Saturday, November 25, 2017

Being a Red Scarf

As someone close to my family and the turkey processing industry reminded me over Thanksgiving, it was Temple Grandin who revolutionized the way turkeys are slaughtered.

Before Temple Grandin, the whole process, from the arrival of the bird at the plant to the moment of its demise, was so stressful for the bird that it altered its body chemistry and adversely impacted the flavor of its meat.

For that reason, and maybe also because it was more humane, processing plants implemented Temple Grandin's humane and low-stress design.  [I would encourage you to see the HBO movie, "Temple Grandin," or read one of Grandin's books, such as Animals in Translation, which I found fascinating.]

In addition to having a Ph.D., Temple Grandin has autism. It was the autism that gave Grandin her unique insight about how to make various meat-processing plants infinitely kinder and less stressful for the animals.  There is a whole spectrum of autism, of course, but having a sharp awareness of details and any changes in the environment is part of autistic perception.

Animals also have a sharp awareness of subtle changes in their environment.  It stems from their  instinct to be constantly alert to the appearance of danger.  For example, a horse would notice and probably be frightened by a red scarf that hadn't been on the fence earlier.

People who don't have autism have a tendency to lump everything in their environment into categories.  For example, a lot of people becomes a crowd--instead of many individuals in a confined area behaving differently in subtle ways according to what makes them each unique.

While it is useful to organize our environment through symbols, grids, maps, put things neatly into boxes...everything in its proper place...Being able to put stuff into categories is just one skill set and one type of perception.  It has its utility; it is a particularly human perspective; but
there's nothing to suggest that we benefit from putting everything into categories, or that anything that does not fit neatly into our Dewey Decimal System should be rejected.

At first, the red scarf frightens the horse because it hadn't been there earlier.  But, after a while, when the scarf doesn't move, the horse approaches.  When the scarf still does not move, the horse moves closer.  The horse is curious.  Eventually, every horse in the area will sniff and taste that scarf.  They will pull it off the fence. The scarf will be thoroughly investigated until the horses understand it for what it is, which is NOT a lion.

People should be more like horses in this way. Not everything has to fit neatly into boxes.  Fear is okay as a first response, but after that we should be more curious.  We should be more like the horse that does not condemn the scarf for being different, but investigates it with caution and an open mind.

But we aren't like horses that way.  We have two bathrooms, Men's and Women's.  It's a big deal if someone uses the wrong one.

The whole gender identity thing is about people not allowing themselves to be trapped in a box that they makes them uncomfortable for the rest of their lives.

What music did you listen to in high school?  Did the answer to that question determine who you were and where you could eat your lunch?

JFK's "Camelot" occurred when society was super hung up on the idea that there was a right way to be.   The Kennedy family had good looks, the best of health, education, athleticism, decorated military service....At least that's how they appeared to folks on the outside.

But it was also true that JFK was a compulsive philanderer and in miserable health.  Those parts were hidden from public view. JFK's affairs and back pain were concealed.  A Kennedy sister who was intellectually compromised was hidden from view.

At the same time, women were taking speed in the form of diet pills to maintain their 23-inch waist.  Brilliant, creative, ambitious women--Anne Sexton, Diane Arbus, Sylvia Plath--were committing suicide.

Homosexuals and anyone with "gender confusion" were "deviants."

"Deviant." The word seems to hint at the criminal underworld.

Deviant means "departing from usual or accepted standards."

I'm not suggesting that society shouldn't have standards.  Not everything is relative. I think something is wrong if it measurably damages someone--but not if it simply offends another person's moral construct (i.e., the boxes themselves).

The non-autistic human tendency is to cleave to our boxes. I think it's universal and transcends party lines. I seem to encounter it everywhere.

For example, from an on-line application to join a website that encourages creativity, and which publishes forward-thinking articles on a wide range of subjects:

What type of writing do you do?

Drop-down menu options:

  • journalism
  • self-exploration
  • humorist
  • fiction
  • science fiction
I would have been willing to admit that I wrote think pieces (that sounds pompous) if that was an option, but I was not willing to admit to "self-exploration" (that's just gross).  I couldn't pretend to be a journalist.  

Was there another option?  Could I write it in?  

No. And I was required to choose one from the list. 

I picked "humorist," but I didn't feel good about it.

The next box--literally, it was a text box--asked me to write a brief and "random" description of myself. In the box. It had to be "random." (Because they wanted me to think outside the box?!)

First, I have to tell you that they wanted to know my age.  

They had a drop-down menu, but it only went up to 50.  After 49 was "50+".  

