Zuhiiiiiiiiiiiiii: A visit with the dentist

Never look a gift horse in the mouth, I’ve always heard, but sometimes, doing just that is a must.

Horses constantly grind their teeth, and their teeth constantly grow. Ever hear of “long in the tooth”? That comes from the horse world.

The combination means a horse’s teeth can get jagged and can cause ulcers inside the mouth. Ever accidentally bite the inside of your mouth?

Zuhiiiiiiiiiiiiii. (Listen to how it sounds in this video: http://wp.me/p1QAlM-6z)

I’ve never liked the sound of a dentist’s office, particularly the drills. That’s my version of how that sound would be spelled.

Imagine, then, what the sound would look like if it were from a drill for a horse’s mouth.

Who even knew drills existed to file a horse’s teeth?

The last time my horses had their teeth floated, which is what the filing is called, the vet (not an equine dentist) used a rasp of sorts. The vet also used what’s called a twitch, which twisted and pinched the top lip.

Dr. Diane Febles examines Pumpkin's mouth.

Dr. Diane Febles examines Pumpkin’s mouth before deciding what instrument to use.

I’m not sure if the goal was to numb or distract the horse, but I didn’t like it, particularly when I had to hold the twitch.

The problem is that inflicting pain on a horse, in this case the dentistry, is unsafe, as they’re fight or flight animals. Vets, understandably, don’t want to see which one will happen.

Enter Dr. Diane Febles, with horse-size dental instruments, assistant Donna Shelnutt … and sedation.

Before doing any work on the horse, the doc checked their teeth. Yep, they both needed some dental work. I also asked her to check Pumpkin’s mouth for wolf teeth, to see if they would be a problem. Since I don’t use a bit in Pumpkin’s mouth, the wolf teeth would pose no problem, the doc said.

Pumpkin and my other horse, Steel are pretty tall, but a shot of the loopy drug meant their heads drooped low enough so the doc, wearing headgear with a light, could look into their mouths, so low their heads were put in harnesses to steady them for the procedure and keep their mouths open.

And then, the noises. Ay yay yay.

Same noises as at the human dentist’s office, but louder.

Irrigation sounding more like oil being squirted from an old-fashion canister. The drill sounding more like a chainsaw.

The horses were not in any pain, though.

Pumpkin had smoke coming from her nostrils, actually not smoke, but ground tooth dust.

It all was a new experience for me, but the doc did a great job, as both horses had soars in their mouths from jagged teeth.

One other similarity between horse and human dentistry – the cost. Neither is cheap.

You can learn more about Dr. Febles at http://www.georgiaequinedentistry.com or http://www.npr.org/2010/04/30/126415103/a-dentist-who-goes-straight-to-the-horses-mouth.

The power of whoa

I watched in horror a video of a woman whose horse reared up and flipped during a rodeo event, the horn of the saddle almost slicing off the woman’s face as the horse landed on her.

One word may have saved the woman’s life.

When I ride my horses, I tend not to use vocal cues. I don’t say, “walk on,” “canter,” or “trot” to get them to move at different gaits.

Instead, I use leg cues. If I want the horse to walk, I squeeze both legs and the cheeks that touch the saddle. To get the horse to trot, going a little faster than a walk at a one-two pace, I kick both legs just a little and make a clicking sound with my mouth. For the canter, even faster but rocking-chair gait, I make the kissing sound and press only with one leg, depending on the direction I want the horse to go.

The leg cues all are done when I’m mounted. The horse literally gets a feel for what I want it to do. I’ve heard others using vocal cues, and I was taught to use them on other horses. My logic for not using them was I didn’t want my horse to confuse my words with another’s if we were riding in a group.

I worried that if a fellow rider told her horse to canter, my horse would start cantering on her command and not mine. I’ve been on a horse during a riding lesson where the instructor told me to pick up a canter, and the horse, hearing her command, picked up the canter without me telling it to do so.

Just recently, though, I was reminded of that video, and the word that may have saved the woman’s life.

I decided to start using that one word when riding. It’s a powerful word, an effective word to use whether mounted or unmounted.

On my last ride, I told my horse to whoa, and she stopped immediately. I hadn’t taught her that, but someone had.

As the woman in the video was dragged in the arena, she realized her foot was stuck in one stirrup. With a clear mind, the woman yelled, “Whoa,” and the horse stopped long enough for her to remove her foot. The horse then trotted away.

The woman survived, and her face was reattached.

See how doctors and a four-letter word saved her life.

The woman and the full-bred Arabian

By Ilka Parent

Shortly after I completed my first training with the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association – when I was in the “un-training” mind-frame, so to speak, I wanted to see if this “stuff” really worked and how it might be applicable in my work. For that, I needed a volunteer who would trust me enough to give it a try.

