Wednesday, December 31, 2008

big wind and big dreams as the year rolls out

I woke up this morning to sunshine and big cold wind, a solid 20 mph with gusts up to 40 mph - not my favorite riding weather. Not yet sure if I will ride or not today, but the wind is definitely drying things out.

The herd has hay out in the sunshine and access to shelter if the wind gets to be too much. The barn is situated so no wind is gusting through. That's as good as it gets on these blustery days.

Googling around this morning, I happened quite by accident on a gorgeous 7-year old mare for sale. She is schooling 2nd/3rd level and is - did I mention this already? - absolutely stunning. She also happens to be Salina's daughter!

I have found Salina babies before, and wanted them all, but this one has really captured my fancy. She's only a few hours away. Sadly, she is out of my price range, but I emailed anyway, to see if in this market they might lower the price.

My husband, if he is reading this, is shaking his head. But a girl can dream, can't she?!

I can't help myself - the thought of partnering with Salina's daughter for the next 20 years makes me smile with glee. She looks like Salina, without the tiny white sliver moon on her forehead, and without the white anklet, but she's as big as Keil Bay, and very powerful in the body. You can easily see Salina in her, the perfect carriage, and the sensitivity combined with sensibility.

I think dreaming big on the last day of a year is a good thing. I'd love to hear what everyone else is thinking about today. What dreams do YOU have for '09?

An update: I have been having the most fun today emailing back and forth with both Salina's daughter's trainer/broker and her owner/original trainer, who says she had a very difficult time selling her. (meaning she originally bought the young mare as a project to train and sell, but then fell head over heels in love with her) She wrote that Salina's daughter had a very unique response to training - more like a one-on-one conversation than a "say/do" session, and that what they both had trouble describing to perspective buyers sounded very close to the way I described Salina in my emails.

Salina's daughter is now partnering with a pretty prominent person in the dressage world, so it looks like I can at least keep tabs on her as she goes.

While I would love to have her myself, I have to say it has been a blast today, learning about her, writing about Salina, and feeling excited at being able to watch her progress. A delightful way to end the year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

more sunshine, thank the heavens, and finding balance

It was SO nice to be able to open up the remainder of the round bale and the shavings pile today so they can air out, and equally nice to see horses walk without necessarily doing that little hoof slide in the mud. There are still a few really mucky areas, but much of the ground is drying out a bit.

Keil Bay came up for his ride, later than I had planned, but I was determined to get it in before dark. I made sure to focus while tightening the girth, decided to ride in halter and clip-ons, and then forgot my half chaps.

At the mounting block, Keil did not want to stand again, and he kept looking around at me as if he were concerned I was going to re-enact yesterday's drama. Once again, I followed him with the mounting block until he stood still, which took him backing the entire 6 meters from H to the end of the arena. About the time he realized he couldn't go any further and stood still, a hunter in the hundred-acre wood shot off one huge boom. The Big Bay stood nicely and didn't get silly, and I mounted without incident.

I'm starting to think I really do want to get a bitless bridle and try it out with him, as there is something truly lovely about his head and neck and the way he carries himself without the bit. It's very subtle, but there is a slight lack of tension that may come from no bit, or it may come from me not having mastered consistent contact, but it's enough of a positive change that it makes me want to have it all the time.

He was checking things out beyond the arena again, and it was a nice test to see if he would respond to my gently "sponging" the reins to get an ear flicked back. He did. I remain surprised at how much better lateral work is without the bit. I'm still not sure why, except the lack of tension surely makes it easier for him.

Meanwhile, my legs felt really loose and light, and my pelvic joints felt much looser today too. I didn't realize until after I got off that the lightness of leg was probably not having the half chaps on, and the increased flexibility has to do with getting saddle time in every day for a few days running. Given that, I am hoping to keep this rolling.

I also put a sheepskin seat on my dressage saddle and it feels pretty good. I noticed some difference at the canter yesterday with it.

All that said, the house is a Total Wreck. This is my ongoing challenge. When I write and ride, other things fall apart. When I take care of domestic duties, I don't write or ride as much.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Husband and kids left early to go play laser tag with friends, so I'm here alone with horse chores and the possibility of brilliant rides and novel edits to type in. Looking around the house there are a hundred different things more I could do, all that need doing, but none of which I want to let fill this nice long day.

It reminds me of this photo taken by my husband, Hen Wallow Fall, and all those leaves, the brightly colored ones as well as the drab ones, are the choices I have today. I think I shall pick the brightest ones first and let the others slide on down, out of reach and out of sight.

I have to add the tale of drama from the afternoon.

First, the geldings were down the big hill, closed in so Salina and the donks could have the dirt paddock today. After I fed Salina's lunch I walked out and called Keil Bay to come up and get ready for a ride. I went back in the tack room and got sidetracked until I heard his big whinny. He was standing at the gate to the little barnyard, waiting, and letting me know he was there. What a sweetie!

While grooming Keil Bay, I decided to give him his sport cut, and then decided it was sheath-cleaning time as well. Rafer Johnson turned himself into the big barnyard to join us for the mane and tail trimming, and then followed us into the barn aisle. He stood at my side the entire time I was cleaning the Big Bay's sheath, fascinated with the pail of warm water, the white cotton, the green gel, and the fact that the Big Bay was totally fine with this odd procedure. It was hilarious. Meanwhile, Redford (who will look for escape routes but won't go through a fence or squeeze through a gate) was in the paddock with Salina braying away for his brother to come back. Nothing diverted Rafer from his focus. He so wants to observe and learn.

Once in the arena I got on the mounting block and when I put my weight in the stirrup, the entire saddle slid down with me. To his credit, while my foot was in the stirrup underneath his belly and I was flailing around trying to get it out, Keil took one step back but then stopped when I said whoa.

I don't think that has ever happened to me in my life. I always do the girth up gradually, and somehow must have forgotten to do the last two notches on either side. Once I got the saddle fixed and the girth tightened properly, Keil stepped away when I got back up on the block. He was reasonably skeptical about the whole mounting business, and I realized I had to fix the new issue I had just created.

I shoved the block into position each time he stepped away, until he stopped stepping away. Then I climbed up on the block and repeated a couple times until he stood for that. Finally I put my foot in the stirrup and stopped there. (we learned this technique a year or so ago and I was glad I remembered it today) I put my foot in again, weighted it, and he stood still, so I popped on up.


After all that drama the ride itself was nice. My back was a little tight but cantering made that disappear. Then my inner thighs were sore, but that's what happens when I don't ride every day! So... we finished up just in time for Keil Bay to go into a stall with some fresh hay while the rest of the herd came in. Time to get back to yoga stretches and Pilates. Either that or buy a 3-step mounting block!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

balmy at year's end (with a nice ride)

We have sunshine today and temps approaching 70, although it looks like rain may be returning this afternoon and evening. This morning, though, it is oddly spring-like, with green in the dirt paddock and big barnyard, and even more in the back field where we mulched and dragged.

As I was scrubbing one of the water troughs, a bee showed up, and we interacted for a few minutes. I never got a real good look, but I *think* it was a honey bee.

The horses and donkeys are out front, enjoying the breeze and munching hay. The horses all need grooming again, as they have all rolled in the mud. The donkeys are wisely waiting for it to dry out a little bit, and are in the thicket investigating various stumps and fallen branches.

Inside, I'm typing in edits and watching the pile of ms pages on my left grow smaller while the pile on the right grows taller. It's a nice way to mark progress, and satisfying, much like mucking stalls, where there's a finite sense of being done.