Clearly they didn't give a crap about people over 50. Fifty or eighty, it was all the same to them.  

I was a 50 to 100-year old humorist from Wisconsin.  

I knew exactly how that went over with people from the East Coast who, despite being enlightened  champions of creativity, felt the need to squeeze people into a ridiculous little box.  

I wrote:  "I am not the lady you think of when you think of a 50-80 year-old woman from Wisconsin. I cannot describe myself in a few random words. I am complicated."

So far, they have not accepted my application.  

Which reminds me of another experience with a progressive on-line organization that I joined.  They had moderators who selectively chose which comments were polite and benign enough to post on their site.  

I can only assume that they did not appreciate the tone of my comment.  I'm not talking about trolling, I'm talking about 2-4 lines of text that would not possibly have damaged anyone. 

Apparently, I offended their sense of what was appropriate for their Comments box.  

Part of me wants to rebel against any organization that censors me, or at least point out to them the contradiction in saying that they support writers while at the same time they censor them.  

But, given the political moral authority of that website, I felt humbled and ashamed.  My esteemed peers had taken my measure and found me lacking.  

A different example:  Where I used to go to church, we had our photographs taken for a new directory. The photographer photoshopped the ragged neck of my t-shirt into something more formal in black. He ennobled my image and promoted me to a saintly image of a minister or abbess. He liked it so much that he framed and hung that photo in the lobby.  

I was mortified. Even though it was the opposite of air-brushing my clothes off, which I also would not have wanted, I felt that he had taken liberties with my identity (but with the best of intentions--I'm sure he meant to do me honor). 

I do not see myself as a formal, saintly, 50-plus-lady from-Wisconsin or minister or abbess at all.  

There is no virtue to organizing everyone into boxes. There is greater virtue in how a horse deals with a scarf.  The horse doesn't judge the scarf just because he fears it.  The horse keeps an eye on that scarf, and then cautiously approaches.  It investigates.  But non-autistic humans, we maintain our distance and declare the scarf a deviant. We walk away and leave it there without ever returning to investigate the true nature of a scarf.

I'm a scarf, dammit. A red scarf!


Friday, November 17, 2017

Adding Her Voice to An Important Conversation

I have been lucky: No one I've ever worked for has made unwanted sexual overtures in my direction.  

I had a colleague in Hawaii who told me that our boss (moments before) kissed her on the mouth with tongue,  totally without her permission.

Neither of us knew what to do about it.

I expressed empathy... "Ew!"

It happened in the last days of our employment, when our boss had nothing to lose.

It was 1991, and sexual harassment in the workplace had been a violation of the Civil Rights Act since 1964. But, my friend and I were unaware of any law or policy or prescribed recourse that defended our physical sanctity.

Perhaps, if she had gone to H.R., she might have learned that there was a policy and a process in place to support her grievance against him.  She did not report it to HR, and anyway, I doubt there was any such process in place.

Truly unhandsome, our boss bore a striking resemblance to C. Montgomery Burns from "The Simpsons." He was tall, slouched, beaky, and profoundly cynical.

Beyond that, what made his kiss unwelcome was that my friend had been working with him closely and had actually grown to like him better as a person.

She was fragile when she took the job.  She had just moved home to her parents in Hawaii to get away from a high-flying life and relationship in New York that crash-landed.  A man whom she worked with in New York broke her heart, and she came away feeling used and discarded.

With the support of parents and friends in Hawaii, she was trying to make a new start.

She was 29, and half Hawaiian on her mother's side. She was excited about working at the state museum of natural and cultural history, where she was hired as the marketing director of the museum's small press. (I was the assistant editor at the time.)

For months, we were both rudderless, treading water while our boss holed up in his office catching up on personal correspondence.

He had been an editor on the East Coast for twenty-odd years, and seemed to think of this job as his retirement.

For over a year, our jobs seemed practically fraudulent. It was only at the very end that we began to have meaningful work.

What our boss knew, and we didn't, was that we would soon lose our jobs. That iteration of the press was soon to be disbanded.

The director relished his last weeks and days as publisher and indulged us, finally, as we looked to him for leadership.

After he was fired, our ex-boss moved back to the mainland. About a year later, he flew to Maui for a vacation. That was a big mistake.

The islands, you see, well...

I learned a few things about Hawaii, and one of them was that the land--a'ina--was intrinsically connected to the people and spirit of Hawaii. In essence, it was alive.

And so, it surprised neither my hapa-Hawaiian friend nor myself that our ex-boss died while on Maui.

