Seedling Transport Courtesy of Singer

We stumbled on this accidentally last year as we were trying to get the Catalpa seedlings we started at the Chicago workrooms up to the farm.

Catalpa seedlings at 4 weeks old.

Catalpa seedlings at 4 weeks old.

For the first couple of weeks, we used a cellophane-covered cage in a canvas bag and moved six at a time.  That was taking forever.

Catalpa transport method

Fine, but a little tedious on the train.

Then we noticed that there are three sewing machine cases that were sitting empty.  Genius struck, and now we use them to transport all of our plants when we have to travel back and forth.  It is light, protective, and very easy to carry!

Sewing machine cases make a great plant transport system.

Sewing machine cases make a great plant transport system.


And that’s it.  No need to worry and fret about the stems breaking or it getting knocked about.

Kameo: The Experiment (Week #8)

I got to the barn around 9:30.  After throwing hay I went to go get her from the pasture.  It was then I realized that she is playing a bit of a game with me.

I am being tricked.

The past two times I’ve been out to the pasture, she has culled herself from the herd when I’ve called her.  She comes up to the door and then hesitates before walking in, but won’t take a halter in the pasture.  She walks in the door and then proceeds to do whatever she wants in the barn until I can finally get the halter on her.

So what seemed like a really great breakthrough is really not so much.  I go out to the pasture, show her the halter and lead rope, she pins her ears, and then ducks into the herd.  She does a kind of circle around the herd and then comes inside on her own.

She then stands at the hay stall and fusses and stomps while she eats.  This needs to end.  I thought that I was getting a really cooperative horse when she started coming inside on her own, but I am getting a toddler who doesn’t want to go to school.

Once I get her in a halter, she is ready to work.  I have gone back to basics – lots of grooming and friendly work.  Her flinch is almost gone, but pops back up right after I put the halter on her.  I was able to brush and manipulate her legs and hooves, so at least we are making progress.

When I bring her out of the barn onto the asphalt drive, she then tries to be really pushy and take over.  She wants to drag me to the grass.  Part of it is just the season – the Winters in Wisconsin are hard on the pasture.  Right now the pasture is mud and slush, so a healthy lawn of green grass in late February  is something like a keg at an AA meeting:  Not good.

I don’t want to lose control of the situation, so I turn it into a game at the door.  I start backing her into and out of the door.  Any door.  She still tries to bolt out of her stall if you aren’t paying attention, but she is getting more comfortable standing still while she is halfway over the threshold.

I thought that, as a small triumph, I would try to get her to back up into her stall from the aisle.  I felt like this is dangerous, as the barn’s main aisle isn’t very wide and it meant that I would have to face her as she backed in with my back pinned against the wall.  IT WORKED!  I got into position and then began backing her up.  As she moved, I was able to direct her hindquarters so that she didn’t get started by backing into the door frame.  This is what I was worried about – I had a mental picture of her getting to the frame and hitting it, where she would then rear up and stomp my face into the floor.  This did not happen.

She backed in all the way and then stood there for a second.  I worked her in and out for a bit and then took her back out into the pasture.

Because we have a lot of downtime in-between the sessions, I thought I would see what kind of work can be done in the pasture/barnyard so that I could still be hanging out with them.  I started to do a little bit of fill and grading – on the West side of the pasture.  It is really low and is swampy – especially as the snow melts.  The water doesn’t run off quickly and just sits.  So I start to dig out the culvert that drains the property and open up the ditches.  Then I start to empty wheelbarrows into the lowest parts of the depression.

The funny thing is that Kameo kept coming over to me as I worked and filled the wheelbarrow.  If I had a proper harness, I would have asked her to help me out.  As it was, I was content with her being curious. At least it wasn’t the nasty mare that I had two weeks ago.

We were also able to get some blanket play together.  She didn’t mind the blanket and is still ok with the cinch.

Both days this week, I worked with her face and mouth. While in a halter, she is surprisingly good about having her face, ears, and neck touched without flinching.  I have been doing some friendly work with her mouth and chin to get her ready for a bit and bridle.

