"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

In Which Liz Visits & Much Fun is Had

Many of you know Liz from In Omnia Paratus.

I consider her to be among my best friends and we try to see one another at least a couple of times a year since we're in neighboring states. This year has been rough with both of our competition schedules disappearing because of Lily's and Kenai's surgeries, but Liz was able to make it out to see us for Labor Day Weekend on her way up to Maine for a work trip.

Liz has Time Turner capabilities and I swear said capabilities are contagious when she is around. :) We managed to squeeze so much into our weekend, despite the fact that she arrived Friday afternoon and left Sunday morning!

Have some photos from her visit:

We went on a 5-6 mile trail ride to give Liz a tour of the barn where we're boarding at. We were crunched for time, so we managed to complete our little expedition in 45 minutes. Liz rode Gracie for the first time in over a year and commented on how far she has come in fitness, smoothness and responsiveness since then. Yay training!

Gracie would have taken Liz for a tour of the trails solo if allowed. She was all, "This way is more fun!"
G-Mare has developed quite the badonka-donk...
Riding through the famous landfill site at the barn.
Liz had the brilliant idea of getting gallop photos of Lily & me.
Here we were trotting away to get enough room to pick up speed on the straightaway.
On your marks...get set...GO!

This is my fave of the Lily pics.

Browband by Karen.
Since G-Mare is even more fun to gallop than Lily (in part because of her longer neck and more upright head set: she is just easier to balance on at speed), I asked if we could get pics of her too, and Liz said yes!
Gracie broke into a cross-canter during our first run so I slowed her down to start over. Liz nailed this awesome photo of her extended trot with all 4 feet off the ground!
Second run.
NEEEERRM..blurry, but you can get a feel for how much this mare can fly!
Third run: not blurry!
Uphill gallop much?
This mare would rock at jousting...
Dat reach tho!
Just epic.

We took Liz up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain so she could see the view.

It's not a huge elevation, but the trees already had more colors than at lower elevations.
Yup, we climbed UP this just to appreciate the view!
On Saturday we took Liz into downtown Frederick for First Saturday festivities.
I don't think my tan is obvious at all... ;)

Carroll Creek
Street musicians.

So you guys can hear them too. :)
We walked into this record store when I saw the sign outside announcing free beer.
They really did have free beer in a cooler by the door, no strings attached. Not only that, it was good beer!
Baltimore's National Bohemian.
No open containers allowed on the streets so we hung out looking around the store. So, so many original records here! Great little place for people-watching too: the customers looked like they had stepped out of a 70's movie. Pretty cool.
More outdoor music.
It's great when your bestie and your hubs get along so well...
I laughed so hard I had tears running down my face!
It was a short visit: Liz left that Sunday bright and early to continue on her way north. But we had a blast as always. 

Go check out her photos of her journeys here

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Rockin' It

This Friday, Charles and I hauled out with the girls back to Little Bennett Regional Park to put in a long conditioning ride. My ambitious goal was 15 miles in 2.5 hours, with me being happy if we only did 12 in 2 hours. If it got too hot/humid, we'd leave do less. My goal pace for the day was 6 mph, which is the equivalent of a slow-moderate sustained trot, and the minimum pace you need to complete an endurance ride or LD within the alloted time frame (6 hours for an LD aka limited distance, 12 hours for 50 miles).

Little Bennett supposedly has 25 miles of horse trails but I suspect we might have covered them all on this ride. If there are 25 miles, there are extra trails that we don't know how to link up to: we did 13.5 miles by connecting every side trail we came across. And we did it in 2 hours and 10 minutes. Nailed it, yo! That's a PERFECT 6 mph average.

We arrived at the park by 10:00 am and between feeding the girls on arrival (Lily didn't want her mash but she wanted hay so she got hay; Gracie ate her mash like she always does) and getting them tacked up, we were on trail by 10:50 am. Lily had 1 dose of Enduramax + 1 dose of Perform n' Win mixed with water in a syringe, followed by a dose of Pro CMC, right before heading out on trail.

Lily, to my total surprise, had been very antsy at the trailer while waiting for Charles to get up on Gracie and she power trotted out onto that trail with ears pricked. I hadn't seen her this happy to be out on trail in a long time, and I wondered out loud to Charles if she somehow thought we were at a ride because she was in the full gear: all 4 boots, all saddle bags on board (I had my cantle bag for this ride too so I could carry spare boots), both things which only happen at rides. Though I later figured out that she was probably just that much more comfortable with all 4 boots on. Note taken, Lily.