I know! Magical thinking!  Whatever! Judge me harshly. Scorn all religion. That's your prerogative.

I wouldn't say that our ex-boss deserved to die for a stolen kiss, for the promises he failed to keep, or for the cynical eye he cast upon romantics and every form of idealism.

But, consider this: Hawaii, the a'ina, barely tolerated me.  Young, idealistic and compassionate as I was, I remained every inch a haole from Boston.

Think Dole pineapple acid in canneries dissolving Hawaiian fingerprints. Think lacerating sugar cane and the overthrow of peaceful monarchy. Those were my people, the Bostonians.

Think Navy-girlfriend-occupier-parasite. Hello! Here I am.

The more I learned about Hawaii, the more I loved it and understood that I did not belong there.

When my husband's tour of duty was over, we moved back to the mainland.

My friend stayed in Hawaii and continued her struggle to feel whole and strong.

I'm not saying that her mental breakdown was our ex-boss's fault for kissing her, or that it was my fault for leaving.  It wasn't the fault of the man in New York who made her feel loved and used and discarded.

But I can't imagine that any of us helped.

I've wondered what would have happened to her if I had stayed.  I know it sounds  egotistical to even suggest that I might have made a difference...The fact that it does sound like pure hubris assuages my  guilt.

She jumped off a building. She survived, but her foot had to be amputated.

By the time I returned for a visit in 2000, she had recovered her mental health.  She seemed strong and happy. She held a position on Honolulu's Board of Mental Health.

She told me how she lapsed into schizophrenia the first time, and somehow, through intervention and medication, managed to get healthy again.

She expressed compassion, and even admiration, for that schizophrenic version of herself: the feats of travel and deceit (credit card charges, false identities) as she traveled from that South Pacific archipelago all the way to New York and back (and later, again, to Boston).

Mentally ill though she was, she had been resourceful and cunning.

Sometime after my visit, she became ill again and moved to Massachusetts, where I lived.  She called and left strange messages.

I saw her for the last time on Beacon Street in Brookline.  She was angry and sullen.  I tried to move conversation but it wouldn't budge.

We sat across from each other, barely speaking. She threw off hate vibes as I attempted small talk.

We walked in brooding silence to a building where her boyfriend lived. She invited me upstairs. I declined.  She was angry, I didn't know her boyfriend, and it didn't feel particularly safe.

She wanted to return a book I had given her.

I waited outside. It was cold and dark.

She went into the building and retrieved the book, with a card I had written tucked between the pages.

She said she didn't want anything of mine.

I took the book and offered a hug. She scoffed at the suggestion.

I walked back to my car, sad, hollowed out.  I couldn't begin to imagine how she felt.

I know CPR.  I've been instructed to use a defibrillator. I could probably tie off a bleeding artery.  But I don't know the first thing about rescuing a friend in the grip of mental illness.

She seemed to view the world through the prism of metaphor (yes, even more than myself).

In voicemails, she accused me of reaping souls to sculpt heads out of clay.

This was flattering, actually, because I wasn't that good a sculptor. And it was ghastly-funny, because, while in Hawaii, I did sculpt several heads from clay and they all appeared to be stuck on pikes--the metal armature visible beneath the neck.  I had several life-sized heads on pikes in a single studio apartment, unintentionally creating a kind of gallows aesthetic.

Other messages were affectionate. Some were warm and platonically effusive. The messages came at odd hours.  I only spoke to her on the phone twice.

She died in 2010.  I'm sure she committed suicide, but I don't know how.  The obit said nothing about how she died or about mental illness.

I can avoid assigning blame to myself, and admit that I had no idea how to help her, and in that way, and in other respects, too, I may have failed her.

But I can write on her behalf, and add her story to an important conversation.

She experienced sexual harassment at work.  It was damaging, and nothing was done about it.


Cooper Report #4

Cooper is settling in nicely.  He has excelled in his lessons and become a star pupil.
 He doesn't mind being petted or haltered.  He is learning to walk nicely on a lead rope, and to lift his feet up one at a time so we can pick and trim his tiny little hooves.

Cooper only becomes aggressive around food, where, in his greed, he loses all perspective, shoving aside and threatening to kick two much bigger horses. I definitely would not use treats to reward or train him; once he realized they were in my pocket, I think he would probably mug me.

The burden of Cooper's misbehavior has been entirely transferred to my Palomino Quarter Horse, Tanner.  You may recall Tanner from earlier posts in which I waxed poetical about his many triggers and how I successfully addressed each one with great insight and compassion.

Yeah, well that all went out the window.

Psychologizing, ethics, and religiosity will only get a horse so far.

