Monday, October 12, 2009

The Wonder of a Mini Horse Guide

Here's another little update I thought you might appreciate. I wish you were here to see some of this--and to yell at me when I need it, which is, well, more often than I want to admit!

A few days ago, I was getting ready to take Cali for a walk when Mariam, my three-year-old niece, asked if she could come with me. Because she absolutely loves Cali and thinks my little horse is her best friend, I couldn't turn her down, even though it meant I would have to change my plan and not cross any side streets.

So, off we went, and Cali did a good job. Mariam said she wanted Cali to slow down, so I had Cali go at a snail's pace. It was a little adventure, holding Mariam's little hand and letting Cali guide. Mariam showed me that she's learning to skip, which was adorable, even though I know she really hasn't got the hang of it yet.
Interestingly, after the first right turn around the block, Cali walked to the corner of the next and turned without going all the way to the curb. I didn't stop her and ask her to rework it because I could hear the traffic and gauged the distance, so I knew that we were turning at the right spot. I wonder now if I should've asked her to find the curb, but because I was comfortable, I didn't.

Anyway, onward we went, with Mariam chattering on about being a big girl, telling me how we had to walk with Cali every day, and reminding me that she was so good because she doesn't tell Cali what to do. Suddenly, Cali stopped in front of a house. I could hear people outside, and they were working with tools. Cali just stopped, and they said hello. I returned the greeting and then asked Cali to proceed, but she refused. Not only did she refuse, but she cut across both Mariam and I. I thought maybe she was trying to get to the grass at my right, but she didn't put her head down, just stood in front of both of us.

I asked Cali to line up, which she promptly did, and again, when I asked her for a forward, she staunchly refused. The people working outside were surprised, and one of them explained that there were tools in front of us. He removed them and then said we could go on. But still, Cali refused!

By this time, I was thinking that my horse was just being obstinate. There wasn't anything in her path, so she should walk on with no trouble. I broke a handler's cardinal rule and stepped in front of my horse and asked her to walk on. No go. She kept walking in front of my niece and I, then moving to the right of Mariam, as if she was trying to circle us. I could get her to line up, but forward was another matter. So, I did the only thing I could think of; I asked if there was anything else in our path that Cali might find dangerous.

"There's a car blocking the driveway and most of the sidewalk a few houses away," he told me. "It would be difficult to get through there."

Mystery solved! My horse really did have her reasons. I'm sure that had we gone ahead, we could have walked single file, but that wasn't safe, according to my girl. So, amid protests from Mariam, we turned around and walked back home.
A Close Call?
Today, I was doing my normal Cali chores. I filled a water bucket and returned to the shed. I closed the gate with one hand, something I'm usually good at, and put the water down. I wondered why Cali didn't follow me inside as she always does. She likes the company. So I called to her. There was no response. After a few tries, I got impatient and went out to see what she was up to. Maybe she was trying to get me to play ball with her, which wasn't going to happen, not in the cold!

I came out to the distinctive smell of grass being eaten by a horse. It doesn't smell like fresh-mown grass but like it's greener, maybe, and the sound of my horse happily munching. Okay, it took me a minute to figure out what had happened. Apparently, I hadn't let the latch on the gate fall completely, and Cali decided to see if she could get a few nibbles.

So, what to do? I had all these horrible thoughts of my horse running off, being hit by a car. We live on a main road, so the cars go by pretty quickly.

What could I tempt her with? Skittles? Hey, that might work, but first, I tried calling her, and even though I had to call a few times, she came to me! As a reward, because I knew she really wanted the grass, I stood with my hand on her neck and let her have some grass for a few minutes. Besides, I needed a few minutes to get my heart rate down!
Then I asked Cali to come into her shed. She did and was promptly rewarded with two Skittles dropped into her dish. Wow! That was a close one! I hope there are no more adventures like that one very soon!

I just wanted to give you these little updates because they were interesting and well, educational, for me, at least.
Now I'll go, as Cali is probably starving. I'm a few minutes late with nighttime hay and potty and grooming.

Love always and forever,

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Long Cali Update

It's time for a more detailed update on what Cali and I are actually doing these days. There is so much to say that it's hard to figure out where to start, so I'll just begin by talking about the visit Cali and I had with Claudia's little Egyptian Arab mare, Exie.

Beth, who boards Exie for Claudia, was gracious enough to spend the entire evening with us. Cali got to meet Beth's horses. It was starting to rain when we arrived, so Beth had stalled all the horses. Cali was free to greet each of the big horses without my interference and angst about whether or not she'd be kicked by an annoyed horse.