One of the new trails we discovered on this outing. Gorgeous!!
Both horses were wearing hoof boots all around. Over the last 8 months I've been able to slowly collect some used Easyboot Gloves for Gracie. The night before, I put together some of Lily's Renegades so I'd have enough boots for her, since some of her Gloves have ended up with frayed gaiters and I can't for the life of me replace the broken gaiters without stripping the goddamn screws. *silent scream* Anyway, this was Gracie's first time ever wearing hoof boots and my first time resurrecting the Renegades since Fort Valley last year.

Lily started out with Renegade Vipers on her fronts and original Renegades on her hinds. I have accepted the fact that Renegade boots probably won't ever be a perfect fit for her imperfect TB front feet but I still don't understand why they won't work for her hinds, which are pretty much textbook: low heels, short rolled toes, no flares. I need to take the time to troubleshoot the hind boots at some point; Renegade has the best customer service of any hoof boot company and they truly stand by their products so it really is all on me that I haven't figured this out yet.

I brought 2 of Lily's Gloves as backups, which would end up getting slapped on her hoofers within the first few miles when the cables I had replaced on the Renegades slid back out. :( I'm hoping that by using their Pro Hex Driver next time around to tighten the boot screws I won't have this cable sliding issue anymore. There's only so much you can tighten the screws with an Allen wrench before stripping them.

The Gloves did fabulously on Gracie. She had 0.5W with power straps on both hinds and regular 0.5W with no power straps on her fronts. The only boot snafu we had with her was when the screws came undone on one of her hind boots. I guess that's why Easycare uses Locktite to glue in their screws? (Which is what makes them impossible to remove!) Charles ended up removing both hinds after this and the only other issue G-Mare had was her LF boot popping off twice at the canter, which honestly isn't bad for an almost 14 mile ride!

Another new trail: I had not encountered this river crossing before. The water was crystal-clear.
With Lily's boot issues, I went through my boots and spares until I only had 3 functional boots of the 6 I had started out with. Lilybird has a hole in the wall of her left hind hoof (of course it's the left hind!) which I think was incurred by the screw that caused her leg injury back in June. It has not caused any issues at all and since it is a horizontal crack, it has not changed in size.

That crack. It's grown lower the past week.
Btw, whoever said it takes an entire year for a horse to grow a new hoof is lying. Just sayin'.
But it has grown down over the last 2.5 months and right now one end of it is almost touching the ground so consequently I am trying really hard to not have that break off and take a giant chunk of hoof wall with it. I've been rasping off even the tiniest bit of flare on that hoof to prevent torque. This means that she is getting booted for rides, with Lily's hinds being the priority at the moment to avoid a slice of hoof getting ripped off by the terrain. My vet was out for vaccines this week and I did have her take a look just in case. She probed it and confirmed that it didn't seem to involve any of the hoof's sensitive tissues, but said that she might be sore on it if the chunk of hoof comes off. I have casting material ready to go for when that happens (my vet also approved of this plan): it will help protect the hoof as the wall finishes growing down.

I love this video. It is hard to believe sometimes that just a little over a year ago, this man had only ridden a horse a handful of times before in his life, and this horse was so out of shape and obese that she couldn't gait/trot for more than 15 consecutive minutes. I was watching them go in front of me and shaking my head in wonder. He's posting, guys!
Note the smooth transition into canter towards the end, too!

Since a horse can't wear 3 boots and be expected to be comfortable (you try jogging with only one shoe on gravel), I removed her fronts and left her with only hind boots on. By this point we were 8 miles into our ride, with Gracie taking a long turn at leading.

Lily started head bobbing slightly every other stride during this stretch at the trot. Once I was sure I wasn't imagining it, I called out to Charles to stop and I dismounted for the 7th time on this ride to mess with Lily's boots: her left hind Glove was a little twisted. I also checked to make sure she didn't have a stone stuck under either of her fronts. Nothing; everything looked great. No heat, swelling, pulses anywhere, and no new chips on her fronts to cause soreness.

I got back on, we walked for a while and then picked up the trot again. Slight head bob again. Again I dismounted and on a whim, I placed my third boot on Lily's LF (a Viper; it was still functional) and asked Charles for Gracie's functional hind boot he had removed for Lily's RF. Yeah, it's a 0.5W whereas Lily takes a regular 0.5 on that hoof, but I figured with lots of Vetrap we could make it work. (Yup, a roll of Vetrap lives in my saddle bags for precisely this reason.)

