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Journeys of Cactus Jack Splash

On His Own Terms

Cactus Jack Splash the Appaloosa HorseI had no idea what that day would hold. I didn't know that the horse that has amazed us all with his tenacity would be leaving us. I never wanted to make the choice to help him cross the rainbow bridge. I wanted his passing to be his own choice and on his own terms. Yesterday he made it – it was his choice and it was going to be on his terms. Freedom had always given us his best, did everything we asked him to do, and loved us deeply. Yesterday he asked me to listen to him and give him his request, help him cross the rainbow bridge … to give him my best and not question his choice.

Freedom and Mushboy play soccer

This picture was taken in August of this year. Freedom and Mushboy were playing soccer with several other horses – Freedom is 48 years old in this photo. Freedom came to us so very thin and in such bad shape we wondered if he would survive. Not only did he survive, he thrived! He and I herded cows once – he did better once I just let him do what he knew how to do and just went along for the ride. He packed The Support Crew Chief down a trail and left the youngsters in his dust. He delighted in carrying Mushboy around the pasture. After he was fully retired he would take the ranch cats for pony rides. Freedom adopted a chicken named Trudy and would share his mush with her. He was quite the character: stealing calves, jumping fences when his pasture was changed, teaching young horses manners, and keeping watch over the ranch and its herd.

He taught me that age is a state of mind, that there are no excuses not to live your life to the fullest, and to suck it up when things are tough.

Several times I thought we might loose him. Yesterday morning it looked as though he would live forever. I am thankful he didn't waste away, that he never really was ill, that he was mobile and happy, and that he chose his time. Even at the end he was telling us where he wanted to lay down for the final time, he was opinionated and pushy until the end.

He was laid to rest beside Ginger. Freedom will now get to be with Freedom's Lady in spirit. I am sure his spirit will visit her and enjoy following her in the mountains.

Freedom was an amazing horse and he will be missed so very much.

Thank you for blessing our lives, Freedom. Keep watch over the calves in heaven, I am sure that God will let you keep all of them that you want. Eat all the grass you can find with your new set of teeth. Find Hank and Scooby, they will be glad to see you. Tell Grandfather hi.

Rest in peace my friend.

Freedom wants you all to remember "Life is soooo good!"

Enjoy your day and don't forget to hug your DOR.

Visiting the Horse Dentist

I was a good boy for the dentist, and I didn't even get a lollipop. What is up with that?

Horse at dentist just after sedative

Here I am just after getting my sedative. Okay, so I am a light weight when it comes to drugs. One shot and I could hardly stand, I couldn't figure out what to do with my hind feet. The DOR thought I was going to sit down or fall over, it looked like I would for a minute or two. The dentist assured both of us he had never seen that happen. I am not sure why we would believe him, his version of a greeting was putting his hand in my mouth up to the middle of his forearm while I was standing outside in the paddock, I don't think he has learned his manners.

Horse mouth inspection

So here I am getting my mouth inspected. Dakota took this picture, he thinks the glow around the dentist makes him look like an angel-whatever, that is not what I was thinking. Hey, wait I was stoned and thinking about clover, alfalfa, apple asses, and pretty mares.

Horse dentist cleaning teeth

The dentist decided I needed to rinse and spit before he started working. Seems my mouth wasn't to clean, it had grass stashed here and there, how did he know those weren't my special pieces of grass? I hope he washed his hands before he got started.

Horse dentist grinding teeth

So now the real work starts, I need my sharp points ground down. I wouldn't have minded so much, but he was interfering with my drug induced stupor. What is the point of giving me drugs and then bugging me?

More grinding by horse dentist

Horse dentist procedure

Here we are at the end of the procedure. The drugs were starting to wear off, I was shaking my head around. Rather than give me more of the good stuff, the dentist just had the DOR hold my head. I should have acted really bad so I could get just a bit more of that sedative.

Horse dentist almost finished

The dentist says I am good for a year and that I behaved really well. I went out and enjoyed the nice weather while the rest of the drug wore off. Then the DOR put me in with Freedom. It is the first time I have felt bad for the old fart, without any teeth he doesn't get to see the dentist and enjoy that goofy shot. Oh well he gets to eat really good mush and he doesn't share any with me, so I guess it evens out.

See if you can get your DOR to schedule a dental visit for you. It isn't bad, the drugs are great, and that way when you reach Freedom's age you will have most if not all of your teeth.

Enjoy your day and don't forget to hug your DOR!

