Wednesday, April 30, 2008

all hail the king!

Keil Bay, aka The King, turns 19 years old today. He is a true joy, a benevolent leader, and the best horse a 44-year old "woman returning to riding after 20+ years" could hope to find.

The story of how I found Keil Bay is its own little fairy tale. Tired of shopping for ponies, weary of failed pony pre-purchase vet exams, completely freaked at the cost of finished 12-handers, I sat up late one night and typed in the criteria for my dream horse into DreamHorse: Hanoverian, bay, gelding, dressage training, age between 10 and 18, within 100 miles.

I clicked "submit," knowing that nothing within my price range would appear.

Oddly, that late night in December, ONE horse popped up. It was Keil Bay and he met every criteria. Except that we weren't shopping for MY horse. We were seeking a pony.

Still, I called the number the next day, thinking I would leave a message. The young woman who was handling his sale answered and we ended up talking for nearly an hour. I confessed that I had been shopping as a lark, and that I was nowhere near ready for a horse like Keil Bay.

She suggested I come meet him and take a ride, "just for fun." She commiserated with the difficult pony search. We knew a few horse people mutually. He happened to be stabled on a horse farm that adjoined the private school my husband had attended growing up. I decided it wouldn't hurt anything to go try him out.

My husband dropped me off at the barn where Keil Bay was living. The young woman was handling both his riding and his sale, as his owner was older and having back issues. She didn't want to sell him, but her back couldn't handle his size and width. We went out to the field to get him, and he walked right up and stuck his nose in the halter.

He didn't seem so big walking up the hill, but in the barn, down the long barn aisle, he seemed HUGE. I groomed him and helped tack him up. I watched him go through his motions. He was gorgeous. He did everything through second level perfectly and a few third level movements. His one fault was that in some of the third level movements, he ground his teeth.

When she finished showing him off, I said I didn't think I could ride such a grand horse. She said to get on and just have fun. I got on. We walked. It was amazing. We trotted. That was amazing. We cantered. I had the best ride and looked the best I'd looked in the saddle since I'd returned to riding. I realized as we passed by the long mirrors - not only was Keil Bay gorgeous but he pulled the best ride out of me I'd had since I was a girl.

I was grinning from ear to ear when I finally got off. His trainer agreed that it had been a fabulous ride, and noted that he'd enjoyed it too. And the moment I stepped up to give him a rub, he rested his head on my shoulder. That was it. I knew that moment I had found my horse.

When my husband drove up, he saw the expression on my face and his changed to alarm. "I'm getting this horse." To his credit, he didn't try to talk me out of it. He did mention "but we're supposed to be buying a pony." I knew we were doing things out of order and I was changing everything mid-stride with our equine plans. But I also knew I would regret it forever if I didn't do what it took to bring Keil Bay into our lives.

He had his pre-purchase vet check, and I was very nervous. All those ponies had looked so good and yet had so many problems. The vet went through his list, item by item. Everything went well. He had spotted something subtle though and wanted to do x-rays of the knees. We did the films and he left, promising to call the next morning. When the trainer and I took Keil Bay back to the gelding field, I took his halter off. He turned and waited for his pat, and then galloped madly down the hill to his pals. I looked at the trainer and said "his knees seem fine to me!"

Sometime that night I decided that I didn't care what the films looked like. None of us is perfect. What if Keil Bay and his owner ordered films of MY knees? What might they find? I slept better after making my own quiet decision. The vet called the next afternoon. The films had been so clean for a horse Keil's age, he had taken them to the vet school to have someone else take a look. So Keil Bay passed with flying colors, and the decision was sealed.

I wrote the check for Keil Bay, his custom-fitted dressage saddle, and his bridle, on a cold, icy Sunday morning in December. It was too cold to ride, and we weren't moving him until January 1st. So I went and stood in his stall while he ate hay, and marveled at how amazing it felt to have come all the way around the circle back to that summer day when I was a girl and handed over the money I'd earned to buy my Quarter Horse gelding, BoJinx.

Keil Bay has taught me how to ride big gaits. He helped me overcome my "older rider" fear of flying off his back. He rests his head in my arms and sometimes he bosses me around. He loves his clean stall and his bodywork. He adores his breakfast and good hay. He loves being hosed when it's hot, and he wears his fly mask and his blanket with pride. He's been treated like a king his entire life and in exchange for that care and love, he gives back personality plus. He is without doubt the most communicative horse I have ever known. He tells me when his pelvis is rotated, he tells the chiropractor what needs adjusting. He likes having his breakfast song sung to him in the mornings and has tossed his halter across the barn aisle at me when I've forgotten to sing it.

He has a trot that hangs in the air like an unspoken poem, a snore during hot summer days that rivals any husband's, and a soft eye that melts away all tension and begs for a kiss.

He has only ground his teeth a handful of times since I've owned him, and those were in lessons where he was being pushed hard and perhaps unreasonably. We know better now.

Happy Birthday, Keil Bay. You're my partner in zen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

salina's update

Thanks for the good thoughts! Salina is not worse today, but is not improving either.

We think she most likely overdid it in the field Saturday or Sunday, and that her left knee was the focal point. She continues to eat and drink normally, and is not testing positive for hoof pain right now, so abscess and founder have been ruled out.

