Currently reading this clever little collection. Weaving anecdotes of Picasso’s many animal companions with their strong influence on the imagery he produced in his artwork. Delightfully nonlinear and nonhuman. While Picasso was not necessarily the most ethical in his relations with other species, as with his many relationships with women, acquiring and leaving them at will, he certainly had a passion for them. Intriguing insight to the incursions of animal companions into a celebrated art practice.
Spotted at Riverbend Books in Brisbane
Well yesterday I learned about the strength of bonds between horses. I have three horse friends at the moment. Picasso (of Course), Prince the Pony (naturally) and the latest member of the troupe ‘Whinney the Pooh’. Whinney came from a dogger reseller. That is, he was offered for sale on a dogger site, a place where non-sale means the end of the line. Long story short, all of the boys have been living on a great property a friend of mine now lives on just west of Sydney. I visit weekly which is not really enough, but better than nothing. Since the city agistment closed down, finding a new home has been really difficult. Finding a home for horses is a difficult balance of access for me, freedom to roam for the horses, plus nutritional, social and protection from the weather needs..and let’s not forget cost. Picasso was the last to arrive at the new farm as the two little ones arrived first. However I became increasingly unhappy with the paddock situation Picasso was in. He had plenty of room and other horse friends, but through the winter the feed situation in the paddock became really bad, plus there wasn’t much shelter from sun, wind or rain. The people who ran the facility were friendly, but worked on a pay for service basis, which was too expensive for us when it came to daily feeds through winter. Ok for someone who is highly competitive or rides everyday…but let’s face it, Picasso is a lovely paddock bum.
So the new paddock checks most of the boxes and we are so lucky to have friends to help us out and share their land with us for a reasonable price- even more importantly, they care about each of the horses. The only down side is that I can’t get out there more often to work with Picasso like we used to. Picasso certainly remembers everything..although he is quite the independent man, and a lot of the time he would rather run in the big paddock when I’m there to let him out of the smaller paddock, rather than work on tricks or training.
Picasso did have big horse friends in the previous agistment, and I thought this would be better for him, because Prince could be a bit of a little pest at times. However over time I noticed that Picasso was mostly grazing off by himself rather than mixing with the groups. This was because he tends to get along with the coloured trail horses rather than the thoroughbreds and warmbloods. Yes there is a big difference in personality within the herd. The competition horses tend to stand over Picasso and the other horses, and to be very aggressive around dynamics and feed. It’s not just a matter of size. Picasso’s only paddock pal was an enormous Shire colt at the time we left. Picasso is also a lady’s man. So he was VERY close with various mares who lived in the paddock. However the agistment managers decided it was best to seperate the mares. One after one Picasso’s friends were moved off the property, leaving a herd of thoroughbreds.
Not long before we left I braved going into the paddock to feed Picasso some hay. There was no other place to feed Picasso his slow meal of lucerne hay on that day, so I decided to be generous and share with the herd. However what ensued shocked me. The other horses were so aggressive towards Picasso that left to their own devices, he would have not eaten a bit. So I stood there guarding the hay and standing by Picasso, moving the other horses away with my strong gestures. I could tell that Picasso really appreciated my support for him- being in his herd. I decided then that it was time to move, and that things hadn’t worked out they way I planned for Picasso entering a herd. I realised that he would need his own space, but still with social contact.
So at this time the two minis have been living in a small paddock with limited feed (so they don’t overeat), and Picasso has a larger well grassed paddock. There are trees to block the wind and rain as well. It took a while to build this paddock as I needed to save up for the posts and electric wiring to build the paddock. So it was quite of an achievement to get Picasso into the space.
Last week I brought Prince home for extra TLC and some training, and let’s face it, because I missed him. So Picasso was out there with Whinney only. Whinney and Picasso only met each other about 6 weeks ago. I rescued Whinney, but had always intended to rehome him, as a rescue project. I wanted to test what it would be like to take on an unhandled horse, since I feel terrible about not being to directly help horses at the doggers. Things have been going very well as Whinney is a lovely little boy. However, the financial monster looms again. Turns out paying rent for three horses is busting the budget. So, this gives me the nudge to follow through with my initial intention. You can’t keep them all. Also I need to focus on welfare of my main boys.