There is some old, unused maple syrup in the cellar of the farmhouse, so I took a dram of it and have been using it as a bit of a tease for mouth-play and the bit.  I take just the smallest amount on my index fingers and work them into the corners of each side of her mouth.  It isn’t enough to be a treat, but just enough that she registers “sweet” when I play with her  mouth.  Once she is ok with the fingers in her mouth, I take the smallest amount and put it in the center of the snaffle bit that I’ve been working with.  She takes it in and holds it for a minute.  I have been trying to make sure that I take it out before she either gets tired of it or scared and haven’t tried to attach it to the bridle yet, but we are getting there.  I did this a few weeks ago before she went into heat, but now we can start to use it more regularly.

And that’s it.  I feel like we are beginning to be back on track, but still not there yet.  I am planning on incorporating saddle and bit play into the grooming and friendly process every time so that it is a totally normal thing for her.

Week #9 begins circling and driving.  I have been practicing holding the lead rope and driving stick, so that I don’t end up a cartoonish knotted mess, but the proof will be in the round corral this coming week.

Kameo: The Experiment (Week #7)

{Because of business in Chicago week #8, I wasn’t able to go to Wisconsin.  Cynda worked with her over the week and wrote this week’s entry.}

In lieu of last week’s visit, I thought I’d write a bit about what I did with Kameo this week.

Ok, here we go…………..

BecauseTchad wasn’t able to come to Wisconsin last week, poor Kameo was stuck with me. We had a nice snow fall on Saturday so I took advantage of the opportunity to expose her once again to being out on the track. The snow was a soft consistency and anywhere from a couple of inches deep to almost knee high where it had drifted. I asked her for a number of things, such as disengaging her hind quarters, approaching certain objects such as a tree limb or clump of grass (she liked that part), backing up as I backed up, and simply standing quietly in deep snow.

Kelly (my shepard/golden retriever mix) even helped us out by pretending she was a swamp monster and rustling the cat tails as we passed them. Kameo got pretty excited by the strange noise, but kept an eye on me and followed my lead….good girl!

I am quite  direct in asking her to do a number of things in sequence, so she did need to take a couple of breaks to rub her nose on her leg….this helps her think and figure things out. When we paused, she would rub her nose, lick her lips, and eventualy exhale and let her adrenaline level drop.

She clearly is understanding most of the seven games. Tchad has done a nice job introducing her to these concepts. This week gave me a chance to help her make sense of why he’s been practicing these with her. She’s learning that I’m pretty good at the games and they really do have a purpose.

I also did some work at liberty with her, both in the barn and out in the pasture with the rest of the herd looking on. When I’m with Kameo, I keep the sessions relatively short (20 minutes or less) but I ask for a lot different responses…… move over, look at me, back up, stand quietly, etc.

I was very pleased to see how much her understanding and interest has improved. I know that sometimes Tchad doesn’t see the progress but as he hones his skills, things will only get better. I’m looking forward to working with both Tchad and Kameo in week #8

Kameo: The Experiment (Week #3)

Week #3

Friendly Game, Yo-Yo, Desensitize, Halter Work, Head of the Herd

I got to the farm and was dressed and headed to the barn around 11.  Hay is thrown around 9 and I wanted there to be a little bit of a break between the throwing of hay and training.

On my way to the barn, I was thinking: “Never was Clytemnestra’s kiss sweeter than the night she slew me…” *

I worry that I will get to a good place, push too hard, and then we will be back where we started.  I have to work hard not to have that happen. It isn’t the disappointment I worry about.  I can handle the disappointment.  I worry about getting hurt.  I am trying not to be too worried, but seeing the shift her body makes when she goes from comfortable to scared or angry is often frightening. I don’t frighten easily, but this is powerful.

This week we are going to keep working on the friendly game and all its variations, the yo-yo game, lots of halter work, and a new game I invented called “Head of the Herd”.

Thursday was a series of 30-45 minute sessions broken two hours apart.  Friday was the same schedule, but it started earlier (I was already at the farm).

We started off with halter work.  I put it on and took it off twice each session.  Half of the time she gave me her nose and half of the time she turned away – a kind of resigned “Oh, OK.  Have your way with me if you like.”

We got through friendly games and some basic grooming pretty well.  She let the stick go down under her belly, but stopped short of letting my gloved hand go there.  I was able to curry her a bit without a lot of nipping this time and managed to get her mane combed, but not her tail.

