Conversing With My Horse

Although you don’t see him on the cams, Tonka is as much a part of my life as the animals that you watch here at HenCam. In fact, I spend more time with him that anyone else in the family. My sons (one home from college, one in high school) assume that if they don’t see me around the house, that “mom’s at the barn.”

There’s all sorts of theories about why women love horses. I’ve heard people go on and on about how women get a power rush from being able to control a large beast, and that there’s an undercurrent of sexual connotations. I don’t buy it. It’s also not just about having an animal to talk to – for that people have dogs. I became smitten with horses as a toddler and that love has never ebbed. I’ve put a lot of thought into why that is.

Horse are domestic animals. They’ve been working alongside people for thousands of years. They relate to us. They communicate with us. That’s true of other domestic animals, from dogs to chickens, but, with horses it’s at another level. Because we ride them, we can communicate instantaneously through our bodies. So, for example, not only do I know what Tonka is looking at because I can see his head turn, and his ears flick, but I can feel it, too. Conversely, that goes for him as well. He knows where I’m looking. He feels if I’m tense. If I shift my weight from one hip bone to the other, he senses it, and, with training, will adjust what he does accordingly. Ride with enough quiet and tact, and you feel each other breathe. Go out into the world on your horse, and you see the landscape together. You can’t do that with any other animal.

There’s this theory out there about how, because horses are prey animals, (big carnivores want to eat them) that they relate to humans as if we are predators and are a threat to them. “Natural horsemanship” bases a lot of their training on this premise. I think it’s totally wrong. Horses are smart enough to know that we’re not going to hunt them. We might scare them once in awhile (and they might scare us) but it’s not a predator/prey relationship. My horse knows I’m not a mountain lion. If I trained him as if I were, I’d be causing a lot of problems between us. There’s also this idea that, because horses are herd animals, and that the herd has a hierarchy, that we humans have to take the dominant position in the group. I don’t agree with that, either. First of all, horses know that we’re not horses. They don’t expect us to be part of their herd. Secondly, there’s a lot of misunderstanding with what “dominance,” and “leadership” is. Just thinking that you have to be “dominant” makes you behave in a way that sets up conflict. That doesn’t mean that I don’t maintain a relationship that asks for and requires appropriate and safe behavior from my horse; it does meant that I don’t rely on aversive training techniques to have that relationship. Horses are social animals and develop long-lasting and deep friendships over time. That’s the key. That’s what I aim for.

On the other hand, even though I don’t have to act like a horse to train Tonka, it does help, in our relationship, to be aware of what horses respond to. They’re hyperaware of movement, and so being calm and predictable is something that I try to do. They respond to body language and so I am aware of where I place myself in relation to my horse. They vocalize rarely, but when they do, it means something, and so I try not to chatter, but I do use my voice, when I have something to say.

The relationship with my horse fascinates me and enriches my life. But there’s something else about horses. Beauty. Especially in movement.

Of the three horse gaits, walk, trot and canter, two of them have moments when all four feet are off of the ground.

Here is Tonka at the trot.

Tonka at trot


This is the canter.

Tonka at canter

How amazing is it that I can put a saddle and bridle on this horse, and he’ll do that when I’m on his back? That I can take flight with  him?

That said, it’s not the rush of galloping that makes me so happy around horses. We can be standing still, like we are in the photo below. Actually, look closely at it. We’re not still at all. Tonka has one ear towards the camera, and one ear back to listen to me. My legs are on his sides and I can feel that he’s relaxed, but also ready to move off. He’s waiting for me to tell him what’s next.

And so the conversation continues. What’s next, Tonka?

Tonka by car

The Three Nursing Home Hens

The Nursing Home Project began with five hens. I was concerned that five were too many for the space,

nursing home coop

but I also thought that there’d be losses. I was right on both counts. Clementine, the favorite hen, died of internal laying. Beulah, the Black Star, decided that her flock mates were too close to her and she was too bored, so she got into the bad habit of feather picking. I brought her back home, where she is reformed.

The nursing home flock is now down to three.

DSC_2377 (1)

Three hens are just right. They all get along. They’re busy, and chatty, and that makes them entertaining for the nursing home residents and their families. Children, who would otherwise find visiting an elderly relative scary (as these institutions are, what with the smells, and the staff in uniforms, the equipment, and the people with dementia) are happy to spend time with a grandparent when there are chickens to distract everyone.

The staff benefits. Lisa continues to spend her lunch hour with “my girls.” She lets them out on grass when she can. They follow her everywhere so she has no problem getting them back into their coop. Lisa collects the eggs, and will surprise a coworker with a gift of an egg at their work station.