Minds-N-Motion logo in the shape of a horse headAfter several inquiries a lady I know quite well volunteered. A few years ago, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had undergone surgery, chemo and 6 weeks of daily radiation. The exertions of this medical treatment were quite visible in her face and body – she had aged quite a bit during that timeframe.

My equine specialist – at that time, it was still Dany Denehan – and I asked her to give us a subject to work on. Here I need to clearly state that overall, it is not advisable to work therapeutically with friends or relatives. It is not ethical and many a boundary is overstepped if one chooses to do so. Therefore, we ultimately agreed to have the ensuing interaction between this woman and the horses under the theme of “self exploration”.

We asked this woman to go into the pasture with us, and to take one or more horses – as many as she liked – to a spot that was safe to her. That is all we said.

The woman looked at us and asked what we meant by that. We then – just like I had learned (un-learned it…) during my training, we did not answer but rather walked – backwards – slowly away from this woman towards the fence.

Two horses, an Arabian horse on the right.

The Minds-n-Motion horse team in North Carolina, with the full-bred Arabian on the right.

The woman stood there for a moment. The horses that we were using for this session, were a distance away, grazing calmly. After a while – which seemed to be an eternity for me! – the woman slowly moved towards the horses. Those continued to graze, with the only difference that they slowly turned away from the woman – or did they turn away from us, standing at the fence? After a few moments the woman turned around, and called to us: “I can’t move him. Are we done now? What shall I do?”

We did not respond to this question. That’s what I had learned in the training. The woman appeared frustrated over our silence. She turned around and stood next to the full bred Arabian.

The horses continued to graze. At one point, the larger one started to move away from the woman and the smaller horse, towards the other end of the pasture. The full bred Arabian stopped grazing, but remained standing next to the woman.

And there they stood …

… and stood.

At one point, my inner “alarm bells” were going off. As a therapist, I am used to conversations and to keeping the exchange flowing between the client and myself. Even though silence is important and often times encouraged, with the pressures of HMO I was used to keeping things going. Even though we could only see the back of this woman – she was rather far away – it appeared that she was crying. This situation was becoming rather difficult for me. The EAGALA method proclaims that the main interaction is to be between client and the horse(s). That talking and discussing is to be kept at a minimum. However – in this case – there didn’t appear to be anything going on!

Dany kept me back. I wanted to approach the woman and do a so-called “check in”. It was hot – North Carolina summer! – and I was afraid that the woman was not only frustrated, but also needed help due to feeling overwhelmed in this situation, or that she might think bad of this method – possibly talk bad about it in our neighborhood (about me as well?), or possibly have this experience reflect on our friendship. In my quiet exchange with Dany I became aware, that all those were nothing but my own concerns and worries that I was possibly projecting on this woman. Therefore, we continued to wait and simply observe the body language of the full-bred Arab and the Woman. The second horse by now had reached the end of the pasture and was no longer in our sight.

We completed the entire 45 minutes – that we had set out to do – just like this. After those 45 minutes, we did approach the woman, with the request to do a “check in”. The woman turned around to us. She had traces of dried tears on her cheeks, but looked soft, relaxed and seemed to move with much more ease than before.

Dany asked the initial question: “How did that go for you?”

The answer, to this day, built the cornerstone of my “quest” with EAGALA. An answer that forever changed the way I work with clients.

The woman told us – without hesitation – that initially she had focused on us, who had not provided her with help in this seemingly impossible situation. She had felt fear of approaching these big animals. When she had hesitantly attempted to move them, she quickly gave up at her unsuccessful attempts. She shared with us that she had felt great anger when we continued to not respond to her pleas for help. She described how she felt the tears – tear of anger, rage and helplessness – run down her cheeks. However, she did not want to disclose those feelings to us, thus had turned away, showing us only her back. At some point – she looked at us and said that she didn’t even know when this had happened – at some point she became aware that the full-bred Arabian had stopped grazing and simply stood next to her. She recounted how she had then focused on the animal’s breathing, his rather unusual smell, the swishing of his tail, and how her tears stopped flowing. She recounted how then her thoughts started to drift – how she was reminded of her struggle with her cancer, her fight for her life. She had felt the same way during that fight: rage, anger, and helplessness. She also had asked for help, and had not received it. She had also cried then, tears of rage and fear and loss of courage. And she was reminded how then – in her struggles – she had become quiet as well, becoming aware of who she was and still is.