Guess what? It actually WORKED! Hellz yeah!

Lily trotted out sound and happy after that.

It was in the lower to mid 80's with high humidity (around 75% and no, I am not exaggerating. That morning while still at home the humidity had been 100% per the forecast. 100%!!) but there was a nice cool breeze in the shade and being earlier in the day than last time we rode at Little Bennett, the weather was far more comfortable for both us and the horses. We kept a close eye on the girls but both were happy and forward, and despite plenty of water crossings, both barely drank on trail. I'm still not sure what was up with that, but neither was worse for the wear so it's all good.

We pretty much did a sustained trot for most of the ride, alternating leading so each horse was in front for about 50% of the 13.5 miles. Gracie's conditioning and fitness shone throughout: when Lily led, she would be right behind Lily's butt, keeping up the pace. When Lily started lagging a bit, I'd have Charles pass us while both horses were still trotting and Gracie would basically leave us in the dust, which would motivate Lily to pick up the pace. Gracie's medium trot and pace/rack are both 7 mph. Lily's medium trot is right at 6 mph. She can go up to 10 mph at the trot but she can't sustain that for mile after mile in non-competitive scenarios. We had some lovely moments on double-track trail where Gracie was doing her most collected canter while Lily ramped it up to her 10 mph trot so both horses were side-by-side despite being at different gaits. During one instance on double-track where Lily was trotting and Gracie was gaiting next to her, Charles reached out and grabbed my hand and we went on down the trail in this manner, laughing. Both mares flicked an ear back simultaneously like, "What the hell are these two doing?" but they kept on keeping on, side by side.

 My favorite trail was the one where we encountered this river crossing:

It ultimately dead-ended on the road and we had to backtrack, but it was beautiful single track trail through the woods, and both mares finally drank well when we crossed the river again on our way back.

Not all of it was trotting, though. The girls had plenty of walk breaks, such as this one where Lily was leading:

It is harder than you would think to integrate the movement of the horse's walk to this kind of dancing...

And for those who don't like to look at videos, here are photos. I was engrossed and had no idea Charles was getting video/photos until he told me, "Don't stop!":

Yes, I was dancing. I blasted Pandora throughout this entire ride and during this section it played Dutty Love, which is one of my favorite Puerto Rican songs EVER, as I've said before on the blog. Here is the video with lyrics in case anyone really wants to listen to it:

I've walked into work dancing because the song was played on Pandora on the way in...

This is the official video. 
The song was a huge hit in South FL in 2012, so it is appropriate that the video includes so many clips of Miami (among other places). Why do I love this song? Because of the music and the lyrics: it's a love story about two people that had bad luck with past relationships and how they are wondering if they should trust one another, as they tell the other their stories. Also, because of the name. You see, when this song became a hit, our hospital mascot at the time was a mostly-white Pittie named Dotty who looked a lot like Dom's Herbie. She was a rescued bait dog (as in, one of the submissive dogs used for training fighting dogs. She came to us with a crushed front leg from a bite wound and a whole bunch of trust issues towards both people and dogs.) And once Dotty learned to trust, she began to dance: she had this little happy dance that she did when she saw the people she liked, and I was among those people she danced for. "Dotty" sounds similar to "Dutty". So I would sing "Dutty Love" to her and we would dance together. It was a pretty awesome spectacle that more than a few people were witness to. 

This is Dotty.
Her front leg healed up nicely after 2 surgeries to remove bone fragments.
So it is Dotty's song, but it is also Lily's song because when she came into my life, I was afraid to love another horse again. It is appropriate on many levels. And seriously: how many horses do you know with whom you can drape your reins on the saddle pommel and goof off like that? Lily certainly wasn't one of them up at one point.

She is now.

It was a great ride. Once we had the boot issues figured out, it was all smooth sailing, and Charles had the opportunity of getting a feel for a true race pace. 

We walked the last mile to the trailer, and by the time we dismounted both girls were down in both respiratory rates and pulses, and looked bright and perky enough to go out and do it all over again. (We didn't.) 

Lily's boots at the end of this ride. This is what worked. Go figure.
Lily refused her mash at the trailer again but was all about her hay, so hay she received. Gracie ate another mash. We untacked, sponged them off, had snacks ourselves while putting stuff away to give the horses an opportunity to eat well, then loaded them up for the short drive home.