The vet has recommended that we add Bute to her daily maintenance, and Surpass cream for her knees as well. He also thinks it's probably time to curtail her turn-out to smaller areas of the farm so she's less likely to do the mad dash gallop up the front hill that they all sometimes do.

Rafer Johnson will be gelded Friday, so Salina will get a follow-up check at that point to make sure we're on the right track.

I have known there would be a point she would need some restrictions - it's tough to hear that it's time, but I definitely don't want her to injure herself trying to keep up with the "geldings gone wild."

It makes me appreciate Rafer Johnson all the more - we'll tailor a turn-out plan so he gets some time to run with the boys and also gets to be with Salina. Fortunately the way our property is set up, she can have the barnyards and paddocks without being too far removed from the rest of the herd.

Just fyi, Rafer Johnson supervised the entire exam, with his head right over the vet's shoulder as he did the hoof testing! He also gave the vet some donkey hugs and made one very sneaky attempt to steal his cell phone. Salina was a queen, as usual.

Monday, April 28, 2008

and now, no longer coasting

I'm sitting here waiting for the vet to call because when I went out to feed, Salina was limping. Her left front knee is swollen and from the knee down is a little puffy as well. She doesn't want to put weight on that leg, so I'm now in rule out mode and have administered a gram of Bute, cold hosed the leg for 20 minutes, and was going to soak the hoof next but decided I want the vet's take before I move on to that.

She's willing to walk, especially on the grass, more carefully in the barn aisle, and ate breakfast just fine. I've got her stall open so she can walk in her paddock but also in the barn aisle and the barnyard. My experience with Salina is that if she keeps moving, everything is better. She's gone from the barnyard to barn aisle to stall to barnyard over the past hour, and is calm.

Sigh. I noticed yesterday she spent some time in the stall when she could have been out, and I wondered if she was off. I didn't notice lameness or swelling though, but it's possible she pulled something yesterday when out, came in, and because of last night's rain didn't move as much and is now stocking up some.

In any case, it will be a relief to get direction from the vet and probably a vet visit to sort this out.

I managed to get the yoga in, which is a good thing. Will likely not get any writing time, though.

coasting into the week

I'm not sure why, but that's what it feels like.

Saturday I took my daughter on a pre-birthday drive down to S. Pines where we ate lunch in a favorite restaurant, hit the tack store and the bookstore, tried to go to the Java Bean but they'd closed, and then headed home to prepare for her party which was yesterday.

We had fun looking at the new "bug-eye" fly masks, picking out purple grooming tools, and getting one of those Himalayan salt rocks to hang by the barn.

I also discovered a debut novel called The Outlander by Gil Adamson. With a black horse running on a snow-white cover, a Michael Ondaatje quote front and center, and copy flap comparing it to Charles Fraziers' Cold Mountain and early Cormac McCarthy, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I haven't started it yet, but I have high hopes for this book.

The party was nice and ended with a late-afternoon thunderstorm. It's still raining today, so unless they've forecast inaccurately and this clears out, we won't be riding.

My plan for the day is to do some yoga, feed and muck, finish the last 1/3 of the tack room spring cleaning, and then take a few hours for writing time.

I'm also going to breed my online Hanoverian stallion Griffon to my daughter's Hanoverian mare Cherry Baby, and watch some Battlestar Galactica with my son.

Meanwhile, the luscious rain is taking care of pasture management, arena maintenance, and pollen control.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Yesterday I was at the barn for two hours in the morning doing chores and then back out there from noon until 7 p.m. for lessons. Keil Bay had the day off due to his eye, so Apache Moon and Cody were in the line-up for the afternoon.

The wonderful thing about these lessons is that Marlis conducts them like a clinic so that we get information even when we're on the sidelines watching. We're working on softness in the bridle and helping the horses to find their own places of comfort with the bit.

Apache was experiencing some "pony" issues, but as usual, my daughter and Marlis worked through that quietly and competently. Every time I see this process, it has a bigger impact on me. Marlis advocates "letting the horse have the argument with himself" and this approach really works but it also feels very humane. There is never anything harsh or loud.

The lesson ended with Apache Moon doing 5 strides of incredibly soft, collected movement that had everyone present marveling.

Next up was Cody. Marlis had asked if it would be okay for her to get on and feel him move so she could better help us teach him to use his body well. We were excited at the prospect of seeing Marlis in the saddle - she doesn't do much riding of students' horses because she feels it's important to use the lesson time to get the student and horse connected and communicating. But with Cody we felt it would be useful for her to get the feel in the saddle.

My daughter and I have been trying hard to keep Cody in regular work this spring. We've come up with a riding schedule that allows Cody to be ridden every day (with a day or two off each week) by one of us. I work on bending and suppling and she does the endurance/stamina/overall strengthening work of lots of trot/canter. It's paying off.

Marlis noticed immediately that he was moving better, and she focused her time in the saddle on creating softness in the bridle and helping him feel comfortable. All this work was done at the walk. She talked through everything she was doing and why, so that when I got on I could pick right up with it. (she also did some work with Cody on stepping away from the mounting block - he was afraid of it when we first got him, and now is okay with it but will often take a step away when you mount. Marlis fixed that in about 5 minutes, with no words, no fuss, and it held when I mounted)

The instant I got on and gave him the cue to walk, his back rose up under me and the softness in the bridle rippled back through every muscle in his body. It was amazing. We walked until he and I got our signals clear with one another, and then did a little sitting trot work to maintain the softness at the faster gait. The main effect I felt was that his trot was incredibly soft and springy as his back came up to me with each stride. It was exactly like when you bounce a basketball and the ball comes up into your hand on the up bounce, that moment before you push it down again.