She continued to tell us, all the while standing next to this horse, touching it, letting her fingers run over its body, that she had become aware that she was not alone. That his little horse – despite being a horse – simply had remained next to her throughout these feelings, and continued to stand right by her side. And she told us that she had started to feel courage and free.

Dany and I stood there, listening to this woman. I started to feel humble – humility and respect for this woman across from us, who so openly shared what she had experienced – and humility due to my arrogance and assumptions earlier, as I had wanted to interfere and interpose myself into this process in order to “rescue” this woman – or avoid a bad reputation?

And thus concluded our session.

Now you might ask yourself if this was all due to the so-called “magic of the horse”. One can not argue that there is always a therapeutic effect when interacting with animals. Lower blood pressure, more regular breathing, overall optimism – all those are known and well-studied effects with clinical significance.

But the EAGALA method does not rely on that. It is a side effect that can be observed throughout the sessions. The essential part of our work (and here I could start talking and talking about the method for quite a long time) – but the essential part of our work is that the focus is NOT on the talking, discussing, verbally pulling apart the experience and explaining it (or possibly explaining why our clients felt the way they felt) – but rather on the client ACTING and DOING with the horses. The horses are simply a means to us – the team standing by the fence, observing what is happening – to see the reflection of what is possibly going on in the client.

The horse, when it stopped grazing – around that time the woman stopped focusing on what was NOT (in her life, going well, … any of those negatives) – simply put “the burden” – to the Here and Now, the togetherness, the company, the letting go of her fears and worries. During this session, we did not need to point out that particular moment – but typically those are the moments we point out in the form of a question. Typically, changes in behavior in the horses indicate some change in behavior in the human, which typically reflect changes in thoughts and attitude.

This meeting occurred many years ago. But just a few months ago, in a conversation with this woman, she shared with me how to this day there are moments when she is reminded of that moment, the moment she realized that she was not alone, and how she still can feel that feeling of togetherness, and how it fills her with calmness and strength to go on. The cancer has not returned, and as she has surpassed the legendary 5 year mark, she now is considered “healed.”

Note: Ilka Parent is a licensed professional counselor and horsewoman, who lives and works in Germany. Minds-n-Motion offers equine assisted psychotherapy and equine assisted learning, partnering with horses to provide authentic feedback about the signals we send out. 

Courage begets confidence begets courage (repeat)

Recently, my horse and I got a lesson in being courageous and confronting our fears – a lesson that came from an unusual source.

Steel loaded easily onto the trailer for our hourlong trip from the Atlanta area to Gay, Ga., where we were to attend a three-day horsemanship clinic with Brent Graef, a well-known horse and people trainer.

The first issue that shook my confidence came about halfway to our destination.

A driver at a light honked (I don’t normally pay attention to honking horns) and then honked again. I looked over, and he gave me the roll-your-window-down sign.

“The side door of your trailer is open.”

I thanked him and pulled over. The side door is to the front compartment of this new-to-me trailer that holds my grooming kit, halters, ropes, hoof stand, rasp, spare jacket, horse treats, horse boots and other stuff that I need to care for my horses.

When I had pulled away from the barn, I closed that door. Apparently, I had not slammed it, which is a requirement.

Fortunately, I had lost nothing.

Horses herding cattle

Steel, the cremello Quarterhorse on the left, became more and more confident in his ability to herd cattle. Photo by Julie Vallejos.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful, and we arrived at QC Arena and soon got settled.

The next three days … well, those days were challenging and eventful.

My original intention was to ride only in the mornings in the horsemanship clinics. The afternoon sessions seemed too advanced for me.

My conversation with Brent, however, changed that.

He assured me that Steel and I could do it. He even offered to let me sample the class without a commitment to continue (or pay) if I found it too much.

I took him up on it.

These afternoon sessions focused on using the horsemanship techniques we had learned in the morning to herd cows.

Cows.

I’ve been around cows twice in my life, and both times were scary. The first was with a friend who had to feed cows. He used a vehicle that resembled a golf cart to toss the food into the pasture as the cows chased him. The second was a ride at the Kualoa Ranch on Oahu, a working cattle ranch with horseback riding into Kaʻaʻawa Valley, where “Jurassic Park,” “50 First Dates” and “Lost” were filmed.

A huge herd of cows blocked our return to the ranch. I was the last one in the group, and by the time I got to them, the cows had closed the gap that our guide had created for our safe passage.

Oddly, the horse just kept walking, and the cows moved.

By the time Steel and I were to confront cows, I had forgotten that horse’s courage. I had no confidence or courage, and neither did Steel.

Brent taught me something invaluable, though.

Use every opportunity as a teaching tool.