Tanner woke up one morning and decided that he would never allow me to put a halter on him again.

This put me in the exact same predicament with Tanner that we (the trainer and I) had just overcome with Cooper.

Dammit, Tanner! What about all the love and trust we built up over the years?  What about the bit-less bridle?  Where now that sweet soft eye?  Did none of it mean anything to you?

I couldn't get near him with a halter in my hand.  He wouldn't let me touch his poll or ears.

Of course, I had my theories about why this was happening.

I had used Tanner to get Cooper into the round pen. I had haltered Tanner, walked him into the round-pen, and when Cooper followed us inside, I promptly ejected Tanner and closed the gate behind him.  Then I worked with Cooper exclusively--my star pupil!  I had hurt Tanner's feelings by using him to get to Cooper and then rejecting him.

I tried to make it up to him. I spent time with Tanner and paid no attention to Cooper.  Tanner stood nicely while I petted him, but at the sight of a halter, he turned tail and charged at Cooper, nipping and lording over the littlest herd mate, an easy mark outside of meal time.  (Cooper's choppy trot reminds me of someone other than Sarah Jessica Parker running in very high heels.)

Yesterday,  Fire and Tanner were posturing like stallions.  The 21-year-old Polish Arabian paraded like a young athlete, and fended off Tanner's challenges to his number-one status.  They put on a good show.  They looked wild and tall.  It struck me as absurd to think that I should insert myself between them and assert my own authority.

Not for the first time, I felt overwhelmed. Having such large and wild pets may have been a mistake.  Maybe I was getting too old for this.

Not long ago, I had the impression that I knew so much about horses; but now, unable to get a halter on my main ride, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing.

All my pretty behavioral theories had gotten me exactly where? Outside in a field holding a halter in the rain.

For all my observations and surmisals, I could not outsmart a Palomino.

And that's when I called Jen, the engineer who trains horses.

She was not especially interested in hearing about my theories on how Tanner came to this hostile position via a path of betrayal and jealousy.

While the conflicts and insecurities of herd dynamics make nice conversation among horse people, at the moment, they posed a digression.

The way to get around Tanner's resistance was by a method of approach and retreat.

Approach. Retreat.

Approach. Retreat.

First, without the halter.  Then, with the halter.

Jen broke down the problem, stripped of all embroidery, into its component parts.

Within forty minutes, the problem was solved.

Part of it may have been my method of haltering. Jen showed me a better way to do it that is nicer for the horse.

But that was not the entire reason why Tanner had stopped tolerating my technique.  I believe it was all of the little insults that had added up, from face to ego.

Not that it matters.

Sometimes, I find that meditating on a problem is the key to advancing beyond it.

Sometimes, I simply need to accept my limitations.

Sometimes, all I want or need is empathy--a sounding board...A friend.

But last week, I had a problem that I genuinely did not want or know how to solve.  I made up meaningful excuses and explanations for the problem, but they didn't change or solve it.

There are all kind of people.  People like me start out writing a post about some small rescue horse and end up writing about terrorism or the utter pointlessness of theory without application.

And then, there are people like Jen, thank God!  Practical and brilliant, they see a problem for what it is--with or without a gilded frame.  They teach people like me, overwhelmed by my inventions, to focus on what's broken and how to fix it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

There Goes the Neighborhood

It seemed that Mary Baker Eddy was no more than an embarrassing footnote in American religious history--and nothing to do with us.

Growing up in Lynn, Massachusetts, I would pass by the Mary Baker Eddy House on Broad Street on my way to the Girls' Club, or on my way to guitar lessons at Lou Ames' on Union Street.  I must have walked past the Mary Baker Eddy house a hundred times.  It was well-preserved, with a plaque by the door, and it stood out handsomely on a wide street that reflected the city's checkered history of economic ups and downs.
Image result for mary baker eddy house lynn maImage result for Mary Baker Eddy
The Mary Baker Eddy House on Broad Street, Lynn

On the way to King's Beach, I passed the First Church of Christ, Scientist (see photo below) on the corner of Kings Beach Road and Lynn Shore Drive.  I liked to walk along the top of the stone perimeter wall, holding a parent's hand.

Image result for first christian science church lynn ma
First Church of Christ Scientist on Lynn Shore Drive
Image result for mary baker eddy house swampscott
Mary Baker Eddy House on Paradise Road, Swampscott

When I was a teenager I lived on Paradise Road, a couple blocks away from yet another Mary Baker Eddy House, also on Paradise Road (above).

I grew up surrounded by these houses, these monuments to Mary Baker Eddy.

