desert and have no idea how to tell the towing service how to locate them.
Fast forward, nice tow guys, nice Hotel 8 people; however, I think we are trapped here in the town of Susanville, California, for a likely chunk of time as we now try to deal with the remains of our very strange trip. An unharmed red wagon and ourselves to somehow get back across the country. We are only feeling lucky today as we are both alive and well.
Below is what I would have written you about, but which has become overshadowed by last night's crash.
The country we've seen is so sadly in awful shape. The West is truly burning up. We had no idea how bad it was. We've seen so many burned forests. We've been under mostly smokey skies. We have met so many afflicted and depressed people. We have seen so many transients here.
Nice views off the coast of Oregon and some big trees have been spirit risers, but mostly this has been a depressing trip, a real on-the-ground, experience yourself, eye-opener about the status of the environment in the West.
The land where my grandfather settled, where my dad grew up, in southern Oregon, used to be a big pear farm that sold pears to Henry and David and the Fruit of the Month Club, but the pears that used to grow there without water can't even grow anymore with the limited irrigation water. The pears have been replaced with grapes for wine, which also are now having a very hard time making it. Jackson County, Oregon, where my grandfather's orchards were, is in a 22-year drought. It has not been this dry in this area of Oregon in over 1200 years. We visited the land where my father grew up and where my grandfather once had his pear orchards. There were charred hills and smoke all around my grandfather's old house. It made me wonder how long it could survive before it is taken out in a forest fire.
We went to meet my second cousin, who is trying to keep a century farm alive that was started by my grandfather and my great uncle, pears to grapes but is being supported by a restaurant and brewery now. It's not really farming anymore as the land under drought can't really support it, not to mention that the whole farm is now surrounded on all sides by the sprawl of the city of Medford.
This poor earth, with its current systems and species, is really being doomed by us. We are horribly messing our own beds. How are people who can't even clean up their own yards going to start caring enough to alter the course of the earth's destruction? The earth will survive in its next iteration, but we probably will not. The one great sadness for me is all the innocent species we are taking down with us, like the one beautiful mule deer taken out by us on the highway as the sun was setting.
Hopefully some happier thoughts in my next email.
P.S. Only the homeless in Susanville walk the sidewalks. Every one else just drives from place to place, so if for no other reason, B and I look a little homeless right now in our carless, wandering state. It only made things look worse when we bought the beer and box wine at the grocery store, but it made us smile. We can still toast the desert sunsets and enjoy a drink together even if we are far from home without a next plan yet.
From an email to our friends T&K
Dear T and K,
Thank you for the hug. I wrote you that email several days before it was sent. We have now been in Susanville, California for a week too long. We still have not heard back from our insurance company so can not quite yet abandon our car at the smash shop. It has four new tires on it as a week before we hit the deer in California we hit somebody's carburetor in Idaho. It was dark, and bump, and spzzzz all the air goes out of one of the tires almost all at once. We pull in the nearest road off the dark two lane highway and find ourselves in a mini Mexico. Three Mexicans, all sitting on their porches listening to mariachi music, come over in the dark to inspect the flat. They help Bernie and I jack up the car and take the stuff out of the trunk so we can get to the mini, temp wheel. One of the items that comes out of the car is a mouse nest. I think the Mexicans feel bad for us. We do sort of look like gypsies towing the mule wagon as our camper. We limp at low speed on the mini-wheel to a paved and over lighted RV park for the night and spend the next morning at Walmart, where we find out the bad news that you can't just change out one tire on this Subaru, because it will mess up the auto-traction, all the tires must be exactly the same diameter.
So we are junking a once nice and fairly efficient little car with four new tires. But we are so happy to be alive that our losses are not getting us too down. What is getting us down a bit more is the waste. The deer's life, the junked car, the fact that in our desperation we have now rented a mega diesel truck, the only vehicle we could find to get Bernie's little hand built wagon (that has somehow survived its third serious crash) back to NC. This truck is so big you could get seriously injured just falling out the door. It is almost on its own as long as the car and wagon together once were. Sad how quickly we will sacrifice the health of the planet to get home.
The irony of this whole trip and our role in it is not lost on us.
Sending lots of love as we are more sure than ever what is important to us.
Bernie sends his love.
Important update! We could not part with Magneto. We got offered full price for him but it did not seem like a good match to us. Magneto needs us and we need him. He has a whole lot to teach me. More on this in the new year. So glad to still have this wonderful pony!!!
Sometimes even the best of friends must part. This is breaking my heart, but I will find him the perfect situation. Magneto the Magnificent is on the market.