And, adding to this at day's end, the Big Bay tried out his new bit and we had a nice ride. By the time he was tacked up, dark clouds were rolling in, and the wind picked up, but it never rained. We started out slow but about mid-way, he clicked into high gear and suddenly I was putting my legs on like butterflies and getting very forward responses. The weather got a bit funky and the Big Bay's ears were up and alert, but he did a great job listening to me and we channeled the spook potential into some nice 10m circles.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

some odds and ends

First, Keil Bay just walked right across my computer screen! The way I have things set up, the reflection from my bedroom window is on the computer screen, for the most part unnoticeable, but just now, Keil Bay walked by the bedroom window, and it was perfectly revealed on screen. What a hoot! And NO, Keil Bay, it is NOT yet time for breakfast.

Second, I've decided to reprise three lovely posts by my friend Joseph Gallo, over on mystic-lit. I posted them there last year, when Joseph graciously offered to send me posts for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, AND New Year's. They were so good I've decided to make them part of mystic-lit's annual holiday ritual. Go check them out. And thanks to Joseph for the holiday treat.

And finally, I have two awards to bestow.

Lisa, at Laughing Orca Ranch, recently gave me the Superior Scribbler award and said some very kind things about camera-obscura. Lisa has a wonderful, cheerful, always honest blog and I so appreciate her thoughts and this honor.

I'd like to give the Superior Scribbler award to Arlene at Grey Horse Matters, where she writes consistently useful and well-done posts on topics related to horses. Most recently, though, she wrote a beautiful story (that happens to be true) called The Christmas Pony, and it is especially for that post that I offer this award. It made many of her readers cry, and it illustrates how big Arlene's heart is. But it is also beautifully written, which made it even better!

Janet, at Talk2theAnimals, recently gave me the Universal Light Award. She too had very kind things to say about camera-obscura, and I so appreciate it, and again, am honored. Janet's blog has been a real treasure for me, reminding me to pay attention to the animals not only that live with us, but who share the land with us. Thanks so much, Janet!

I'd like to give the Universal Light Award to Jon Katz, whose Bedlam Farm blog has become a favorite of mine over the past few weeks. Jon has a number of books out and I'm sure he has a tremendous readership already, but his recent writings about managing his farm, creating balance for his writing and photography, as well as living more simply and developing deep and honest friendship, has been very moving for me. His photographs are brilliant and filled with light. If you haven't seen his blog, go check it out.

Monday, December 22, 2008

sunny, cold, and windy, punctuated by ginger tea

The glorious sunshine is back, but with it came the cold. We're back to ice in troughs, mucking rocks, and horses in blankets.

This morning after feeding breakfast, my throat started feeling gravelly and I felt my immune system quiver. (this sounds impossible, but I can tell when my body is fighting and winning, and when it's starting to flag, I swear)

So I mucked one wheelbarrow full, dumped it, and decided to head in and warm up. My daughter came out and offered to muck a barrow-full, and I asked her to come in and warm up after too, so that presumably we can keep on this side of a bad cold.

Something that always helps is fresh ginger tea. Slice a handful of fresh ginger root if making one mug. Add a mug of water plus some to the pot and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling, turn it down a little, and let it boil for 10 minutes. The longer you boil, the stronger it gets, and don't forget to add extra water if you want to boil for a stronger brew.

Add the juice of 1/2 lemon to your mug (I usually add that plus half a squeeze from the remaining half), honey to taste, and strain the tea in. (or if like me, you don't mind floating slices of ginger, just pour)

It's wonderful for coughs, sore throats, oncoming colds, and assorted other ailments.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

a note on the longest night

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things

Saturday, December 20, 2008

winter solstice

My favorite holiday all year long is the winter solstice, and over the years we have created our own rituals to celebrate the longest night. On a winter solstice night several years ago, before we had our horses, my good friend Kim invited us to her house. We spent a wonderful afternoon riding, shared a lovely meal, and ended the evening with our ritual of reading poems by candlelight beneath the dark night sky.

What happened with Kim's horses as we went from barn to barn with treats and candles was the first of many solstices to come that we would share with horses. We are fortunate indeed to have our own barn now, filled with our delightful and wise partners in zen: Keil Bay, Apache Moon, Cody, Salina, Rafer Johnson, and Redford.

Tomorrow night we'll make some magic with the herd, and count our blessings.

Matthew's photo from the Great Smoky National Park is another favorite: hoarfrost, which has its own magic.

And a poem I wrote following our solstice with Kim and her horses. I have never spent time editing it, so in a way it's still in progress, but it captures some of what we shared that evening, and what became a central part of our yearly celebration.

Happy Winter Solstice, all!

Winter’s Solstice With Kim

Afternoon we ride patterns in the ring
as the sun lows and then slides from sight.
Smack of girth on saddle as we untack in dusk,
feed before dark falls,
prepare dinner for our hungry selves.

Holiday cookies and red wine.
White candles which we light
and take outside
to the little hill
beyond Fred’s paddock.

We chant, recite the typed out poems
while high above the wide dark sky
is smeared with stars.
We hold tiny flames
against the night.

Processional, the long slow walk
to the barn
Apples and carrots for the horses
Fred circles in his stall
and takes his treats, accepts warm hands
along his velvet nose.

We march in single file to the mares’ barn
Flames protected by cupped hands
Annie and Nix wait patiently with their babies
Firefly and Fenix
While Winnie nickers and paces.

Share warm breath with horses.
In unison we go silent:
sacred space.

We celebrate
this longest night.

Go home with love and light.

Friday, December 19, 2008

sunshine and ice skating

Today, finally, the sun has burst forth, along with some gusty wind that I hope will dry things out a bit. There is more rain forecast for the next two days, but even so, especially so, today's respite is welcome.

I've uncovered the round bale, am getting ready to uncover the shavings pile, opened barn doors and windows wide, and my goal today is to add in some new shavings to each stall, get everyone groomed by nightfall, and hopefully have some time left over to do a little bit of local shopping.

My husband has today off, so he took the kids ice skating with their homeschooling group, and afterwards, they'll stop off at their favorite gourmet candy shop to do a little bit of stocking shopping. (we do stockings a bit differently - once they get hung, everyone participates in filling them by Christmas Eve, so they'll be ready to "open" on Christmas morning - it makes it fun for everyone, and each time any of us goes anywhere during December, chances are a few little stocking stuffers will make it into the bag)

Better head out and uncover the shavings so they can air out! Happy Friday to all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

making peace with the mush

We are stuck in another wave of drizzly, warm for the season days. The muckiness of the ground bothers me on some deep level, probably because we have clay soil and it's slippery. I was aware yesterday that I was feeling frustrated with the unstable footing, and even more keenly aware that there is not one thing I can do about it. Except reframe my discomfort and figure out a new perspective.

I decided to focus on being cheerful and to walk slowly. I stopped wincing at the mush and tried to feel my feet sinking in, finding solid ground, and to experience it differently.

When I pushed the wheelbarrow full of hay out to the front field, I heard a loud and persistent bird call that I knew wasn't a song bird. It was the red-tail hawk, sitting on a low tree branch watching me, calling out over and over. This is the third sighting in a week or so. Each time I listen and although I'm not exactly sure what the bird is telling me, I continue to listen. Some things just sink in without having to know the words.

Back in the barn, the Big Bay had his own message. He begged me to allow him to be with Salina and the donkeys instead of the pony and Cody. Keil's front legs were muddy up to the knees, following a morning of rough play with the very pushy pony. I made the Bay promise he would not chase donkeys or Salina, as I didn't want anyone sliding down. He agreed.

