When I was doing horse massage full time in New Jersey, I worked for a while for a client who had four quarter horse studs staying at his barn. He asked me to work on them, so we rotated which two of the four horses would get massage every couple weeks. The studs were young and a bit obstreperous, but not more than I could handle — and they were fun to work with.
In addition to the horses, my client had a young Jersey Cow calf. This seemed odd to me, since my client was a western rider and Jersey cows are milk cows — not the kind of cow you’d use for western roping competitions. I asked my client one day why he’d gotten the calf. He looked embarrassed and said that he’d lived in New Jersey all his life — and had always wanted a Jersey cow. What did he name the calf? He named her Jersey, of course! He then added, a bit sheepishly, “and they are really cute too”.
I didn’t let him catch me smiling — I didn’t want to embarrass him — but I thought this was so sweet!
After I finished the massages, I’d sit at the picnic table outside the riding arena writing my notes about the massages. Jersey was always in the arena while I was writing my notes. She was adorable! I always talked to her out loud through the arena fence and after a few visits, she started coming over to me on her own when she’d see me. I’d give Jersey face rubs and scratches on whatever part of her body she pointed me to, which she totally enjoyed. She was adorable! Although I didn’t have a formal conversation with Jersey, it was clear that we’d connected and that she like me — the feeling was mutual!
One day after I put the last horse away, I started chatting with Jess, the woman who did the barn chores. She was clearly not happy — actually she was angry — and when I asked her about it, she told me how frustrated she was with Jersey. Jess said, “The stupid calf won’t let me put the halter on her and she won’t walk with me on the lead line. She needs to go outside and play, but if I can’t take her out, she won’t be able to go. She’s driving me crazy because it takes too much time and effort to get her out to the arena and back in the barn. I have a lot of work to do and I can’t spend all my time fighting with the stupid calf! I was hired to work with horses, not stupid cows!”
I felt badly for both Jess and Jersey, who clearly were not understanding each other at all. I offered to talk to the calf to see if I could work things out between them. Jess said she was willing to try anything to get the calf to cooperate. Normally, I don’t talk to animals without their person’s permission, but this was a very specific issue and I thought it was OK. I felt that talking things over would really help, since Jess and Jersey were not communicating well.
I talked to Jersey. I asked her what she usually did when Jess tried to put the halter on. She showed me throwing her head around so Jess couldn’t put the halter on. Jess confirmed that this was what the calf did. I told Jersey that Jess needed her to accept getting the halter put on so she could take the calf to the arena to play. Jersey told me/showed me, “She doesn’t like me. She is too rough with me [when she puts the halter on] and pulls it too tight. She pulls on the rope too much when she walks me. I don’t like her either!”
It felt like I was talking to a two year old whose nanny was trying to get her to put on a sweater so she could be taken to the park. I told Jess what Jersey said. Jess got defensive. She said, “If Jersey was more cooperative, I could be more gentle!” Talk about the irresistible force was meeting the immovable object!
I told Jess that I’d work on getting Jersey to cooperate more, but I needed Jess’ help and cooperation too.
We talked about putting on Jersey’s halter. I told Jess that it was important not to pull the buckles on the harness too tight because that really bothered Jersey and made her less cooperative. Jess was a bit embarrassed that Jersey told me that. She said she was sorry and that she just did it out of frustration. I told her it was OK, but she shouldn’t do that in the future. Jess said she would remember. I told Jess that if she could try to be more light hearted/positive when she worked with Jersey, that it would really help too. She said she would try. I encouraged Jess to try to time things so she wasn’t in so much of a rush — that would help Jess be calmer — and Jess being calmer would help the calf be calmer too. All of this made sense to Jess and she said, “OK, I’ll really try. I don’t really hate Jersey — she’s really cute. I’ve just been so frustrated with her!”
I talked to Jersey. I explained what I’d talked to Jess about. I told Jersey that Jess would really work on being calmer and more positive when she put the halter on and would’t pull it too tight. I told Jersey that her part in this was to be more cooperative and let Jess put the halter on. I told/showed Jersey that if she could be as still as possible when Jess put the halter on [I showed her being still like a statue], then it would be over and done with and she could get more time playing in the arena. Jersey thought about it and said she would try to be more cooperative. She definitely wanted as much time out as possible!
I told Jess that my feeling was that Jersey would really try— but I thought that she might also test Jess now and then, regarding getting the halter put on and walking on the lead line. I encouraged Jess to ignore anything uncooperative that Jersey did — to just be calm and steady and to not take any evasive behavior seriously — to laugh it off and calmly remind Jersey to be still like a statue. Jess said she was sorry she had been getting so upset — “I can see that it didn’t help.” She said she would do her best to be calm.