We started to escalate the friendly game by including the desensitization that we will be introducing tonight.  It is really nothing more than a piece of really loud crinkly plastic on the end of the stick that you rub her down with.  She tolerated it pretty well.

Thursday night on our fourth session of the day she would hang out with me in the pasture, but she would not let me put a halter on her for anything.  Because I am not going to use a bunch of treats and bribe her and I am not going to wrestle her big ass I just hung out in the pasture with all seven of them.

This is when I hit on my new game.

I noticed that when I am out in the pasture with all of them she stands back and watches.  Her lips are flying and the tongue is lick-lick-licking (this is supposedly a sign that they are thinking).  I thought that perhaps, since she is so herd driven, she is watching for cues from the other horses as far as I am concerned.  So I thought: “Why not establish myself as the head of this herd?”

I began, starting with the top mare, to push the other horses around while she watched.  Bug and Kayla are the two alpha mares in the group, so I started with them.  They are well-trained and yield easily, so I just moved them around here, then there a few feet at a time with no lead or halters.  Then I moved on to the other mare and the two geldings.  The lowest rung of this herd is the mule (who really doesn’t like me anyway) so that was easy.
She just stood back and watched – those lips and tongue flailing.  I threw hay and then did it again before going into the house for my own dinner.

Lo! And Behold! The next day she was a thousand times more interested and calm.  I had played head of the herd before I sought her out and she yeilded to me with no issues whatsoever for the rest of the day.

And what a day it was!  We worked on friendly games, then worked a bit on yo-yo game, all the while mixing in desensitizing stimulation.  I found some old Christmas garland in the garage and hung plastic bags from the wall of her stall.  Then I covered her stall floor with them when we brought them in for grain.  She wasn’t thrilled and it will take her a bit to get used to it, but the ramping in her stall is pretty minimal considering.
When we let them all into the barn, she hesitated at the stall door and then jumped in and over the bags.  I won’t push it any more than necessary.  Cyndi is going to alternate the plastic on-and-off throughout the week so that we are desensitizing her and not creating a neurotic.

Friday we worked in a lot more of the yo-yo game into our friendly stuff.  I can’t just groom and friendly her for hours at a time.  She gets bored and leaves.  When Cyndi first started learning about the games, she taught Kameo to yo-yo.  It is supposed to be a bit advanced, but she knows it and so we began working with it.  She did great.  I was able to get her in and out of the main barn doors and Friday night before we shut everything down for the evening we had a bit of a recital where Cyndi, the dog, and the barn cats watched as I led her down the aisle in both directions and then reversed the entire length of the barn (about 50 feet) in both directions.

Overall, it was a GREAT week of sessions.  She seems to be picking up on things quickly and I have another humane desensitization idea for next week!

*Yes, I love reading Saki.  Why do you ask?  If you want another short story I identify this horse with, try “The Brogue

Kameo: The Experiment (Week #2)

Week #2

Friendly Game, Light Yo-Yo

This week is an easy week.  We are working in 30 minute sessions that are two hours apart.

Most of our work is going to be friendly work with a light bit of yo-yo game (just a few steps) thrown in to keep us from boring our friendly selves to death.

She is working really well with handling.  She still flinches, but it isn’t a full-body flinch anymore.  Now it is just from her hindquarters and withers through her legs.  She has stopped the ramping and stomping feet while you are working with her, but she will still ramp and stomp a bit in her stall.

I like working with her in the barn (it is CRAZY cold in Wisconsin right now) because she can’t rear up on me.  The ceilings aren’t quite high enough.

I took her out twice on the driveway, a 40 yard stretch of blacktop, and then once out on the track.

She does well on the pavement – there is nothing to distract her.  She did well out on the track, too.  It was snowing pretty hard but she plowed through it and we did well.  She took my lead and didn’t pull or lag.  It was really nice.

Next week we are going to be moving on to bigger and a little more challenging things, but I figure if I just keep it slow, steady, and predictable then we are in good shape.

Kameo: The Experiment (Week #1)

Week #1

Friendly Games & Warm Up

And so it begins…

I had been around Kameo throughout the Summer and Fall, but she was always a bit of a handful.  Most of my time was spent with the older, more experienced horses out on the track or on the trails.