And yet, I managed to remain almost perfectly ignorant about Mary Baker Eddy's life.

All I knew was that she had concocted some sort of kooky religion.

Despite being a feminist of the Betty Friedan generation, my mother expressed zero interest in Mary Baker Eddy.

The ever-popular Mark Twain referred to Mary Baker Eddy as "the sordid and ignorant old purloiner of that gospel."

Mary Baker Eddy was a charlatan.

It was because of her that foolish Christian Scientists refused to have their children vaccinated. Nor would they authorize surgery or blood transfusions for themselves or their dependents.

Christian Scientists simply failed to pass the reasonable person test.  They were duped. They were had. They were played.  It wasn't their fault that they were fools, of course, but it was Mary Baker Eddy's fault that they were Christian Scientists.

That was my full set of prejudices and grievances toward Mary Baker Eddy and her darned church, based on a nearly complete lack of information, and despite having spent my formative years surrounded by her homes and institutions.

In my thirties, I could walk to the resplendent Mother Church of Christian Science in Boston from where I worked on Boylston Street.

A friend took me to see its Maporium--a planetarium-like space in which we viewed the surface of the world from the inside of a globe. It was really cool.

He was the first person I ever met who didn't have a bone to pick with Mary Baker Eddy.  Image result for christian science mother church in boston

He thought that the Mother Church was beautiful and its Maporium extraordinary.  He was impressed that she had replaced the clergy with readers.

Well, all I had to go on were my inherited prejudices, so I clung to them tenaciously.  My parents were smart people, and I generally profited from parroting them.

My friend, on the other hand, thought more independently.  He was not saddled with Ivy league parents and a posh accent like I was.  He did not have to carry those weighty pretensions around like I did. His was an original and marvelous intellect; and I, if you haven't guessed, was dazzled--and constantly trying to cover up the gaping holes in my education and my inexcusable ignorance with the hand-me-down opinions of my better educated parents. And, according to them, Mary Baker Eddy was a charlatan--cool Maporium not withstanding.

I am 52 now, and I have grown up a little since then.  I finally got curious about Mary Baker Eddy.  Because I don't usually ignore loudly recurring themes in life, and looking back, I can see that Mary Baker Eddy is one that I have for years ignored completely (as is the custom).

So, I looked into her, and I made an appalling discovery:

Mary Baker Eddy was okay. 

There was nothing terribly wrong with her.

In fact, she was extraordinary.

I think it is very interesting, in a painful kind of way, that we have managed to make so very little of her.

This is where you remind me about the vaccination/surgery/blood transfusion thing...

But listen...Do you remember from books how back in the late 1800s medicine was in its fetal stage?  It was only slightly less barbaric then than it was in the days of Henry VIII.

Nothing was clean.

There was no penicillin.

Coca Cola had cocaine in it.

Medicine in the 1800s and early 1900s was abysmal, especially for people of ordinary means, but also for the wealthy.

Death was a constant presence.

That was Mary Baker Eddy's time.

She was a sickly child who grew up to be a sickly woman.

Her favorite brother died while still a young man.

Her mother died early.

Her first husband died young, while she was pregnant with their child.

They all generally died from natural causes, because medicine was really, really terrible.

Can we blame Mary Baker Eddy for wanting to fortify herself and others against such awful fragility?

She studied homeopathic remedies.

Homeopathic medicine, by the way, is still practiced throughout Europe today.  Our exchange students from France and the Czech Republic both brought homeopathic remedies with them to the US to cure ailments such as stomach aches and sore throat.

But MBE's own complaints weren't relieved by homeopathic methods, so she continued her search.

She heard about a man, a mesmerist by the name of Quimby, who used hypnotism to heal people.  She went to him as a patient, found his treatment beneficial, and asked him to teach her his methods, which he did.

Then Quimby died, and MBE lost a friend, mentor, and the only physician who had ever successfully treated her condition.

But it occurred to MBE that maybe she didn't need Quimby, after all; perhaps she could figure out how to heal herself.  Maybe she could tap into that same inner resource through prayerful meditation.

A major turning point occurred in the home on Paradise Road in Swampscott, a couple blocks away from where I used to live (across the street from C&L Liquors).  

Mary Baker Eddy had fallen on the ice and suffered a concussion. Everyone seemed to think she was going to die, but, to their amazement, she woke up the next morning feeling fine.

MBE attributed her miraculous recovery to the holy spirit through the power of prayer.

You say potato, I say potato.  One person's hypnotism is another person's power of prayer.  I don't know what the difference is; maybe there is one; maybe there isn't.