I noticed that the stirrups were hanging on my feet, and one slipped off, because I didn't need them. They weren't a part of riding that trot at all. It was really nice. The other thing was the synergistic thing that happens when one part of the horse-rider team gets soft. The other one follows. As Cody started out soft and stayed that way, my body got more and more relaxed and in rhythm with his body. As that happened, my position got better and better. By starting with softness, we "fixed" a number of things without fuss or bother or drilling position.

This is part of the magic in Marlis' work. She comes at things from a very organic place that flies in the face of the way I've ridden in lessons before. And the effect is that while there are moments when you feel you're taking baby steps, back in kindergarten, suddenly you make these huge leaps forward and realize what you're doing is quite advanced. In fact, so advanced you might never have done it before.

After my ride, Cody got a break and then did another lesson with our friend Sue, who had similar experiences of her own. She shared a technique for opening the pelvis while in the saddle that I'm eager to try. And I think it's safe to say we're all eager for our next round in two weeks' time!

Last night my husband discovered that three of our baby barn swallows had fallen out of the nest. All were safe and he returned them, and added a small "baby gate" so that they won't be able to tumble out. All is well this morning on that front.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

breaking news

"I'll miss their voices when they leave us."

Two of the baby barn swallows fell out of the next earlier today, into the stall where Keil Bay had been only minutes earlier. Luckily, this was the one day none of the cats were sitting out there waiting for just such an event.

I suspected the nest was crowded - there were so many voices up there. We have them in a small box with warm cloths and are feeding them every 20 minutes. Water with Rescue Remedy and diluted cat food. When husband gets home we will try to put this "secondary nest" up beside the other one to see if the mother will resume the feeding.

One is doing well, the other one seems to be getting weaker.

They are huge but have only a few wing feathers and wispy tufts on top of their heads.

You cannot imagine the looks on the faces of our four cats when we brought that box with squawking birds inside. We have them in their little nest box inside a cat carrier so we can move it as needed to warm spots of the porch.

Update, 7 p.m.:

They're both doing really well right now. My dedicated daughter has fed those baby birds every 20 minutes since we brought them in, and while there was a touch and go hour, they are now very warm and eating like mad every feeding time. When you open the front door they go nuts. Their eyes are now open and clear, and they're shaking their heads and stretching their wings. We're figuring out what the situation with their nest is before we decide what to do next.

And finally, 9 p.m.:

The babies have been successfully returned to the nest, well before dark so we could make sure their mama had time to re-group before the sun set. She was in and out many times after they reunited with their siblings, and the chorus of what we think is 5 was restored!

when the party ended

We had a grand morning here yesterday, celebrating with the pony. It was a gorgeous day, and after lunch I went out intending to ride Keil Bay before leaving for the office later in the afternoon.

When I put his halter on he seemed grumpy, and I commented on it. We set up in the barn aisle for grooming, and I noticed right away that he had cut his lower eyelid. I went inside to get my med kit, some warm water, and a clean sponge, and then washed the cut to see what I was dealing with.

I knew when I started washing it that I would likely be calling the vet. Keil Bay is generally laid back about this type of thing, but he really didn't want me messing with that eye. Plus there was a small piece of wood chip on the edge of the cut that wouldn't come off, which made me think it was actually a splinter that was sticking in the wound itself.

This is the kind of thing that stresses me out. (I just need to insert here that right as I typed that last line and sighed, my son walked in with cinnamon toast and served it to me - I'd remarked earlier that I could smell his and it made me think of a happy household so he must have gone back down to the kitchen and made more!)

Anyway, I called the vet and fortunately the vet on call yesterday was right there in the clinic, which is only 15 minutes from our house. She hopped in her truck and came right over. Keil Bay got a little sedation so she could check the surface of the eye and make sure it wasn't scratched. Thank goodness it wasn't. She cleaned the cut and removed the splinter. Applied the ointment and gave him a shot of Banamine. By this time he had given me his head to hold in my arms. One of Keil's most endearing traits is his tendency to let me "hold" him when he is happy (usually after a good ride) or worried (usually a vet visit, a few times after the farrier put hot shoes on his front feet) Keil is a big horse, and there's something utterly charming about his desire to be comforted this way.

In the midst of the vet exam, the shavings truck came chugging up the drive. I motioned for the driver to stop outside the barnyard so we could finish the exam quietly. Once I had Keil Bay in his stall, the shavings got dumped, the vet got her check, and it was nearly time for me to leave.

We have spring vet stuff coming up and yesterday reminded me that I need to prepare for the two visits we have coming. One will involve Rafer Johnson getting gelded and the horses getting shots and Coggins plus dental checks. The second one will involve Rafer Johnson getting shots and the horses who need dental work getting that. This is all routine stuff, but I dread it. Our gang are all very good with the vet but I end up needing valium by the end of it!