I had the ad up on gumtree – basically an essay about Whinney’s needs (see pic). There has been an answer, and so we arranged a meeting this week. This involved bringing Whinney home to spend time with me and meet the prospective rehomer at my place in the city. I had done some ramp and trailer training with Whinney already, so I felt confident that Whinney would get on the trailer without too much trouble – unlike when I picked him up alone from the sales, and necessarily in a hurry; it was a disaster in terms of natural horsemanship. But he was unharmed, and certainly on track to a better life, so sometimes we need to push through difficult situations, even if it’s not our ideal method. At the same time, this perspective shouldn’t become a habit – something I keep working on, and trying harder at with the horses. Patience is an essential part of ethical horsemanship.
So yesterday, after spending time with the two boys on the property, I took Whinney to the trailer and tied him up in preparation for loading. The next minute I heard a loud neigh and Picasso appeared. This is remarkable because I was in the front area of the property near the (closed) gate with Whinney. Picasso had only ever been out in the big back paddock, and had now come through what I thought was a chained gate and down through a fairly challenging track (lots of scary new things and chickens to walk past) and walked straight up to the trailer. At first I thought this was because he was looking for the hay, but I soon realise this was not the reason. Fearing for my friends cars parked there in the fairly tight area, I quickly ran up and grabbed Picasso’s halter and lead him back into his smaller field. He instantly ran past the hay spread out for him and galloped to the front of the paddock looking for Whinney in the small yard. ‘Uh Oh’, I thought. Sure enough as I walked back to Whinney out the front Picasso started calling out and cocking his ears waiting for a response. I could see the anxiety on his face- Picasso was as good as screaming out ‘Don’t take him away!’.
Well I wouldn’t be much of a friend to horses if I didn’t listen to them. So of course, I untied Whinney and lead him back up to his yard. Picasso instantly calmed down and looked self satisfied, and took a long drink from the water tub. I’m sure that Whinney had a tiny little smile on his muzzle. So I left them there to plan for another day. The sad thing is that Whinney still has to go, but I’ll wait until Picasso has Prince with him…annoying little dude that he is (for Picasso), he’s there for the long-run as a good buddy.
Arm blood sack
We were dancing
His snarle-wrinkled nostrils expressive enough.
Wildlings as one we twirled and leapt the log.
Somewhere in animal awareness we moved.
Our opus done, I dragged a feed bag into the small yard where Prince was also waiting. Picasso pranced in, full of pride, lording over us, driving Prince back and high stepping around me. I motioned him back towards the bucket. ‘Wait! Wait!’, but he could not wait. I can only guess at the motivation for such intense urgency.
Standing between Picasso and Prince emptying the grain and molassas mix into the bucket, the image of Picasso lunging just past me, sinking his teeth into Prince’s deep white neck fur to send him away from the food flashed up in my mind’s eye. In the next instant, with viper-like action, the great golden head attacked, just as strangely foreseen. But the target had changed. He caught my arm, hovering in between, instead of Prince’s neck. His blunt vice of a mouth clamped down with sickening power, crushing the tender tanned brown fat and muscle of my upper arm. Satisfied with a mouth full of victim’s corpus, he crushed harder still, as I have seen Fares do to him, drawing blood, for no reason.
Screaming a cry of rage and mortified surprise I pulled back and his teeth slid off my skin, leaving clear white and red prints of his huge front teeth that would last for days. Then, he just stood there, without emotion, oblivious perhaps that he had dealt such harm to me.
The blood sack my arm had become fascinated me for several heartbeats, and I wondered if I liked pain. After all, working with horses so far had dealt out more injurious pain in a shorter amount of time than any of my previous exploits. It seemed ironic that my paralyzing fear of sharks which had kept me mostly ashore on last week’s trip to Hawaii paled in significance compared with the very real danged of being killed by my horse. I was just beginning to wonder if I was about to die there and then from brain hemorrhage, when the rage erupted.