We offered water immediately upon arrival but only Gracie drank. They each ate hay while the other received a bubble bath. I took Lily to the field waterer 2 more times during this process and she finally did drink deeply. Again, she never appeared dehydrated or even tired but I was being neurotic. She did get a double-dose of Perform n' Win via syringe afterwards.

Such a beefcake now!
I think the added protein in Lily's diet (a few weeks ago I started her on the Triple Crown 30% supplement) is doing the trick. What do you think? :)

We thanked the girls for their hard work and released them back with their herd.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

On Animal Behavior and Anthropomorphizing

Liz wrote a great post after reading my own post about my momentary struggles with Lily's personality, and I would like to add to the subject from my own perspective.

Old, old drawing from one of my sketchbooks.
I have been intrigued by animal behavior my entire life. My mom read me bedtime stories as a kid, but my own independent reading was about animals. I read children's scientific books about animals. I was absolutely fascinated by their behavior and one of the driving forces behind my art was having a full understanding of how animals communicated with one another in order to more realistically portray their individual personalities in the stories that I wrote and illustrated.

Benny, Anglo-Arab that belongs to a friend, captured during an odd serene moment.
Drawing by moi.
I would learn each species' lines by heart until I could draw whatever animal I wanted from memory, and as part of that process I would pretend to be that animal, picking up particular mannerisms and forever wishing I had a tail and ears I could use as part of my expressions so that I wouldn't need to rely on the spoken word to communicate at all. Because I hated having to talk in order to express how I felt.

An illustration from one of my stories.
The girl's name was Sandy and she was grooming one of her stallions. Hence the big neck.
The subtleties of animal communication: how a flick of an ear, a sideways glance, a twitched whisker, could mean SO much beyond a human being's limited comprehension, were a wonderful thing that I paid inordinate amounts of attention to. One of my greatest wishes as a child was to be able to read the minds of animals to better understand their thought processes.

I was around 2 years old here. Already drawing horses.
Obviously, animals think. They can problem solve. They have memories. They make choices. They dream. They grieve. They love. They don't love in the romantic sense, but many species share our capacity to love. They can grieve so hard for a lost loved one that they die themselves. I have encountered this among my own pets and among the pets of others. These are not human characteristics nor emotions exclusively. They also fully comprehend what death is, far better than many humans I have met. They are more afraid of pain and suffering than they are of death.

This horse didn't trust people.
As a 7-year-old, I already knew how to weight my words with the appropriate body language that would lead our dogs to understand what I wanted. Our dogs always obeyed me first. None of our dogs had formal training. This isn't bragging; I'm just trying to explain why animal behavior is so important to me. I understood animal behavior long before I understood human behavior. My best friends as a child were my pets! I didn't tell them my life problems at the end of the day; I just let go whatever baggage I had and hung out with them silently as one of them.

With Amaretto, one of our family dogs. He was the biggest sweetheart and an incredibly gifted being at reading his people. Guests thought he was highly trained. He was not: he was simply insanely perceptive at reading our tone of voice and body language, to the point that it seemed like he could read our minds. We adored him.
It is his fault I love pitbulls so much.
It's what later on also made me effective with the horses no one else could get to cooperate under saddle: over a series of rides, I'd be able to tune into the horse underneath me to such an extent that not only did they offer me the kind of work that they would offer no one else, they would tell me what their issues were and how to unlock them. All sorts of random, unexplainable findings that I can't tell you how I discovered: that Pink Slip, a mare I worked with back in FL, responded to "Stop" and not "Whoa", that Lily down transitions on the word "Easy", that Christa's issues were rooted in pain and not poor training, that Big Boy had been allowed by his owner to realize that he could overpower any human that worked with him. It is a never-ending list. I got horses to jump that no one else could jump, that refused to jump when it was anyone else on their backs, but they did it for me simply because they liked me, because I asked and never demanded. I still am and will always be in awe of those horses: Tamarindo, Tricky, Rocky, Pink, Bella...there was something about me that clicked with something about them and together we were invincible. I loved training horses on the side, but I stopped doing it as a side job because more often than not, their owners/riders wouldn't put in the time to continue what I had started. And also, the risk of injury is greater when you are working with unfamiliar horses.

This mare did not jump.

