Catalunya is a good mimic. Having a larger herd structure would help him learn what is expected, how to calibrate his actions, and take some of the pressure off of us. Florentina and Buckminster are my first experience with the caprine. Like the bovine, equine, and hominine, they are herd animals. I figure she feels vulnerable because it’s only her and the kid. Alan and I spend a great deal of time with Catalunya each day creating a calm environment in hopes of diminishing his overpowering and potentially harmful behaviors. It is working. Still; he swung at a fly the other day and his jaw accidentally smashed my finger against the fence and took off part of my nail. Their first meeting was so perfect. Florentina stretched up to him from a bent front knees position, kid behind her, Madonna and child like . He dropped his neck and touched his dromedarian muzzle to her dinosaur bird like nose. He didn’t seem very sure about the baby. The barn was still being readied for the goats so we temporarily housed them in the greenhouse. Kitchen table/bar/and windowsill turned greenhouse contained chard, sunflowers, mustard greens, peppers, Osage orange trees (from the neon green whiffle ball sized seed pod that I’d filched from a park in Ft. Smith back in the days when I protested pipelines), black beans, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, chamomile, stevia, black-eyed peas, and arugula starts. We also moved 6 overwintered citrus trees, rootings of forsythia, crepe myrtle, rose plum, pomegranate, and hydrangea to the deck. The potting soil all over the kitchen floor added to my goat keeping learning curve induced anxiety. The old columbine and foxglove seeds I’d found that Dad had saved for what must’ve been more than a decade were fruitful. A small victory in the chaotic fails to come. Now their pen is finished and they are finally in the barn and it’s time to get organized. Alan made it beautiful and Scandinavian looking like he intrinsically does everything. I call him Ole. His Norwegian, stonemason, grandfather’s name.
When we first got into the barn Florentina’s ribbed horn landed dangerously close to my orbital bone as she and the buckling charged into their newly constructed pen, knocking off my cowboy hat and flattening me into the poop soaked straw. Not gonna work. Time to get the clicker. To this point I’ve only lured her with food or tugged on her leash out of exhaustion. First, remember that they are reflecting whatever vibe I’m giving off. If Florentina is looking about frantically and running headlong into the barn it’s because I am. If Catalunya is squeaking out anxious sounds when I come near, it could be the result of some of my behaviors. My anxiousness and lack of focus hampers their progress. Ugh. I’m tired. I can’t do this.
I drink wine in the garden after dark. I’ve stayed outside till 11 or so most nights with Catalunya. I’ve become accustomed to the dark.
Before the goats came, trainer Dolores Arste of zenhorsemanship.com came for a session and taught me the proper pace for a training session. It is so slow. My mind wanders off. Catalunya has learned to compensate for me I think. We worked on backing up in order to receive a treat and to contribute to safety in the long-term. So, now, he does it without command. I noticed him backing up rather loudly with hoofs hitting the ground with force. I think he is either trying to swat a fly or he is trying to get my attention and bring me back to the session.
Dear Lord. The animals are training me. It’s a wonder they can learn anything from me. Amazingly, they overlook my faults. They are quick to forgive. So many lessons at once. I’m tired. I can’t do this.
In order to for things to work, I have to lead them. That means, I have to know what my plan is before I enter the barn. I get out my whiteboard and write a protocol. Who knew beauty school could come in so handy? I go for the top latch and ask her twice and she stands down. I give her some pellets. I fumble for the second closure and she stands up to sniff my hand, I ask her to get down, she does, she gets pellets. I can’t even find the clicker much less operate it with my hands full. but, she has watched and listened as I train Catalunya in the stall next to her. She catches on quickly. Me, takes a few tries.
The next day Alan and I find Florentina and Buckminster standing on top of the cab of the 79 Ford. We scream and yell and they look at us as if something is wrong with us. “Get down, dammit’!!! We pace around in frustration trying to figure out what to do. I finally decide to try the training. “Florentina, get down sweetie.” I say calmly. I draw a line in the air with my finger from where she is to the ground. “Florentina, down.” She gets down. I run to find her a treat.
Catalunya has watched Florentina reach for tree branches and pull them down in order to reach the leaves. Suddenly, he begins to reach for limbs. He has always had this ability but we’ve never seen him use it. Now, he looks up at a branch that is too high for him. Alan gets out the bamboo pole and brings it down for him like he has seen me do for the goats. He also had been very agreeable to allowing me to put a leash on him. He gives me his ears or his neck, whichever I ask for, and stands for me to put the leash on the named part. Maybe he sees the goats on the leash and this helps.