So I opened the stall door and said "walk on." He sauntered down the barn aisle, completely content, checking out each stall, each empty feed tub, and then joined Salina and the donkeys by the round bale. It was covered, but I took the big blue tarp off and let them stand in a circle munching while I put the pony and Cody out in the back field with their own hay.

Then I led the Bay into the front field, went back for Salina, and of course Rafer followed. I stood by the gate and waited for Redford, reluctant to give up the round bale, but one, two, three, four, there he came skittering through the barn to find his herd.

Keil Bay kept his promise. All day long he walked quietly and gently around Salina and the donkeys. He carefully touched his nose to Redford's rump and even when Redford gave him a sharp kick, Keil simply stood still and watched Redford to see what might come next.

Three different times the donkeys ventured alone down the big hill. Salina looked up, not concerned but wanting to keep her eye on them. When they went all the way down, she couldn't. So Keil Bay walked very carefully down and in a big circle, gently herded them back up to Salina. It was so touching.

Late in the afternoon the neighbors across the lane wheeled out a big wagon of trash. White plastic flashed and rustled. Keil Bay went into high alert and trotted to the crest of the hill, ahead of Salina and the donkeys, to keep an eye on things. Cody and the pony trotted up from the back field to alert over the fence, rear guards. We've got your six, buddy. Even when separated, the herd members communicate and do their parts.

It was especially nice to see Salina relaxed and allowing the geldings to keep watch for her. She needed a break.

Today is another gray foggy day, although I can see through the windows evidence of clearing. Tomorrow I'm told it will be in the 70s, but windy. The gusting wind is not my favorite either, but perhaps the fact that it helps dry things out will make it more appealing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

how to feed 6 hungry equines, muck 5 stuffed stalls, groom 4 muddy bodies, dump 3 loads of poop, play with 2 silly geldings, dance with 1 painted pony

... and supervise two adventuring donkeys, all in one day (while daughter naps on sofa with sore throat):

Take lots of breaks!

After feeding breakfast, I made a run to the store for essential sore throat/cold supplies: tissues, ginger root, lemons, honey, ginger ale, popsicles, soup, and, most importantly, an advance reward for a day full of work - chocolate-covered, cream filled donuts.

After mucking the first two stalls I went trekking with donkeys:

Then I did another stall, groomed Salina, and exercised two silly geldings:

The pony couldn't stand it - so I let him in too, but he harassed the Big Bay so much I had to dance privately with the Little Man:

Then came more grooming, another stall, and Keil Bay and I took a break to play one of his favorite games.

He stands in the stall with me while I muck. The wheelbarrow is all that lies between Keil Bay and the big round bale in the barnyard. He watches me and the stall door. If I get more than 3 steps away from the stall door, he takes that as permission to barrel over the wheelbarrow and head for the round bale. This is like a game of chess. It takes great skill and thinking ahead to muck a whole stall without taking more than 3 steps. The key is to use the Big Bay's good manners to get him to step back so that he's always between me and the poop. He won't bowl me over to go through the door.

In between moves, he tries to distract me by offering his head for a scratch. He rubs gently on my shoulder. I scratch, he turns away, I stop scratching, he comes back for more. He offers his nostril so I can blow into it. This goes on and on.

Finally I declare myself the winner and he heads out to the paddock so I can finish off the stall.

All done! Except for forking hay into mangers, closing gates, and hoping husband will give clean water when he feeds dinner!

the amazing, flying, Houdini donkey

aka Redford.

The past few days he has discovered a mysterious way out of the big barnyard, where he goes to a little patch of green just at the edge of the biggest flower bed, and he stands there and nibbles.

He doesn't try to go further, or leave, he just stands there and enjoys his freedom. Salina and Rafer Johnson peer at him through the big green gate, and he seems to enjoy that. Look at me! I'm glad I can still see you both, but I like it out here!

Redford has a quieter personality than Rafer Johnson. He does not like the full body hugs that Rafer adores giving, although he does like what I call "mini" hugs. But Redford is the one who stands quietly outside the feed room door every morning, and it is Redford's little nose that is almost always right behind me as I make my way through morning chores. He's very loving and companionable - he's just quiet about it.

One thing will make him bray, louder than you could imagine a young donkey could bray. And that's if Rafer Johnson goes out of his sight, or leaves Redford to squeeze into the arena and play with the big boys. Redford will bray over and over again for his brother to come back. If that doesn't work he hops up on the platform by the arena and brays more.

However, he seems to be quite fine with being separated when it's HIM initiating the separation!

We have made two major adjustments to the area he's escaping. And still, yesterday morning, he managed to get through. We can't figure it out, and he never does it while we're watching. I think some no-climb wire over there might be in order. Which should take care of it unless by chance he's flying over. If he is, we will have to call in our donkey experts, Ken and Marty, and get some advice. :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

back in the saddle

I've had a few weeks without riding, one of those terrible cycles I get in periodically, and when today dawned with sunshine and the promise of temps above 50, I decided it was past time and a perfect day to hop back on the handsome Bay.

He seemed happy to be groomed in the big barnyard. His feet are looking great, and I was thrilled to see his heels spreading a bit in front and the frogs getting wider. His fur is soft and glossy, and although he has a little dandruff in his mane and tail, the hair is thick and shiny, and feels silky when I brush it out.

I had a brief thought of giving him his sport cut today, but then decided that might get me in trouble time-wise, and the goal was to RIDE, not play salon.

Keil Bay always takes the bit. I mean, he literally places his mouth onto it while I hold the bridle up. Maybe three times he has not offered that courtesy, and today was one. I know the times he hasn't taken the bit coincided with my using a peppermint flavored bit wipe, so that might explain it, but my tendency is to listen to the Bay when he gives me a message, because he knows his body and he is never naughty just to be naughty. It always means something.

When I put the bridle away and came back with his halter and clip-on reins, he stuck his nose right in. We had a nice ride, and he moved off my leg well. I was forced to work on aids from the seat and legs, which was good for me.

As is usual, he was relaxed and ready to head out to the field when we were done. The Big Bay loves having his work done early in the day. He has a definite sense of pride when he walks down the hill.

My daughter warmed Cody up and then rode the Training 1 dressage test. He was not as good in the trot, but the canter looked lovely. I suspect his recent chiro adjustment straightened some things out and he's sorting it all out under saddle.

The pony had a ground work session with my daughter, who had him walking, trotting, and sidepassing today. He's beginning to do a fair amount of work with her almost directly behind him, as if she's long-lining. I am thinking this bodes well for driving training.

We also had to do some donkey-proofing today. Redford discovered he is still small enough to walk through the stile! And Rafer craftily discovered that a certain piece of Horseguard tape was not 'on' - and climbed through it. The stile is now barricaded until young Redford grows a bit, and the tape has been turned on, so here's hoping Team R and R, as Sheaffer calls them, will stay put. They have been in very high spirits this week, and I think it's safe to say we've moved past convalescence and are now in "back to normal" mode. I had forgotten that normal for donkeys (and sometimes ponies) includes all sorts of shenanigans. They keep us on our toes. :)

This evening we had the annual Pony Club Christmas party. Along with lots of good food there was a truly lovely slide show on the big screen TV with perfectly matched music - all of the girls (and one boy) with their mounts doing various activities throughout the past year. My daughter got four pairs of socks from the gift exchange (and I secretly cheered because now maybe she will stay out of mine!) and also an award - the Stick With It award - for her willingness to work with Cody on his crossing water issue, and being committed to teaching him how to be a great Pony Club mount.

It was a lot of fun.