Maybe cinnamon toast will do the trick!


Keil Bay's eye looks good this a.m. Less swelling and cut is beginning to close. He didn't fuss about the ointment, and took his Banamine over the stall door with no problem. However, he did come back in from the field with me after breakfast and stayed close while I mucked the paddock. I gave him a little hay so he could eat and hang out with me.

I went ahead and mucked his stall and left it open, in case he wants to hang out in the barn. Gave him some fly spray and once he realized I was done with the chores, he headed back out to the field.

The baby birds are growing up. Their little voices are getting mature and song-like now instead of the peeping sound. They get very loud if any noise happens in the barn, which Keil Bay discovered when he banged his stall door! I'll miss their voices when they leave us.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

a painted pony turns 8 years old

Apache Moon joined our family during his fourth year, when my daughter was 7 years old. Since then he has taught us so many wonderful lessons about riding and ponies and how little girls and ponies together can make magic.

His many nicknames offer a glimpse into his personality: Patch Pony, Little Man, The Thelwell. He is smart, talented, nimble, and sometimes a bit of a devil. He knows how to take gates off hinges and let entire herds out. He knows when fence tape is hot or not. He handles our 16.2 Hanoverian gelding with no problem. And today is his 8th birthday!

After being serenaded this morning and served a gorgeous birthday breakfast, his first act as an 8-year old was to escape the barnyard.

His next was to get a little birthday ride with his girl.

At some point she'll outgrow him, but we plan to train him to drive so we can enjoy him forever.

These are some of the things this pony and his girl have done together over the past two years, all firsts for both of them. Thank you, Apache Moon! You're a superstar and we love you!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

for the writers in the house

Derek Nikitas, author of the novel Pyres, as well as one of the short stories in the Killer Year collection, has a wonderful guest blog up today over at Murderati.

He's writing about literary thrillers - what they are, what the writers struggle with when writing them, and how they fare in the marketplace.

He totally nailed my current writing issue - what he calls "negotiating the interaction between subtlety and intensity." Which is exactly what I've been doing since late last week.

Reading his blog post this morning was like going to a top-notch writing workshop. He hasn't solved my problem but he has named it, and that's the first step toward conquering it.

Even if you're not a writer, Murderati is a great read, especially if you're a novel reader who likes mysteries, suspense, thrillers, etc. There's always good conversation in the comment section too - so don't skip that part!

And if you have a preference as a reader for subtlety over intensity, or vice versa, I'd love it if you commented about it here. I know it's a subjective thing, but I'm really curious about what readers look for in their idea of a "great read."

Monday, April 21, 2008

practical barnkeeping

This morning we had to rescue Muffine Eloise from the top of a stall divider. In her crazed efforts to get to the birds' nest full of babies, she got hung and couldn't get down. (well, perhaps she could have, but we couldn't bear to watch, so we got the ladder out and ended the agony)

Once I had the ladder out it seemed fitting to go ahead and start my spring cleaning ritual.

I use a few squirts of Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap in a bucket of water and the old raggedy barn broom to swipe down cobwebs, layers of dust, and whatever else might be sitting on the stall walls and doors. It smells wonderful, is totally nontoxic, and has a repellent quality for insects. Perfect for the barn.

We have an extra long light bulb changer that is perfect for wrapping rags around (dipped in the peppermint mixture) and getting all the highest cobwebs.

Once I'm done with that I intend to get the fans down for a thorough cleaning so they can be hooked up for hot days.

The tack room will get emptied out, wiped down from floor to ceiling, bin lids dusted off, tack cleaned, DE sprinkled around the perimeter to keep insects out. Then everything will go back in. Somewhere in this process I need to wash the horse blankets so they can be packed away until next fall.

I have learned by my own mistakes when it comes to washing the blankets. The best way is to hang them over the fence and do a preliminary rinse/scrub to get as much of the dirt and hair off as possible. Once that's done, they go through one complete cycle each in the washing machine with Rambo Blanket Wash, and then one complete cycle with nothing to make sure they're rinsed thoroughly. Then they hang in the sun until mid-day (the washing has to be done early) and turned to the opposite sides for the afternoon. At the end of a sunny day, they're nice and clean and dry, and I pack them into big plastic bins with layers of lavender buds to keep them smelling nice and to keep insects out.

I *may* substitute a new organic lavender laundry detergent this year for the blanket wash. I haven't decided yet. But it smells heavenly and is very gentle.

We'll check stall doors and windows and replace hooks and hinges as needed.

I would like to clear out all the stalls, remove the stall mats, and fill any depressions before replacing the mats - but I may wait and do this in the fall.

Meanwhile I've discovered that the cedar mix sawdust we got last time is quite wonderful with just one wheelbarrow of pine shavings per stall mixed in. I'm not sure yet how I'll proceed - have two separate deliveries and piles? Use bagged shavings from the feed store? It's a work in progress, but I do like the mixture and how it feels and holds up day to day inside the stalls.

There is one more big project that has to do with the barn itself. I'd like to move the hay out of the spare stall, dissemble the middle wall, and reconstruct it so it can be used as two single stalls OR one double stall. We have that set-up on the other side of the barn, but I need it on Salina and Rafer's side, so that when Redford comes there will be one big stall for all of them, with two mangers.