To good home only. No dealers. Extraordinary 6 year old, 14.1 hands Arab quarter horse cross. Magneto the Magnificent. Beautiful mover. Excellent trail horse. Goes through water and over bridges. Rides well in company and alone. Three fluid and athletic gates. Stands for saddling, vet care, teeth floating, mounting and trimming. Very good with other horses. Turned out currently in a mixed herd of mares and geldings. Gets along great with mules and dogs. Does not mind cows. Trailers fine in a stock trailer or two horse. Sweet-natured and likes people. He will walk right up to you in the pasture. No problems to catch. Does not crib. Lives out in a pasture with run-in shed year round. Goes barefoot or in hoofboots. Four beautiful black hoofs. He requires an advanced intermediate rider. Goes on a very light rein. Has the potential for many different disciplines western dressage, English dressage, hunter pony, endurance, trail riding, eventing. Hoof trimming, worming and shots are all up to date. Only selling because he won’t make a pack horse. He’s too ticklish for the britchin and sliding loads. Special, loving home a must, must, must. Contact Julia for Price and details.
Today is the first of August. It's been a great summer here on our farm. It's a fecund year. Swarms of hummingbirds, flocks of goldfinches, twin fawns, lots of flowers, fruits and veggies. The hay has been cut and taken away. The horses and mules are all shiny and fit. Magneto is making good progress in his training. He barely reacts at all anymore to the saddle going on his back. Bernie's book is in an advanced state of editing, and a couple copies are now in the hands of two professional first readers.
The bald at the top of the mountain remains a beautiful destination to ride or walk to. It's different depending on the day. Some days it looks like it is sitting on the edge of a rainforest, and other days, under bright blue skies, it looks like it might be in Montana.
The pickle raft is afloat on the little pond, and the hammock is hung between the chestnut tree and the garage. Neither of these fine idle spots has seen much use this summer as there have been so many things to be done - horses to train, books to finish, ripe fruit to pick, salad patch to weed, potatoes to dig, fall garden to plant. Sunday was slated for the hammock, but Polly broke the stairs when she tried to come up them for breakfast, and the blueberries were ready to pick. So I picked blueberries, and Bernie rebuilt the stairs to support a mule visitor. Below is a photo essay of our farm during this June and July. I hope you enjoy it.
Falling in love can happen quickly, or it can take its time. The other night it happened to me quickly. Bernie and I were driving home in the advanced glow of twilight. The details of the trees were being lost to shadows as the darkness filled the last light. We were coming back from having pizza, beer and dancing fun at a local joint. Our mood was light. We are both in love with our lives in these beautiful mountains. Often we feel this strongly on Friday nights when we are just returning to our farm from an evening out. We see the sun setting over large swaths of forest. We see the blue mist blanketing these hills. We watch the twinkle of fireflies and see the ghost-like shadows of deer in the misty dark meadows.
Driving the twisty road back to our farm in the almost dark, we came upon two old dogs walking side by side up the edge of the road. One was a skinny, matted St Bernard, and the other was a slightly smaller shaggy dog. Their heads were held low, and they were matching each other’s slow ambling gate up the side of the road. I hoped they lived nearby and would soon be turning down a driveway. Bernie wondered if perhaps they’d been abandoned. The thought of them being abandoned on the roadside, resigned to walk on together with no other plan, made me instantly fall in love with them. I never even saw their faces. There is something so innocent, identifiable and powerful about the soul of dogs. They can capture my heart in only one 45mph passing.
Then there is the slower kind of falling in love, where you get to know an individual over time. You watch. You encounter. You get to know them better, and suddenly there is an awakening of how much you care about them. This kind of falling in love has just happened to me with a wild chipping sparrow. Yes, a chipping sparrow, one of those common small brown birds. Only this one is distinguishable. He is a rare bird. He is a leucistic chipping sparrow, which means that some of his feathers do not produce the melanin that gives them color and are therefore white. My chipping sparrow’s head is all white, like someone dunked it in a jar of white paint to make him look like a mini bald eagle. The chances of a bird having leucistic or albino traits are 1 in 30,000.
Lil Eagleman, as we call him, first showed up two Aprils ago. We had just finished lunch and were doing the dishes when we saw what looked like a little cotton ball bouncing about on the front lawn under the chestnut tree. We quickly realized that the cotton ball was attached to a brown and gray body and was actually the head of a little bird. We spent some time trying to identify him until we stumbled on a rare photo of a leucistic chipping sparrow on the internet, BINGO. We were thrilled by the gift of getting to see such a rare bird. It was a lucky day, and then he was gone.
This April, while having lunch on our porch, we were musing about how neat it would be if we got to see that white- headed chipping sparrow again. Perhaps he would grace us again with his presence on his way back to his summering spot. It was not impossible as birds are habitual creatures. Then on April 5th, I was doing the dishes, and there he was again on the lawn under the chestnut tree.
We were thrilled to see him again. To our delight, this year, he has stuck around. He has a mate, and I think they have reared chicks. Probably none with white heads as the leucistic gene is recessive. We have seen him almost daily for three months. Sometimes he may be gone for a few days, but so far, he has always shown back up.
He has become a special bird to us. We named him. We watch him. We know where he goes about on our farm and how he acts. We can distinguish him from all other birds, so his personality has come alive to us. We know that he is fairly unafraid of people. That he is a busy, energetic fellow. We think of him as action packed. Sometimes we will see him far down where our driveway enters the main road, and other times he will be along the road to the house. Sometimes we pass him while taking the horses out. We always greet him out loud. If Bernie and I are together and one of us sees him, we will exclaim, “Look, Lil Eagleman!" Then both of us will say, “Hello, Lil Eagleman." We pretend that he’s an action hero.