This is also why I didn't choose animal behavior as my preferred branch of vet med. Credentialed veterinary technicians can specialize in Animal Behavior, but after working with a behaviorist at a previous hospital and seeing just how dependent an animal's progress is on their owner's compliance, I decided to stick with something where my efforts would make a bigger difference, where the owner's compliance won't necessarily define whether an animal recovers from its ailment or not.

One of the most terrifying photos I have ever seen on the internet. If you missed this one, the article is here. I have owned dogs that did submissive grins. This is not a submissive grin. There is nothing about this dog that is "happy." Even if you erase the dog's teeth, the cold hard expression in his eyes, the stiff neck, the raised brows and vertical wrinkles across the forehead are unmistakable. I see this expression a lot at work. It is a warning. You don't kiss the dog's face, you look down and take a step away from the dog. Or  maybe several dozen. You don't maintain eye contact. You don't reach out and touch this dog.  The fact that the little boy's mom posted this photo on the internet thinking it was "cute" and was surprised by the negative feedback she received....
Well, that says something about her comprehension of canine body language, doesn't it?

Submissive grin.
Eyes closed, relaxed brow, ears back, soft neck and shoulder posture.

Submissive grin. Again, look at the dog's half-closed eyes, relaxed forehead with subtle horizontal wrinkles, and lowered neck posture. She's also doing submissive lip licking at the same time.
Note also that on both of these dogs, the nose is slightly to the side: they wiggle their noses with submissive grins.

Warning snarl. Stiff posture, upright ears, hard wide-open eyes, raised brows, vertical wrinkles across forehead. This kind of snarl can be silent: you have to be paying attention. When handling painful, frightened animals, we always keep an eye on their expressions. This warning can happen in the split second between the patient being nervously calm and biting you. And for the record: this type of expression doesn't come unexpectedly. There will be a chain of signals from the dog leading up to a snarl, in which they tell you that they are uncomfortable with a situation. The snarl is the very last warning before biting, and snarls are not always accompanied by a growl.

Warning snarl. See the hard, direct eye stare? The brows? The tension in the neck?
Also: a dog that is snarling at you in this manner and wagging his tail is NOT being friendly! Dogs can wag tails in aggression, and it is a common misconception in inexperienced veterinary staff. This is a FANTASTIC article on the nuances of canine body language that I think everyone should read. 
And it also supports what I'm talking about in this post. :)
Children can be taught to behave appropriately around dogs. This is a great article on the subject.
I do a lot of translating at work, more so than other bilingual employees because I'm one of the few that is truly bilingual: I can swap from thinking entirely in Spanish to entirely in English (this is especially fun when I'm tired...my brain will switch to the opposite language that I'm trying to speak!) 

And as part of my job, I also do a lot of translating from animal body language to human verbal speak. It is one of the most important parts of my job, actually.

"Doctor, I don't know what's going on with this dog, but something is seriously wrong. Can you take a look?"

"Ma'am, I think your dog has neck pain. The doctor will confirm with their physical exam but it certainly looks that way from the way she is standing."

"Doctor, this patient isn't just dysphoric: he's painful. Can we give him something more for pain?"

"OMG this cat is so stressed out! Can we give some sedation before x-rays?"

Animals communicate pain levels, discomfort, love, grief, happiness, sadness, anxiety, stress, trust, suspicion, anger, annoyance, joy, playfulness, curiousity. Some individuals even have the capacity to dwell on things and feel some sort of guilt/remorse, though not in the same manner a person does, but this is another quality that is directly proportional to an individual's intelligence level.

Even dragons can express curiosity. ;) Pricked ears, cocked head, dilated pupils. If you have owned birds, you will be familiar with this gesture, sans ears of course.
Another sketch by yours truly.
I get paid to help decipher what is going on with a patient based on vital signs, posture, expressions, mannerisms, behavioral changes at home and during their stay in the hospital with us. It's a vital skill for being able to tell an animal is about to die in their cage from all the way across the ICU. Heart rates and blood pressure go up with pain, fear, stress, and anxiety; pupils constrict or dilate depending on emotion (Ex: pupils dilate with fear); respiratory rate also goes up. Heart rates alone go up with happiness and love; pupils dilate, respiratory rate goes down. There are scientific explanations for all of this and you study it as part of your anatomy and physiology during both vet tech and vet med schools: some emotions cause a parasympathetic response, some cause a sympathetic response. To oversimplify it, some of this is related to the "fight-or-flight" response. To complicate it, the study of animal behavior is a real scientific field composed of both veterinarians that are boarded and specialized in animal behavior and of researchers with doctorate degrees in animal behavior. They are constantly doing some really incredible studies about animals' capacity to feel. This study used canine brain scans to prove that dogs do love us. Not only that, they can feel love with the same magnitude people can, using the same parts of their brain.

