Thursday, December 26, 2013

Every Time a Bell Rings, A Horse Earns a Few Bucks

Wheelzebub lives up to its name at every opportunity!

They say no good deed goes unpunished.  At least, that's how it seemed when I tried to get the van and Wheelzebub out of the driveway following the worst ice storm of the decade.  Clifford was slated to appear at the Howell Wal-Mart -- an hour away -- to ring the bell for the Salvation Army.  Their Red Kettle program was limping through the season without meeting its goal.

This faction of the SA had helped me by donating a half tank of propane the winter before my home foreclosed.  I had never fotgotten it.  It was time to give back -- at least a little -- and Clifford was just the horse to do it.

It took a lot of salt, and finally some chains and a hefty diesel pickup, but we finally broke loose and were up and running.
Beth and her trained pooch, Charlie Darwin.  Her husband Bob poses in the background with Magic Genie, a Belgian Tervuren.
 Once again, we had my friend Beth Duman to thank, who had helped us arrange Clifford's appearance. After many years of bell-ringing, Beth is practically a Christmas fixture at Wal-Mart with her wonderful dogs, who take cash offered by passing customers and drop it into a bucket.

Clifford was more than happy to ring the bell, especially after it was attached to his halter and all he had to do was shake his head.  Pretty soon I noticed that, every time I hopped up and down to keep warm, he would start shaking and ringing those bells.  I think I was subliminally cueing him, but he did seem to enjoy the cheery jingling sounds he was making.

Clifford stood on his mat for the better part of two hours, happily greeting the public, and earning candy canes for his efforts.  We even made a front page article in the Livingston County Press!  But he really just wanted to go into Wal-Mart.  Every time my back was turned (while I bent to get more candy canes or was distracted by some other menial task), I would look up just in time to see his rear end disappearing through the sliding doors, amid the hysterical laughter of surprised customers.  Each time, I was able to catch him before he walked through the inner doors to enter the store.  Once I had to run, and when he saw me coming, he ran too.  I was having mental images of him pillaging the produce section.  Fortunately, a shopping cart happened to be blocking him, and he stopped.

It was a cold, but unique and gratifying way to celebrate Christmas Eve.  Clifford's generosity and sense of fun illustrates the true spirit of the season!  Happy Holidays to all!

Cliffy's Aunt Claire showed up to snap some photos.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I Still Have One Wish to Make; A Special One For You

It's my understanding that most people who train horses for therapy work use minis.  It makes perfect sense -- it has to be so much more convenient to haul a mini around.  But I have long been interested in having my horse Clifford work with people with special needs.

In this regard, I'm lucky to have a friend like Beth Duman.  A biologist and behaviorist who specializes in the study of wolves (Could it be any more ironic that she lives in Howell, Michigan?), she has now been instrumental in helping two of my dreams to come true.

1)  To meet a live wolf up close and personal.  (Which happened several years ago when she was lecturing at Wolf Park in Battleground, IN)

and 2)  To have my  horse, Clifford, do therapy for people with disabilities, specifically people with autism.

Beth has been volunteering with her dog Lacey for about 7 years at Pathway School in Howell.  All I had to do was mention to her in passing that I was trying to get Clifford into a facility for the disabled, and she said, "I might be able to help you with  that."

"Just one moment!  I have to pose for my paparazzi!"

A week later, Clifford was walking through the door of the school, where we were greeted by an excited bevy of staff with cameras.  Clifford, as is his wont, stopped and posed right inside the door as soon as he saw all the cell phones aimed at him.  A bigger equine ham, there never was.

Then we marched down the hallway into the classroom, where we greeted group after group of kids from a variety of different classes.  Clifford was in his element.  We began each brief session by allowing him to walk up to each student, just like he does in the library.  It was the same type of greeting.  If the child shied away, he simply moved along to the next one.  These kids, however, were different and he seemed to immediately pick up on this.  Many of them were in wheelchairs.  Every time I have ever seen him around a wheelchair, he goes right for the person's legs.

He did that again today -- nuzzling and touching them gently.  He blew softly in one little boy's hair.  He touched another's fingers.  Some of the kids were non-responsive, and with those, he paused a little longer until he got some kind of reaction.  If they seemed fearful, he moved away.  His manner was completely gentle and kind.

One of the teachers asked me, "Did you teach him to do this?"

I shook my head.  "This is all him."

All I did was stand back and let the lead rope play out.  As Clifford approached each child, the staff members would say the child's name, enthusiastically, in unison, excited and laughing.

Clifford painted a couple of pictures and did some tricks for the kids, but the heart of the visit really seemed to be the close contact.  One girl ran through the door and grabbed him in a big hug.  He took it all in stride. He crunched candy canes and made cordial nose touches with Lacey.

It became obvious to me that the teachers were very emotionally invested in these kids.  They laughed.  They cried.  They took pictures.  Beth told me that there were things happening, remarkable things, with some of the children, but of course I had no way of knowing what they were.  I was just letting Clifford work his magic.  I hope to find out more later, about our impact on the school.

After about an hour and a half, Clifford had made contact with some fifty or sixty kids.  We were ready to wrap it up.  We loaded him back into the trailer and headed home, driving through the slush and sleet.  We stopped at his favorite store, Tractor Supply, and went in to get him a bag of grain.  He came into the store with us.  I walked him back to the service desk, to meet with the manager about a potential book signing there.  While we discussed it, Clifford revealed TSC as his virtual "home" by falling asleep standing next to me!

It was a good day.  Merry Christmas Clifford.  Thanks for all you do.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Clifford Signing Books at Novi Equestrian Expo, 2013

Clifford's Expos, Eh?

We were excited to learn that the Novi Equestrian Expo and Novi Pet Expo, both traditionally held in November, were under new management this year.  The new promoters were enthusiastic and happy to add Clifford to their entertainment list for both events.

After a summer hiatus, Til was happy to climb back in his suitcase to perform his freestyle frisbee routine for the amazing Rock N Roll K9s Performance Team.

Este got leathered up for the event and auditioned for the Rock N Roll K9s.  She made a good effort, especially climbing the A-frame, which she had never done before.  She ended up outrunning me on the course and passed her audition with flying colors!