She decided to check each horse out and went to them, touched noses, squealed, and struck at the half-doors with her front hooves. I'd never heard her squeal like that and was duly surprised. Everyone laughed because it was obvious she was telling the bigger horses that she was the boss mare. It was interesting because she elicited a lot of attention from the others. The brood mare, Kelsea, sniffed at her and nickered the way a mare will when she's talking to a foal. The yearling and two-year-old geldings both just wanted to see what was what, I think. Noah, the two-year-old, was particularly intrigued with Cali, though that might simply have been because she was fascinated with him. She kept running back and forth on the carpeted barn floor, slipping a bit, but still running. The doors were closed, and she had the run of the barn. There was even timothy hay out, which she nibbled at every so often, but what engaged her most was the horses, especially Noah. She'd trot off away from him, come to me, get clicked and treated, then trot back to Noah, whereupon, she'd squeal at him, then make noises she doesn't usually make, and finally, leave Noah to return to me.

Later, she met Exie, a wonderful little Arab mare, a mare with such a spirit. Cali and Exie DID NOT like each other at all. Cali tolerated Exie and didn't approach her too closely. Exie pinned her ears and tried to go after Cali. Of course, she was held back, but it was interesting to see the dynamics between the horses. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous because even though Exie is a small horse, she's not a mini, and I couldn't help wondering what might happen. Not that I worry or anything!

When the rain let up a bit, we took Cali out to a fenced-in dog run. There, Cali galloped like a racehorse, something I've never had the pleasure of witnessing at home, as she just doesn't have enough room. Oh, the sound of her little feet running, and her squeals and snorts of happiness as she ran around just made my week! I wish someone had had a working camera! More, I wish I could have seen her running, happy, doing what a horse should always be able to do. Oh, I wish I could give her that freedom every day.

Before we'd gone to Beth's to see Exie, we had stopped at a tack store, just because, and I had a blast looking at everything. Of course, there were things to buy for Cali, things she actually needed but were fun to buy anyway. When we were looking at all the grooming supplies, Cali kept picking up brushes and giving them to me. I laughed but wasn't surprised because she does this at home when I'm grooming her. Even if I set a brush down on the floor because my hands are full, she will show the brush to me and pick it up. It was cute to see her picking up the brushes. Otherwise, she did an awesome job guiding in the store. She's always very sure of where she should lead me, and if she's following someone, she is quite serious about it. I love having her guide because it's so obvious that she enjoys it.

On our way home after our eventful day, Cali was so worn out that when I touched her nose, her little lips didn't even move as they normally do, checking just in case I'm passing her a treat. In fact, she was so exhausted that several times, she nearly fell over when the car turned! It took us both a few days to recover from that adventure.

Work, Work, and well, more WORK!

At work, Cali has been doing a terrific job. She knows our routine there, knows when it's time for a potty break, and anticipates many things, such as when I'm going to stop and chitchat with another coworker. She stands quietly and doesn't interact much with my coworkers, except for Adria. She likes Adria because Adria works with us all day and Cali knows that when I ask her to find Adria, she'll get a treat. Also, Adria sometimes takes us to the bank, and while Cali isn't thrilled about the car ride, she is always game, following Adria in the store and the bank. But otherwise, Cali doesn't do much interacting with everyone else.

Sometimes, not surprisingly, Cali gets bored and fidgety at work. She wants to DO something! And so, we go for a walk at lunch. It's the work that Cali loves; she'll show me everything around us, and I get a clearer picture of what is around the office building where I work. She loves to climb the steps of the bank next door. It's closed now, so no one really cares that my horse and I go up the steps, down the ramp, and back again so often. I like doing this because it gives Cali some practice on steps. These aren't even steps, so I have to work at getting her to step up each one. Up is easy; down, not so much. When we're going down, I have to help her stop at each one because she'd prefer to run down the last two. The last step is very shallow, so she sometimes tries to skip it altogether, but with practice, she's learning to stop at each one. How smart and trusting of me she is!

To Pee, or Not to Pee

Now, pottying at work is another challenge altogether. I've been having issues with that. Well actually it's Cali with the potty issues, and I probably compound them.

