A little while ago, I got a new young cat who I named Gigi (cat). I don’t know why, but I call all my 3 barn cats by their name plus cat as their last name. I only do this with my cats. Until I had Ohana farm, I was a hard core dog person. I didn’t mind cats and in fact very much liked many of my friends cats but never had cats. I inherited Spice(cat) and Snow(cat) when I purchased Ohana farm and consider them the Senior residents of Ohana having been transferred through several sales of the farm. I was told they had been there for over 10 years. I have now had the farm for 3 and a half years. Spice and Snowy are very social and outgoing cats. Spice is the true Queen of Ohana if Mercury is the king. She is front and center whenever new people are around and is always milling around workshops and classes overseeing things. Snow is always around more in the background and I call her the flying cat because she is the most athletic animal on the farm. I have seen her clear 14 foot gaps in the trusses jumping into the hay loft.
On to Gigi (Gato sometimes I say it in espanol!) Gigi came to me because she was not working out as a house cat. She clearly wanted to be an outside cat. When she came, she had just been caught, spayed and was in a carrier which she had to stay in until she learned her new territory was the farm and Snow and Spice accepted her. Well, You can imagine how traumatic all this was for Gigi. She was a somewhat feral cat to begin with and now she thought us humans were not good at all. She was rightfully terrified of me and anyone else who came near her carrier. To make matters worse, Spice and Snow were hissing and growling at her from outside her carrier. I am sure she felt alone and scared. I knew she liked fish and was told she was food oriented so I started by bringing her bits of tuna and putting them in her carrier which initially was greeted with growls and hisses. I made no attempt to touch her and in fact tried as hard as I could not to invade her only safe feeling space while still providing her with food and water. I visited her daily always doing my best to respect her boundaries, told her I meant her no harm and completely understood why she was frightened and defensive. After some days, she started to take fish from my hands tentatively. She was by no means trusting at this point but it was a start. I wanted to let her out of her carrier but was afraid she would run away in fear. I told her that I was going to let her out and that I hoped she would stay and if she did she would be well looked after. I also asked Spice and Snow to be nicer and more welcoming.
I let her out and she took off! Relieved to be able to be at “Liberty”. For days I didn’t see her and then would catch glimpses of her as she would take off as soon as she saw a person. I was relieved she seemed to have decided to stay at the farm. It appeared that she had taken to sleeping in the viewing room in the Indoor riding arena. It also appeared that Spice and Snow had decided she was allowed on that side of the farm but not “Their” side which of course was where the food was. I have never professed to understand cats but as usual I keenly observed and learned how Spice and Snow taught Gigi her place and what territories and behaviors were acceptable just like horses. For many weeks and months, Gigi got bolder about being around people in her vicinity but if you approached her in anyway she took off. I treated her like a horse that was didn’t want to be caught. I basically ignored her and only noticed her growing boldness and interestingly desire to be around when I was working with the horses. She had NO fear of the horses or a human on a horse. Only a human. I observed that she was boldest when we were riding in the rings and would often lay down, or sit on the knee wall and watch. She was fond of sitting in the viewing room window always watching us. Periodically, I would come with some turkey or fish for her and crouch down in her vicinity. She was willing to take food from my hand still but would quickly move away. Still, gradually over time day after day she grew bolder especially with me. Day after day, I would go about my business with her choosing freely when she came and went. She grew more bold and was often where I and other people were.
Gigi often comes into the arena when I am teaching and last week was no different except, when I crouched down (I had no food), she came to me for the first time and started running and purring around my legs! When I put my hand out to offer her a pet she rubbed herself on my hands and legs over and over again! I was shocked but thrilled that she had decided I was to be a trusted friend now. I thought maybe it was a rare moment but was pleased to have her come to me again another day enthusiastically purring and looking for affection. I felt the long months of spending time together and letting her come on her own terms had finally paid off as I had earned her trust and friendship.
The reason I share this is because of how this illustrates the purity of this particular instance of practicing the Companionship exercise. When we work with horses, they often don’t have a choice in many matters. Even when practicing these exercises, we often have riding as our end game in mind. I have been lucky enough to work with people who’s only goal is to bond with their Horse not ride them. Having to do this exercise with a cat that was basically feral and at liberty to run away at any time, allowed me to practice the exercise exactly as it should be done. With no time lines, it takes as long as it takes and the reward is a true earned friendship on both our terms. If you want this relationship with a horse, sometimes riding has to be off the table. Right now Maestro and I are practicing this exercise since he is a baby and doesn’t need to learn technical training. He and I are merely enjoying each other and getting to know one another on our terms. However, i still don’t think we should kid ourselves as horses are often in enclosed areas where they have no real escape from our advances unless they run at speed. This is just a reminder that you have to keep this in mind when practicing at “Liberty” in your horses space. Whenever it is safe to do so, I always put mine and Mercury’s Liberty to the test by working with him outside of arenas and fenced areas. I know then that we are truly in choice and with each other’s requests and ideas and that, My friends is True Liberty! Happy horsing around!