Having watched a number of Parelli videos loaned to me, I thought that the friendly game and some general getting-to-know-you was in order if I was going to be the one to train her.

So we started with a carrot stick and a soft face brush.

No need to push this.

When I got to Getaway Farms on Thursday morning, I had a cup of coffee and sat down to talk about direction with Cyndi, the farm’s owner.  She warned me about moving too fast and letting things get out of hand.  “Make sure that you are matter-of-fact with her.  You don’t want to have to dance around and tiptoe all the time, but you don’t want to be too rough.  If it starts going wrong, jut stop and let her think.  You’ll see her get frustrated and have to think  when you do, just rest and let her think.”

And with that, off I went to the barn.

This being the first day, I didn’t have anything else on the agenda but friendly games.  I wanted her to feel comfortable with me and understand that I wasn’t a threat. I only have two days a week to train, so I can’t let my rush for results interfere with the process.  How annoying would it be to approached by someone who says: “AREN’T WE GOOD FRIENDS?  DON’T YOU SEE HOW MUCH I LIKE YOU AND HOW I AM REALLY NOT A THREAT??!?” over and over again while they try to put their fingers in your ears and rub all over you?

I went out to the pasture and singled her out.  Without too much trouble, she took a halter and allowed me to lead her into the barn. Even though she likes me, we didn’t start off with a lot of aggressive direct contact.  I walked her up and down the aisle, then started working out physical touch with a carrot stick and lead rope.

She has a strong flinch and it seems like I will never be able to touch her directly for any amount of time. It is like a scared full-body shiver that runs through her from the tip of her nose to her hooves… the back two click-click-clicking on the floor of the barn in a kind of warning rush of nervous energy. I am no cowboy, so I took it easy with her and let her decide how much she trusted me. To be brave and bold are noble goals.  To be foolhardy around a scared horse (especially THIS scared horse) is lunacy.  I was able to run a brush down her back eventually, but she wouldn’t offer up her legs or hooves and currying her was out of the question.

One of my jobs in my city life is teaching design and sewing to adults.  This doesn’t ordinarily impact the horses, but there are interesting side effects when I talk about my rural life to city women.  I was talking about Kameo in class one night before I started this training experiment and one of the students mentioned that with few alterations I could be describing a person with PTSD.  This is not to belittle the pain of those who have suffered, but rather to give them some understanding in human terms of what this mare is going through as I gently work with her.

We kept the sessions short but on a schedule.  I was working with her for about 10-15 minutes at a time every three hours.  I wanted her to feel comfortable but still focused throughout the day.

After the third session of the day, she started hanging out in the pasture right outside of the barn door.  When she would see me out in the yard on the other side of the fence she would walk over and look.  She is alert.

By the end of the time at Getaway, she was taking a halter and being led into the barn with no problem.  A couple of the sessions we did out in the pasture because she seemed to be too wound up to be led away from the herd.

And so our first training week ended well – she seemed to be okay with me leading and working and she didn’t mind the schedule.  Next week we will add a couple more things and start with some desensitization.

I am not going to push this.  I would like to have her under a saddle by the middle or end of Summer, but I am not pushing things.  I want all of our sessions to end well.  With her that may take a lot of work.

Kameo: The Experiment (Process & Goals)

I thought I would explain a bit about what we are going to try to do with Kameo over the next few months.

Cyndi and I have talked about goal and process a lot.  and have come up with a timeline that is a little compact and aggressive without being too heavy with expectations that could make this whole thing a terrible wash.

Pat Parelli is a horseman and trainer that runs and international horse training operation with his wife Linda.  Pat is the Western rider and Linda cut her teeth long ago in high-level dressage.  They make a great pair.  Each of them has a slightly different approach with the horses, but they use an organic natural training.