Cali and I have a great routine at home. I can get her to potty whenever I ask. She'll pee and poop within a few minutes. That's perfect because it means that in the morning, she goes just before nine and doesn't need to pee or poop until one thirty at the earliest. Perfect, because that's during my break. If she doesn't go at half past one, I give her another chance an hour later. By then, she usually really does produce.

So, we had this perfect system going. It was just fabulous, and I was feeling like I knew what I was doing. Then, along came the well-meaning farrier. Instead of keeping Cali's feet sharp, he trimmed them so that the edges were rounded. And this is where I should have stepped in. But I didn't because I didn't touch her feet until after he'd left, and even then, I didn't realize what would happen.

The next day, Cali went to pee, stretching out like she usually does, and then, she just stopped trying. Her tail would go up, and I would think, "Now she'll go," but she didn't. Cali would give me the signal that she needed to go. Her tail would swish vigorously, and out we'd go, but she wouldn't pee. As soon as we entered the building, she'd stretch and try to pee. I had no idea what was going on. My horse had suddenly changed on me. She was being a brat! Why couldn't she just do what she was supposed to?

By the end of that frustrating day, I was so upset that I just didn't know what to do. I went home and thought about it for a while, but nothing came to mind. I was unable to figure out why my horse suddenly wouldn't pee outside. She pooped at work but wouldn't pee. Why?

At home, Cali behaved normally. She peed and pooped when I asked and got her reward, so I was even more mystified. What had changed?

And then, the next day, she again gave me the signal that she needed out; again, I took her out, and again, she stretched, her tail went up, and nothing! Inside we'd go, and she'd pee in her bag. Thank God, I had the foresight to put it on her when I saw she wasn't peeing outside! Otherwise, well, I'd be doing a whole lot of scrubbing!

Finally, that day, it dawned on me what was happening. Cali was stretching, and I could hear her hooves spreading a bit as she did so. Then I'd hear that same sound, only just a bit sharper, and Cali would get out of potty position. What was happening was simple: She was slipping on the concrete where she stands to pee. The farrier had trimmed her feet so that they were too rounded for her to stand in potty position on concrete. She finally decided not to try any more, but by that time, I'd figured out the problem.

Getting the farrier out was another matter, though. He wasn't able to come out for more than a week. Meanwhile, I found a patch of dirt close to Cali's normal potty spot, and after I showed her how to stand with her hind feet in that spot, she went for me! What a relief. It was hard work getting her to understand what I wanted because she didn't want to try to pee outside any more, but finally, she started peeing outside again.

The farrier came by again and trimmed her feet the way I wanted. He wasn't thrilled about it, but I explained that this was the way Cali's feet need to be done. He did what I asked, though he still disagreed.

It took a few days to get Cali to understand that her feet were trimmed the way she needed and that she didn't have to stand in the dirt patch any more. Now, she tries to stand in the dirt patch, which is perfectly fine because she understands that she doesn't have to.

A happy ending to the potty story? Well, not quite yet. Yesterday, some city workers came by and pulled all the weeds around Cali's potty spot and tore down an old, rotting step that Cali used to point out to me. Not that significant, in my opinion, but to Cali, it's a cold spot now. The workers even swept the dirt patch so well that they took off a thick layer of dirt. now, the dirt patch is more of a depression.

So Cali isn't certain she should potty there any more. I can feel her head turning a bit when I ask her to go, and she is nervous about the whole idea of peeing in that spot, even though I put shavings down.

So, the drama continues. I'm not sure how things will go tomorrow, but I'm hoping Cali gets the idea that pottying there is fine now. I let her sniff around and see that everything else is basically the same, but I can tell she's still not convinced.

Let Her Guide!

I found out something interesting—about Cali or myself, I'm not quite sure, but interesting, nevertheless. Cali does a better job at guiding when I'm in an unfamiliar place, possibly because I actually let her guide as opposed to second-guessing what she's doing. For instance, if I think the curb should be coming up soon, I slowdown, and so does she. I stop sometimes, and she does, too, because I do, not because there's anything to stop at. Or, I'm a bit off on my calculation as to where we are and I ask her to find the door. She stops at something, and I'm just so in tune with her that I say, "Find the door." Now, we're already at the door, and if I'd been paying attention or trusting her more, I'd have known this. I reach out, and lo and behold! She's taken me where I want to go. I just didn't do my part.

Sometimes Adria chastises me for this. She tells me that Cali is doing her job and that I need to listen to what she's saying. And she's right.

This was brought home to me a week ago when I went somewhere new, alone except for Cali. It was a high school, and I was there because I serve on the Dearborn Commission on Disability Concerns, and we were doing a show on Disability Awareness Day.