Next I talked to Jess about the issue of walking Jersey on the lead line to and from the barn. Jess said, “She just won’t go! She fights me all the way — whether I’m taking her out or bringing her in. It makes me crazy!” I asked Jersey about it. She showed me resisting, pulling back from the pressure of the rope until it basically became a tug of war. I asked Jersey if she wanted to go out to the arena. She said, “Of course I do! But she shouldn’t pull on me. But I definitely don’t want to go back to the barn!” It was no fun for her to be stuck in the barn.
I asked Jess how often during the day the calf was allowed out in the arena. She told me that she was supposed to take the calf out between the times the horses were in the arena, which meant 3 or 4 times a day for at least an hour each time, sometimes more. Sadly, there were no paddocks at this farm, only the riding arenas for turn out.
I suggested to Jess that she try taking a playful, fun attitude toward leading Jersey in and out. I suggested she remind Jersey that when she came in, she’d be going out again soon. I encouraged Jess not to let the lead line go tight, to leave slack in the rope when she walked Jersey, so Jersey had nothing to pull against — to just go with Jersey if she pulled and not pull against her. I pointed out to Jess that pulling the lead line tight led to a “game” of tug-of-war — and no one was going to win it. Jess was able to see the wisdom of this and said she would try to be more gentle, not get frustrated and would not let the lead line time turn into a tug-of-war. Jess said, “If Jersey would be more cooperative, it would be a lot easier to make this a fun experience — but I”ll try.”
I talked to Jersey. I told her I understood that she wanted to be out all the time, but the horses needed to go out too and they had to share the space. I let her know that she would always go out 3-4 times a day, so the next time outside wasn’t really that far away. Jersey asked me, “When I come in, I’ll always go out again later?” I confirmed that this was true, except for the last turn out of the day — but then she’d be out again in the morning. Knowing that for sure, made Jersey feel a lot better about coming in. I asked Jersey if fighting Jess on the lead line ever got her longer time out. She admitted it didn’t. I told her that if she could be more cooperative — I showed her walking calmly and quietly out to the arena and back to the barn — she would actually have more time out, because Jess could leave her out until the last minute, then bring her in. Jersey thought that was a good idea and said she would try — “but she has to be nice to me.” I told Jersey that if she could cooperate, Jess would be a LOT nicer.
I told Jess what Jersey had said. Jess sighed and said, “OK, I guess if we both try it will work out.” At least both of them were willing to try!
The next time I was at the barn, Jess told me that things were going MUCH better with Jersey. She said that Jersey was cooperating well both with haltering and walking on the lead line. She told me that, “Jersey tests me sometimes to see if I’ll play tug-of-war with her on the lead line. But I just move with her and keep slack in the line and she gives up pretty quickly. She’s even letting me put the halter on her with a minimum of fuss.” Jess confirmed she was being careful about not making the halter straps too tight. Jess was so much happier and admitted that she was actually getting to like Jersey and said, “She’s actually kind of fun!”
That day after I finished with the massages and writing my notes, I went over to the arena fence to give Jersey the face rubs and scratches she was looking for. Jess came out to the arena and needed to bring Jersey in to the barn. She said a friend of my client was coming over with their horse and needed to use the arena, so Jersey had to come in early. I was collecting my things and getting ready to leave when Jess came over to my car. She was clearly frustrated and upset. She said, “Jersey won’t let me catch her and come into the barn! People are coming and I have to get her out of there or I’m going to be in trouble. Can you help me?”
I went over to the fence and called Jersey over. I told her she needed to let Jess take her back to the barn. Jersey told me, “It’s too early. I’m not going.” [Her attitude reminded me of a two year old being told that she needed to leave the playground earlier than usual.] I told Jersey that people and horses were coming, so she had to come in early. She was less than thrilled and wanted to know if she’d get to go out again later. I checked with Jess and Jess said that Jersey would get extra time out later, since the horses would get more time now. I told Jersey and she was very happy to hear that! I asked her if she’d race me to the gate, then go into the barn. She was very excited and said, “YES!” I started running along the fence line toward the gate — Jersey was right next to me the whole way. Everything about her energy and movement said “happy”. The only word to describe what she was doing was “gambolling” . The dictionary definition of that word is “running and jumping playfully” — that’s exactly what Jersey was doing! We got to the gate at the same time and Jess was able to hook on the lead line and take Jersey into the barn without any fussing from Jersey. Jess was stunned that Jersey was so cooperative. I again encouraged Jess to be more playful with Jersey. She said, “That worked great and took much less time than I expected — I will definitely try it!”
I continued to work at that farm for about 6 more months, until my client sold the horses I’d been working on. At the end of each of my visits Jersey got her face rubs and scratches through the fence when I finished with the horses. Jersey and I both looked forward to our time at the fence. When I stopped coming, I’m sure that Jersey missed seeing me as much as I missed her.
Jess reported that Jersey was getting easier to work with and more cooperative as time went on. She admitted that she was actually having fun with Jersey — and clearly she and Jersey were becoming friends.
The irresistible force had become friendship, rather than frustration!