Once while I was away, Bernie decided to spend Friday night camped at our wall tent on top of the mountain, a good mile walk from our cabin. He was grilling a hamburger when who should show up but Lil Eagleman.
I saw online that there had been a sighting of a white-headed chipping sparrow in Mooresville, NC, this April. That’s about 59 miles from us. I wondered if this was likely Lil Eagleman or another 1 in 30,000 bird chance. Perhaps that’s where he went when we did not see him for a while. Also, I saw that a white-headed chipping sparrow had been sighted in Chicksaw and the Atlanta area of Georgia in the winter months of 2018 and 2019. Is this perhaps the area where my bird has spent his winters? Are these one and the same bird? Relatives? Or other unrelated rare gifts?
I don’t know how long Lil Eagleman will stay. I never know when I see him if it will be the last time. I do know that I will miss him when he’s gone and that I will be thrilled if he returns again. I also know that he has snuck into my heart. I’ve fallen hard for the little guy because I’ve come to know him as I do the horses and mules, each as an individual, each with a life of his own which I am privileged to know. It’s not Lil Eagleman’s rarity but his individuality that has slowly captured my heart.
Recently, my attention was caught by the following quote attributed to the psychologist and philosopher, William James,
“Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is.”
This is a good way to think about relationships and communication between two people as it can account for a lot of the misunderstandings that can occur in an encounter with another.
This quote, altered slightly, is also useful when working with a horse. If we think about this, when we go to work with a horse, we’d see that there might be six of us. There is the way we see ourselves. The way the horse sees himself. The way we see the horse. The way the horse sees us, and each of us (horse and human) as we really are in the moment. If we are aware of this when beginning to work with our horse each time, we can make sure that we are focused on the present, where we are seeing only the horse as he is in the moment. If we meet him here each time we work, we can eventually quiet our communication to just the two of us as we really are together in the moment.
I may come to work with a horse doubting my abilities or presuming I can show the horse what he needs to know. I may feel like a powerful leader or an inadequate companion. None of this will be helpful. It will only make my energy in the moment wrong. To get my energy right, I must stay present and read the horse in the current moment and, from there, adjust my own energy to meet his.
The Horse Judging Himself
The horse may be a herd leader. He may be a follower. Among his own, he knows his place in the herd. When he meets with us for the first time or before he feels his place with us has been established, he may present from his place of status in the herd. But, since horses live in the present, the horse will quickly try to understand his rightful place with us in the moment.
Judging The Horse
When we begin to work with a horse each time, we must be certain not to judge the horse based on an incident in the past, or a story, or a label, we are telling ourselves about the horse. We must see what the horse before us is communicating in the moment. Nothing else about the horse matters but what is presented in the moment. The horse in front of you is the horse you have.
The Horse Judging You
Your horse probably doesn’t hate you. He may not love you either. He is looking for comfort and security. If you aren’t a safe and effective leader, he may try to be the leader, or not wish to follow you. Over time he may have formed an association about you as either presenting comfort and security or their opposites (constant pressure or weakness). Luckily, horses think in the present. If you respond to a horse in the present and meet his needs there, you can reset the association he will have about you over time.
Each As We Really Are In The Moment
Each encounter is an opportunity to dance with your horse in the moment, to understand what the horse is presenting and how you should respond. To see how he is responding to what you are presenting and what you can do to help him help you. You need to be aware of yourself, him, your environment, and your relationship. You can twirl towards a goal but never race towards an agenda. The relationship between horse and rider is about how the horse and the rider really are, together in the moment and in environment around them.
If you love adventure. If you love horses and travel, find a way to see The Long Rider. Bernie and I went to the Premiere of Filipe Masetti Leite's film, The Long Rider, at the Beaufort Film Festival. It was amazing. For me, it was a cathartic game changer to watch a rider and his horses take on so many challenges as they worked their way from Calgary, Canada, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Many things go wrong, but Filipe and his horses make it. Their lives are more connected, one to the other, and much enriched by their journey.
The horses stay in Brazil at Filipe's parents' house, and the movie continues with Filipe riding on to Patagonia, Argentina, with new horses where he meets the love of his life. Then to make his journey across the Americas complete, he rides the final leg from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Calgary, Canada. Filipe's journey is never easy, but so much personal growth and transformational goodness come from his trips, from sticking to and fulfilling his dreams. He is an inspiration.
A few days after the premiere, Bernie and I talked with Filipe on the phone. I asked him how he dealt with his fears and doubts. The following are a few quotes from what he told me.
"Fear is just a monster that harbors all minds. My journey taught me that, literally, fear is that monster. And, if you're able to put it down and use that adrenaline to push you forward, you can do amazing things."
"We don't know when the end is when the end will be, but it's gonna be at some point. So why are we gonna let that stop us from doing these amazing things, from having these tremendous experiences, from meeting the love of our life?"
"There's no point of fearing the end because it's already planned. I don't know, by who, if it's God the Universe or what, but it's all already written, and we're just going through the motions. So that definitely helped me a lot to deal with fear."