We see it every day in the veterinary field: an animal can be dying on the table in front of us, completely flat and laterally recumbent while rapidly fading....and then their owner steps into the ER and the animal find it in themselves to lift their head, to wag their tail, to give one last purr, to brighten up enough to say good-bye. If that is not love, I don't know what is. It is always both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring.

"I solemnly swear I am up to no good..."
Pupils first constrict then dilate, ears might flatten sideways, the butt will wiggle, and then...POUNCE!
Language is language is language, whether it be expressed with our voice and words or with our bodies, and animal body language is still a language. I had a very interesting conversation the other day with one of my coworkers whose first language is Russian. In typical overseas fashion, he is familiar with multiple languages and he was saying that both Russian and Spanish are better for expressing emotion than English. Why? Because we have more words to describe emotions with. I had never thought about that in this manner until this conversation.

Example: in English you only have one word for love: "love." In Spanish we have two: "querer" and "amar".

"Querer" describes the kind of love you feel for a friend or family member, whereas "amar" is love with capital letters, more often used to describe fierce, passionate love for another. You are not kidding around when you say to someone, "Te amo." It doesn't have to have a sexual connotation to it: you can feel that type of love for a very dear friend, for your child, for your significant other or for the horse who is an extension of yourself. 

As humans we assign words to feelings, with some languages and cultures recognizing and understanding more subtle emotions within a larger category (<- this link is awesome too! The gifs are genius at illustrating what they are talking about!). Most animal species that coexist with human beings have the capacity to feel just as wide a range of emotions as we do. They just don't have a need to describe them because they don't use words. They just feel, and express that feeling through their body language.

Photo from the book Dancing With Cats, illustrating a phenomenon where cats literally dance with their people.
I have yet to succeed at this in particular, but Aengus is more than happy to participate when I sing to him. :)

And we do it too! All the time! We're just not as aware. I became much more aware of what I did with my body after I started owning cats. Dogs and horses can be very forgiving about our corporeal bumblings but cats not so much. My first cat Shakti was a mirror of my emotional state. I'd walk quietly into the room after having a major argument with the boyfriend at the time...and she would run and hide. I had never realized what force an emotion can have to another living being until Shakti. She was the first one that made me conscious of what I was doing with my body when I was feeling any particularly strong emotion. Even when you aren't doing anything, something about you changes with extreme emotion...either your smell or your energy or both, and animals feel that. A perceptive person can feel that too.

Photo by Dom
Hence why when I'm having a really bad day, I won't even touch Lily because I know she can feel that and she will worry that I'm angry at her. She can't understand that I'm rehashing something unrelated to her in my head and I have no way of explaining that to her in a way that she will comprehend. So I have to either set the issue completely aside so that there isn't even an undercurrent, or accept the fact that I am emotionally stuck elsewhere and minimize my interactions with my horse for the moment, until I'm at a better place mentally.

Compare to the dog below...
This is Mal the Shepherd.
He was part of this study. < - Go read. It is awesome.
Working in the veterinary field is a fascinating thing because we are ALL far more attuned to body language than the average person. We have to modulate our movements for three different species: cats, dogs, and our co-workers. I have a 4th species with horses. As a result, there really are no secrets at work. I can look at two people interacting in a friendly manner at work and tell you if those two people ultimately can't stand one another or if those two people are actually crazy about one another. I might not be able to tell you exactly what it is that is indicating this to me, but it is really, really cool to be able to look at my own species nowadays and understand their subconscious behaviors so much better. It goes beyond mere facial expressions. I am not the only one at work that is able to do this: we all can!

I LOVE Toothless because his body language is 100% modeled after a cat's!!
I walked into our hospital recently, upset about events that had happened during the previous evening's shift, and one of our new interns came up to me and said, "Talk to me. What's going on?" She had had nothing to do with the previous night's events. But she cares about me, has become familiar with my body language, and she could tell at a glance from across the room that I was not myself. This is not an isolated event: it is a daily part of working in vet med. If we didn't pay attention to body language, we'd all spend a lot more time in the human emergency room getting treatment for ourselves than taking care of your pets!