I have learned some lessons. Firstly, I should listen to my own advice and stick to my chicken coop criteria, especially for the amount of outside space that hens need. Also, next time, I’d build a compost bin into the fenced run, just like I have at home. (It turns out that the nursing home provides lots of greens and other goodies to the hens, and a contained space for those healthy treats would be better.) I also proceeded under the assumption that there was ample storage for the feed, tools, etc. nearby. However, there isn’t. A coop at an institution needs it’s own, attached storage area. The nursing home is going to purchase a small tool shed. That will make Lisa’s care-taking chores that much better. (You can see the way it is done now in this photo.)

back of shed

The other thing that I concluded is that coops designed for public viewing should have a roof on part of the outside run. That way, even when the weather is bad, (whether it’s raining, snowing, or very hot, the hens will come outside and people can enjoy them.

They are enjoyable.

three hens

The Chicken Tick Patrol

It’s tick season. These nasty insects suck blood and spread disease. They lay in wait on tree trunks, in brush, in tall grass and in dried leaves, which are all of my goats’ preferred places, too. In past years, my goat boys have rubbed themselves raw trying to dislodge ticks burrowed half-under their skin. I’ve groomed them, and picked the ticks off, but they still caused misery.

This year, I put the Tick Patrol to work, and they’ve been doing a brilliant job of reducing the tick load in the pasture!

chickens in meadow


For reasons unknown, the hawks that nested year after year in woods at the back of the pasture did not return. There’s still a risk that a flying predator will come by, but I’ve been watching, and so far the skies are clear. In the afternoon, after the Ladies lay their eggs, I let them into the goat paddock, where they go to work, cleaning up insects that I can’t see (they help to control parasites that the goats might harbor)

hens in goat paddock



and then they move into the larger pasture. Their dinosaur feet shred leaves and expose bugs.

chicken feet



No creepy crawlies escape their sharp vision.

Nancy Drew



In the next week I’ll be opening up the overgrown side of the pasture.




The Ladies will have their work cut out for them. So far, though, I’ve found only a couple of ticks on the boys. They are very grateful!



This is my first attempt to use chickens for tick control. I’ve been surprised at how successful it’s been. Guinea hens are supposed to be even better, but they’re very loud and don’t stay put, so I’ve not considered getting them. There will be a lot more ticks in the brush in the overgrown side of the paddock. I’ll let you know if the hens are up to that job.

The Beast Gets Sunburn

Something is wrong with The Beast. My peachy-white eleven-year old koi has what looks like red gashes on her sides and head.

koi head sunburned


Looking closely, I can see that she isn’t wounded, nor has she rubbed herself raw (as fish sometimes do when irritated by parasites.) I Googled a description of her symptoms, and discovered, much to my surprise, that koi get sunburned! Pale-skinned koi, like The Beast, are especially susceptible.

Why was this the first year that I’ve seen such sun damage? I think it’s because The Beast is now enormous. Lily pads that used to shade her, are now like small polka dots overhead.

small lilies


In the late afternoon, bright sun reaches deep into her cave, but she is now too big to lurk in its dark recesses.



My Google search taught me that pond salt helps to  promote slime on a fish’s scales, which acts as a salve for sunburn. I bought a carton. It’s a big pond. I poured the entire contents around the perimeter.

pond salt


I bought another waterlily. This one has especially large pads.

new lily


It’ll take awhile for the waterlily to grow more leaves that will provide enough shade to prevent sunburn on the koi. In the meanwhile, I’ve moved the umbrella away from my chairs, over to the edge of the pond.



I don’t mind. I can wear a hat. Which is not something that I can see putting on The Beast.

sunburned koi

Goat Belly

Given the chance, the goats would, in a matter of days, eat up everything within their meadow. So, I have moveable netting inside of their permanent fence. I move it about twice a week. This gives the plants that the goats like the best – the brambles, the tall weeds, and the shrubs – a chance to grow.

The other day I opened up a particularly overgrown section of the meadow. Goats can cram a ridiculous amount of forage into their four stomachs. (Actually, to be precise, it’s four compartments.)

Did you say ridiculous?

caper belly


Pip is the jealous one. He grazes next to Caper, and every few bites, head butts his brother away from the plants that he wants. Caper moves off, all the while eating. Compare their two bellies.  It’s obvious  that Caper’s philosophy of non-engagement is the most successful.

belly comparison


You’re pointing this out WHY? By the way, the fence needs to be moved again.

Caper face