For example, I had been working with Steel on backing up. Why not, Brent said, get him to back away from something he doesn’t want to go near?

The cows were in a fenced area behind the arena, so I worked on serpentine moves throughout the arena until we got near the fenced area.

Then, I backed Steel up, away from the cows.

I was amazed that the very thing Steel and I had difficulty with that morning had become easy that afternoon.

Steel was eagerly backing up now.

Backing up became even easier once the cows were in the arena.

He wanted no part of them.

That day.

As the clinic progressed, Steel and I both got more courageous.

Then, he did the most audacious thing.

Steel walked into the round pen in the center of the arena.

With cows inside.

I wanted to pull him out, but Brent suggested I reward his courage instead, and he gave us the task of bringing the cows out of the arena.

Steel did his job with little assistance from me. I just pointed his nose toward the cows and let him go.

By the way, herding cows, I found out, isn’t like in the movies where the cowboys and cows are racing down the mountain across the plains to the destination.

Herding cows is a slow process to ensure the animals don’t get so lean that the meat is tough.

The biggest lesson, though, was that courage begets confidence begets courage.

During those three days, Steel and I bonded more as our confidence grew.

Together, we had confronted our fears. Together we had herded cows.

Brent’s motto is “Horsemanship, From the Horse’s Perspective.” I learned a lot from Brent during the three-day clinic, but I learned more from my horse.

Together, we’re fearless.

A black-and-white sidewalk encounter with a horse

On the way to buy white washcloths to replace the ones the washing machine must have eaten, I saw a strange site: a black horse on a sidewalk on the edge of a busy shopping plaza parking lot.

Ever curious, I had to investigate, as did others, but the chain of events became quite bizarre.

The horse was being held by a seemingly adolescent male in jeans, white T-shirt, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.

Noticing the guy was engaged in conversation with a young woman, I stood back and watched before approaching and asking the breed for horse.

A beautiful Tennessee walker similar to the one I wanted to buy from the Georgia equine auction years ago. Black with one white sock and coat so shiny it could have been waxed. A 3-year-old stallion named Hip Hop.

A cropped mane, the kind of Mohawk a Hip Hop artist would wear, the guy said.

A spiked bridle and reins, like the choker or bracelet of a punk-rocker.

No saddle. No trailer nearby.

He rides bareback, the guy said, and he lives not far away in another county but keeps a horse trailer in town for convenience.

He rides bareback on city sidewalks and grassy areas, as he demonstrated for the crowd, in plain view of everyone.

Everyone, including a woman claiming to be an Olympic rider with a nearby barn who walked up and asked the guy if his trailer had broken down and if he needed help.

The guy questioned why the woman didn’t ask his name before she assumed he needed help, why she seemed more concerned about the horse than in getting to know the owner. I found the exchange off-putting, as it seemed to have devolved unnecessarily.

The horse had no saddle. No horse trailer was in sight. Horse lovers always are more concerned with the horse than the person.

My attempt to diffuse the situation was unfruitful despite me reminding him that I hadn’t asked his name either.

The guy later explained that he often gets comments from people “concerned” about the horse’s well-being but who ultimately seem condescending and question whether the horse actually belongs to him. The woman, he said, had walked by an hour or so before, gone into a restaurant, come back out and then approached him. Within 10 minutes of her leaving, a police officer arrived.

He had received two calls: one about a man with a horse on a sidewalk, which prompted the officer to tell the dispatcher that being on a horse on a sidewalk was not a crime; and one about a black man on a horse on a sidewalk acting weird, prompting the same officer to declare that acting weird also was not against the law.

A second officer soon arrived, and they assured the cowboy that he was not breaking the law.

Turns out, Brannu Fulton rides with some of the area’s mounted police and hosts pony parties. He teaches people to ride, and he trains horses.

He’s twentysomething and black and mannerable and articulate. He can quote the city code that supports his right to ride.

He’s not a stereotype, which was why he said he was offended by the woman who approached and by the calls placed to police, suspected to have come from the same woman.

As I left to go about my task of finding replacement washcloths, I thought of the black cowboy in the white hat on the black horse.

Not everyone wants to see others succeed, he said. Some in the crowd even wanted to make the issue about race. Generalizing. With children present, overhearing.

I discouraged generalizations. The officers, both black, echoed the sentiment.

Not everything is clearly black and white.

Up a creek: Using what you have

Have you ever really longed for something that was out of your reach, something that someone else has?

It’s called coveting. Well, sometimes, wanting what you already have is just as good, maybe even better, as I recently discovered.

A horse named Pumpkin standing on the banks of a creek

This creek and bank provide a natural obstacle course.