Filipe has two books that are available on Amazon, Long Ride Home: Guts, Guns and Grizzlies, 800 Days Through The Americas in a Saddle, and Long Ride To The End Of The World: A Lonely Long Rider's 7500 KM Journey to the Land of Fire.
Filipe's film The Long Rider is now making its rounds at film festivals. It is a fantastic film worth requesting shown in a theater near you. It's truly one of the best films I've ever seen, a remarkable man with an amazing story.
Filipe can be followed on his Instagram account www.instagram.com/filipemasetti/?hl=en
“They say the opposite of joy is not sadness but fear.” - Ann Robertson The Gift of Imperfection
The horse training came to a halt behind a massive flood of tears and frustration. Something was going further south the more I worked with Pie and Magneto. What was I doing? I started to doubt my abilities and the good connection I'd had with horses all my life.
Both Pie and Magneto seemed annoyed and disconnected. I'd let them out in the pasture, and they'd explode away from me, Pie, with her heels flying. I noticed that on the days my brain was the most unsettled by fear, negative thoughts or frustrations, the more upset Pie would be and the more tense Magneto like they were a mirror of my own emotions.
I was going through something. I realized I'd been slipping into a negative pattern of thinking. I was finding myself having a lot of negative thoughts. I was “catastrophizing” My husband Bernie's and my upcoming long ride around the West, thinking that Magneto and Pie would spook at a bear, throw me off and run away, leaving me to face a grizzly that I would then have to attempt to shoot because the bear spray was deep in my pack.
Perhaps I would not be able to draw the revolver from my chest harness in time. Perhaps my hands and arms would become so weak from fear that I would not be able to hold the gun steady and pull the trigger. Maybe, as I've heard told, even the massive bullets from my powerful revolver might not kill the grizzly before he got me in his teeth. Thinking about these remote and distant catastrophes became an obsession. My fears were getting the better of me. I was looking at everything in a fearful and negative light.
The way I've tried to deal with my fears in the past has been to meet them head-on. I try to be as prepared as possible. That's why I've been taking lessons shooting a .44 revolver, checking out bear spray and learning about bear ecology. That's why I've been working on desensitizing my horses.
Yet somewhere in my earnest attempt to get myself and my horses prepared, I triggered my fears. I was drowning in fear. I tried to hide it and carry on, but my horses sensed it like lie detectors. The energy I was transmitting was shouting, "flee!" like the grizzly bear was right on their asses. They hated the incongruence even more. They felt unsafe with me standing there like I was fine when I wasn't. They hated my inauthenticity, and frankly, I did too.
I despised my fear. It made me look so weak. Fear was making my horses not want to be around me. Fear was making me unpleasant to be around. Fear was concocting unlikely, nightmare scenarios. Fear had me in its grip. It was making me feel crazy. I couldn't get loose unless I could admit it had a hold of me. While we love hearing about other people’s vulnerabilities we hate mentioning our own.
It was a struggle. In a snotty confession to myself and my husband Bernie, I finally admitted my fears and started actively looking for some helpful ways to make peace with them. The most beneficial way I’ve found has been meditating and practicing mindfulness. I call my meditation practice "wheelbarrow meditation."
Every day I roll my wheelbarrow into the horse pasture, climb in it and meditate for 20 minutes with a timer set. It has helped a lot. My horses connect with me again. Fear has subsided, and joy has returned. In the present, where I am practicing living through mindfulness, there are no bucking horses or attacking grizzly bears. My pulse has slowed and my mind has learned how to quiet itself a bit.
The book Fear: Essential Wisdom For Getting Through The Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh helped me find the right path. Also helpful have been Warwick Schiller's podcasts with many sages, Jane Pike's Confident Rider Program and Filipe Leite's documentary, The Long Rider. I'm still in training, but I can see a positive path ahead. My horses are relaxing again because of the better energy around them. I have unwittingly begun my journey before I thought it was to start. The upcoming long ride around the West is again full of joyful anticipation and a lot less dread. Harriet Bighorn is happily on the path of “woo.”
*Click here to go to The artist Andy Thomas' website
The day Bernie found a gaping hole in the foundation of our cistern was the day Magneto bucked his saddle clear off, and I discovered he also had a hole in his foundation. While Bernie went after the repairs to the cistern’s foundation with shovels, rebar, and cement, I am slowly going after Magneto’s foundation with time in the round pen and a subscription to Warwick Schiller’s horse training.
Bernie is always ready to leave for a long trip with very little preparation. I am not quite so adjustable. Bernie eagerly meets the challenges that present themselves on a trip. I’m much happier to do whatever homework I can ahead of time and hope the challenges will be a little less hostile when I’m out there. Sometimes though, I’ve just had to grit my teeth and follow along behind him because going is almost always the better move than staying, even when you are not fully prepared. You will never be fully prepared.