We have a chance of rain tomorrow but I am hoping I can make time in the a.m. to ride. Afternoon is dressage lesson and picking up the Mystical Kit from his neutering. Sigh. He's already old enough to be neutered! And he is on the kitchen island right now, trying to nibble the gingerbread house.

gingerbread lessons

Yesterday morning my daughter and I set out for a neighboring town, where we participated in a gingerbread house making party. A chef friend had offered three cooking classes in exchange for a ms read I did for her, and yesterday was the first.

She has a lovely dedicated kitchen (huge, with gigantic windows all around) apart from her home, equipped with all the beautiful, functional kitchen supplies anyone would ever need. The sense of creation was abundant there - I knew it would be a place for fun and inspiration the moment we went through the white iron archway on the path from house to kitchen.

The gingerbread "pieces" had been pre-baked and were waiting for each participant on a foil covered piece of very sturdy cardboard, four to each worktable. There was an "icing" station to get icing bags filled and refilled. The sound of the cobalt blue KitchenAid mixer was the backdrop work song. Every table had an array of decorating candies and supplies: red licorice, pretzel logs, frosted wheat cereal blocks, christmas candies of every color, peppermints in every size and shape, chocolate kisses, gumdrops, candy beads and sprinkles, m&ms in green and red, tiny marshmallows, "peeps" christmas trees and snowmen.

Within about two minutes we had white icing all over shirts, sleeves, in hair, and yes, on the gingerbread house. We went a bit overboard with the icing trying to make sure the structure was sound. It seemed to be, but when we put the roof on, way too soon, the thing collapsed. We started over. We got support from the other gingerbread builders. We stopped now and then to watch other collapses, other roofings, and then got back to work.

I love the creative process. I love what getting my hands deep in a project does for my perfectionistic tendencies. I start out wanting something to be one very specific way. It often doesn't work - either I've set my goals way too high, or I get too locked into that "one way." But the magic happens when the process itself takes over and pushes me to let go of that initial "ideal" and allow other things to manifest.

It was when I let go of the icing being perfectly aligned, with little whip points, that things got fun.

Our gingerbread house ended up being completely frosted in white, and completely covered in decorative patterns and colors. We got the roof pieces decorated and put on. It was gorgeous! It was whimsical, it was a bit over the top, but it had a certain magical style that happened when it went from controlled to "let it flow."

And of course, with all our attempts to ensure its safe transport from there back home, it collapsed one wall at a time on the drive. But we managed to get it back together so it could be seen and appreciated - before the nibbling started!

Friday, December 12, 2008

an early gift

Today my daughter and I were making a run to the feed store to stock up on beet pulp pellets, whole oats, whole flax seed, and rice bran. We stopped by the local tack shop first to get a couple of Pony Club Christmas party gifts and had fun looking and catching up with the store owner, who I know and am quite grateful to for having this marvelous store in our small town.

She loves horses and rides, and had a very successful corporate career. She gave it up to open this shop, and I imagine took something of a risk to do so. But she has said on more than one occasion that she is happy, and she has done a great job meeting community needs with the items she offers.

We do try to shop there as much as we can. Sometimes I have to order online to keep within my budget, but we have bought Charles Owen helmets and vests there because of the expert, certified fitting they offer, and I often go there first to see if what I need is available and priced within my budget. The store staff are wonderfully knowledgeable and helpful. In the past month they saved me buying a new helmet by fitting my son's barely worn one to my daughter's head.

When I was casting about for solutions to Keil Bay's saddle pad dilemma they urged me NOT to buy the expensive Mattes fleece pad, but to get the saddle fitter over first to make sure it wasn't a fit issue. (it was)

They often have just the thing I need: a quarter blanket for the pony, a grazing muzzle, the lick ball that kept Rafer Johnson occupied during some long afternoons in his stall.

They sponsor workshops and send out a truly useful email each month with notification of sales, as well as free local classifieds for customers. When hay was scarce, they sent out info about good, reliable hay sources.

They always send me home with the assurance that if my purchase doesn't work, I can bring it back. This includes bits, blankets, clothing, everything. I so appreciate them.

So today I went in feeling happy to give them some business, and mentioned that I was looking for a specific bit for Keil Bay's stocking. They had the exact bit, but it was $125. and while ideally it WAS the exact one I wanted, I had hoped to find the cheaper version. (more like $40.)

As the owner was looking through catalogs to see if she could find one of the less expensive ones, she suddenly stopped. "How much were you thinking of spending?" she asked.

When I told her, she smiled. "You know what? You're a wonderful customer. I'm going to give this one to you for that price."

I resisted but she insisted. I was close to tears. It was such a kind and lovely gesture, particularly in the economic times we're experiencing. But she lit up when she made the offer, I lit up when I accepted it, and sometimes, many times, this is the kind of thing that I believe changes the energy in our world, not all at once, but bit by bit, like those little snowflakes in snow globes, one and then a flurry.

I plan to find a way to pass this generosity on and keep the glittering flakes flying. If we all do just one really nice thing we wouldn't have otherwise done, just think how that lights up the world.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

70 degrees, rain, thunder, tornado watch

We've had so much rain today it is quite literally standing in pools all over the property. It has to rain a lot for me not to let the horses out, but today I decided not to. It's slippery, and if it started thundering and they started running... not a great combination.

So we have spent the day trying to keep up with the mucking. Fortunately our barn has a shelter off the back 3 stalls, so generally what I do is let the geldings take turns - one gets closed in, the other two can go in and out from stalls to shelter. This insures that no one gets stuck in the rain. (can you say "bossy pony?") I leave the gate to the arena open so if/when the rain stops they can go in there and march around. It's wet, but it drains really well and it isn't slippery like the paddock and fields.

Salina and the donkeys have two stalls opened up, and the barn aisle, and I left them access to the barnyards so they can take a walk when the rain slows.

Right now, Rafer Johnson is watching for the storm.

Thus far it has worked as well as it ever does. Boredom is kept to a minimum, and they seem happy enough to stand and watch the rain fall, munching their hay.

There is a tornado watch in effect until 7 p.m. for our area, but right now, there is a tornado warning in effect with the center of rotation passing over the area where my brother lives, and where we used to board Keil Bay and Apache Moon. I hope it treads gently as it whirls on, and that it dies out soon. Another more severe band of weather is expected around 7 tonight, so we will keep our eyes open and hope for the best outcome for all.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

70 degrees!

Here we are in December and it is 70 degrees outside. The horses have been running wildly today, enjoying the odd weather. Cody especially is trotting around like a dressage star, tossing his head in delight.

So far today I've had a close encounter with 3 crows and then a very close encounter with a redtail hawk, who flew up from only a few feet away and landed on a fence post, where he sat and watched as I scrubbed and filled a water tub.

Given the unusual weather, the bird sightings, and the season, I won't be surprised at anything that happens today.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

if I had taken the camera out today you would have seen:

Rafer Johnson and Redford turning out for a little while with the entire herd. Redford looked like a little boy having his first Christmas!

Salina galloping to keep her donkey boys in check (and the geldings at their proper distance), then trotting and tossing her head.

Salina standing with eyes closed, enjoying her massage while the donkey boys munched on the heart of the last round bale.

Rafer Johnson getting his hind quarters checked for tight muscles. (none!)

Keil Bay searching his massage therapist's pockets for the hot stones, which we opted not to use today.

Cody nudging in to see if he could get some bodywork for himself. (alas, he was not on the schedule today!)

Keil Bay outside my window while I got my massage.

Chase the handsome Corgi peeping up at me through the face rest of the massage table, and touching my nose with his.