Alcoholics Anonymous is predicated on the idea that we can't recover from addiction under our own power, but must appeal to a higher power and put ourselves in the hands of that higher power; that only through the grace of a power greater than ourselves can we prevail over this disease.

This has become a widely understood, accepted, and mainstream method for dealing with addiction of all kinds.  If addiction is a disease, then I argue that the contemporary treatment for that disease is no different from what Mary Baker Eddy prescribed for all diseases.

Her error may have been in prescribing the same method for every malady.  But remember, she practiced healing before medicine had discovered the benefits of sterilizing instruments or wounds. A patient with a compound fracture may well have fared better with prayer.

MBE grew up in a strict Calvinist household. Her father was a grim, moralizing, cheerless man.  The family believed in a God that was judgmental and bureaucratic. It has already been determined that you are going to Hell and there is nothing at all that you can do about it.

Mary Baker Eddy chose to believe in a God that was merciful, compassionate, and loving.  Her God did not want people to suffer physically, emotionally, or spiritually.   To the contrary, she believed God was a source of relief from suffering. This was the basis of her theology.  Not so terrible.

At the age of 45, from that house on Broad Street in Lynn, MBE practiced healing and began teaching others the techniques that had started with Quimby and then developed into something uniquely her own.

Her followers went out into the community and healed people. They charged for their services, and they called themselves Christian scientists.  They were allowed, in the loose regulatory environment of their day, to bill themselves as medical practitioners.

This was the 1870s. Their results were probably as good as or better than traditional medical practitioners of the day.

There are mysterious methods of healing among us today.  For example, the Masterson's Method applies an extremely light, hovering touch over key points along a horse's anatomy.  The horse indicates the site of pain with a quiver, a shake of the head, or a swish of the tail.  The hand hovers over that spot; the horse's mind focuses on the target and, somehow, wondrously fixes it.  The horse's relief is indicated by a yawn or a lowering of the head.  (This is a gross simplification of the technique, but an accurate sketch of the process.)

If Mary Baker Eddy is a charlatan, perhaps we should tell the Equestrian Olympic Team to stop using the Masterson Method, regardless of the results.  It's just too damn weird.

We should also shut down Alcoholics Anonymous and its affiliates.  Nothing scientific about it.

We should ban faith healing in every form.

We should cease and desist from employing hypnotism and the placebo effect in lieu of anesthetic or nicotine patch.

We should tell those folks in Europe to stop using homeopathy, because it's silly and we don't understand how it works. Embrace the GMOs for God's sake!  It's good food and good science.  Science is never wrong.

Pharmaceutical companies have their heart in the right place.

I'm just saying.  There was nothing wrong with Mary Baker Eddy.    

A sickly child surrounded by illness and death, she discovered a way to heal herself and set to healing others.

She grew up in a religious family that feared God, and believed contrarily that God was loving and merciful. She took the clergy out of the church and replaced it with readers.

What is so loathsome about any of this, Mr. Twain, that we should not know or appreciate this woman?  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Cooper Report #3

I don't mind admitting when I am wrong. The trouble is, where to begin?

When I finished writing Cooper Report #2, I think I had resolved to try to get Cooper a prescription for medical marijuana....

I didn't procure that prescription, but I did do one smart thing: I called a trainer.

I needed the trainer to show me the basics of working with a beginner. I also needed her for moral support--to lean on her confidence and courage.  She is not blindly fearless when it comes to handling horses that have all kinds of issues and problems; rather, she knows how to handle these horses safely and effectively.

A display of aggression is a useful way to remind the horse who's boss. The trainer also reminded me that aggression is different from anger--there is no role or place for anger when training horses.

Later, she mentioned, as a friend, that in other areas of her life, she wasn't always as good at using aggression  effectively, the way she can with horses.  Sometimes, she finds herself backing down.

There are other areas in my life where I have less trouble being aggressive (than I do with adorable pets):

For years, I served on a local committee; and before that, as an advisor at church.  I never minded speaking up or challenging people on any subject. No one who has been on a committee with me would call me a shrinking violet.

And yet, the trainer, who has known me for almost ten years now, sees me as an utterly benign character, which she expressed less pointedly. "I've never seen you angry," she said.

"We've never been on a committee together, have we?" I didn't say that, but if I had thought of it I would have.

With horses, the rule is clear: use as little pressure as possible, but as much as necessary.

Horses correct each other through aggressive behavior, which, once they've made their point, can be followed up with a simple reminder: "You do know that this hoof is for, right?"