Bernie has reflexes like a cat and the calmness of a good zen master. He’s an experienced single-hand circumnavigator and an excellent horseman with literally thousands of miles of unexpected events having occurred while he was in the saddle, not to mention his career as a steeplechase jockey. The man is brave. He has huge courage and self-confidence. I, on the other hand, am more chicken shit. I’ve Googled “how to grow courage?” more than once and never gotten a satisfying answer. The best I’ve come up with is to gain knowledge and skills, find calm and yes, carry on.
Bernie and I are thinking of spending a while (maybe a year) roaming the West with our horses and mules, sleeping out under the stars or in our tent while we explore the western public lands. We have no concrete plan other than to head out West with our animals after we get done working on Bernie’s current book (click here to know when it will come out). We want to become western characters, steal back the romance of those who used to roam the West with their horses and bedrolls. We want to write about the beauty of the West. We want to go to BLM lands and National Parks and write of these places that belong to all Americans. We plan to take on fake western-sounding names and enjoy the feeling of slipping into two timeless characters, one hand on our reins, the other on a pack animal’s lead. Together Jake Punch and Harriet Bighorn will roam the West.
I realized this December 31st, on the eve of the new year, when I was thinking about resolutions, that my list this year was long. That’s because I am not only out to improve myself this year but to transform myself into the frontier character of Harriet Bighorn whose people hail from the area around Wolf City, Montana. Courageous Harriet Bighorn whose horses behave and grizzly bears fear. A woman for whom the West could never be wild enough. Now that’s one massive pair of cowboy boots to try and fill.
My list for 2022 on becoming Harriet Bighorn.
Learn about guns.
Learn what I’d need to carry to take down a grizzly bear if needed.
Learn to shoot a gun and to use it safely.
Learn to shoot a gun powerful enough to take down a grizzly without it knocking me over.
Learn about grizzly bears and their ecology so I can stay away from them and avoid as much as possible an encounter with one.
Learn about bear spray and how well or not it works in grizzly bear confrontations, as I'd rather not ever shoot one.
Learn how to solve Magneto’s ticklishness and broncing issues with the help of Warwick Schiller’s, Ray Hunt’s, Tom Dorrance’s, and Buck Brannamen’s horse training methods.
Learn to help Pie with her opinionatedness with Warwick Schiller’s, Ray Hunt’s, Tom Dorrance’s, and Buck Brannaman’s horse training methods.
Teach Pie and Magneto to picket.
Teach Pie and Magneto to pack (and remain calm even when the pack saddle flips under their bellies or they see a bull elk or a mountain lion).
Learn to improve my nervous system response by following Jane Pike’s Confident Rider program.
Take on a bit of mindfulness meditation.
Learn about the western public lands and their issues.
Learn to use a lasso because it would be fun to know how to rope something and I imagine that Harriet Bighorn knows how to throw one well.
Learn to breathe deeply and hopefully find I have more courage.
Let the learning begin! Happy 2022 to all. May we all arrive somewhere in the general direction of our goals.
There aren't too many days on the White Mountain Pony Farm that you'd have more of a kingdom for a pair of skis than a horse or mule. Today is one of those rare days. Happy Sunday.
In the right lane. Doing the speed limit. There is heavy traffic all around. It's full-on dark, and there are shiny lights. Suddenly, an SUV is crashing into the driver's side door, going about 70 mph. Bernie is behind the wheel. He doesn't swerve us into the guardrail, but we are over the rumble strip. The SUV makes contact bumps us. Then it proceeds to careen on past the front of our car. The SUV slides down the guardrail, scrapping along for about 35 feet before coming to a stop.
Cars, trucks and semis hurl on by. We are nowhere near our own home. It is hard for Bernie and me to comprehend quickly enough what has just happened to us. We've been hit. We might be sitting in a totaled car. We were on our way to a hotel to spend the night before driving on the next day to visit friends in NH for Christmas. We are somewhere in PA, and it's around 8 pm. So much traffic is racing by us in the dark. Now what?!
Bernie and I snap out of shock in about the same moment. I say. "I think that guy must be drunk." Bernie says, "Call the police." I dial 911. Bernie takes a photo of the guy's license plate. Slowly then more quickly, the SUV comes off the guardrail and accelerates back into the fast-moving traffic. Bernie is enraged, high on adrenaline, focused. He pulls promptly in behind the SUV. He flashes our lights, sounds the horn. I've got the police on the phone. I get too rattled when the police ask where we are because I wouldn't know the answer without reading the mile marker, and I am more concerned with whether we should be chasing this erratic drunk or not. Just as I see a mile marker, Bernie takes the phone from me and starts talking with the police dispatcher. The SUV takes the next exit, and we follow off behind, Bernie driving and talking with the police.
The SUV comes to a halt at the stop sign at the end of the exit ramp. A roundish fellow, mid-60s, pops out the driver's side door. He is trotting towards Bernie's door. He doesn't look mad or drunk by the way he is trotting over. "You guys OK? I didn't hit you, did I?" What! "Oh yes, you did!" we both say in unison. Bernie explains to the guy that he's got the police on the phone and that they already have his tag number. He tells the guy we need to go somewhere to exchange insurance information. The guy says, "OK," and hops back in his car.
