The Night The Animals Talk

This is a story that I wrote. It’s meant to be a picture book but it hasn’t found a home with a publisher, so I am sharing it here.

Clark Farm by moonlight

photograph by Steve Golson

The Night the Animals Talk
by Terry Golson

Hannah Rose looks out of the kitchen window into the dark night.

What are the animals doing now Papa? asks Hannah Rose.

They are going to sleep, says Papa. Like you.

But that’s not what Grandma told me, says Hannah Rose. She said that tonight is special. 

Yes, yes, says Papa impatiently. It’s Christmas Eve. All the more reason for you to get to bed!

But, Papa, Grandma said that the animals will talk tonight, insists Hannah Rose.

Hmph! Old folk tales, says Papa. Off to bed with you!

Hannah Rose tries to sleep, but the stars shine brightly through her window. They light a sparkly path to the barn. She wraps her quilt around her and puts her feet into her slippers. She tiptoes to the barn, slides the heavy door open a crack and steps inside.

Hannah Rose is here! says Buffy, the brown hen.

You do talk! says Hannah Rose.

Hah, she never stops! says Daisy, the goat.

Well, I’m awake and hungry, says Ginger, the spotted hen, as she hops down off of the roost. Would you be so kind as to give me some corn?

Some for me, too, says Buffy.

A tiny voice squeaks, Drop a little extra for me, please. The mouse’s quivering nose pokes out from its hiding place. Over here, the mouse says, away from the cat.

Oh, says TomTom, I won’t chase you tonight, not on Christmas Eve. He rubs against Hannah Rose’s legs. A scratch behind my ears would be nice, he says in a gravely voice.

I would like some hay, says Daisy.

Brownie, the old mare, shakes her head. Staying up late has made me hungry. A handful of oats in my bucket will do.

Hannah gets corn for the chickens, hay for the goat, scratches the cat, feeds the horse and tosses a few grains for the mouse.

Thank you, say the hens.

Thank you, says the mouse.

Delicious, says the goat, talking with her mouth full.

Ah, that feels good, says TomTom.

Thank you, says Brownie. I do like a midnight snack. The horse sighs and lies down in the deep straw of her stall.

Hannah Rose yawns and shivers in the cold.

Come and warm up next to me, says Brownie.

Hannah Rose curls up on the horse’s round belly, pulling her quilt over her. She soon falls fast asleep. 

The sun is just rising in the sky when the barn door rattles opens and startles Hannah Rose awake.

Hannah Rose! says Papa, So here you are! It’s Christmas morning. There are presents under the tree to open!

I heard the animals talk! says Hannah, rubbing her eyes.

Really, and what did they say? asks Papa.

They wanted corn and oats and hay. TomTom wanted a scratch and even the mouse asked for food, says Hannah Rose.

Hmmph, says Papa. That’s what they always say. I don’t need to stay up in the dark and cold to hear that.

But they also said thank-you! says Hannah Rose.

Of course they did, says Papa. They always do. Each animal says thank you in its own way. TomTom purrs when he’s happy. And haven’t you heard Brownie do that low nicker when she gets her grain? Why, all of the animals thank us.

Now let’s get you back to the house, says Papa. He picks up Hannah Rose and swings her onto his shoulders.

As she leaves the barn she hears TomTom purring, Brownie nicker and the chickens cluck. Daisy bleats meh-meh. Hannah Rose waves good-bye, and as Papa heads for home, she hears the tiny squeak of a tiny mouse.

You’re welcome, whispers Hannah Rose.

Peppermint Stick Goat

I was given a large peppermint stick. I had an idea of who might like it.

As expected, Caper took a sniff and declined, but Pip was game to try a new food that smelled like his favorite herb.



The hanging toy is supposed to make it a challenge to eat a treat. Pip was up to it. He crunched.



He nibbled.



He licked. He got bits of candy stuck to his beard.



Is this how Rudolph’s nose got so red? Alas, Pip still can’t fly.