Case in point, it wasn't me who got Cooper to run in the round-pen, but Tanner, my Palomino. Tanner was damned if he was going to be the only horse running around in circles, so he nipped and prodded Cooper into motion, and kept him going the same way.  (I, being a sentimental fool, felt sorry for Cooper and let him out of his lesson early.)

The next time Cooper was in the round-pen, he was with the trainer and me.  We were firm and consistent.  And, thanks to Tanner, Cooper knew what he needed to do: Move his little feet!

In the round-pen, we used a whip.

I know what it feels like to get hit by this whip, because I have accidentally smacked myself in the face with it plenty of times.  It stings, sure, but it's not like getting flogged on a whaling ship at sea.  It's not skin-ripping lashes.  It startles, it delivers a sting, and it leaves a trail of disordered fur--or, in my case, a temporary red mark on my face.

In a broadly related aside, I was driving to my son's wrestling tournament yesterday, when, over the radio, a man from Sutherland Springs, Texas, said he used to feel safe because he lived in an obscure town, far from a city or any obvious target for terrorism, domestic or otherwise.

But, he said, after the shooting at his church, it became clear to him that such horrors could be visited upon anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Like, for example, at a wrestling tournament in Cross Plains, Wisconsin.

On the radio, they said that w all need to be prepared to respond in a situation where there is a shooter. We should think it through in advance, so that we're prepared to respond appropriately, should the need arise.

On the drive to Cross Plains, I thought about what I would do if I was standing near a door and a man entered the gym with a semi-automatic gun, and I had a fraction of a second in which to act appropriately.

I would stomp on his knee as hard as I could to dislocate the joint and get him down.

I thought about my elbow, and where it might make the most impact.

I thought about how much damage I could possibly do in the space it would take the shooter to turn  his gun on me.

My response would have to be instantaneous and surprising.  The shooter might assume that I was too terrified to act, and that would be my only advantage.

Was there anything that I could use as a weapon?  Keys would be good, but I don't have metal keys anymore, only a key fob in the shape of a suppository.  Advances in technology had disarmed me. (I used to walk to my car at night with a key-clawed fist.)

Arriving at the middle school, I parked the car and rifled through my purse. I found a comb with a long pointy handle that would do for a shank. As the gunner steps through the door, I would pounced on him from behind and plunge the handle of the comb into his jugular artery.

Thus armed, I entered the building with several clear plans of action.

However, I ended up sitting far from the door, perched on the bleachers in plain sight, my back against the wall.  I surveyed my options, but  could think of nothing I could do that would neutralize a shooter, short of shielding myself behind a lunch box and a felted-wool pocketbook.

With horses, (unlike maniacs with guns), I can be prepared and it won't be just vain-glorious fantasies of violently heroic feats.

As things progress with Cooper, I approach the little horse...I stand by his side, comb my fingers through his unruly mane...My heart melts, but I bear in mind that I do have an elbow, and I am not afraid to use it, should his mouth come swinging around in my direction again.

Bite mark with bruising. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Cooper Report #2

As I explained in an earlier post, Land-Shark! Cooper is a miniature horse, as cute as they come.  But he comes with baggage.

With Tanner's help (Tanner is a horse), I managed to lure Cooper into the round-pen.

I have worked with several horses in the round-pen. I have written about Gracie in  The Work of Grace. She was a big alpha mare who needed to express her wild side in the round-pen before settling into her work.

I've written about my own mare, Belle, The Horse that I Grew Up On who bucked me off years ago; I worked with her in the round-pen to assert my control, earn her respect, and re-establish trust between us.

I've written about my Palomino, Tanner, Pain, Fear, Memory, and Compassion who was a rescue with a chip on his shoulder and a horrid attitude toward being ridden.  We worked a lot of that out in the round-pen.

I won't bore you with the details of round-pen technique; let me just say that I stand in the center and hold a long whip, which I use to threaten the horse if he's ignoring me, to conduct the tempo of his gait, and to indicate a change of direction.

I rarely touch the horse with the whip, unless they are convinced that I am constitutionally incapable of asserting myself and I catch them actually laughing. Most of the time, I crack the whip, or wave it around, and bring it down close behind them.

Most horses, unless they're feeling poorly, have some go, and don't mind moving forward when asked.  If they're not moving well, and their energy never picks up, I tend to think there's something wrong and they're having an off day.  We take it easy then.

Cooper, in the round-pen, wouldn't move at all.  He turned his head toward the wall where he could see his friend Tanner and hunkered down, ready to take whatever punishment he had coming.