;of course, everyone was enamored with Cali, even before they saw her guide work. People focus so much on how pretty she is. I know she's a gorgeous little horse, but that isn't so important to me. What I found most endearing about her that evening was that she did a phenomenal, and I mean flawless, job of guiding. I actually let her guide, truly guide in a strange place with no one I knew around to give directions or support and she was amazing. She took me around a parked car, and then continued toward the door I'd asked her to find. Now, I knew generally where the door was, but I wasn't too positive about what we were doing. Dolores had told me not to ask her to find the door if she wasn't within about ten or fifteen feet of it, but I asked anyway because I wasn't sure exactly how far away the door was. And she found it. She walked right in, and when I was given directions to the studio, she did an impeccable job at taking me there. Not once did she bump me into a camera or a chair, or miss a terrain change from carpet to polished tile floor.

Cali did have a bit of a problem walking on the slippery tiles, but I helped her by walking slowly and encouraging her.

I took her out to potty before taping was supposed to start, and though she didn't go, she tried for me, which was surprising because it was near some enticing grass, and kids kept riding by, asking questions, making comments, and generally being kids. They were good about not coming up to her, as I asked that we be left alone, but Cali still watched everything. Despite that, she tried to do what I asked. The one thing I have to say about Cali is that she always tries to do what she thinks I want.

We went back in just in time for taping. Cali took me to the steps that led up to where we were supposed to tape. She didn't mind going up because the steps and the small stage area were carpeted. We taped, and she did a good job standing quietly by, though she got fidgety after about half an hour. I knew it was because she needed to go out, but at that point, I couldn't stop and take her out, so I hoped she'd wait until we were done. And she did.

When taping was over, Cali took me to the top of the steps leading down, and then she stopped. I explained to the host that she was unsure of how to get down because of the slick tiles. I had thought this would be an issue. One of the cameramen brought over a floor mat, and as soon as he set it down, Cali walked down the steps without any hesitation at all. Now, that's what I call a smart horse!

We waited for the bus then, and it took longer than I'd anticipated. I let Cali have a little grass but had to cut her snack time short because I was getting eaten by the mosquitoes.

We went inside and stood by the door. Cali did an excellent job of just standing there, even though we waited for a long time.

At one point, cops with police dogs came into the building. Apparently, they do some of their training in the high school. One of the dogs whined and growled at Cali, and the officer reprimanded her, but Cali stood perfectly still, just watching. She didn't turn to kick or try to run. That's my girl.

I Think I Can

The Little Engine That Could is a story I heard over and over as a child, and though I knew what the moral was, it didn't truly have meaning for me until Cali came into my life. She has taught me that believing in yourself really is what enables you to do things. Cali will try anything if she thinks it's possible for her. Even if I'm skeptical, she still tries. And she is the one who makes the decision. I can cajole, plead, and even bribe, but until she decides that she's going to do something, it won't happen.

An excellent example of this is riding in cars. Dolores did an awesome job of teaching Cali to get into cars, SUV's, buses, vans, etc. When she was here with Cali, my little horse got in and rode with no trouble. But Cali had to learn that she can ride in all those vehicles with me as well.

One day, I asked Adria to take me somewhere, and she graciously agreed. Getting Cali into her car, though, proved more difficult than either of us had anticipated. We took her to the car at the beginning of my lunch break. Cali stood by the car door, sniffing, checking out the car, and refusing to get in. I was so frustrated that I decided to give up. This just wasn't going to work! I knew it. Only Dolores had the ability to get Cali into a Ford Taurus. Who was I kidding? My horse wasn't going to be able to ride in mid-sized cars.

And so, I stopped asking Cali to get in. Instead, I just sat there, not speaking to her at all, telling myself that there were other solutions, that I shouldn't get upset. This just wasn't supposed to happen for us.

And suddenly, without any warning, Cali jumped into the car! I was so thrilled that I didn't even mind when Adria drove around the block and Cali stepped on me as we were making our turns! She was in, my horse! She had made the decision and just gotten in all on her own.

The story is pretty similar regarding SUV's. At first, Cali didn't think she could jump. I hadn't been keeping that skill up with her because frankly, there aren't too many people in my life who have SUV's, and even fewer who are willing to let Cali get into theirs. So I was expecting some issues getting Cali in. Therefore, I gave us plenty of time before we were supposed to leave so that neither of us would be stressed out.

