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September 10, 2013

Birthdays And Your Human

It's your Human's birthday! Celebrate with a little bit of misbehavior. Photo by Dark Horse Photography.

Recently, my Human marked her 20,000 birthday, or something like that, which really got me thinking. For some reason, she celebrated by visiting the barn and ended up feeding me a cookie. On her birthday.

Sometimes, I’m sure she’s anything but the brightest crayon in the box, but every now and again she surprises me.

But that’s how training goes: We have to constantly give our Humans behavior guidance and examples they can learn from, and hope that one day they will surprise us with a moment of clarity.

This incident got me thinking of a few learning opportunities for my fellow Human trainers with regards to birthdays:

  • On her birthday, your Human is likely to be very concerned about her age. This is an excellent time to point out to her that her shallow concerns about getting older are completely unfounded. After all, no matter how elderly she feels on this particular day, it could always be worse.

    This is the day to pull out all the stops for her—maximize the amount of poo and discarded hay in the stall, leave those water buckets full, and spend several extra hours perfecting your mud pack. By the next morning, her arms and back will ache like an 82-year-old’s, and she will love you for it.

  • A Human’s birthday is an excellent time to remind her that she only lives once and she should make the most of it. The easiest way to do this is by reminding her of her own mortality. If your Human is foolish enough to haul out the saddle as part of her birthday celebration, your lesson can become all the more interactive. My Human gave up on this practice a few birthdays ago, but I have used the day to premiere some of my favorite moves, including the Rodeo Horse Buck-n-Spin, the Rolex Training Time Superman Leap and the Hi-Ho Jitterbug Rear.

    After a few of these movements (or better yet, a combination of them), she may be reaching for her asthma inhaler or calling an ambulance, but you can bet she isn’t worried about “getting old” anymore.

  • A Human should feel adored on her birthday. But no one likes a diva. Unless it’s me, of course.

    Humans can sometimes get inflated egos on their birthdays. I’ve never understood this, since they’re basically congratulating themselves for failing to wander in front of a speeding hay truck for 12 months. (Seriously, scratch your ear with a back hoof while standing on three legs and then come talk to me about achievement.) This is where you can use your Human’s birthday as a chance for personal development. Let her know that it isn’t really all about her.

    I like to set this tone at the beginning of the day. When my Human came to the barn this summer, she actually expected me to abandon my grass and schlep my way across the field so she didn’t have to maneuver her delicate behind through the weeds.

    It was almost cute.

    While instructing the Human to come to me, I like to do one of my patented Stare/Sigh/Swish/Saunter routines. I give a blank stare, stifling giggles, as she picks her way around poo piles, heave an exaggerated sigh that she can see from an acre away, and with a swish of my tail, I saunter in the opposite direction as if coincidentally off on the hunt for better grass.

    Remember: you can always saunter faster than they can jog.

  • Humans tend to have cake on their birthday. And as we all know, they already eat too much junk anyway.

    I’ve never been clear whether the cake travels around with the Human all day (judging by the weight mine gains in the course of 24 hours, it would certainly seem so) or if it resides at a designated place in her car or tack trunk. Wherever the cake comes from, she’s more likely to have some in her sticky little hand today than any other time of the year.

    In the interest of her waistline, and expanding your culinary horizons, it is your job to extricate as much cake from her as possible. This could become a test of patience for you. You may have to endure paper birthday hats, squealing Humans, and (if you are very unlucky) balloons.
    Stand firm. Cake has a LOT of sugar in it. 

Jitterbug is a Michigan-bred Professional Draft Cross who skillfully avoided saddles until age 5. Since then, she has been lauded for her talent in successfully managing humans while training herself to one day achieve eventing greatness. Jitter and her human live in central Kentucky.
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Photo by Dark Horse Photography.