Merry Christmas!

I’m taking a week off from this blog between now and January 1. I’ll be staying away from the computer and spending time with my family. I’ll catch up with you in the New Year.

Handmade Pottery Chicken Feeder

LIly was quite excited when the delivery man left a big box on the front porch. I was, too, because I knew what was inside. One of my readers is a potter. She also has chickens. Of course, if you have a flock of hens, you are always thinking of how to make the coop area more charming. If you’re a potter, and one as talented as LIndsay, then you can act on your whims.

Lindsay has come up with a line of chicken feeders and waterers of her own design. To me, they are reminiscent of the vintage ceramic dispensers that I occasionally see at flea markets. But, Lindsay’s are vibrantly colorful and cheerful. They’re also beautifully crafted and eminently useful.

She sent me a small feeder in my choice of color, red. (Yellow, blue and custom hues are available.) I filled it with pellets and placed it  inside of the coop. The Gems were immediately drawn to it, and set right to eating.



The color red encourages eating and drinking (which is why plastic founts are often that color.) The shine of the glaze, and Lindsay’s perfectly designed feeder lips, increased the appeal for the hens and they ate with gusto.

Because it is pottery,  the feeder can’t withstand ice and freezing. I could keep it inside of the coop, but I’m going to store it away until springtime, when I can use it outside, where it will look charming near the red barn door. Since this is a medium version, instead of using it for feed, I’m going to fill it with oyster shell and grit. I have a feeling that the girls will consume more of those essential minerals when they’re offered in a pottery feeder.

Lindsay makes each pot by hand. She is a craftsman, and so you will spend more for one of these than for a serviceable plastic dispenser. Think of her pots as garden ornaments rather than strictly utilitarian objects, and maybe you’ll be able to find room in your budget for one.

You can find Lindsay’s pots at her website, Rock Bottom Pottery and at her Etsy shop.

Why I Clicker Train My Horse

Tonka walks nicely next to me with a halter and a lead line. Horses are trained to do this with corrections – if a horse gets too far ahead, the handler tugs on the line, if the horse balks, he is slapped on his side or his head is yanked. If a horse gets too full of himself, a more severe halter might be used, or a chain is threaded across the nose. None of this is necessarily horrible. In the hands of a good trainer, corrections are quick, and a horse learns to walk placidly, and without fear, next to his handler.


However, I aim for something better than that. I want Tonka to walk next to me because he chooses to. I want him to pay attention to me. I want him to walk next to my shoulder, a foot away, looking forward and content to be where he is. I can get this behavior from Tonka without a single correction or even a no. I do this with clicker training.

A clicker is a small noise maker. Press down with your finger, and it makes a distinct click. I use this sound to tell Tonka exactly when he is doing what I want. Tonka knows that a reward will follow. (In his case, it is a carrot coin, but rewards can vary. However, a reward must always follow the click.) Clicker training allows me to communicate very clearly with Tonka. I start with a well-defined end goal, then think through what the first thing is that is needed to get there, and then what’s after that. For example, if my goal is to get Tonka to come when called, at the beginning of training this I’m not going to wait to reward him until he is galloping across a field towards me. The first click comes when he looks at me, then a step, then another. This sounds slow, but actually, because I am communicating precisely and building on each success, the training goes quickly.

So, back to the walking off-lead work. My goal is for Tonka to walk on my right side, matching my pace, without the use of a lead line. I decided that I would tell him to do this with a visual cue of my left hand tapping on my right shoulder, and an oral cue of “let’s go.”


I set him up for success by doing this on the track that circles the pastures. Right now, with snow on the ground, there’s no distraction of grass to eat. There’s one stretch that is a spooky place, so I don’t work him there. I’ll wait to drop the line at that corner only when he is 100% elsewhere.

At the first session of teaching this off-lead work (similar to off-leash work with dogs) I clicked and rewarded for just a step. Then three. Soon I could space out the clicks, and In short order, Tonka was walking at my shoulder for a half-minute up the track.