Again, I had to wait until Cali made the decision. It took some time, but she finally decided to jump in. Only one problem arose, and it was again my doing.

We were getting ready to go home that same day, and I was expecting that Cali would need plenty of time to remind herself that she could jump into the SUV. I know, Dolores, I underestimated my horse. I asked Cali to jump, and without hesitation, she did. In fact, it was so fast that I hadn't had enough time to unwrap the mint I had in my hand. Of course, Cali didn't care about the wrapper. The mint was partially unwrapped, and she took the whole thing. I panicked because I didn't want her swallowing the wrapper. Without thinking about it, I shoved my fingers into her mouth and pulled. It took a few seconds, but I was able to pull the wrapper out of her mouth. Up until then, I'd never had my fingers in a horse's mouth! Good thing Cali doesn’t bite!

Now, when I ask Cali to get into an SUV, it takes her a moment. Sometimes she backs away for a minute, but then she comes right up to the SUV and jumps in. It's her decision that makes the difference. I can only ask, and she lets me know what she can do. She shows me that I am the one who makes things possible. Life holds so many possibilities. It is up to us to remember that we can.

I should be going to bed now, as I have work in the morning, but I'm too worried to sleep. Both of my grandmothers are in the hospital. One of them is at the end of her life, the doctors say. The other is afraid of the test results she'll be getting soon. I can't help but wonder what possibilities or impossibilities they lived by. Did they decide to take chances? I don't know. I never asked, and maybe I'll never get to now. Did they, like me, hope for more and fight for more? Did they find their Cali? One of my grandmothers might be able to answer this question. The other probably never will. I think about this now and remind myself that there's so much out there for us, but we have to take those chances and find those possibilities.

I know that the DOJ might change the definition of a service animal so as to exclude Cali and other minis and well-trained service animals. Theoretically, it's possible. Certainly, it's something I dread. At first, I thought I shouldn't love Cali because she could be taken from me. It might happen. I can't say. What I do know for sure, though, is that I can't not love her, can't not look for all the possibilities. Anything might happen, and it's up to me to see that I make it all count. Cali is my reminder of all the possibilities. The DOJ might tell me I can't have her. Someday, they might make that horrible decision, but if that happens, I will remind them of possibilities, and one of those possibilities is that I can and will keep Cali. I can and will keep this precious reminder of hope and happiness and meaning in life.

I left Cali for the night a few minutes ago. Because I came home late, I fed her later than usual, but she didn't seem to mind. Instead, she wanted to be with me, wanted me to play with her. Even after I gave her her hay, she came over to me and wanted to play. "We'll play tomorrow," I told her. "Goodnight, sweetie. I love you lots." And I do.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Walking Through Grass

I just had to comment on the issue of walking through grass and using c/t for absolutely everything I do with my mini.

Because Cali is a working horse and needs to be guiding, I don't generally let her have grass while we work, though I do occasionally give her grass as a reward or when I stop to chat with someone. Cali is pretty good about keeping her head up while we work and won't stop for grass except when she knows my mind is elsewhere.

I've worked quite a bit on getting her to understand when she can and cannot have grass. For instance, in the mornings, when I've got a few minutes before the bus comes to pick us up for work, I deliberately walk her over to the grass and say "go ahead" so she gets the idea. And when the bus comes, I tell her it's time to go. Her ears go up, her head comes up, too, and we're off.

Also, there are times when I ask her to pick up her head and move along with me. I then reward her for coming with a bit of grass. That way, she knows the grass supply won't run out. I want Cali to love to work and to know she'll get rewarded for doing what I need from her.
Now, when we're walking, Cali almost never stops for grass. She just trots along with her head up, passing all the grass on both sides of us. There's always grass to the right and left of us because we walk on city sidewalks. And there are also the tempting flowers. But Cali rarely goes for the grass. Now, I usually take Cali for a walk after I've fed her because I figure if she's hungry, she'll be wanting food, in this case, grass, and it isn't fair to take her out and work her if she's hungry.

Now, I just have to address the issue of the suggestion that to much c/t could make a horse an automaton. Cali is living proof that c/t doesn't do that. She has a mind of her own, and I actually think the clicker makes her more confident in her abilities as a guide. She always insists she's right when we stop for something, whether it's a curb, a terrain change I didn't notice, or some obstacle. I've gotten a few good bruises from not stopping and listening to my little girl! She really is always right!