This is a 30-second video and you should watch it. There is a 50/50 chance the cat figured that out vs the man trained him. Either way, it's pretty freaking amazing!

Some species have coexisted with humans for so long, they care about making an effort to communicate with us. If a dog and a cat can communicate to the point of loving one another despite literally having opposite body languages, it's not a surprise that they will do the same with us. An individual animal's ability to communicate with us is also a very personal thing: smart animals figure things out a lot faster than not-so-smart ones. I know a lot of animals that are very good at problem solving, and others that are not so much....like a certain mare that got stuck on the wrong side of the fence trying to get to her herd, when the entry to the field was only 300 feet away....(and yes, I'm talking about Lily. She is the sweetest mare but she has never been the brightest crayon!)

It is all endlessly fascinating to me.

To me, my ability to catalog an animal's emotion as something a human understands is not anthropomorphizing. True anthropomorphization is when a pet owner talks about an animal taking revenge, about doing something on purpose, about plotting something so the owner has a bad day, about having a full comprehension of cause and effect. Animals don't premeditate. They don't understand cause and effect in an emotional sense unless it has been trained into them with behavior modification or they have learned it on their own (Ex: "if I touch this electric wire, I will get zapped.") They don't fake symptoms to get out of doing something. They don't plan in advance to give you a bad ride in today's jump school as revenge for making them do dressage on last week's ride. Some animals are mischievous, and some have really great senses of humor and actually seek to make you laugh. Many have figured out that laughter is a sign of joy in our species. Just like a growl is a threat in both the canine and feline species. It is a known fact that dogs understand the meaning of a human smile. Us recognizing these abilities in them is not anthropomorphization, it is recognizing their intelligence and their ability to communicate.

Blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance. The male dances and if the female likes him, she joins in the dance.
Tell me that's not cool!
The beautiful thing about animals is that most of them don't do things out of malice. Humans do that, not animals. One of my favorite qualities of animals is precisely the fact that they have no malice nor premeditation: if a dog is snarling at me at work, it's not because the dog hates me, it's because he is in pain and/or he is terrified and/or he has been poorly socialized by his owner. It's not personal. With animals, it is NEVER personal. 

Having a conversation with my horse, whether out loud or mentally, is not anthropomorphization. It is me translating what my horse is doing into a language I can clearly understand in my head. And also, it makes for more fun blog material. ;) I love both irish horse's and Teresa's conversations with their horses.

I adore this video. (Direct link here.) If you go to the direct link, read the story about the video.
The little boy has Williams Syndrome. This horse was new both to the trainer, who is the boy's parent, and to the boy himself. I cried the first time I saw this video.

All of this said, I am far from perfect. None of us is perfect. On some days I click with every patient walking in through the door at work, on other days it's someone else. About 50% of the time, this ability to click or not comes from the tech's/doctor's state of mind. The other 50% is all on the animal, the reason why they have been brought to the hospital, and their individual personality. My coworker Leah once dealt with an extremely aggressive Rottweiler that took an instant liking to her...to such an extent that she was able to do all of his diagnostics and treatments alone, by herself, without needing to muzzle the dog. The dog just lay there with his head in her lap. While she placed an IV catheter and drew blood. This was not the first nor the last time that I've seen a phenomenon of this sort at work.

Being attuned to our emotions and how we project them 100% of the time can be exhausting. Controlling those emotions 100% of the time can also be exhausting. We can be at our most zen mental state and still encounter an animal that is having a bad day. Either because she is in raging heat and is having mad cramps, or this is the third veterinary hospital visit of the day, or their housemate stole their favorite toy, or there is a new cat in the house and they are upset, or or or. This is just par for the course when coexisting with another living being with a personality of their own, be it at work, at home or at the barn, be it human or animal. The most important thing is for us to recognize that it is not personal. Even with people it often isn't personal either: it's just displaced aggression. Lily's being more nervous than usual about the world right now is just her going through a phase. It can be hard to not take it personally when an animal we own seems to regress in their training, but we need to remember that they are not doing it on purpose: we need to check our emotions at the door, do some self-analysis to make sure it is not us perpetuating the problem, work through it with the animal if it is warranted, or leave them be and try again on a different day.

Understanding this about our animals will help us interact with them more effectively. It will help us interact with people more effectively too. It makes us more compassionate and empathetic. It makes us better human beings.

My number 1 favorite thing about working with animals every single day is that when it comes to learning to be human, animals teach the greatest lessons of all.

Shakti and me.