Animal liberationists, do not fear. The sum result of my flailing monkey body was feed strewn across the ground, which Prince placidly nibbled throughout, some pawpaw ointment (intended for Picasso’s own injuries) on Picasso’s big butt, and him standing quietly outside the yard waiting to be let in. I had glared at him with most evil intentions, wishing that telepathy was more specific and effective. I let him in about 5 minutes later, but the meal was certainly spoiled.
One new interaction occurred during our extended tussle. I had several times tried to walk up to him, so as to apply the ointment to the horse-inflicted scrapes on his chest. Each time he turned his rear end to me, an act of aggression and fear. This was not ok. Maybe on another day, but certainly not today, the way I was feeling. The farrier/horse trainer who I had recently met told me that Picasso had a ‘bit of pig’ in him. Basically that I was spoiling him, and this allowed a nasty streak to come out. A streak that involved kicking, biting as a form of communication. There is a wide spectrum of discussion on the matter of ‘dominate the horse’ or ‘engage the horse’ . I haven’t hung my hat anywhere just yet. But the farrier’s words did ring in my head, and I applied ‘pressure’. This involved chasing Picasso around the yard, and prodding the big golden offence with my stick every time it pointed at me. Each time he faced me I stopped, and offered my hand. Again, again. Then we stood there starting at each other. I’m not sure what emotions or thoughts went through or between. Instinctively I stepped forward and twisted the mane at the top of his head between my fingers and applied a pressure down. Down, down, down. His head went down, my body flowing with a strength and intensity from my feet on the red-brown earth to my head, and through my arm to where my fingers entwined with his tawny mane. As he lowered and held his head down low, I released the pressures, so that the lock of mane was just in my hand. I wanted him to know, to know that he needed to calm down. He had hurt me badly, and this was good for none of us. I wasn’t angry, but I did feel the dominance. I wondered, I wonder, could this technique help us to stay safe. I’ll have to try, because we can’t have any more mistakes like this. I’ll lose my job if I miss more days because of injuries. The pressure to sell Picasso is already mounting. I want to keep my promise to care for this ‘difficult horse’, this sensitive horse. He can’t go to the sales.
On the Sunday morning after the bite on Friday evening, I half woke in the morning to my usual hour of semi lucid dreaming. A time when lovely, intriguing, exciting stories coalesce and unfold in my mind’s eye. From where, that is the business of neurologists and mystics. Who can be entirely sure?
In this dream I was in a large forested enclosure. I knew that this was a compound for horses, possibly mustangs. I was there as my own human self, I am fairly certain. The excitement started when two young horses began to play a chasing game with an older mare, who they identified as their aunt. Of course I ran for cover in the trees knowing that my soft, breakable body had no place in the herd. From behind a tree I watched as the two colts galloped gleefully weaving between trees to escape their aunt. I had a sense that this was horses acting as their best selves. Fulfilled, in family relationships and with others their own age to cavort with. Well almost. My awareness through the aunt horse turned to the high fences around the enclosure. Sure they were together, but trapped, controlled. My brain registered that I was probably acting as a volunteer warden on a mustang rescue property. Yet I wanted so badly, that is, the horses wanted me to, set them free. Of course I woke up, but held onto the dream for a day to write this down. Because I do not know where dreams come from. I take the questions and pose them to my waking life.
Did I provoke Picasso’s attack? Is this a signal of deeper issues at stake. No doubt. It’s a fine line between ‘spoiling’ a horse and perhaps recognising that in their body-minds deep scars can exist. I know Picasso still wants me to come, to scratch his ‘happy spot’ and to keep his mind and body stimulated with activities. But I must go softly sometimes, because there is a lot of content to process. Should I dominate him sometimes with the new technique, and keep him learning. Against my softer desires I think so, because he needs to know I won’t hurt him, but he can’t hurt me. This I will report back on. We’re onto our third strike – then we will be out.
I promised to care for you
When I took you in
I bought you from the internet.
What urge compelled me?
I need to confront myself
Never to abandon you.
Despite life’s viscissitudes
And the weight of finance
I will pay your rent.
You only need grass
And the company of your species
Me you come to, too.
After a long journey,
I told you this time before I left,
You came to me first.
We embraced and strolled
Socially grazing on outside stalks
I wish I could take you out, out.
A strength is given to me
This promise made to a friend or two
We are the same, I say to you.