Cali also potties on cue. I can ask her to potty, and usually, she'll pee first. Then she gets her c/t, and I ask again. Usually, within two minutes or so, Cali poops, and another c/t. We go to work, and she won't need to potty for a good four hours! Talk about an awesome horse!
Okay. I'll go away now and let everyone ponder all that. Really, Cali is even more amazing that I've explained, and the more I work with her, the more in awe of her I am. It's only been three months since we really became a team. I can't imagine how it will be in three years or, God willing, thirty years.
I'm off to clean up horse poop and feed my girl, and maybe we'll play with her ball. That, too, is accompanied by lots of c/t!

Mona's Updates

Well, it was bound to happen. This is something else, I'll tell you. Every
day is a new adventure. I'd write it all down, but just living it takes all
my energy.

Dr. Woodward came to see Cali last week, and Cali is losing a baby tooth and
got her teeth floated. She sure needed it, which was why I called in the
first place. The vet says Cali is great and not to worry too much. Uh-huh.
I'm good at worrying.

Cali and I are learning so much together, and now that I'm learning to relax
a bit (only a bit, unfortunately), we have more fun together. Cali and I
even make a game out of cleanup in the morning. And now, she calls to me
every time I come outside or to the window where she can see me. She even
calls to my family.

Only one thing mars this for me, and it has nothing to do with Cali at all.
I had to give Baylea to Adria because the owner of the office building said
she had to go, and I didn't trust leaving Baylea at home, not with my family
and their predilection for getting rid of bunnies. So Adria took her. The
office is more spacious now, and all of Baylea's things are gone, replaced
now with a myriad of horse things. I knew that this might happen, but it's
still hard. My only solace is that despite Adria's vows that she isn't
interested in animals, she loves Baylea and is taking excellent care of her.

I still want my bunny back and have thought about what I could do to keep
her. It wouldn't be fair, though, for her to be alone all day and most of
the evening, as Cali and I take walks. And she wouldn't be able to run
around like she can at Adria's. So I let her go.

Other than that, things are pretty much okay. Even though I try not to, for
many reasons, I fall in love with Cali more and more each day, for the
little things, like when she puts her head on me to sleep or the way she
breathes out just before she gets a treat, or the way she runs for her ball
as soon as we get home, or the way she wipes her wet face on me after she
gets a drink if I'm not quick enough at grabbing a paper towel. I can't help
it, even though I've told myself that loving her so soon might not be wise.
But life is about risks, about taking chances, and I'm taking mine. I stand
right next to Cali now, and she knows it. I really try, but I can't love her

So, things are fine right now. I just got my GPS last night and am playing
with it. There are places around here that I never knew about! Imagine that!
And within walking distance! The one store I can get to is definitely NOT
wheelchair accessible. It's a store with mostly Arabic stuff, but when you
need something...

Well, I'll go away for now and get some sleep. Tomorrow, there's more of
that fabulous calculus book to read, though I can't complain, because Rob is
actually rotating it so I don't have to read the entire thing. He realizes,
I'm sure, that I wouldn't!

By the way, I taught Cali Adria's name just once, and now she takes me
straight to her, even when Adria doesn't want to be found, I think! And yes,
Adria really likes Cali, not enough to let her in the car when her feet are
wet, but enough to take her otherwise.

Guide Dog User Visits Mona

Claudia visited with Cali and Mona. Claudia is blind and uses a Guide dog.
She also has horses. Since she also lives in Michigan. She asked about a mini
as a guide for some time in the future.

This is her report of visiting with Cali and Mona.

We had a fabulous time! Cali is unbelievably beautiful and smart, as good a
worker as any of my dogs! Mona spent about three hours with me and my
husband and shared a wealth of information. I learned so much about guide
horses over the weekend. I visited two farms on Friday and am forwarding
pictures for your opinion. After careful consideration, I believe the wisest
path for me is to look for the foal of my choice and raise it myself to be
trained when mature. I still have a good 3-4 or more years with Freedom and
I see real benefit to not having two guides at the same time. I also need to
research funding or grant feasibility to finance the training. As you know,
all my guide dogs have been provided to me with no charge. Training a guide
horse is unaffordable at this time . Michigan State University has an Human
Animal Bond Initiative which is a place for me to start. I'm hoping to write
a grant proposal to fund an experimental guide horse training project. Are
you interested in participating? I need expertise from the horse trainer's
perspective, as well as recommendations for potential grant resources. I
also invite you to start searching for the right foal. I am checking out
Michigan mini breeders as well. You probably have more resources on the east
Coast. I want an Arab, similar to Cali. Cali actually could pass for my Arab
mare's offspring, same color and disposition. Mona expressed interest in
visiting me and my mare and I plan to take pictures of Cali with Exie