The gorgeous black basalt stones soaking in my bathroom in their crock pot.

The gray clouds rolling in just before sunset.

The pony's face when we took the remainder of the round bale heart and rolled it out under the shelter for the geldings to share until bedtime.

Monday, December 08, 2008

finding the rhythm of the earth

It's so cold this morning I can't even think of taking the camera out in search of an image! The ice was nearly an inch thick on the troughs, I noted that one plastic bucket exploded, and mucking is akin to moving rocks.

But the sun is out and temps are rising well into the 40s, so blankets are off, horses and donkeys are eating hay, and thankfully there is no wind chill factor.

As I often do, when I can't get my own images lined up, I went visiting my husband's website gallery looking for something to borrow. Today I found this:

It feels warm to me, but more than that it captures one of my favorite images in the mountains - the fog rolling in like a tide. I think a lot of us are drawn to mountains and the sea because of the constant sense of a cycle in process, as well as something "bigger than us."

I always find a sense of mystery and awe and appreciation when I visit mountains and the sea, and find myself getting in tune with the earth's breathing and sighing.

Finding an inner rhythm, and tuning in to it. I think he captured that perfectly here.

Thanks, Matthew!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

early december

Has come on quietly, with nice days and some chilly nights. The fields each morning are white with frost. I have noticed the last few days that Keil Bay and Cody, in particular, seem to be craving something - Cody was after tree bark and then both of them went at the honeysuckle leaves in the big barnyard.

I did a little research and found something called Barlean's Green Powder, a supplement for humans which has all kinds of good stuff in it. When I saw that Joyce Harman has it listed on her website as well, I decided I might get a few containers of it and rotate it into the horses' mix. Hopefully I can find it at the local food co-op when I make a run into town later today.

I've recently put the pony on Quiessence (a mix of mag ox and chromium) and I believe we're seeing good results. I normally have extra mag ox mixed into my Glanzen but when I started the equine nutrition class I decided to wait on re-ordering the Glanzen in case I needed to customize it even more. So the pony went into autumn without the mag ox and I think his weight gain is a direct result.

On other fronts, we haven't put the Christmas tree up yet. Until last year we have always had live trees, but with all the cats and their sudden habit last year of doing their own version of watering the tree, as well as my concern with the dryness of the live tree in the same room as the wood stove, we bought an artificial tree.

I personally missed the smell of a cut tree, but otoh, it was nice not having needles dropping, and b/c the dryness factor had been removed, we left it up longer. It made the winter a bit brighter and we all enjoyed it.

This year we'll probably reprise the home-made ornaments that can be played with safely (and without regret if broken) by cats, since Mystic is in a phase where he just loves to knock things down. He's the most toy-using cat I've ever seen, and I feel sure he'll view the tree with dangling objects as his own personal playground.

Speaking of Christmas, frost, and trees, this photo from Matthew is one of my favorites:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Ted Andrews, in his lovely book Animal Speak, says this about the butterfly:

Butterflies appear to dance as they light upon flowers and such. They remind us not to take things quite so seriously within our lives. They awaken a sense of lightness and joy. They remind us that life is a dance, and dance, though powerful, is also a great pleasure.

Butterflies bring color and joy with them. When butterflies come into your life look at how much or how little joy is within your life. Lighten up. Look for change.

And here it is - a butterfly for all of us!

Victoria at Teachings of the Horse awarded this yesterday, and I'd like to say thank you to her both for the award and for her blog. I had to laugh when I read that she starts her day with coffee and a visit to Linda at 7msn, Arlene at Grey Horse Matters, and here. I do the very same thing. It's a little bit of blogging synchronicity every morning, and I think it adds something of value to my day.

This butterfly award is meant to be passed on. I have an image of the lovely little thing flitting and darting, making its way across the country and around the world, from one blog to another.

I'd like to send it to four blogs:

jme at Glenshee: jme writes eloquently and succinctly about riding, and I get completely absorbed in her explanations and descriptions of things. It's like an online graduate class in the art of riding, and while I'm not at all sure I'm a graduate level rider, she makes me feel like I am and gets me thinking about the details. Thanks, jme!

Sheaffer: Sheaffer is a miniature donkey whose blog makes me laugh out loud on a regular basis. He is brilliant and funny and his philosophies about life and animals and "the woman" are always enlightening and entertaining. Sheaffer should have a lovely TV show on PBS, where he sits in top hat and waistcoat, introducing his audience to the day's adventure.

Janet at Talk 2 the Animals: Janet is an animal communicator with a wonderful perspective on how animals can teach us about ourselves. She offers information about specific animals each week, and she also shares her own experiences with the animals in her life and those she encounters. I especially love reading what her horse Shiloh has to say. Janet has inspired me to ask questions and to listen to the animals I live with. I've learned that Keil Bay will get down to the bottom line very quickly for me. Thanks, Janet!

We Three, Ginger Cat Tales: This is one of my favorite blogs to visit when I need to escape for a little while. The photographs and the writing provide a window into another world (Wales) and I leave feeling like I've taken a mini-retreat to find creativity and imagination. Thank you Ginger Cats Three!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

and a little update

It has become apparent just since this a.m. that Rafer Johnson is moving significantly more normally MORE of the time now that he has had his hooves trimmed. Thank goodness - he can roll into the new year back to his precious Rafer self.

trim notes for december - a year's review

We had the trimmer here this morning, so I was up early getting equine breakfasts served and trying to get the barn aisle raked so it would be ready when he arrived. I had a pumpkin eggnog latte delivered to me at the barn, but just realized I took one sip, set it down, and forgot about it. It is still out there!

I was a little stressed about today's trims, because it was Rafer Johnson's first trim since he got his cast on. The trimmer has looked at his feet each visit since the break, but each time we made the decision not to trim, because we didn't want to risk injuring him further. Rafer has had to go through so much with the broken leg - the sight of the halter became shorthand for "the vet's coming."

We've been working with Rafer, re-teaching him that the halter means good stuff sometimes, and he's been making progress in that regard. But I worried that the trim might be hard, and he would transfer all his negative vet stuff over to the trimmer.

Thank goodness my worry was in vain. When B. arrived, Rafer marched right up to him and sniffed. He remembers that B. gives yummy alfalfa cookies after each trim, and he also remembered that B. has very cool tools to play with.

We started with Salina, with donkeys haltered but allowed to stand with her. My theory is that if they see her getting a trim, and see how good she is, it can only reassure them. Today they got bored and went out into the barnyard. Salina stood for her trim, and today was easy for her. I'd given her the Bute last night and again this a.m., to help the knees. And it was heartening to see that she is growing good hoof, remaining balanced between trims, and the crack from the abscess last May is nearing the ground. B. prepared me that as the crack gets close to the ground it will chunk off, and I might be alarmed, but it will be cosmetic only. So I'm ready for that.

Redford went next. He stands well, but he is still young so we go slowly and carefully to teach him that it is No Big Deal. He was quite happy to get the alfalfa cookie pieces at the end, and actually acted up a little when my daughter led him away! He wanted more trim and more cookie.

And then it was Rafer's turn. I cannot tell you how absolutely amazing he was. He fussed just a little as we got him lined up in the aisle, but then he stood like a little soldier. B. did the fronts first so there wouldn't be any stress on the hind end. And when he got to the hind leg that was broken, Rafer had it lifted and waiting for him! B. had to adjust his gloves, so Rafer let the hoof down again, but when B. turned back, Rafer lifted the hoof again, offering it into B.'s hand. He stood so still and was so good. Even when he had to stand on the injured leg so the other hind could be trimmed.

