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Still regal at nearly 20 years old, Shadow enjoys his windowsill vantage point. Photo by Adam Sherman.

(PLEASE TAKE THE POLL AT THE END OF THIS POST. THANKS.)

I wonder: Does a white-tailed, floppy-eared doe consider a mid-size black house cat to be prey, predator, or a curiosity?

On a morning trip to the chicken coop, I noticed a deer near our woodpile. She was looking intently at the ground. When I left the coop a little later, the hens were complaining as always at being robbed of their nest’s goods. Sometimes, they get so dramatic, they make sounds that are much like a growl.

I thought that‘s what I was hearing as I noticed the doe remaining in exactly the same position as before. I shuffled my feet in the gravel, but even that didn’t startle her.

Now I was curious. Slowly, I approached to see if the deer was perhaps focused on a fawn at her feet. No fawn; instead a shadowy silhouette, shaped like a cat’s head. My near-20-year-old black cat, Shadow, sat frozen just inches from the doe, staring up at her. It was him doing the growling, nearly as deep and loud as a dog’s. The young doe and the sweet, but a tad demented, old-man cat, were staring each other down. Shadow would never be able to avoid a direct hit if she decided to give him a hoof.

I yelled at both of them and made big cartwheel moves with my arms. That diverted the doe. She turned and calmly walked toward the forest. Shadow scurried as best he could into the shop and hid under a big, red toolbox the rest of the day. He wasn’t injured but was suffering a little post-drama trauma.

I’ll always wonder who saw who first that day.

Next day, Lilly the barn cat ran zig-zagging into the arena where my horse, Callie, was loose and cavorting. After a few minutes of zipping around in the sandy footing, Lilly froze and stayed that way. Eventually, Callie caught sight of the gray-and-white cat and sauntered toward her. Callie stretched her neck down to sniff Lilly, then shook her head as if inviting Lilly to play.  I hoped Callie’s next move would not be “playfully” striking out with her front feet.

Lilly stayed stock still. She had a baby vole or gopher under her paw that she was not going to part with come Hell or hooves. Callie gave Lilly another sniff then turned to egg on Sam, the blue heeler sitting outside the arena waiting for a sign the chase-each-other-down-the-fence game was on.

Cats seem to be feeling quite empowered this week.

Folk-art style stick pony, or hobby horse, typical of those recently used as real horse proxies during a rodeo-queen-style contest in Utah.

STICK HORSE STAND-INS

More than 50 horse, burro and mule events in the United States and Canada were canceled in May and June when a highly contagious, often-fatal illness, equine herpes virus (EHV-1), struck in 10 western states. Ninety cases of EHV-1 were confirmed. Of these, 13 became fatalities, according to the USDA.

EHV-1 spreads easily from horse to horse through nose contact, contaminated tack, equipment and clothing. To help prevent the spread of EHV-1, state veterinarians invoked quarantines and instructed owners and trainers not to move their horses away from home stables for any reason.

Still, one show went on minus the horseflesh:  a Utah mounted posse junior queen competition. The contestants rode, well, stick horses, to demonstrate their horsemanship and knowledge of the required routines.

This gambit received national media attention: Some viewers and readers commented that the stick pony substitution set these young women up for ridicule. Others believed it a lesson in creative problem-solving.  I like to think it made people smile — and not at the expense of the queen hopefuls.

The contest judges certainly were able to get  a clear picture of how each contestant adapts to uncomfortable situations. How could you not feel

Pink polka dots add a fancy touch to this stick pony. These toys also became known as hobby horses in 1500s England when keeping horses for recreation, as opposed to draft work, took hold with the royal and wealthy.

self-conscious without your trusty live mount to carry you to victory? Let’s hope the young competitors felt gracious, not graceless, as they moved around the arena demonstrating gait changes, figure-eights and other maneuvers.

Prime time stick ponies got me to thinking about my childhood stick horses, also known as hobby horses since the 1500s. My favorite was the color of a palomino with a creamy mane and tail. Do you remember yours?

Or perhaps this old English nursery rhyme rings a bell:

I had a little hobby horse,
and it was dapple grey;
its head was made of pea-straw,
its tail was made of hay.

THE ANIMAL LESSON THIS WEEK: What the stick ponies bring to mind is the 12-step phrase, “Take the world as it is, not as it ought to be,” (or “as you would have it”). This valuable insight points to the importance of being able to adapt and take things in stride. There’s a group of young horse women in Utah who know how.

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