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cali and Mona begin their life together

I haven't been able to update this blog in forever. It seems like there is always something else to train, do, or solve. The last few months have been a whirlwind as my new book Conversations With Cadbury was released and we got to the final details of Cali going to live with Mona. Mona and Cali have been a team now since Jun 2, 2009. Mona flew by herself to our place in Upstate NY to practice with Cali. Of course, we had to deal with the Al Hurra news coming to do a story in-between too. Nothing like the media to make the turn-over more complicated.

We returned to Dearborn Jun 9th. Cali and Mona have been together 100% since then. That's not very long in the lifetime of a guide. Guide Dog users tell me it takes 6 months to 1 year to get fully into a relationship. So, without saying another word, I'll let the photos do the talking.

And, a note to that Dutch and German TV are also doing a feature on them. They said it would be posted to Youtube. I'll post a link when I have it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It Isn't Easy Being a Mini Horse Guide

Sighted people have no idea how difficult they can make situations in trying to be helpful. Cali will have to negotiate some of the most amazing situations. I took these photos in our little town in Arkansas and ask that you imagine how you would travel these situations with no sight. Cali and I will be traveling this intersection this week. I will report back to you what she discovers. Of course, I'll be there helping her. She has enough training that she can make some decisions. It will be interesting how she negotiates the challenge.

Cali will not make the decision to cross. She will stop and indicate that she and Mona are at a crossing. Mona can tell by the sound of the traffic which way they are going. She will listen to the sounds to determine which way the cars travel. She will wait for several cycles of the lights changing (if there are lights). She will then indicate to Cali to go forward. Cali must know whether to obey the forward command or not. But, Cali will not try to go forward until told. If there are no lights, Mona would wait for no sound of traffic.

At this particular intersection there are crossing indicators. But, there is no sound so the blind person cannot see when the light is on. And, cars still turn when the walk light is on. And, if that isn't enough of a challenge the buttons for crossing are on different poles for different directions but not close to the cross walk. The buttons are labeled which does nothing for the blind person.

Take particular note of the crossing of the railroad tracks. I suppose a person is supposed to follow the red brick to safely get to lining up the walkway with the crossing. But, a blind person will not see the brick road. If one continues straight towards the tracks on the sidewalk, they will come to a steep drop off. I will expect Cali to take us to the drop off. She will then have to turn right to find the next curb and then left to go across the tracks.

You might ask why she doesn't just follow the brick path. Cali must have a shoreline and Mona must trust that Cali is taking her straight. The blind person makes all the directional decisions. Cali provides the information to allow the decision. If Mona were familiar with this intersection she might tell Cali "over-right" and follow the right side of the curb as the shoreline. If not, she would have to find her way by trial and error with the information that Cali provides.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another Stunning Moment

We took several walks today in town. One took us past the old railroad
depot, up a side street and then we turned right to go past the County Parole Office. Lots'
of people commented especially as we crossed the street directly towards a loading dock

Straight across the street took us to the precipice of this 4' drop off.
Cali stopped.

"Forward" took us right and back to the walkway to go on again by turning

A little ways down the street Cali stopped dead in her tracks. Once when I
was walking with Panda and Alex at an Expo we walked towards the spot that
all the big horses were getting ready to go into the practice arena. Panda

A "forward" command left her standing. She would not go forward.

Clearly Panda had decided that this environment was one where she did not
feel she could safely take us through. And so it was with Cali today. I've never
taught her this. Technically speaking this is called intelligent disobedience. This is
when the guide disobeys a command in order to keep the handler safe.

"Forward" from that spot had her do a U-turn. I faced her back down the road
and asked for forward again. Again she quietly turned us around. She never does

So I scanned the street. Clearly in her mind she could not take us safely
down that road. Was it due to the smell of the Parole back door? Was it the unevenness
of the upcoming path. I do not know what it was and at first I thought I would
correct her and send her forward again. My in the back of my mind I heard the words
"Trust her"
And, so I did.

Without a quickening of a step, without any signs of alarm, just the
steadfastness that forward would not be the way to go, we turned 180 deg and walked back up the walk.

We never had another blink of an incident like this. This trust in a horse.
Somehow, she knew.