Hay storage will then need to be addressed. Sigh. I want a hay barn but not sure that's in the cards right now. So I may put up one of the heavy duty "tents" that I've been researching. They have floors, air vents, and anchors that go a foot into the ground. With wooden pallets to keep the hay up off the floor, one of the dark green blend-in-to-the-forest ones should do nicely.

If while reading this you hear a very loud THUMP, don't panic. It's my husband, who just passed out at the next few weekends' to do list. :)

(oh, and in case you might be concerned, here is Muffine Eloise post-trauma. I think she'll be just fine)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

continuing adventures in lunar fullness

It's been another very full day on November Hill.

Rafer Johnson decided he wanted to venture further afield than the barnyard yesterday while I was finishing up mid-day chores. I found him outside the tape we have up, marching around the compost bin, standing on a little mound in the edge of the woods, surveying his donkeydom.

Salina was okay with it until she realized I wasn't, and she went to the tape and began to call him. He just looked at both of us.

I got some butterscotch treats and a lead rope and called again. I really wanted him to come to me and get a nice treat, and he did. But when I went to walk him back underneath the tape, same way he'd gotten out of it (probably not the best thing to do on my part) he balked. What? You want me to go under that potentially live wire? No! I quickly realized this was a good moment to go along with the drama, so I acted like the tape was hot, undid it carefully, and we walked through together. Salina went along with this charade and stepped back a few steps as I set the tape aside.

That particular tape is meant to be replaced by a gate, but the horses respect the tape, so it's worked its way down the list. I think Rafer Johnson is raising it back up again!

All day yesterday I had crazed felines in the barn. The nest of birds has hatched out and they are nearly constantly cheeping frantically for food. The mother bird comes and goes frequently but by the sounds of it, she has many babies to feed and it's an endless job. The cats are beside themselves. This nest is high and well protected and the cats can't quite believe it.

I came in finally to do some work on my novel. My goal to get through a hundred pages this weekend was, shall we say, a bit over the top, and I was feeling stuck again with this new material. I gave myself a little bit of time to settle in and write, but it wasn't working. So I decided to do something I typically never do - time myself. I had to write for 20 minutes, no matter how badly or how silly - to type into the next scene for that long without stopping to think.

Thirty minutes later I had written a decent scene. This whole section of the book is proving difficult because it's tapping into my own "writing issue" - caution about going over the top, or getting overly dramatic with the story. In this case that caution is really blocking my forward motion. But I'm pushing past it, page by page.

Yesterday afternoon my daughter and I went out to ride. Keil Bay got groomed head to toe, including mane and tail being totally brushed and combed out. I'd helped my daughter get Cody tacked up, and by the time I was ready to tack up Keil Bay I felt like I had no energy left. There was a moment or two where I considered packing in the ride, but I decided to push past it. I put his forelock in a pseudo-braid and into the arena we went. I think because he looked so fancy, and had warmed up so well, plus cantered left extremely well (it's his harder side), I felt like trying something new. Something we'd never done before. "I think I'll do a flying change." I half expected my daughter to nix this idea for me, but her enthusiasm and assumption that I could do anything I wanted gave me a boost. 'Okay! I'll watch!"

We tried it three times going up center line. Each time I gave the cue, I felt the little bump that meant Keil Bay was changing leads. Each time, though, he broke into the trot out of that stride. The fourth time I was getting sloppy so I decided to canter up center line, break purposefully to trot, and then ask for the opposite lead. He did that perfectly, so I stopped there. I should have started with that and built up to the flying change. The day had a sort of wild air to it though, and I had decided to go right for the top.

The best part came next. My daughter decided to try the same thing with Cody. He's green to this, but they did a good job trying. I was thinking it was time to dismount and call it a day, but my daughter, in her characteristic desire for more riding, exclaimed "Wait, it's time for our victory lap!"

She led the way around the arena on Cody, in a big bold canter. Keil Bay and I followed. We kept going around and around, and Keil Bay got a little excited and tried to catch up to Cody. I have not cantered that much continuously since I started back riding several years ago. And nothing fell apart. By the final lap I was calling out "woo hoo" and absolutely loving the excitement. I'm thinking about hiring my daughter to be my riding coach. :)

A very interesting aspect of the day was that it began with an unusual bird sighting. I was sitting here in the garret and heard the most incredible squawking and fussing. It went on and on. Finally I got up and looked out the window. Two large crows were chasing a red-tail hawk out of the tree right outside my window. I was intrigued, but it's only today, a full day later with the little struggles from yesterday laid out before me, that I get the message. As important as I believe it is to start my days with intention (to create the day), I also believe that reviewing the day adds a wonderful depth that I would otherwise not have.

Our day came to a close at nightfall. I wanted the horses to have as long a time as possible turned out before the rain hit, so we took chairs to the front field and sat beneath the trees. My son came out to join us, which was a nice treat. We visited with each horse and Rafer Johnson in turn. (Rafer pretty much planted himself with his head in one of our laps and demanded that his turn never end) and as the horses moved gradually up toward the barn, we picked up our chairs and followed. A half hour later, they had moved us right up to the gate, and the rain started. As usual, they are truly in sync with everything around them. By simply following them, we too came into sync.