At first, I didn't understand the depths of his commitment to passive resistance. I thought I could motivate him with a bigger and louder display of heroics. I waved the whip around and let it land on him once or twice to let him know that I was serious. But, I did not hit him repeatedly, and I did not hit him hard.

I could picture myself from the neighbor's perspective, flailing away like a fiend at this small darling animal.  (From a certain angle, you could not be sure that the whip was falling beside or behind him, and not upon his rump.)

Cooper didn't come to us with physical scars, so I can't assume that he had been beaten.  But, man, the way he hunkered down with such resignation, prepared to take whatever I could dish out...It seemed really sad and troubling.

The lesson ended as soon as I realized that what had worked out so well for other problem horses was not going to work for Cooper at all, and I'd have to figure out something else.

Of course, that lesson set us back.  In Cooper's mind, I just demonstrated that I meant him bodily harm and was not to be trusted.

I had set out to do what I believed would be the most useful and helpful exercise for Cooper, and our relationship. In my experience, horses responded very well to this type of groundwork. It gave them a chance to blow off steam, express their rotten attitude, burn off excess energy, and literally make a fresh start.

It also established me as the lead horse, so to speak, which is usually a relief to horses who don't have any kind of real agenda.  I also prefer to follow, but I've learned from hard experience that if I'm going to ride a horse, I have to lead.

For all of these reasons, the round-pen was Plan A.

I had no Plan B.

So, for the time being, I continued to carry a stick when in the barn or pasture to defend myself against Cooper charging at me like a bull.  He would either charge forward with teeth bared, or turn his rear end to me and kick out with lethal force.

Plan B...Sedate him.

After hours researching various herbal remedies, I drove to the feed-store and bought an equine calming supplement. Active ingredient: tryptophan.  I added it to Cooper's feed.

I took note that one reviewer of a popular calming supplement wrote that it had done nothing for her troubled rescue horse, and that she had found no substitute for spending many hours with him in the pasture, sometimes reading a book. The trust built up slowly over months.

And that approach would be fine, except the vet is coming next week, and Cooper needs to  be dewormed, and his feet need trimming soon...And I can't even get a halter on him.

So, while I've set up a daily care routine that makes us both feel safe and secure, I still don't know how next week's visit with the vet is going to go. I'm thinking we might have to sedate him, because I don't want to use force, I don't want to man-handle him, I don't want to add more trauma.

On the plus side, I do see improvement day by day.

Cooper no longer charges at me in the pasture.  He tolerates me being in his vicinity, shoveling manure.

The other two set a fine example. They come running from the back pasture to see me.  They want to be petted, they want this, they want that.  They're bored, they want me to entertain them.  They see me as an asset.  I'm a popular mom.

I have to assume that Cooper observes this, and it blows his mind.

Tanner was the first to take Cooper under his wing when he was just a complete dork.  Cooper didn't know anything about horses, and he was high on crack--all that testosterone whirling around his system.  Fire wouldn't give him the time of day.

But now, Cooper has somehow weaseled his way into Fire's heart and stall.

Fire allows Cooper to stand beside him in his stall--a fantastic development for Cooper, locked up in a stall by himself all those years.  The door is always open, his big friend Fire is always there...It is a wonder to behold.

Predictably, Fire's interest in Cooper has renewed tensions between Fire and Tanner.  Herd instincts dictate that Cooper kiss up to the dominant male.

The good news is that Cooper no longer sees himself as the dominant male, which wasn't the case one week ago.

Fire and Tanner have managed to teach Cooper how to behave in a manner that is acceptable for a horse of his stature.

Yesterday, I opened up a section of fence in the back pasture.  Fire and Tanner immediately walked out of their pasture and set to eating the grass along the periphery. They didn't have a halter on or anything, but they stayed right next to the fence.

Cooper saw that the fence was open, and he could walk right out of the pasture and join his friends; but he chose not to.  Perhaps he wasn't sure what would happen if he left. Would the fence close up behind him?  Would they all be spread out into chaos?  Would someone grab and haul him off?

He wasn't going to take any chances.  He stayed where he was and nibbled the same old grazed-over lawn, keeping a close eye on the other two.

The fence was down for fifteen minutes. Cooper never showed any interest in leaving.

I brought Fire and Tanner in with carrots.

I believe that experiencing freedom is good for horses, but I also know that Fire and Tanner won't run away. They are happy where they are.  They simply want to eat the grass that's always greener on the other side.  Because, in fact, it is.

It was nice to see that Cooper did not want leave the pasture, where he felt secure and at home, and which he valued even more than a taste of freedom.