On a horse-training TV show, the trainer taught owners how to help their horses navigate all types of obstacles. The obstacles included a huge rectangular structure that had what looked like giant stair steps. The owners sent the horses up the lowest step and then had the horses jump down. Then, it was on to the next level.

Oh, how I wished I had that type of obstacle course at the place where I board my horses. The obstacle helped build confidence in the horse and trust between the horse and owner.

For more than a year, I’ve been working on those two issues with my Missouri fox trotter, Pumpkin, and my Quarterhorse, Steel. We’ve come so far, but we have a ways to go.

So, this obstacle, I thought, would really take us so much further in our training.

Then, I realized something wonderful: I do have such an obstacle where I board. Actually several such obstacles.

The unitiated call them by simple terms: ditches and creeks and steep hills. I call them training aids, I’ve had three sessions so far with Pumpkin using them.

First, I sent her up and down the banks of the creek she navigates daily. Oddly, while she’s OK going up and down on her own, she was reluctant to traverse them under my guidance. The more I asked her, the more confident she became. Ultimately, she went up and down both sides of the creek, stopping in the water itself.

The next time, we went to a part of the farm that she’s never explored, and we repeated the exercises on the creek and the bank. Then, we went uphill, an area with a few sharp drop-offs. Again success.

The third time was again in the new area, but this time, I actually rode her through some of the obstacles and into unexplored territory. I could immediately tell the difference in her attitude in going off into strange places. She hesitated only briefly but did as I asked each time. Well, almost every time.

Mind you, horses don’t have the greatest depth perception, so every time she went down a steep area or into the water was a great achievement, one that builds trust. One that ultimately, I hope will lead to her calmly walking on the trailer, standing while I shut the door and allowing me to take her on a trail ride.

What started out as coveting some expensive and beautiful obstacle course that a professional horse trainer put together and charges hundreds of dollars for folks to use has turned out to be a great opportunity for me to appreciate what nature offers.

My newly discovered obstacle course is far closer to what my horse and I will encounter while trail riding.

Best of all, this course is free.

Emotion vs. logic

Charmed after being nursed back to health.

Charmed, an off-the-track Thoroughbred, after being nursed back to health.

Recently, I had to make a tough decision: Go with my heart or trust my gut and do what was logical.

A few years ago, I had to make a heart-wrenching decision about my first horse. She had been neglected by someone I had trusted to care for her. She had been sold without my consent. She was sold again to the lawyer I hired to find this horse.

The lawyer agreed to nurse my horse back to health so that she could be adopted, and I paid for her care. As the horse’s health improved, the lawyer grew attached and asked if she could keep the Thoroughbred mare instead. She could provide the level of care my horse needed. She had rescued other horses that were in good shape.

My only reservation was that I would actually have to give up ownership of my first horse, the horse that had taught me so much about the species. She would no longer be mine, and that made me sad.

Logic prevailed, however.

I no longer lived in the state and had two other horses that I boarded at someone else’s barn. I really couldn’t afford to care for three horses. The logical decision was to let the lawyer take her, which would mean I would no longer bear the financial burden.

Emotionally, I was a wreck. The day I gave my horse away, I drove away from the barn and cried, even though I had not actually made the decision yet. The tears stopped as I realized the lawyer could offer my horse the best chance of being healthy again.

I stopped driving and called with my affirmative decision. I signed paperwork giving ownership to the lawyer.

Three years later, the lawyer contacted me about taking the horse back. She has taken on and cared for many horses over the years. One was even in a competition to become America’s favorite trail horse.  The lawyer now had 13 horses in her care.

My old horse, now 23, needed a different type of feed that was a bit costly. She was not an easy keeper, requiring a lot of individual attention.

Immediately, the emotional tugging surfaced. My first horse needed me.

I talked with the owner of the barn where I board my two horses to find out the possibility of bringing a third horse in. A friend even considered taking her. Both gave me hope that I could now step in and help my old horse, assuaging the guilt I had felt over the years for having her in the care of a man who violated my trust.

People have often asked me how much horses cost. Those of us who have horses know it’s not the initial cost of a horse; it’s all the costs associated with caring for the horses.

Vet bills. Farrier bills. Emergency vet bills. Board.

The cost of caring for the horse had become too much for the lawyer, which is why she contacted me.

The cost of caring for the horse, I ultimately decided, would be too much for me.

Ideally, I would like to get down to only one horse, but it’s not just the financial costs. Caring for a horse comes with an emotional cost. Horses connect with their people just as we connect with them.

Emotionally, I wanted to take this horse back. I wanted to help.

Logic and practicality tell me I can’t take on another horse.

Even though she was my first.