Their training (as I am understanding it) is based on what they call the Seven Games.  These are games that Pat developed as he worked with and watched horses over his career.  They are games that horses play with each other and humans can play with them.  You use the Seven Games to speak the horse’s language during training.
The seven games are:

  1. Friendly Game
  2. Porcupine Game
  3. Driving Game
  4. Yo-Yo Game
  5. Sideways Game
  6. Circling Game
  7. Squeeze Game

More information can be found about these games and horse-training philosphy at the Parelli website and the links in the sidebar of this site, but here is a (very) basic breakdown of what they are and what they do:

  1. The Friendly Game is a way of introducing yourself physically to the horse and letting it know that you aren’t a threat.  You do it with a carrot stick and rope initially.  After the horse is comfortable with you touching them all over with the stick and rope, you can work into more aggressive and personal touching.  In this case, we are going to have to go SLOW.  Every day we will have to start off with maybe 45 minutes of friendly game and incorporate it into all of our interactions.
  2. The Porcupine Game is a way of getting the horse to respond to pointed and direct pressure.  The point isn’t to poke at the horse, but for them to understand the implication of direct pressure.
  3. The Driving Game is a kind of outgrowth of the porcupine game.  You use it to imply pressure to direct the horse.
  4. The Yo-Yo game is a game of backing up in a controlled and direct way.
  5. The Sideways Game is just that.
  6. The Circling Game is a way for the trainer to direct the movement of the horse in an intentional way.
  7. The Squeeze Game prepares the horse for tight spaces and helps them overcome their claustrophobia.

Now the Parellis aren’t the only game in town, and like I tell my sewing and design students: You want to find out as much information from as many different sources as possible for a couple of reasons.  On one hand, you may find the same information written or presented in a different voice that appeals to you more.  Always look around.

When I was researching how to train and what I was going to need to do, I started with Parelli through Cyndi and my cousin Bill.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make a difference in just two days a week, but Bill said that if we managed it right, it should make a difference.  I would have to be careful not to push too hard and that I may have to extend my timeline a little, but two days a week would work if we kept it together.

I sat down and started to think about the problems we were up against, the positives we could use to our advantage, and the schedule we would need to come up with.

Here goes!


  1. Have a sweeter, kinder horse.
  2. Have a braver horse.
  3. Have a breed-able horse that won’t imprint its own negative traits in the foaling stall.
  4. Have a functional horse from a riding and working perspective.


There are a few problems right off the bat.

  1. Halter and leading
  2. Touching and trust
  3. Movement and direction
  4. Spooking and fear
  5. Biting, nipping, and kicking


There are a few good things about her:

  1. She is whip smart.  She can pick up on things fast.
  2. She is in great shape.
  3. She has tons of energy.
  4. She isn’t food driven.  This is nice. It means I don’t have to have a pocket full of treats to get my point across.
  5. She really likes me, it seems.


I have two days a week that I can be out on the farm.  Kameo can’t take two 12 hours of instruction.  Both of us would be in a battle of wills.  I don’t need to prove that I am the Duke of Wellington to her Napoleon.

I am going to have to come up with a schedule that is a bit of a challenge and yet gives her some time to think and relax.

Process & Schedule:

And here we are.  The process.  I am going to have to come up with a direct and yet somewhat flexible schedule for us.  Here is what I’ve cobbled together:

  • Week 1: Friendly Games, grooming, leading
  • Week 2: Friendly Games, grooming, leading
  • Week 3: Friendly Games, grooming, leading, begin desensitization
  • Week 4: Friendly Games, grooming, leading, desensitization, begin porcupine, begin some squeeze game to prep for trailering
  • Week 5: Friendly Games, grooming, leading, desensitization, porcupine, squeeze game, begin saddle & cinch as a friendly game, begin introduction of bit & bridle
  • Week 6: Friendly Games, grooming, leading, desensitization, porcupine, squeeze, saddle & cinch as friendly game, introduction to bit & bridle
  • Week 7: Friendly Games, grooming, leading, desensitization, porcupine, squeeze, saddle & cinch as friendly game, begin driving, bit & bridle
  • Week 8: Friendly Games, grooming, leading, desensitization, porcupine, squeeze, saddle & cinch as friendly game, driving, begin circle game, bit & bridle
  • Week 9: Friendly Games, grooming, leading, desensitization, porcupine, squeeze, saddle & cinch as friendly game, driving circle game, bit & bridle

We will leave it there for the time being.  I am still pretty new to this and have to remember that I can’t put a horse on a training schedule like I would schedule a dress for one of my clients.

Wish me luck!