I keep the carrots in a bag around my waist. Tonka never gets a treat just because I love him, (even though I do) because horses believe that all behavior is correlated to other behavior. If a horse nudges you once and gets a treat, the next time he sees you that nudge will be a shove. Training goes both ways, and happens whether you mean it to or not. Treats without reason lead to pushy horses. Horses are powerful animals. I never reward for anything (no matter how cute) that can turn into dangerous behavior. A nuzzle of the treat bag can easily turn into getting slammed with a horse head. If, during training, your horse “mugs” you, revise your training protocol! In the context of off-lead work, Tonka gets rewarded only when he is looking forward.


Horses thrive on relationships and interaction. Everything they do in a herd has a cause and effect. Humans can be so confusing for horses because so much of what we do doesn’t appear to correlate with anything that they’re communicating to us. But, this clicker stuff (when done right, and sadly it’s done very badly by some), is quite clear to them. Also, horses like to have a say in things. From Tonka’s perspective, he’s telling me what to do. “I put my nose here and step here and you give me a carrot. Hah! Look what I can get you to do!” Horses don’t like to be coerced, either. If Tonka doesn’t walk perfectly next to me, if he swings his head to look at something, or if he lags behind, nothing happens. Nothing. No tug. No shouting.


I wait. He thinks about things. He goes back into position, and the moment he does so he hears a click. Then he gets his reward (If you reward without the click, you lose the precise communication. By the time you hand over the carrot, the horse has already done something else.)

I’ve been doing this training for a week, and have done only six sessions, each one lasting less than fifteen minutes. Tonka is now walking freely next to me, and slows down or speeds up according to my pace. If I back up, so does he, to keep his head at my shoulder. This sort of training makes the horse happy. I don’t think I’m anthropomorphizing here. I can see it in Tonka’s relaxed posture, in his forward ears, and in how he is engaged with me without any worry in his eyes.


Horses are hyper-aware of their bodies and the world around them. Tonka has come to learn that I’ll respond to his body language sanely, and that what he does matters to me. As he learns to trust me, I learn to trust him – that he will think and pay attention to me. This sort of training is gratifying to both of us, and should reap rewards in the future when we’re on the trail. Tonka will trust that if I ask him to do something (cross a bridge, or ford a stream, or walk by a scary boulder), that I’m listening to his concerns, and he’ll believe me when I say that it’s okay to go on.

For now, the trails are too icy to ride, but we have a lot of things to work on, Tonka and I. I’m beginning to see how gentle and thoughtful my gelding is. I also see a glimmer of a sense of humor in how he responds to training. That’s another thing about clicker training – the full personality can come out when the lines of communication are open.


Dressing Warmly

My son waits for the school bus early in the morning, when it is still dark. The other day he left the house wearing his lightweight warm-up jacket. He did not wear gloves. It was -4 degrees F. He said he was fine.

Tonka does not have the option of being a teenage boy and refusing to dress warmly. A storm was predicted, and so I put on his extra-cold weather gear. He looked a bit like a fireman. Or a bumblebee in armor.


Unlike my teenage son, he didn’t seem to mind my fussing over him, or getting dressed.

Like most of the horses at Little Brook, Tonka lives in a field. A 3-sided shed provides protection from the worst of the weather.



For many horses, like Tonka, this is a healthy alternative to stall life. Some horses don’t even need blankets. Cricket, despite his advanced age, grows a thick coat that amply protects him. I can tell he’s just fine by that glowing patch of dapples across his rump. A patch of sun, and he’s cozy enough for an afternoon nap.



Tonka doesn’t have Cricket’s thick fur, so I do have to blanket him. But once the storm passed, I swapped his heavy-weight for a lighter turn-out blanket.


Temps are predicted to rise into the high-40s later this week. Tonka won’t need any blanketing then. Most likely my teen will wear a t-shirt to school.