I keep Buckminster, Florentina’s buckling, on leash with me and Florentina is free but she looks to me for direction in place of what should be herd-mates of her species. Catalunya’s training times have been cut in half and the dogs have been practically non-existent since the goats arrived. I have to refine our systems.
Still, all the time we put in before is helping. Naming his body parts has helped with the gash on his nose. About a month ago, Alan woke up to let the dogs out into the backyard and Catalunya was standing there with a big gash on his nose and the fence between the backyard and his barn pen was torn down. We don’t know what motivated him to break out of his pen and into the yard. We think it may have been a very loud squirrel skittering on the metal barn roof. I soak a terry cloth with watered down betadine and grab the treat bucket and clicker. After a few successful commands I ask him to bring his nose to my hand. He allows me to hold the cloth there for several seconds at a try. After a few days he seems to welcome the care. It must really hurt.
I focus on slowing my pace to a predictable, rhythmic, plod. I realize how frantic, unfocused and chaotic my natural rhythms are compared to those of the barnyard animals.
The next morning I walk from the porch to the barn practicing my movements with the intent of creating a calm, predictable, pace for them. My memory takes me to walking home from the bus stop to the mansion that I lived in while I was in acting school in Manhattan. It was in Tenafly, New Jersey. I lived downstairs and was the maid and babysitter in exchange for free rent.
A semester at the National Shakespeare Conservatory was expensive and my parent’s did not help with college. My walk from the bus stop to the marble floored mansion (complete with a crazy lady who was too cheap to hire a proper maid and her son who looked like the kid from THE OMEN) was a chance to practice what I’d learned in movement class that day.
I practiced leading my body with my chest, leading with my knees, leading with my chin; all important body work for creating characters. I try applying lessons learned in acting school; learning to change my focus, my intention, my pace, to what is needed on the farm. Who knew acting school would come in so handy?
The next day I try walking the corridor between the horseshoe. We are outside the fence. He is in. I pull a branch down for her and she climbs my body and the fence to get to the leaves. The baby props his hooves up on my leg. Catalunya joins us and cranes his neck up and bites some leaves. He bites the left clove of Florentina’s hoof and she doesn’t flinch. He always tries to bite my feet. He has no fingers. It’s like a child putting everything in his mouth in order to explore it.
I’m relieved that he is not aggressive with his new herd mates. Catalunya seems even more handsome now that Florentina has arrived. She went straight up to him, through the fence, and they touched noses. The first day she and Buckminster arrived she called for Catalunya whenever he left the backyard area for his turnout pen. The first time she did it, he ran back to her. Ran. Came running. Never seen him do that for anything. He was clearly concerned for her.
The first few days he preferred to hang next to wherever she was. Catalunya heralds every arrival and departure as well as anytime something is wrong with one of the goats. Buckminster got stuck in a metal 5 gallon pail, one leg caught between the handle and the pail. He screamed and bucked and clunked down the fence line. Catalunya catterwalled, all four legs splayed, tail straight out, and both nostrils rose from his nose as if someone had pinched him in the middle hard enough to displace all of the air from the middle to the ends. He did not let up until the baby was safe. Then he needs a few “ahbrrrrruuuah, brrruuuuah” lip flutters just to collect himself again.
The goats are really speeding up his ability to calibrate his actions. Buckminster tests him constantly by going into his pen, walking up behind him, then running away when Catalunya turns to chase him out. When the goats are out of his line of vision he butts his head against his fence and brays loudly to mark the second he loses sight of them. So, in an effort to hand over my current goat sitting duties to Catalunya, I begin leading the goats around the outer perimeter of his pen on the outside of the fence. Catalunya has had exposure to this from our pre-goat walks. I finally calm down and allow the goats to wander into his pen. He tolerates them. He steps on a skinny tree and pulls it down like Florentina does. The goats hurry over to join in. He holds it down and eats leaves and allows them to stay. The goats need more herd members in order to feel secure and Catalunya needs a donkey herd in order to become his best self. Now I have to learn how to integrate herd members. Lifelong learner. That’s me. Begin the caprine.