Cactus Jack Offers Some Reflections on Natural Horsemanship

Cactus Jack Splash the Appaloosa HorseMy DOR uses natural horsemanship techniques. I have told you about her waving flags, rolling balls, rattling grocery bags, doing something that looks like the 'chicken dance', and sitting in the pasture reading a book so we can 'bond.' I gotta give the old gal credit, she is persistent and means well.

I ran into this little statement by Flicka while the DOR was doing some of her reading. I thought I would share it because it is reflective of what many of us horses are thinking: 

Hello my name is Flicka and my Owner's a clinic junky. Yes, it's true. She went thru her midlife crisis and came to the sale barn and bought me. I spent my whole life misbehaving and being passed from greenhorn to greenhorn till someone finally got smart and sent me to the sale barn. I was seriously hoping to be picked up by one of those show horse fellas so I could live in a fancy barn and stand around and look pretty, but they told me my butt's too small, my heads too big, and the crest on my neck from a bout with grass founder (thanks to owner number 2) is not desirable, and in general I was just not that capable of looking pretty, so I went home with Phyllis instead. She pets me and loves me, and in general I had a pretty good life at first. Then she heard about those guys who whisper to horses. Life has never been the same.

First there was Pat. At Pat's clinic Phyllis learned to twirl a big stick and chase me around a round pen till I was ringing wet with sweat.Once I had quote "calmed down" (I was never really fired up in the first place till that guy came at me with the stick like an idiot) she began learning to ride me with no bridle. Talk about giving an old spoiled horse an opportunity to have some fun! Initially I went along with it. I'd lope around the pen real nice like, and everyone would oooh and cooo over my "natural horse" abilities. Then, just when everyone had gathered around to watch, I would see the SCARIEST!! (tehehehe) Shadow in the history of scary shadows and switch directions and take off with my rider clinging terrified to my back. Every other horse on the place was envious of me because their owners would take them out back and beat them with that overpriced stick when no one was watching, but I knew my Phyllis would not. Eventually Philly (as I like to call her) gave up on the whole natural horse idea when Pat tried to talk her into jumping me without a bridle over some barrels. Off we went in search of another guru.

In our search we found Monty. He threw a string at a horse and talked to the horse with winks and stares. I spent some time with his clinic horses. I saw the demonstration where an unbroken 2 year old became an overnight Reiner. Later I talked to the 2 year old. He was actually 5 and had been doing this same routine for about 5 clinics now. The first time Phyllis broke out the string, I again went along with it. Well, until she got tired of me stopping and looking at her like she was stupid. When she went to get herself a glass of water and refer to that chapter in Monty's book, I grabbed the string and chewed it to pieces. And this is how I got my Jolly ball!

Then there was the Indian fella with a name I can't pronounce. To get the full effect of his clinic Philly painted stuff on my body and put feathers in my hair. I looked like I was in a Costume class, but hey, whatever floats your boat. I thought maybe at least with this guy we might get to play Indian pony games and have mock battles or something but no. More round pen work and gimmicks. This time there was a fire in the middle of the round pen and they danced around it while praying that I would become a good horse and always mind my owner. He only took her for a couple thousand pelts and a bottle of firewater.

There's been the Australian guy. Training with a Boomerang while he hopped around like a kangaroo and called me his mate ... "Sorry fella, your cute and all but my mate has 4 legs. I Just don't' swing interspecies."

A horse psychic who told Phyllis my momma didn't lick me enough when I was born. A guy who used his hands like ears to talk to me and of course the touchy feely lady. I can't complain though I've got an owner who loves me and has devoted her time to trying to make me a better horse. I really should behave, really I should, but I think I am contributing to her youth by giving her a reason to take me to all these clinics. Maybe the next clinic will involve turning me out with the mustangs so I find my inner wild stallion.

Sincerely, Flicka 

I am glad the DOR is benefiting from all of the effort that I am putting in to keep her young and entertained. I am lucky because she loves me to pieces and I think she will do. Her son was teasing her that I am going to live longer than she does...that could be a problem, where will I find another DOR who is going to do the 'chicken dance', feed me peppermints, scritch all the right spots, and love me to pieces?

Enjoy your day and don't forget to hug your DOR.

A Bit of Horse Philosophy: Natural Humanship

Cactus Jack Splash the Appaloosa HorseThe DOR (Dope on a Rope/Human) has been reading everything she can get her hands on about natural horsemanship for the past three years. She has attended clinics as both a participant and observer. Most of her herd has been trained at one time or another using this method. Well goody for her, but that means more work on my part learning natural humanship!