B. said he would normally have taken a bit more off but he wanted this trim to be very successful and easy on Rafer. And he feels now that the leg is healing and Rafer is moving more, and the hooves are all balanced, he may self-trim some between now and the next visit.

Hooray! I was so happy to see Rafer get his cookies and walk proudly out to the paddock with his best friends Salina and Redford.

I also have to add that right in the middle of these first trims, the scary tree-trimming machine cranked up and began to move. It was out of sight, but the sound was familiar. However, Salina and the donkeys were absolutely fine. The donkeys positioned themselves in front of Salina, between her and the noise, and stood like donkey guardians while she finished her trim.

On to the geldings.

The pony was absolutely perfect. His feet are great and he was soft and comfortable hiking those hind feet up. I was relieved. And as focused as we've been about the pony's weight, B. said he thought he looked good. Not too heavy.

Cody fussed a bit but B. said he's "acting like a 5-year old." Ha! We worked him through it and the reward was seeing his truly picture-book bare feet: beautiful shape and concavity, healthy wide frogs, and no separation or flares. B. wisely had me stop and take a moment to appreciate the way Cody's feet look now. It's so easy to let that go and hone in on any problems. But I looked and appreciated.

Keil Bay went last today, mainly because this is the first trim following my maiden effort at trimming his fronts in between trimmer visits. B. had left me with sketches and notes, a good rasp, and the instructions: "it will feel awkward, you'll be sure you're taking too much off, and you will want to give up. Don't! You'll be fine."

And I did it. Sure enough, the Big Bay's front inside edges had no separation today. I kept them trimmed so the excess growth didn't even get a chance to occur. B. said this is exactly what needs to happen, and I should keep it up. We talked about my getting a shorter rasp that I can handle more easily, but otherwise, I'll do the trim halfway between now and next visit, and see if I can maintain the progress. And Keil's frogs are looking good too.

Every equine got good trim notes today. I feel so much more knowledgeable and at ease with their feet. It's been a year since I embarked on this hoof learning journey with the new trimmer. And every single horse has improved measurably during this year.

The horses are off processed feed, off sugar, and doing beautifully. I'm taking the equine nutrition class and learning to balance the diet based on our pasture, our water, and our hay. And I've taken rasp to hoof, and am eager to continue learning so that I can be an active participant and partner in the health and well-being of these horses.

Thanks, B.! I'm really happy we found you!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

november's billet-doux

It's one of those November days I love, gray and misty and chilly but not quite cold. Most of the trees are bare, but those that still have leaves have them in the beautiful burnished colors of autumn: tobacco brown and burgundy offset by evergreen.

I went out to get the mail and had to come right back in for the camera, which was mercifully on my desk and charged.

As I stood collecting mail, a kettle of black vultures suddenly settled into a tree overlooking our driveway, forming a venue, or committee. They made quiet little chirping sounds and stayed there while I took photographs. One decided to leave, stirred by the horses galloping up the hill, and singly, as if on cue, the vultures flew away.

The two handsomes set their burnished coats against the landscape, in the season I think fits them best:

Each month of the year has its own special gifts, but today is November's little love note to me.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

giving thanks

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.

-Melody Beattie

(with gratitude to matthew for his lovely photograph)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

quite the crazy day

When I glanced out the window this a.m., Cody's blanket was hanging the wrong way on him - think sideways instead of front to back. I have NO idea how that happened!

By breakfast time what felt like the entire world of November Hill was a whirl of sound and movement.

On one side, a huge cement mixer was spinning red, white, and blue. Workmen were bustling all over the place, in white coveralls and hats.

On the other side, a strange tree limb trimmer was crawling along, extending its long white arm high up to the tops of trees, whacking away.

The horses and donkeys were not quite sure what to make of all this. Breakfast was served in the "safety" zone of the front field and grass paddock, where the herd clustered together, on either side of the inner fence line, trying to eat and monitor all this action at the same time.

How all this came to pass the day before Thanksgiving, I don't know, but I DO know there will be one big thankful herd come tomorrow morning when the world is quiet again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

we three

For some reason it caught my eye this morning that these three were sharing a hay pile, even though there were plenty more to eat from.

I started snapping, and then got caught up in Rafer Johnson's handsome self.

Notice that young Redford never looks up, but takes the opportunity to move in on the hay pile!

I love this one, when Salina realized I was taking photos and decided she wanted a nice head shot too.

Monday, November 24, 2008

most fun of the day

was watching two little donkeys play musical mats in the barnyard!

Rafer would get on one, then Redford would follow. Rafer would move to the next one a few feet away, then Redford would get on THAT one. Hilarious!

This was after they walked up to meet the shavings man, who wanted to hear the entire story of the broken leg and how they interact with Salina, and how they got their names. They stood side by side for pats, ears high, noses soft and gentle. Ambassadors in training!

We managed to get shavings in before the rain, and Keil Bay timed his return from the field perfectly. He went at his manger and when I asked if he liked the new shavings, he lifted his head, looked at me over his stall wall, and nodded about four times.

These are an especially NICE batch, very fine and soft.

The putrid stall is drying out nicely. It needs another day and once those mats are back in I'll have a blast filling it with totally new, clean shavings, banked high and deep. At least the final part of the stall debacle is fun.

On another note entirely, head over to mystic-lit and follow the link to a blog supporting authors.

monday morning

Yesterday afternoon, following the pony dancing exhibition in our arena (he was truly dancing with my daughter, it was amazing!) I discovered that the end stall had a disgusting spot where the mats had separated over a depression in the stall base underneath. Every time I stepped on the mat putrid black sludge oozed up and out.

I was horrified, and with the help of my husband and daughter, we got the stall mucked, transferred the clean shavings to another stall, and then stripped the mats out so we could address the mess underneath.

There were actually two spots of black sludge. I used some sawdust to soak it up and then mucked that out. Now it's stripped, the mats have been washed, and the whole thing will air out for a day or two before we put a new layer of stall base in and level it out so the mats can go back properly.

This is one of those chores that stays on my "to be done" list, but almost never gets done until something (like black sludge, for example) carries it directly to the top. The mats weight over a hundred pounds each (and each stall has SIX!) and are incredibly difficult to lift and move. My idea is that maybe we can get this stall done and then tackle one a month until we get through the rest of them.

After getting horses set up for the night, my husband and I made a run to the grocery store, and when we got home, it suddenly occurred to all of us that we hadn't seen Dickens E. Wickens all day. The search ensued. He did not come to anyone's call, but was suddenly heard crunching cat food in the laundry room, thank goodness! He slept on my pillow for most of the night.

Today I have a load of shavings being delivered, FINALLY, and will spend some time getting stalls comfy for the coming week.

Hopefully we can get rides in before the rain arrives. OR if I'm lucky, they're WRONG and we won't get any rain at all!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

saturday's riches

A pony who has been in treatment for sore hocks, floating around the arena at the trot, breaking into the canter out of sheer pleasure, head and neck rounded, tail lifted and swinging softly, hindquarters fully engaged.

A donkey whose leg was broken putting on his special "donkey trot" - nose lifted, head turning from side to side, proudly sailing across the arena, with his best buddy right behind him.

A new round bale of hay, plus mustard greens and fresh eggs from our hay grower extraordinaire.

Temps above 40!

Friday, November 21, 2008

a friday evening in november, cold, but look at the light!

Today was pretty bitterly cold. The horses kept their blankets on, and I actually let Salina and the donkeys have the entire barn as back-up if they wanted to get out of the biting wind. They alternated, taking some sun during part of the day, and getting out of the elements the other.