We wind our way to a Holiday Inn Express parking lot. When Bernie goes to open his door and step out, I am surprised the door will open. I've imagined it totally caved in. I've also been surprised that the front tire has not felt warped or flat. I get out too and prepare myself to look at the damage to our car. Again, I think of how far we are from home and our Christmas plan destination. Neither of us has ever been to this part of PA. Now we are here in the dark with our damaged car.
The police tell Bernie they are sending an officer over and hang up. The SUV's driver's name is John. He's a friendly guy. He tells us he was sneezing, and the next thing he knew, he was riding the guardrail. He thought we had pulled over behind him to make sure he was OK.
Bernie and I are so rattled. We are in disbelief. That this has happened when we were minding our own business and driving along carefully. That we are both fine seems a miracle. That it could have been so much worse. We realize that just a little more swerve and our lives could have been over or greatly changed for the worse forever. We look at the side of John's SUV. It is wearing a nice full-length impression of the guardrail. We look at the driver's side of our car. There is no visible damage. We look again and again in disbelief. The mirror is folded in toward the window. It is folded in but not damaged, folded in by an SUV going 70 mph. We can only guess that the contact was made by the SUV's tire hitting ours. This is what steroidal good luck looks like.
We are elated. We can proceed with our plans, with our lives. We feel so lucky. We are two that have been fed a reminder of just how quickly the ride can come to a halt. Precious and tenuous that's, how life is.
John says he was sneezing. I want to believe that he was but, it's as likely he was distracted by his cell phone. On our two-week vacation of traveling from our farm to Tryon and Oriental, NC and then to NH, Bernie and I saw so many cars swerving all over the road. We saw a flipped-over car in the bushes on a dry back road near Tyron. The police had just arrived, and the driver was crawling out the window. We saw several more fender benders. We saw a car hit a big deer that had passed in front of our car. Exploded the deer's back end and tore the bumper off the car. We saw a semi flipped on its side. We tooted at several trucks and cars wandering into our lane. We even called in a tag number of a guy entering the highway, texting on his cell phone and swerving all over the rumble strip. We watched the glow of cell phones on the laps of many drivers as we passed.
It's surely a nation addicted to their phones. Highway announcements are pleading for drivers to turn off their phones while driving. Nobody believes that the problem or the addiction is theirs. That's the nature of addiction.
Life is what all of us are gamboling with when we choose to use our phones when driving. It may or may not be your own life that you gambol; perhaps it might be mine or a deer's or that of a nice man riding across the country with his mules. Look up. Keep your eyes on the road. Show you care about the preciousness of all our lives. Don't use your phone behind the wheel. PLEASE!
The following disturbing story was told to Bernie and me by an old dog's owner. He did not seem to understand how cowardly and cold he had acted. He told us the story only because he was impressed with the old dog's determination.
His dog was almost blind and down to two legs, yet she still got herself up off the ground each morning and did the best she could to stay by her owner’s side. She’d been his little companion for 13 years. She rode next to him in his pickup and trotted along at his side when he worked. He had named her Little Susie. He seemed fond of her.
One day he looked down at her and noticed how old she’d become. How deaf she was. How clouded over her bright brown eyes had become. How gray her face and muzzle. He saw that she was moving on just two legs. You’d think perhaps this would have pulled on his heart. That his love and compassion for her would have expanded just a bit. That he might have found an old soft jacket or pillow to make her a more comfortable place to rest in his truck while he worked. She was so small and now also so frail. Yet, she was still trying to honor her bond to him.
Instead, the man got another man to take her. He asked the other man to take her up in the woods, near a cave they both knew of, and dump her off the cliff next to the cave. It was several miles away. He asked the man, “Would you do that for me?” Like the man was doing a huge favor for him, that would spare him the pain of saying goodbye to Little Susie.
The other man flung Little Susie off the cliff and left. He told the man he’d done what was asked of him. Five days later, dragging her battered body on two legs, Little Susie was back at her owner’s side. He shot her and put her in a hole.
She was loyal. He was a coward who never deserved the love of a dog.
The picture on the left is of a famous Arabian stallion named Marwan Al Shaqab. He is worth millions. He has his own grooms and managers and jet sets around the world looking beautiful, breeding purebred Arabian mares, and winning good-looks awards among Arabian fanciers almost every where he goes.
The picture on the right is a picture of me on my new, assumed-to-be-Arabian, gelding, whom I named Magneto. I did not pay a lot of money for Magneto. In fact he was a starved feral colt that the Georgia Equine Rescue League (GERL) rescued in November of 2019. I adopted him in September of this year (2021). He is now estimated to be about 4 years old. He has been gelded and under saddle a little less than one year. He is a sweet horse and tries hard to do the right thing.
It might just be my own opinion, but I think Magneto is even a touch better looking than Marwan. Please nobody tell that to the Al Shaqab Arabian Stables as I do not wish to offend them. I wish only to point out how stunning this little horse has become, because he was once a poor and miserable colt with a good chance of starving to death.
Magneto owes his revival and good fortune entirely to Cece Meyn-Calli and her co-workers at the Georgia Equine Rescue League. The following is the story of Magneto’s misfortunate colthood and how he came to be rescued, rehabilitated and turned in to the magnificent horse he is today.