We all had a much earlier bedtime than the night before, and I'm happy to say, Corgyn and Apollo Moon were in sync with my need for sleep. I awoke on my own this morning at 7 a.m. And we begin again with a new day ahead.

a wonderful night for a moondance

And on the morning after, Rafer Johnson helps with breakfast!

After yesterday's unexpected heat, I decided to let the horses stay out until bedtime so they could enjoy grazing without the bugs. Around ten p.m. my daughter and I decided to take a peek and see what they were doing. We went out front with the big flashlight and spotlighted them one by one. Rafer Johnson began to bray - I think he was shocked that they were being allowed out so late!

They stayed out until midnight. We got their stalls ready, which usually brings them up the hill, but when we finished doing waters - no horses. We set off down the hill in the dark. In a moment, outside the bright lights of the barn, our eyes adjusted and the moon was so bright it cast shadows. The redbud was fully visible in shadow - amazing.

Rafer Johnson met us halfway. He seemed ready to come in, and Salina followed. Rafer actually ran ahead to get to the barn and their stall/paddock.

The geldings had no intention of coming in, so my daughter went down the hill and shooed them up. I was standing in the moonlight and watched the three of them canter out of the shadow into the light. They broke to a trot and then stopped in their tracks, to graze again. When my daughter crested the hill, they trotted on through the gate and to their stalls.

At 3:30 this morning the Corgyn woke me up asking for breakfast! I told them No Way and went back to sleep. 5 a.m. Apollo Moon woke me up asking for breakfast. I told him No Way as well and went back to sleep until 7, which I feel is a more proper time for rising and feeding everyone.

The Corgyn got their favorite - turkey necks - and are right now laid out flat, like little Corgi rugs.

Apollo Moon got his Innova Evo canned, and the younger cats got their dry Evo replenished.

On out to the barn, where I was somewhat alarmed not to hear Rafer Johnson's bray, Salina's neigh, nor did I see either of them in their paddock. As I got to the back door of their stall I realized that Rafer Johnson was laid out flat, sleeping in! I guess his late night in the waxing moonlight left him exhausted!

The geldings were ready to go back out for a few hours' grazing before breakfast. Keil Bay immediately spotted tulip poplar blossoms on the ground and marched over and gobbled them up before I could get to him. I don't think it's a problem, but we'll find out.

Rafer Johnson and Salina did not want to go out front. Rafer was focused on standing between the handles of the wheelbarrow, full of muck, as though he might be considering pushing it down the hill for me. I decided they could have the barnyard this morning until breakfast.

It's a cooler, quite peaceful morning here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

back on track

Things are getting back on track here on November Hill. My husband left this morning for a birthday gift photography weekend in the mountains with his best friend and a number of his landscape photographer comrades. He did so many helpful things before he left to make it easier for me being solo parent - I hope they get lots of great photo ops and that he enjoys a well-deserved break from farm chores!

My mom called this morning to say that she had just spoken with my dad's occupational therapist, who reported that my dad was up, dressed, smiling, and doing really well with his first day of therapy. This is great news - he hasn't smiled in 3 weeks. Send him some healing energy if you will. I know he'd appreciate it.

The washing machine repairman came by this morning and I'm now catching up on laundry. He said this is probably the last time we should fork over the money to keep the machine going - and don't tell my husband but... YAY! I am wanting a new pale green washer/dryer set and until this one wears out, we'll never get it.

A number of writers from Backspace are doing a Marathon Hump Weekend for the next two days, and I'm going to be buckling down as well to get through the next 100 pages of my rewrite/edit. If you're working on something or have been stuck with a work in progress, tap into this collective energy and roll forward!

The horses are in the cool quiet of the barn until the sun goes down. It's getting to the mid-eighties today and I decided it was time to let them have the stalls during the mid-day heat. They got groomed, fly-sprayed with sweet-smelling marigold spray, and have good hay to munch on. Salina and Cody had their fly masks on for awhile but took them off. Keil Bay, as usual, loves his mask and keeps it on. He was quite happy to be let into his stall. I bet a hundred dollars if I go out there in an hour or so he'll be stretched out flat, snoring away.

Rafer Johnson spent an hour in the barnyard with Salina while we mucked. He's totally fine with tarps, as you can see. :)

Happy end of week to all!

P/S... I snuck back out to the barn and look what I found!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

out of alignment?

As in the planet, not our backs.

The chiropractor was here this a.m. and both Cody and Apache Moon are looking good. A few minor adjustments but nothing at all major. They're happy now because they get a day off to enjoy the bliss.

Otherwise, what a week!

So far my father has been admitted to the hospital, the pump in the back field froze and burst last night, the washing machine will not agitate or spin.

And of course it's full of towels that are now soaking in water and will have to be taken outside and hung on the deck railing to drip dry.

Taking deep breaths and rolling with the wave.

Monday, April 14, 2008

riding light

Today I finally got around to trying out the Little Joe bareback pad that our good friend and fellow equestrienne Kate graciously loaned us. I was surprised to discover that it fits the pony (12.2h), Cody (15.3h), and Keil Bay (a very wide 16.2h).

My daughter has been using it on her pony and on Cody, and loved it from the first ride. She said it was like sitting on a cloud. I believed her, but she rides bareback without much fuss as it is. I rode bareback on my first horse, many years ago, and loved it, but when I tried it one time on Keil Bay last year, it felt like I was being severed in two. Since Keil Bay is very broad-backed, I thought riding him bareback would be like sitting on a sofa!