A huge tarp blew into the fence mid-morning from our neighbor's yard, and while we have our own tarps flapping about, without any disturbance, the "strange" one seemed to un-nerve the equines. Salina was spooky when I fed her lunch, and brave "low man in the herd" Cody was issued forth to walk through the gate, meaning he had to face down the tarp, which had blown along the fence line and gotten tangled yet again.

Once he made it through safely, Keil Bay and the pony came through too.

I moved Cody to the near side of the barn, put Salina in with Keil and Apache, and gave the donkeys back their barn aisle, making the executive decision that it was nearing 4 p.m., they had been out in the wind all day, and maybe some quiet stall time with NPR and hay-filled mangers was what they all needed.

An hour later, I was in the laundry room switching out laundry when I happened to glance out toward the barn. It looked cold, but the barn itself seemed to have a nice warm glow. I could see Cody's rump through his back stall door, and across the barn aisle, Salina's head over the stall door, where she was communing with her donkey boys.

Not sure about the dusky light, I took a second one, using the 'night shot' feature. And look how it came out:

My image of peace and safety for my family, herd, and friends always includes a circle of white light. And there it is.

Here's to a safe, peace-filled, warm weekend for us all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

morning meditation

After my bath this morning, I glanced out the window and was met with this little scene.

I caught this morning morning's minion..., from Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem came to mind.

These darlings of the farm, soaking in the sun.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I knew it was going to be cold out today. Before going out to feed breakfast to horses and donkeys, I finally got around to cleaning out the front closet, which was stuffed with coats, gloves, hats, assorted and sundry used shipping boxes, plastic inserts, etc., as well as a few games, a bag of clothing needing to go to the thrift shop, and AC filters.

I made up four more bags of thrift store donations, two bags of trash, and matched up all the gloves. There was a barn jacket that fits me and I have no idea where it came from.

Son, daughter, and I all bundled up and went out to do morning chores.

It was nice feeding a warm breakfast to the equines. I'm somewhat fanatical about them having their blankets unbuckled up front while they eat feed, so we got them all undone, let them eat, then buckled them back up again so they could go out and face the very strong, cold wind.

It wasn't bitterly cold, but the constant wind made it seem a lot colder than it was.

On the way to the feed store to buy shavings (this is what happens when you let the shavings pile get down to the dregs and call for a delivery at the last minute... then it rains for three days and he doesn't want to deliver until the ground dries out) so everyone would have a fresh warm cushion for tonight's hard freeze.

When I pulled into the thrift shop parking lot, it started snowing!

By the time I pulled out of the feed store lot down the road, it was snowing hard, and combined with the wind, it was almost like a blizzard. We don't really get blizzards here, but this was close. Of course, it only lasted about 10 minutes, but for that span of time, it was like I'd moved someplace else entirely. I had flashes of Little House on the Prairie, which we read out loud, every single volume in the series, several times when the kids were young.

I couldn't wait to get home to see what the horses and donkeys were doing.

They were eating hay in the field and grass paddock, business as usual. A few minutes later the sun was out, blue skies were back, and our little afternoon blizzard was over.

I created a bit of excitement with a syringe full of crushed digestive enzymes and molasses. Cody was the recipient, and after getting about 2/3 of the dose, somewhat enthusiastically, he decided the aftertaste of enzyme wasn't worth the sweetness, so he took off down the hill. Keil Bay and the pony, ever ready to taste anything, bellied up and shoved their open mouths at me. The pony gripped the syringe in his teeth and tried to run with it, but I wrestled it back and gave each a taste. They tasted, they flapped their lips, and they walked off. Cody came back, thinking that maybe I had switched out the original syringe for something more tasty.

In the barn, the donkeys had their turn. Only Salina, the wise one, resisted. I suspect her 25 years have taught her that nothing good comes from a syringe.

But wow - that pill crusher works great!

Monday, November 17, 2008

updates on the hill

Monday morning dawned COLD here, and it looks like we have at least four more nights of below freezing temps to look forward to. I spent some time this a.m. doing a chore that almost inevitably means "cold weather." Taking the butt straps off horse blankets and rinsing them off so they can dry before blankets go back on tonight! Fun, fun. Oddly enough, the pony's butt strap always stays clean. It's the entire rest of his blanket that gets muddy!

The sudden shift from warmer temps to much colder ones left Salina with a slightly swollen left knee yesterday. I had put some of her "Buff B" powder in with breakfast, because these sudden changes to cold often mess with arthritic joints. The Buff B mix is a wonderful, buffered, apple-flavored powder our vet offers for horses who might need more than just the occasional dose of Bute. I don't use it daily by any means, but for Salina, I use it the night before and the morning of her hoof trims, and also when we have these crazy weather changes.

After I'd given the Bute, I realized her knee was a bit swollen and I wished I'd given Banamine instead. This morning I let her eat breakfast and then some more hay, water, etc., and then I gave her the dose of Banamine. She followed me into the stall after taking the Banamine, and I came inside worrying a bit about her. We barely made it in the house before my daughter told me to go look at Salina, who had walked back out to the paddock, taken a nice roll, and jumped up into a beautiful trot. As if to say - no need to fret. I'm fine.

I have her homeopathic remedy mixed up and will give that this afternoon and at bedtime.

The donkeys are fine. The only issue with the donkeys is that they are so cute it is almost too much to bear! Rafer is moving well, continuing to use his leg and rest it as needed. We have begun to re-introduce the concept of "halter does not mean vet" and "touching your leg only means hoof picking." He is a bit tentative about the opposite hind being held up for picking, which is understandable. Redford continues to be in the pocket of all of us. He trots around like a little dressage star. I don't know how in the world we got so lucky to find two lovable, handsome, sweetheart donkeys, but we did. This is what they're up to, right this moment:

The pony is currently in the paddock because he is insufferable with his grazing muzzle on. He goes after Keil Bay and will NOT let up. A certain amount of this roughhousing is fine, but at some point the Big Bay deserves to graze without the rubber muzzle of a pony being thrust into his face. So the Little Man was led into the dirt paddock and there he will stay until lunchtime.

Keil Bay and Cody are both doing well. It's Adequan injection day for the Big Bay, and Cody is having his supplements AM and PM. If my daughter and I can brave the chill outside, we'll be riding the two boys in a bit, practicing the Training 1 dressage test. I have got to find some riding gloves! I know there are a pair around here somewhere.

Meanwhile, I'm keeping the woodstove going and thinking already how warm today will seem once we get to tomorrow, when the high doesn't make it out of the 40s.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

saturday at sunset

We went out just before sunset to get horses in for the night. Keil Bay came up from the front field, and Cody and Apache Moon soon followed. I was picking the Big Bay's hooves out before he went into his stall, when my daughter told me to look at the sky.

Facing the house, this was the view:

And facing out over the arena, this:

I couldn't fit the entire double rainbow in the frame, but it was stunning for about a minute, and then began to be obscured by clouds. But it was nice to see - double rainbows have long been a special sign.

When we came in I learned that the tornado watches have been cancelled, thank goodness. There is rain coming, with some wind, but not the damaging, potentially devastating winds many folks experienced last night.

I have the back door open so I can keep an ear to the wind, book mss to read, and expect to soon smell Victoria's ginger cookies in the oven. Hurry over for her recipe, and you, too, can join the Saturday evening fun. Thanks, Victoria!

And if ginger cookies aren't enough, go check out the Ginger Darlings. Go back into the archives - you'll not regret the lovely photos.

