Today I needed to get to the stable before the sun rose in order to deal with Mel’s water. He had a pile of snow and ice drop down from the roof onto his back when he was drinking at the waterer and since then refused to drink there again. I filled buckets instead and also decided I would train him to not be afraid of the area through the positive reinforcement training fellow-boarders Sarah Shipman and Sarah Kenyon taught us. If he would take a step forward towards the waterer to eat his grain or hay, I would click and reward him with a carrot or the feed itself. I was not at all sure how long this would take, as he would not go anywhere near it yesterday. I knew that if I forced him to get close to it with strong-arming him in any way, it would only make things worse. As a person with post-traumatic stress disorder, I understand that places where bad things happen to me trigger a stress response even if I know that the same thing is unlikely to occur there again.
In my case, the Catholic Church can ellicit that response because that is where my disability began with being sexually abused by a priest. For my equine partner who is legally a service animal in the State of Montana, he does not understand that the snow dump on him is not because he drank at the waterer, he just is–or was–sure that if he went near it, he would be bombed by snow again.
We got very close to it today with his grain (actually, really alfalfa and timothy pellets with ground flax and herbal supplements and Sea Meal as well as some cooked brown rice and miso). We were very, very close indeed and he was relaxed and at ease as he ate. I was having him approach the waterer from the side so he was not next to the building. Having him snow-bombed again would not be good at all. I wanted him to have a good, positive experience being close to the water and learn to associate it with enjoyable things.
Just as I myself was coming very close to being completely alright with being in Church, this whole debacle of Pope Francis and his treatment of sex abuse survivors in Chile set me back quite a bit. I cannot say where that all will go, but I know this for sure: I do not want to decompensate and have to be hospitalized, which the State would have to pay for, which is not at all fair. Also, Mel would negatively impacted as well and he is teaching me how to trust again, so that is not fair either. I am striving to be retrained in some area but have run into my brain injury from ECTs (shock treatments) and am not sure how long that will take to overcome so I can be effective with technology as I have to be now. Reading and writing I can do–beyond that, I do not have anything like tech-mastery at all yet.
One of the strategies to heal brain injuries is physical work and exercise as well as prayer and meditation, which studies have shown to enhance neuroplasticity. All along, the Faithful and True knew how healing equines are for me–and for many.
I took Splendid High, known as Mel, out for a walk in his pasture to see if he could handle the footing now. He did just great now that the ice is buried in deep snow. Just about that time, his neighbors, the two black and white Walker mares Duchess and Poco, decided to break out of their place and go see him. Mel adores them, and mares, in general. Those two were like adoring fans crashing the barriers to see their favorite rock star. His Splendid Highness ate it up. They were running around and he was acting like an equine peacock strutting his stuff.
I texted Kelli and Matt at the Ranch that they were loose because I had heard horror stories of those two mares running around refusing to be caught. Well, it turned out that after I put Mel back in his place he was so excited, he ran past the waterer under the roof just to run around and perform for his mare entourage. I guess that was the motivation he needed to get over his “PTSD” and be healed of his phobia.
Fortunately, the truant mares remembered I carried carrots with me at all times as rewards and I told them if they let me catch them they would have plenty. I had in the past taught them both that if I said, “back” and they backed up, I would give them a carrot and they learned that well. They used to charge at Mel when I’d lead him out and I was not fond of either Mel avoiding them by pushing me over or him getting bitten, so I “trained” them to listen to my command “back.” I learned this from Cynthia Royal, the trainer who trained her horse who played Shadowfax in Lord of the Rings movies. I have her DVD set and try to apply what she teaches.
I was able to catch them both fairly quickly (also thanks to the Mother of Mercy answering my prayers). The experience made me realize that rewards are indeed a greater motivator than fear of punishment. Duchess is a very large mare and not afraid of much anyway. It took me some time to get her to mind me–to back for me–but I never laid a hand on her in punishment. I just would not give her anything at all–I would ignore her, as the Sarahs taught me is a negative punishment–in other words, instead of doing something to punish them, I just withheld something they wanted. That’s all. It really irked Duchess because she felt entitled to the carrot. Tough luck! Her royal highness would not get it, unless she behaved. Now, this I did before I learned of the policy not to feed other horses treats. Now, usually if I need to do something regarding her, I will give her some of Mel’s hay as a reward rather than carrots, which are treats.
I even decided to use some similar tricks to teach Diesel the Ranch cat to eat the new food he is getting to combat his obesity. He did not want to eat it and I could not force him to do it. I was worried that his not eating was going to cause him liver problems and had scheduled another vet exam for him. Then I saw he would eat the regular cat food. So, I decided to put him in the cat carrier with his food until he ate it. Well, he was not thrilled with that but he has learned eventually to eat it all up. At first, he would not eat it all, so I would let him out. Then, he would cry for food, so I would put him back in the carrier. He learned to eat it and he is losing weight. I was sure he was going to call the animal cruelty officers to have me arrested and Kelli heard him growling and said “is that Diesel? He’s pissed!”
Yes he was, but he got over it. And now I know he’s eating the 1/2 cup prescribed for him by the vet–not the kitten, Premium, who gladly would eat it for him. Now I cannot say it is truly positive reward because I did have to push him into the carrier. I was not sure he’d ever speak to me again, but he is fine. He is a very, very good natured cat, fortunately.
Mel showed me that his love of his “fans” will override his phobias and he is now outside next to them again because his feet are fine on the snow. There is a lesson in all of this for me, as well. If I love the Faithful and True enough, I can do whatever it is He wants me to do. I just have to trust Him. He got me into the Church and He had His reasons and whatever they are or were, they can be fulfilled if I stick with Him and His Holy Mother and the rosary. Whatever they decide to do or not to do in the Vatican is up to them. “As for me and my house (and horse), we will serve the LORD…” striving to be a “stable nun” in recovery rather than locked into madness. So help me God, as You put this stressed, depressed patient on a horse named “Splendid High.” It’s been quite a ride indeed and if I have to be stuffed into a confession booth weekly, sobeit…If You have something else in mind, I am alright with that, too, in Your taming of this shrew–a Messianic Jew–who is one of the stiff-necked generation. Whatever it takes O LORD to do that which pleases You most…