Later, we walked in a strip mall. Up stairs, no problem. Found the doors to
stores, ran into and spoke with gawkers. Nice people asking nice questions. Some
said she was the most beautiful mini that they had ever seen. Priceless.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cali Visits Friends

Cali sometimes goes to visit friends. Here she meets some new big horses. We were just taking a ride in the car. It's fun to go visiting.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A horse in the house - Oh my

We are settled in our winter home in Arkansas. This house is set up well to
have Cali come in and out
of the house. She has a backyard with a stall in the yard.

So, Cali comes in while I work and write in the morning. She comes in via
the French Doors and right
into the kitchen. Good girl. And, sometimes in the evening she will also
come in. In fact, I sometimes have
to kick her out. She'd rather be in with me.

We have lots of plans for Cali in the next few months. She'll be going to
classes at the Rich Mountain Community
College as well as walking in the little town of Mena. The town of Mena has
a busy highway that runs right through
the middle of town complete with Tractor Trailers and the big duel wheeled
trucks that the southern men seem to love so much.

Mena also has very challenging streets and crossings. I wish Mona was here
to tell me how she would cross. We got a good idea when we visited but this
town while doing in essence what a VI or wheelchair bound person might need
it is clear that they really didn't have any idea of the practicality of
what they were doing.

For example, the main crossing in town has ramps in the sidewalks that go
down on a diagonal. So, as you go down the sidewalk and hit the bumps that
indicate that you are near the street you are not facing towards across the
Cali will have to understand to turn slightly to get to the other side. And,
Mona will have to know when that's OK.

Based on our test walks with Mona, I've now added a whoa off the harness.
The word whoa coupled with a slight backward traction on the harness handle
asks her to stop and stop straight. Cali is terrific with the traffic and
dogs. The other day while walking we walked past a horse in it's pasture.
The big horse was very excited by Cali. And, although Cali raised her head
in dismay, she kept on walking straight.

Another big test has been passed. Cali can now jump into the little Geo
Tracker. At first we used the ramp for her to get in. The Tracker is very
small but it does have a rear deck which is barely the size of Cali. Cali
can stand sideways and we take a not very smooth ride. Since I don't want
her to be nervous in this car, we've delayed going to town in it.
I am pleased though that she can get in and I don't have to carry her ramp.
I'm looking for a small step that can be carried to help her get into other
cars that might be small. Doors have to open enough for her body to get
through in order for her to jump in. But, if she can step up in she is more
than willing to squeeze a little.

In March Cali will also be going to the University of North Texas for a talk
by some famous animal trainers. Since Mona wants to return to school these
will be wonderful venues for practicing. The folks at UNT are excited to
have her. And, they even expressed a desire that it would be great if Mona
could go to UNT. Michigan is a great school too but wouldn't it be cool to
go to a school where animal behavior study is on the cutting edge. Dr
Rosales in the UNT Behavioral Sciences Department is a good friend and his
wife works with Autistic kids.

My plan is to take Cali by car to Texas. This will be a challenge. I've got
on tap a plan to speak with Ann again regarding the challenges of traveling
with Cali. To me it seems simple. It's virtually impossible to stay over
night in a hotel without adequate plans for relieving. On average, Cali
"goes" every 3 hours. That's a better average than Panda.
And, Cali does not seem to urinate as frequently nor does she produce as
much volume as Panda. It's easily caught in our "bag".

So, to expand on my plan of having Cali be able to "go" in handicapped
restrooms, I expect that we can "go" in a room with a handicapped bathroom.
This is a bathroom that is big enough to accommodate a wheelchair. And so,
it can
accommodate Cali overnight. She will have to wear her relieving bag over
night or Mona and I will have to take her out every three hours even over
night. It will be like traveling with a baby.

From the professional campers we have taken a hint. As it turns out a single
Alfalfa cube will not only absorb any liquid in her bag, it will also make
smell non existent. Who knew. Professional campers (like those that climb
mountains) will put a few Alfalfa pellets in their porta potty's to absorb
liquid and smell.

Cali does seem to understand the bag means "go". I also hope that the
presence of the bag will tell her it's ok to go when she might not
otherwise. She has picked her spot in the yard and has reserved this place
as the potty.

Today's plan is another ride in the car. And, more waiting while I write.
Soon, we'll be working on lie down in the living room. As soon as I dig out
my camera from the mired of boxes I've packed, I'll post another photo or