Friday, November 14, 2008

rain expected all day

The rain started yesterday, but at least it started late so the horses had time in the field and the donkeys had some time in the paddock before they all had to come in. It let up some just before dark, and my daughter took the geldings in the arena and did a group free lunge session so they could get some exercise, giving me three empty stalls to muck and top off with new shavings.

Today it's supposed to rain pretty much nonstop, and it's always a challenge to keep everyone in the barn content.

I don't like anyone to have to stand in stalls for too long without moving around a bit, so we play musical stalls and give everyone a turn on the side of the barn with the shelter. The donkeys have the barn aisle to march around in, but that gets old when it lasts an entire night, a full day, and another night. But at least they're not stuck in stalls all that time.

If the rain lets up we try to give some time in the arena. The footing drains really well out there, and the screenings mixed in with the sand do a good job of cleaning the feet out.

We'll listen to NPR and feed hay and keep waters topped off and clean. And since it's so warm right now, I won't fuss if the geldings choose to go out and stand in the rain in the field. Tomorrow the cold front comes through, and hopefully sunshine with it, as the hardest combination is rain and cold wind.

This is one of those days when I'd love to have a barn with double-sized stalls and adjoining paddocks with partial shelters, that all opened to a central area, where I could have some comfy chairs, a desk, lamplight, and a small kitchen to make horse cookies and hot tea.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

saddle fitting and a funny sign

Keil Bay's saddle got checked yesterday and I have to remind all you riders - if you haven't had yours fitted in awhile, or if you have been having funky little things happen like finding a foot repeatedly floating in a stirrup, a saddle pad bunching up or jamming down, feeling unbalanced in the saddle, etc., it could be something easily solved by a simple saddle fit check.

I've been noticing for a few months that Keil Bay's pad ends up jammed down over his withers by the end of a ride. One day it was so bad he was stretching down and turning his neck and shoulders trying to free himself up. I got a new, stiffer pad with more "swoop" at the withers and that helped but did not solve the issue completely.

My saddle fitter arrived yesterday and I was tacked up and riding when he drove through the gate, so he could see what happens. He had me remove the saddle so he could measure the Big Bay's Very Broad Back and compare notes to the last visit. Keil has gotten a bit narrower through the withers, and the wool flocking in the front of the saddle had gotten very soft. The combination of those two things meant the pommel was tipping forward when I rode.

Well - I didn't feel so much like *I* was tipping forward, but have noticed myself having to put my legs back further, which I suppose was my effort at maintaining the balance.

Keil Bay stood and watched while David worked, completely intrigued with the plastic bag of wool flocking, the crunching sound that I suspect he thought *might* be indicative of a treat, and the satisfied look of a horse being fitted for work. Keil Bay loves being fussed over.

David fixed the flocking and tried the saddle on sans pad. He worked some more, tried it again, and showed me that it was totally stable. He then saddled Keil Bay up for me (a rare treat) and sent us into the arena to try it out.

Wow! I was back in my comfy deep seated saddle again. My legs were perfect. The rising trot was smooth and forward and easy. The pad stayed right where it was supposed to be.

I was lucky that when I bought Keil Bay his previous owner agreed to sell me his custom-made saddle, which happened to fit me perfectly too. I didn't know until I had David out the first time, but it was actually his father who fitted Keil with this saddle originally. The saddle fits him well, as long as I keep a check on it and get things adjusted as needed.

A badly fitting saddle can do terrible things to a horse's back and a rider's position, which in turn throws the horse further off balance.

If the subtle issue I had addressed today made such a huge change, I can only imagine how dramatic something bigger would be.

On a totally different note, I woke up this morning and sent out some emails regarding the current novel. The very instant I sent the last one, the phone rang. I didn't get to it in time to answer, but the caller ID said Feature Film Inc. There was no message, and I'm sure this was some sort of sales call, completely unrelated to anything. But I take it as a sign of something good to come for this novel.

Which, by the way, I feel would make a QUITE FINE feature film, so if you know anyone looking for a project, send him/her my way. :)

woohoo wednesday

I had the dreaded dental appointment this a.m. and was very pleasantly surprised that all he had to do was put the crown back in, properly, using the proper materials. I'm as good as new with no trauma involved.

This was inevitably helped by the two-hour long hot stone massage I indulged in yesterday. H. was due to come anyway, but I selfishly co-opted the equine massage time and added it to mine! I decided that Apache is getting enough attention right now with acupuncture, warm towels on hocks and warm water bag on hips. Cody is getting the supplements and is moving like a dream. Keil Bay gashed his face yesterday a.m. and while he might have done well to get a massage, my gut feeling said he needed some ointment, some arnica, and an afternoon of soaking in the sunshine while he munched on hay and grass. Salina and the donkeys seemed so peaceful I decided not to mess with that.

All excuses, I admit, but H. agreed - it was time for ME to get some indulgence.

The massage was, as usual, incredible, and I hereby swear never to let myself miss one again.

Yesterday after the massage I got an email from my saddle fitter, saying he could swing by today to take a look at the Big Bay's saddle. He's impossibly busy and usually it takes months to get on his schedule, so I seized the opportunity and will be out riding Keil at 3 today so that David can see what his saddle pad is doing and fix whatever it is that's off.

And then, the week's scheduled events are OVER. I can ride, write, read, clean, hang out, and not have a single thing to "get ready for."

My favorite way to hit the end of a week.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

big strides and a bobcat

Yesterday's ride on Cody was quite good, once I got past the initial struggle with a pair of stirrup leathers that had to be put on his dressage saddle.

The moment I mounted though, things were good. He walked off with a HUGE stride, markedly different than his normal gait. Cody has had some tendencies to not use his hind end well, and we've always done exercises to work on that. Getting the shoes off was the first positive step, and then finding our current trimmer, who doesn't take much sole off those hind feet.

We have encouraged Cody to really stretch out and use his body, and to forget the small, mincing steps he learned in his Western Pleasure training. He's made tremendous progress but has always needed praise to "walk out." He seems to enjoy it but is also anxious that he's doing the wrong thing.

Anyway, yesterday, after not riding him myself for a month or so, I was struck by the movement of my seat when he walked out. It felt much more like riding Keil Bay, who has a huge stride, and it was relaxed and rhythmical from the first step.

I knew from watching my daughter ride that he's been looking quite nice this fall, but yesterday's ride went even further. After a long walk warm-up, we trotted, and the big relaxed stride carried through. He did well at the transitions, and I could feel in every single stride his back moving up and through.

He's on day 5 of his supplement to deal with the kidney stone, and I'm wondering if that is being dissolved and his hind end comfort is rapidly improving. In any case, I'm thrilled with his progress.

Later in the evening, while getting everyone set up for the night, the Corgis started barking like mad and in response there was, right at the woods' edge by the back yard, an odd shrieking bark-like sound that was so loud and intense I marched over to see what it was.

I actually thought at first it was my daughter playing with the Corgis, pretending to bark at them, but then I saw her walk by the glass doors inside the house, and realized then it was an animal.

My husband came out and went looking with a flashlight. Dickens came marching out of the woods, totally calm and not at all scared, and in a few moments there was a bounding crunch of leaves as something ran along the fenceline. Shortly after that a small herd of deer bounded by.

We never laid eyes on the shrieking creature, but I'm almost certain it was a bobcat. I've been finding bobcat scat and I guess last night the bobcat had a confrontation with Dickens.

Bobcats are solitary and symbolize secrets and silence and the power of the life force. They also represent clairaudience and the ability to know what isn't being said.

My first response was: "I want it relocated."

Which today makes me laugh, because wouldn't that be convenient - being able to relocate the "messages" that make us uneasy!