This story is based on an hour long phone call I had with Cece about her rescue work, the GERL, and the history of Magneto, who was then named Braveheart. Cece named him Braveheart when she rescued him along with five other young horses. She called the little band of horses, all under 3 years old, The Six Amigos.
Cece’s past was in thoroughbreds. She and her husband used to have thoroughbred training centers, first in California and then in Ocala, Florida. When they moved to Georgia they got out of the thoroughbred business. Looking for a place to put her passion for horses Cece researched various horse rescues in Georgia and decided that she liked the work of the Georgia Equine Rescue League (GERL) the best. She volunteered with them. Now nine years into it, she is an area coordinator, the rescue coordinator, the event coordinator, the adoption coordinator, the foster coordinator and the treasurer and she also fosters a few rescues herself, every year. It’s fair to say that Cece’s life is consumed with rescuing horses in need in the state of Georgia. Last year during the heart of the Covid pandemic GERL still saved the lives of 33 horses. The Georgia Equine Rescue League has around 50 area coordinators working across the whole state.
In mid November of 2019 GERL was called in by the state of Georgia to help in a confiscation and rescue of a herd of 80 feral horses. The owner an octogenarian had turned himself into the state, letting them know that he had been unable to care for his horses. Cece said the horses and 50 head of cattle were all running wild on 150 acres of fenced land. They had nobody taking care of them. They were drinking from puddles and a small pond. The horses were all fairly starved with many too wasted to save. There were horses with broken legs. She said the scene was a real heartbreaking disaster. None of the horses had been handled so they had to be rounded up and put in pens before they could even be evaluated.
There was a bunch of mature mares and 3 adult stallions and of course the rest were young unhandled colts and fillies. Cece and GERL agreed to take six of the youngest ones. Thus the six amigos. They were five colts and one filly. The Amigos all 2 years and younger, and not yet haltered were rounded up and loaded into GERL volunteer, Patty Livingston’s trailer and taken to her farm.
“Two weeks after pick up we had them vaccinated and pulled coggins. That was a wild day. Tinker Moffit and I drove to Patty’s with his stock trailer. He backed it into the paddock and we just kinda ran them one by one into the trailer where the vet and her tech gave vaccinations and pulled blood. Sox and Braveheart were the last 2 and they just stayed in the trailer and Tinker and I hauled them off to their new lives.” Said Cece. Sox, like Braveheart, was another approximately two year colt and Braveheart’s buddy. Sox was the alpha colt in the group and Braveheart was his right hand man. Cece decided she would foster the two of them herself.
The youngest colt, who they named Radar, was only a weanling when the amigos were rescued. He was the friendliest, having not yet even learned what to fear. He was adopted out immediately as was a particularly difficult colt, who they named Rocky. Rocky ran through several fences and refused to be caught. Luckily, a barefoot trainer that GERL uses and who was also a horse trainer, took a shine to Rocky and agreed to adopt him and keep him forever. The other colt, who they named Forest and the only filly in the group, Jenny went to be fostered with Angie Hammond, a GERL volunteer at her farm. They were yearlings so needed time just to be handled, fed, cared for and allowed to grow.
Cece got her trainer and friend, Tinker Moffit to take Sox and Braveheart to his farm to be haltered and handled a bit. Tinker got kicked in the stomach the first time he entered the stall to try to halter them. He eventually got the job done but did not have the time then to do more with them. So Cece got them back with halters on but not much more on their training tick list.
She brought down one of her geldings to her stable area which was enclosed, dumped some nice hay in the stalls and turned Braveheart and Sox loose in there. When it was feeding time she shut the stall door to keep her gelding out. Cece said Sox broke down several stall doors and fences while he was living with her. Eventually she sent them back to Tinker’s one at a time while she continued to work on trust and handling with the remaining one.
Cece said she spent a lot of hours with them. First just trying to gain their trust to be touched. They were very reactive and nervous babies. They snorted and blew like leaf blowers. Eventually she was able to touch them all over, then to groom them. She started brushing and scrapping them to remove their long matted and scraggly coats. She said the more she shed them out the worse they looked because their bodies were so malnourished.
She spent several months putting weight on them, fixing their weeping eyes, teaching them to trust, to lead and to go through obstacles. She hand walked them through the woods getting them used to negotiating terrain and allowing bushes and thorns to touch their sides with out panic. She said there was times when she was working with them and they were so nervous she thought they were “all going to die”. Eventually a day came in the beginning of January when she evaluated them both. She determined that Sox and Braveheart were ready to move on to the larger world and find their forever homes. She sent them both out for some saddle training.
Actually GERL sponsors and runs a challenge competition. Cece invites trainers to apply. They get 120 days to train one of GERL’s untrained rescue horses. Cece selects the best trainers, those who are good and also use gentle methods, with quiet hands. She then pairs them with a GERL rescue. The trainers pick up the horses or they are dropped off with the trainers. At the end of four months they all gather for a competition in front of judges. The rescue horses are shown in hand, then they must be ridden through an obstacle course. The last phase is a freestyle competition where the trainer can show off what they have done with the horse, something that highlights the best of their training. GERL sponsors the competition and the winning trainer gets a substantial check.
