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Bucket Heads

I'm still catching up on my to-do list since the ewes lambed and writing time is hard to find. What I did find this morning, however, was little Kevina's head in a bucket, munching (or trying to) on alfalfa stems and totally preoccupied by the challenge. It made me recall the (horse) post I'd written a couple years ago when a pregnant broodmare, Indy, first came to our farm. We were still in the getting-to-know you stages and my gelding, Hook, was throwing his stout Quarter Horse weight around. He was our farm's boss-man till the day he died and I think we all still feel a little lost without him. But on the day I wrote this post called "Indy Bit Me!"... let's just say his bossiness helped make a bucket head out of me. Perhaps after you read it you'll be able to commiserate. We all have those bucket-head kind of days on the farm, don't we? (And the bumps, bruises, and blood to show for it!) Maybe the writer of Proverbs had those kinds of days too. Maybe that's why he advises:

"Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.

Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure." ~ Proverbs 4:25-26



So, what do you do when you think you're making serious tracks in your horse-human relationship and then "just like that," things fall off the rails?

Speaking from experience, you stifle your pathetic whimper, unwedge yourself from the corner of barn where you fell (while tripping over your own two feet backing away from said horse), pause to assess if anything is broken, then look at the horse who just bit you (and is now gazing at you with doe eyes), scratch your head, and say, WHAT THE...!

One of my favorite sayings in horsemanship is "there's aways something that happened before what happened happened." The question is, were ya tuned in or did ya have your head in a bucket? Because the truth is, things never just "fall off the rails." I know Hook and Indy have had the occasional tussle for first rights. I also know that Indy will always back down. Therefore, I should've known better than to lean over and fluff some hay in a bucket in front of Indy just as Hook was rounding the corner to let Indy know it was his. All his!

Indy's "flight" instinct kicked into overdrive. I was in the way of her escape. I should've moved my feet the instant I saw Hook coming out of the corner of my eye, knowing what would likely happen next. I didn't have but a nano-second and a few inches to maneuver, and that just wasn't enough berth for this old gal. And so, Indy lunged forward, bowled over my body which was still bent over the bucket, and bit me in the back. I reeled in reverse, hit the wall, and sunk to the ground as she made her escape.

I get the bowling-me-over part. The equine flight instinct is a powerful force. But it hurt my feelings that she bit me. It felt like unnecessary roughness and I took it personally. Indy, on the other hand, was over it and her left brain was back in control. Her eyes were soft and questioned my sudden indignation.

I reflected on this for a few days while I nursed my wounds. In allowing Hook access to Indy during feeding time, I had inadvertently escalated all of Indy's resident insecurities and defensive behaviors (and she came with a few!). I had failed to make her feel safe. And while I felt I didn't "deserve" a bite, I'm pretty sure she had the horse version of a blind panic attack. I had stood between her and her bid to keep herself safe. She did what she felt she needed to do to survive.

So here's where things actually fell off the rails: I missed Indy's distress and frustration at feeding time. Not just one time but many, many times. Of course, I made sure she finished her grain and meds before throwing hay, but I failed to notice her defensive posture while doing so, or the constant tilt of her ears in Hook's direction. Nope, things didn't randomly fall off the rails anymore than Indy just randomly bit me.

The pot was boiling in plain sight. But I had my head in a bucket.

By simply closing a pipe gate between them so that Indy can eat her hay in peace, I've seen Indy's overall stress level decrease in spades. It will take time and consistency, but she already seems a more settled and happier horse. I don't worry about her being a "biter." Honestly, I worry more about me being a bucket-head.

Apparently if I'm going to survive this one wild and precious life, I'm going to need to pay more attention.


Below is one of my favorite poems by Pulitizer-prize winner, Mary Oliver. (Note: "Wild & Precious" was the name of the horse blog where this story appeared). In her own way, Mary Oliver echoes Proverbs 4 above...let's lift our eyes! The world reflects the Creator's beauty and nestles miracles of every kind. Our daily pasture walk is a prayer-in-motion, a prayer led by God. Let's pay attention. Don't be a bucket head! 🥴

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver


Indy and her foal, Isidora (after St. Isidore, the patron saint of farming)


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