I started my study in this when I was sent to training by my first owner. I was sent to a wonderful facility and trainer, but I had no idea what I was supposed to to with a human. I was rough around the edges and made a few mistakes. I found out that bucking until I was so tired that I couldn't stand and then rolling around on the ground like a pig when the saddle was put on got me absolutely nowhere. I quickly discovered that if I stood nicely and didn't buck the saddle got taken off sooner. Hmmmm, lesson one; treat the DOR like they have the best ideas ever and their silly behavior ends sooner.

Horse on a lead

Natural humanship is the philosophy of working with DORs by appealing to their instincts and social structure. It involves communication techniques derived from the observation of the social structure of humans, allowing horses to exhibit behaviors that resemble the interactions that humans have with each other.

  • Humans are social creatures. They have a highly developed communication system practiced primarily through speech and very little body language. This requires horses to learn techniques that mimic speech to communicate with their DOR. I nicker using different pitches to send messages to my DOR. I also use "human-like" facial expressions and body language to reinforce what I am saying.
  • Teaching DORs using fear, while occasionally effective, will probably get you a new home. It is essential that the human feel safe around you at all times. If a horse is calm and nurturing to their DOR the bonding process will be quicker and more effective. I have found that stepping on their toes, nipping, and hopping up and down causes the DOR to withdraw. I want the DOR to come closer and stay longer, I can accomplish this through continued mellow behavior.
  • The horse must know the DOR's natural instincts and communication system, using this knowledge to train their DOR. DORs worry about how they look when other DORs are around, so the best thing we horses can do for them is to make sure they look cool at all times.
  • There is the aspect of operant conditioning in this method. Apply pressure to get the DOR to exhibit the desired behavior, releasing that pressure when the DOR takes action to exhibit that behavior. Reward the try, setting the bar a bit higher each time, until the desired behavior is reached. Remember DORs are often a bit insecure, so take baby steps.
  • DORs benefit greatly from groundwork. There are seven games to play with your DOR to make this time more enjoyable: 
    • Catch me if you can-in this game you don't give in to easily, make the DOR work to catch you, they appreciate you more that way.
    • Touch my nose as I back up really fast-in this game once the DOR has haltered you back up at least three steps, the DOR wants to nuzzle you because you have been so good but they need to understand personal space, let your DOR touch your nose when you are ready.
    • Peek-a-boo with my hinny-DORs love to pat our big ol butts, when they go to pat your rear move it away from them, again this is a lesson in personal space.
    • Let's see how dizzy you can get while I run circles around you on a rope-this game is about teaching your DOR balance, you don't want them wobbly when they are riding.
    • Let me see how close you can stand to things and have me still squeeze through-this teaches the DOR how much space they need to allow you so they don't get bumped.
    • You point the way I am looking and then I will go there-the point of this game is to show the DOR that when they use body language you listen.
    • You do the chicken dance and I will move along just so you won't look silly-this is building the strength of your herd, the DOR will realize that you are willing to look silly to in order to protect them. I love the seven games, they are very therapeutic.

Once you have your DOR good with all of these activities you can move on to the riding lessons. I will cover those tomorrow.

Enjoy your day and don't forget to hug your DOR!

Horse and Human: A Partnership

Cactus Jack Splash the Appaloosa HorseIf you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time... But if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, then let us work together.  –Anonymous aboriginal woman in the Tao of Equus by Linda Kohanov

The partnership between the horse and human needs to be based on justice and equity. The horse may need help, but more often than not in the relationship it is the human that needs help, not just the horse. The mind of the horse and rider need to become one, only then can true liberation in the relationship be found.DOR and Syndi

The DOR has found, when she works with me with a mindset that together she and I will find the right spot to learn and develop a deeper understanding, what we can accomplish is almost magical. There is a connection that borders on mystical, it seems that, for a moment, together we are one. When she works with me with the intention of helping me, when things with her are perfect, and she is going to "show me how to fix things," things get tight and go a bit sideways. I am not saying that humans shouldn't help their horse by setting up things to work for them, but what we really need is to have things set up for us to be liberated to do the right thing – that way we remember the things we learned better, too. By striving for liberation for both of us the DOR builds a partnership based on justice and equity with me, not a relationship based on me being her "servant."

Liberation for both of us while we are together is what the DOR strives to achieve whenever we are together. Pretty soon we will work together with one mind ... I just hope it is mine because with the DOR getting older her mind isn't as sharp as it used to be.