Not so.

Today I put the Little Joe on him and had to get on the very top of our picnic table in order to mount. There are stirrup rings, but I figured the point of this is to ride au naturel, so didn't attach stirrups.

No pain! It was incredibly soft, comfortable, and secure.

I noted right away that his movement was especially free and he responded to light aids. We walked, we trotted, we cantered. It was wonderful. My daughter climbed on when I got off, and she felt so secure she cantered Keil Bay for the first time. He's pretty big for her, so when they stopped I asked about the canter. How was it?

She said, "It just went up and up and up!" He did a good job with her.

So we're ordering our own Little Joe. Actually this one will be my daughter's but she'll let me borrow it, and if I end up using it a lot, I'll get one of my own. Kate's is the gorgeous chocolate brown, and it looks so good on the pony my daughter wants that same color. I'd love to see the hunter green on Keil Bay.

I've also heard good things about Barefoot treeless saddles. I'm thinking about trying out the dressage model.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

a little bit about a lot of things

It's an odd springtime day - a cool wind is blowing through, and I take it we'll have rain tomorrow, but for now, the sun is shining brilliant on the bright green grass and the cats are climbing high into the barn rafters trying to get at birds or mice. The horses came from the back field when I called for their early evening session in the front. Keil Bay came with big lengthened strides. Cody followed, but Keil would not let him through the gate so he spun and waited. Apache cantered from the very furthest corner of the back field and charged Keil Bay further afield. Cody dashed through while he had the chance. Rafer Johnson ran halfway but then stopped to wait for Salina. He walked purposefully in front of her and then, just as they came through the gate to the good green stuff, did a double buck to celebrate.

Geese are flying by overhead, honking loudly.

I spent a few minutes refilling a pollen-dusted water trough and putting DE on fire ant hills and then came back upstairs hoping to get a bit more done on my novel edit. I hit a stuck spot on Thursday, wrote past it Friday evening, took yesterday off, and sailed on into new material this morning. I made sure to stop at a point where things were flying, so it will be easy to jump back in.

I wish I could adequately sum up the workshop I did this weekend with Bessel van der Kolk. The work he's done and continues to do in finding the best treatments for trauma is truly wonderful. After seeing his summation of the latest and best brain research I now understand completely the science behind equine-assisted psychotherapy with traumatized people. He made a number of revelatory statements that I wish I had in front of me. I did take some notes, but mostly I sat and soaked in his passion for the work and for abandoning the many aspects of our mental health systems that re-traumatize patients.

His focus on things like yoga, group theatre, body therapies, and other experiential treatments reminded me of so many of my own cases where I did unusual things with very good results. I spent the drive home last night recounting some of those stories in my head and remembering the clients and their journeys.

These big impersonal workshops aren't always so good, but this one not only taught me things, it renewed my spirit.

Funny little synchronicity - I sat by two women who ended up knowing a number of former colleagues from my public mental health days, and I also met a man who is starting an equine-assisted psychotherapy practice with his wife. Funny how out of close to 300 people, I ended up right beside these 3.

M. and I managed to get taxes done today, which is such a relief. I keep receipts for all horse/farm expenses and the grand total for 2007 was slightly less than 2006 but is still a staggering figure.

However... all one needs to do to let go of that dollar figure is walk outside and stand by any one of the horses. Actually, I just heard Keil Bay snort from my garret window and that single sound says it all.

Friday, April 11, 2008

captured sunlight

Sometimes in the early evening when the sun is setting it creates a very mystical light out at the barn. It's almost like there's an exact moment where everything goes still and then shifts from daytime to night.

This was one of those times, and as I was looking out, I realized the setting sun was perfectly captured in the barn window. For just that moment, it was ours.

stuck in a hotel ballroom

Today is day one of a 2-day workshop I'm taking with Bessel Van der Kolk on trauma. He's wonderful, but the hotel ballroom atmosphere nearly always gives me a headache, and right now, after lunch and awaiting the second half of the day, I wish I were in the barn mucking stalls or cleaning tack or, as I did last night, standing in my backyard taking pictures of horses brought in for a lovely treat.

Do you think Keil Bay can stuff any more of the green stuff into his mouth?

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Osage (more commonly known as Muffine Eloise) in the butterfly bush. Photo courtesy of my daughter, who has a keen eye for the sublime.

I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.

-Jean Cocteau

oh, deer

I got home fairly late last night from my office, around ten p.m., and as I drove into the driveway spotted a yellow tabby cat running from the back of the house into the woods. The cat stopped just inside the tree line, and sat on a little hill, waiting for the car to go in the garage.

This wasn't great news - I immediately started thinking through the complications of incorporating another feline into an already ego-laden mix. When I got upstairs I headed right out to the back deck to see if the cat had come back.

It sounded like someone was hammering in the barn. I realized I hadn't yet seen my husband, and wondered if the horses had knocked a board loose or something. Maybe he was out there fixing it. But in the dark? The barn lights weren't on.

Back inside getting my barn shoes on, I was surprised by my husband wandering out of the bedroom, and it hit me - something strange was going on outside.