Kameo: The Experiment (An Introduction)

Alternate Title:

My Strange Love Affair With Mustang Sally

Or, less preferable:

A Horse is a Horse (of Course, of Course) Until She Stomps Your Head


When my friend Greg died, I ended up spending a lot of time with his two sisters. One of them has a small herd of horses in Wisconsin.  Cyndi runs Getaway Farms in Plymouth, Wisconsin.
When I first visited the farm last Summer, I met Kameo.

Kameo in Stall

The only time this horse was calm was when she was eating.

Kameo is a 5 year old Arabian horse that has decent bloodlines and a sad history.  She shied from everything and seemed to think that everything was dangerous and scary.

Those who know me know that I am a fixer.  I fix things.  I set things right.  It doesn’t matter if it is people, architectural rehabs, or (as it turns out) horses.
There was something about her that drew me to her.  The fear and panic in her made me think that we had a lot in common.  We both have been pushed around and abused to the point where we draw in on ourselves and spook at the world.

She had been foaled on a small farm and scared to death her first couple of years.  They kept her in cross-ties and stalls and got her through doors and trailers by shaking milk jugs full of rocks at her.  Pretty much just frightening her to do what they wanted her to do.  When the results of this kind of imprinting became obvious and she was deemed un-trainable, they gave her to a smaller farm where she was tended to by a worry-wart of a new owner.  The new owner wasn’t abusive like the former owner, but she was very high-strung and hand-wavy.  Instead of working through the abuse that the horse had gone through, she would fret and fuss over the bad behavior making it worse.
By the time Cyndi got her, she had been abused and then coddled so that her bad behavior was exacerbated a hundred-fold.

She wouldn’t let you halter her, she couldn’t trailer, and she had never even had a saddle or blanket put on her.  She was practically feral.

She was given away as an un-trainable horse.

She had had no trailering experience, so they had to practically dismantle the trailer when they brought her to Getaway.  Tight spaces made her crazy.

Cyndi wasn’t sure how the other horses would react to her, so she brought her to the back pasture a couple score yards away from the main herd.  Even as frightened as she was with all of the stimulation and new environment, her herd instinct is so strong that she ramped and raced through two electric fences to join the herd she didn’t even know.

Now, she is second-to-last in the pecking order of the herd.  She gets pushy sometimes in the pasture, but the herd that existed before she came was well established and so her place is pretty solid.  Because she seems to be the equine equivalent of Rebbecca Sharp, she is always being pushed back into place after an attempt to climb the social ladder.

One day this Summer, I mentioned to Cyndi that I would like to try to train Kameo and see what happens.  She likes me enough that she will come to me in the pasture and follow me for a bit and I have been wanting to get back into horses, so it seemed like a good match.

We had been watching a lot of Pat & Linda Parelli on DVD and were in a place where anything seems possible.  The Parellis will do that to you, you know.  One minute you are thinking that nothing good will ever come of this mare and then you see Pat and Linda doing what seems to be magic on some monster of a horse and all of the sudden you are seeing yourself Roman riding in the circus as cannons fire and lights flash.  It is very seductive.

It helps that I grew up watching my cousin Bill Hewig train and work horses. When I was little and we went over, I would watch him work with them in the round pen and listen to him talk about them.  He gave us our family horse, Nicholas.  Nick was a large sturdy white Quarter Horse that was great with kids.  We rode him and played with him until my parents got divorced and my brothers and I had to move into the city.

In any case, Bill was talking to me about a couple of conversations he has had with Monty Roberts and gave me some intro pointers and references.  The next thing Cyndi and I have to do is come up with some goals.

She wants a happy horse that will be tolerant, manageable, and softer so that Kameo can be bred.  I would add to that that I would like a horse that is capable of some work as well as pleasure.  I don’t really respond to the idea of horses as pets, but don’t think that all they should do is pull or carry.  So she and I are working on a bit of a continuum of expectations.

The things we agree on are far more important.  We both are thinking that natural riding and training are the way to go.  We aren’t going to use cross-ties and bits if we can help it and we are both against whips and crops as discipline.

And thus begins the experiment.  I am going to incorporate the training into some of the broader aspects of my business for two days a week for the next six months.  We will see how far that gets us.

Stay tuned.