Cece put Sox and Braveheart in the competition. Sox’s trainer had to quit only 2 weeks in, but Braveheart’s trainer Cassy Hoban won the competition with Braveheart. In the free style they went through trot polls, pushed an obstacle that blew bubbles and walk, trot, and cantered around the arena together. “They were in total sync with each other and it was easy to see that Braveheart trusted his rider.” Cece said. “That’s why they won.”
Cece sent Sox on to Thompson Farm in Iva, South Carolina after his trainer had to quit the competition, where the Thompson’s 16 year old daughter, Savannah continued his training until he was ready to be placed in a forever home. He wasn’t an easy horse but with Savannah’s help he finally turned a corner. In late summer of 2021, Sox found a nice home with a GERL volunteer who has a children’s riding program.
Braveheart followed after Sox to the Thompson’s Farm where Savannah kept up his training. The Thompson’s advertised him when they thought he was ready. Lucky for me, I was up early that Saturday morning in August when his ad first appeared on Craig’s List. I called right away. Said we’d be down that afternoon to try him.
Bernie and I hooked up the trailer drove to Iva and came home with Braveheart in the back of it. At one point while trying him, though we both loved him right away, we noticed he seemed a little uneven at the trot and decided we’d take a pass. But something pulled us back. He was too nice to leave if this was just a sore shoulder as we both expected it might be. Plus the GERL would take him back if we didn’t want him. We decided he was worth the gambol of his small adoption fee. He’s proven that it was. Braveheart has become Magneto The Magnificent. He still has a virus in one ear, an eye that gets cruddy and a funny tooth but he’s come such a long long way thanks to Cece, GERL and the trainers that have put a lot of love and time into him.
Bernie calls Magneto the “trash-Arabian” as the original stock of the old man that had owned the herd was Arabians. In fact Cece said people had told her around 60 years ago the man was know for raising nice Arabian stock. He owned purebred Arabian mares and an Arabian stallion but over the years as the man grew old and senile and stopped caring for his herd someone had abandoned a quarter horse stallion and a mustang stallion in the herd’s pasture. The old man had left the Arabians for someone else to clean up after, thus the title “trash-Arabians”.
I asked Cece what she thought, from all her experience in horse rescue, could help make the situation better for horses. What might help to make GERL’s work less busy? She said the number one thing was educating people to the fact that having a horse was a thirty plus year commitment. She said everyone who gets a horse or has horses ought to have a plan B for them. What are you going to do with your horses when you get old? What are you going to do with your horse when your kid’s are no longer interested in riding? She thinks people need to understand that horses are not cheap. That they cost a lot of money to take proper care of and that they can’t just live off your pasture alone.
She says they deal with a lot of horses belong to people that are getting too old to care for them and have made no plan for their horses. Other family members don’t usually want to deal with them and sometimes have no knowledge or resources to take over. She says they are dealing with an 88 year old woman right now in Jones county who doesn’t want anyone touching her 38 horses but she can no longer take care of them herself. The law got involved and now they are taking them away from her and 16 of the horses are over 30 years old. Cece said, “We need to be better friends to our horses and make sure we make a plan B for them always.” Know where your horse or horses, or other pets for that matter, will go if something were to happen to you because it eventually will.
GERL, Cece and Magneto have bolstered further my belief that it not in the breeding but in the care, love and time that makes the biggest difference in the end. If a half starved feral colt with some Arabian lineage can look not too different than a multi-million dollar famous Arabian breeding stallion in less than 2 years of his rescue then most of the credit goes the care and love he received.
Jenny and Forest, the last of the amigos, are now 3 and ready to be saddled and ridden. They have each just been sent out for training by GERL. Shortly, they will be looking for forever homes of their own. Both have sweet natures and have come to trust people through the careful handling of GERL staff, trainers and fosterers. Both Jenny and Forest are likely to be around 14.3 hands to 15 hands when they mature. Both show the Arabian in them and have turned in to beautiful young horses like Magneto. If you are interested in adopting one of them and providing a true forever home with a solid plan B, you are welcome to contact me for more information or contact The Georgia Equine Rescue League at the link below. Also GERL could always use a donation to help them with the money it costs them to feed, rescue, doctor, train and care for all the horses they take in. The love they give to the horses is free.
We've found our pony! After an extensive search we've finally brought home the final member of our team. He's a 14.1 hand, 4 year old, mostly Arab, bay gelding that ran wild in a herd on private land in Georgia until he was confiscated and put into a rescue when the owner of the herd stopped caring for them. He was a stallion until last year and has only about one year of riding on him. That said he is a gentleman through and through, both on the ground and in the saddle.
We took him on a little ride with Pie today and made the initial introductions with all his herd mates. I think he's going to be a tough, fast, confident and curious member of our herd. I love him already and am very excited to get working with him. I have named him Magneto The Magnificent but he shall be called just Magneto.