Enjoy your day and don't forget to hug your DOR

Saddle Pads

Cactus Jack Splash the Appaloosa HorseWell, my DOR has been trying to find just the right saddle pad. I am perfectly happy with the 1 inch contour wool pad that she has been using. It is comfy, but she thinks I need something a bit fancier ... if that is the case she could solve that problem by letting Angelina Jolie be the only person who rides me.

Last week she tried a shimmed pad that she uses for Hank the Tank (a shark-withered, moose of an appy). It seems I have a dry spot on each side of my withers, and she thinks a different pad will help the saddle sit a bit better. I saw the pad coming and danced around (level one), she put it on me and I danced more (level two), she set the saddle on me and I groaned (level three – she should be getting a clue by now that she isn't doing the right thing), darn if she didn't walk around to cinch up the whole thing! I had to resort to LEVEL FOUR and I dumped the saddle and the pad in the dirt ... I turned and gave her the fish eye, she dropped her head and said, "Hmmm, I guess you didn't like that pad, sorry."

Boy she could have saved us both a lot of work if she just listened in the first place.

The DOR decided to try out her impact gel pad again.

Impact gel pad 

This pad and I have a history ... A month ago the DOR used this pad when we went for a ride. It was on a day that I was teaching her about checking her cinch. I puffed to my heart's content when she did the initial cinching. She walked me around a bit and tightened up the cinch a bit. She sent me out at a trot for a couple of circles and the checked the cinch one more time. What she missed was me sucking in air each time before I got up to her (I can puff enough to take up 6-12 inches of cinch). Well the DOR mounted just fine, I was still a bit puffed up, and off we went to work. She commented that the saddle felt a bit loose and had some roll from side to side. She stopped and dismounted, yep you guessed it – she rolled the saddle under me! That action required an immediate level four response! So, I hopped up and down in place, snorted, and made bug eyes for about 30 seconds and then stood still so the saddle could be taken off. My DOR learned the cinching lesson and has never made that mistake again. So now you know the history of the impact gel pad.

So the DOR puts on the gel pad and cinches up the saddle. She goes through the proper procedure to make sure the cinch is properly tightened, and she mounts. The saddle shifted a bit, but she thought it was because she was messing around getting on. She is taking her lesson and fussing about the saddle feeling loose. The instructor checked the cinch and it wasn't loose-good job on cinching. She completes her lesson and goes to get off. She remembers that the last time she dismounted with this pad the saddle rolled (good, she is learning from those level four responses!) and has the instructor hold the stirrup on the off side-just in case. Well it is a good thing because the saddle would have rolled! The impact gel pad, the saddle, and my muscular physique do not work together – the saddle is always going to roll.

So now the DOR is back to using my favorite wool pad. I guess if we ever need a flashy pad because we are in a show she can throw a thin Navajo blanket over it.

Enjoy your day and don't forget to hug your DOR!

Rider Training: How to Keep Your Rider Alert

A photo of Cactus Jack FlashI am a laid back kinda guy, friendly, and inquisitive. If there is something new out there I want to check it out. That said, I need to let you know I have been working with my DOR to be more trusting. She has a tendency to micro-manage when she is riding ... HELLO I know what I am doing, I have been walking around on these four hooves for ten years now and she has been riding me for a bit over a year.

So, I finally have her where she is relaxed and not telling me what to do constantly, the arena is full of toys I have been playing with, and she is staying nice and relaxed – almost too relaxed, in fact it is as if she is taking me for granted. Hmmmph. Well, I need to make sure that while she is relaxed that she is also alert for anything that might come along and surprise her causing her to squeeze my sides. I hate it when she squeezes my sides and does that butt tightening, air sucking eeeek reaction when something surprises her ... she needs to be desensitized a bit.

A lawn chairSo I decide to stop and visit with a lawn chair for a bit. DOR relaxes and sets both hands on the saddle horn and gives a big sigh ... she is now not paying attention to me, she is kinda spacing out – now is the time to get her to focus back on me! So, I nose the chair rocking it a bit (stage one), I push it to where it almost tips (stage two), she still is too relaxed, so I push the chair completely over and squirt off to the left (stage three). Boy that got her attention! She is scrambling to not squeeze me, not loose the rein, and then she remembers (a bit too late) to do her one rein stop. Well, I have now taught her that she must give me her attention at all times and to watch what I am doing. After a couple of these lessons I am sure I won't have to get to stage three again – but if I do it is okay because it is a heck of a lot of fun and good for a giggle.

Enjoy your day, and don't forget to hug your DOR!

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