I hightailed it out there and came face to face with Keil Bay, who was, shall we say, knocking on the stall door with his knee. The front field is resting until the end of April and the horses are so ready for night-time turn-out. I turned on the lights and looked in the stall mangers. Empty. Keil Bay stood his ground, staring me down. WE NEED HAY.

I distributed hay and got everyone munching. Came inside to have a snack and take the dreaded antibiotic, then upstairs to check email. After ten minutes or so I heard Salina trumpet. It's her "someone is doing something he's not supposed to" call.

Back downstairs, back into barn shoes, I listened out the door. It sounded like someone was banging the gate to the front field. Aha - they're planning a paddock break! I took the big flashlight and headed out there.

As I went through the backyard gate into the barnyard, I realized there was a herd of deer right there with me. At first I thought Rafer Johnson had escaped and multiplied! But he poked his head out the back door of his stall and said hello, and I turned back to the deer. They did not run or whistle in fear. They just stood there, hoping, I suppose, that I would toss some hay and go back in the house. We stood all together for awhile under the crescent moon. It seemed none of us were going to make a move, so I upped the ante a little and turned on the flashlight. They didn't budge. I turned the light onto them, one by one, and checked them out. There were no deer in the headlight eyes. They calmly stood watching me. The horses by now were completely intrigued and all standing at their respective paddock fences watching the show. It really did look like an audience and a stage, with a spotlight dancing wildly over the cast and backdrop.

I took a few steps toward the deer. They continued to stay put. It was only when I got halfway across the barnyard that they hustled into the woods. Even then, they stayed close, not bounding down toward the back, but hovering, still hoping I would leave.

I checked out the gates to the front field. No tampering detected. Horses still had hay. I said goodnight a second time and came back up to the garret.

A few minutes later I heard a flurry of sounds outside my window. Walking of many feet, munching of grass. Had the horses escaped to this side of the house?

It was the herd of deer. They came back out of the woods and marched right down the drive to my window, where they stopped and grazed. After awhile, they continued down the drive to the strip they love, and perhaps after that they jumped the fence into the front field and had themselves a feast.

Deer represent gentleness and awakening to new adventure. In Celtic lore, deer are fairy cattle and divine messengers.

It was a busy night! (and I'm leaving out the whole section of the story where the yellow tabby returned to the front porch for a 3-way stare-down with Apollo Moon and Dickens E. Wickens, who had to be carried bodily in)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Arlene over at GreyHorseMatters just awarded several people the equine care award, and graciously included camera-obscura.

Thanks so much, Arlene!

I'd like to pass this award on to Linda at the7msn who has been doing amazing work with her BLM donkey, Alan.

And now, I have been challenged to a horse race by my daughter - and the sun is finally shining (blue skies, white puffy clouds!) so I'd better hit the barn and get tacked up. :)

Monday, April 07, 2008


This has been a patchworked sort of day. I had to head over to a doctor's office this a.m., a rare occurrence for me, to get a tick bite checked out. I couldn't find the office and while I was turning around and calling M. on the cell phone, (he acts as my personalized GPS) I was sitting at a stop sign on a side street getting agitated when I noticed two big crows sitting right in the middle of the busy road in front of me.

Since crows and ravens tend to accompany me everywhere, I wasn't surprised so much, but immediately calmed down my agitation and wondered: now where is the third one? And at that moment it flew down and joined the other two.

By the time I got down the road and parked the car in the appropriate parking lot, the three crows had come along and were on the grass just adjacent to my car.

I spent a very long time waiting to see the doctor and finally emerged with a script for antibiotics. Yuck. But okay. Preferable to tick-borne diseases.

Back home reading blogs, I was moved to smile and ponder when I got to Mamie's place.

She inspired me to post a photo of my own junky closet! I don't know why, but I just love the idea of exposing my inner junky self to the world. Maybe it will inspire me to clean it out!

And if you looked closely you saw Apollo Moon, aka Moomin, who very much wanted to be in the limelight today.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

skipping right along

I'm up to pages 149-169 this afternoon. This next section is where I'll have to make bigger changes to expand the subplot I've been researching and incorporating. So far it's working well and I've hit no stuck places.

Keil Bay is also skipping right along. In the arena yesterday, during one of our rainy day play sessions, he was doing freestyle one-tempi changes, which for those of you not obsessed with dressage movements, does look like skipping.

I am not at the level to ride one-tempi changes and to be honest, I didn't even know Keil Bay could DO them. He regularly does flying changes in the arena but this was really fun to watch and exciting to see. His previous trainer told me he could do canter pirouettes (and I've ridden exactly ONE of those on him) and now that I've seen the one-tempi steps I'm thinking he can teach me even more than I thought he could about the higher level dressage movements.

Most importantly to me, he feels good enough and moves well enough to do these things on his own. I love seeing him move so brilliantly.

If the forecast is accurate, the rain should roll out of here tonight and we'll have a number of days of sunshine this coming week, so I can actually RIDE again.

Meanwhile, I'm WRITING, imagining the words flowing in perfect one-tempi beats.

Friday, April 04, 2008

quick update on the writing marathon

I'm rolling along, ahead of myself already. I did this morning's batch of pages early and have now printed out what would have been tomorrow's batch, which I'll get to after lunch.

It always amazes me how quickly the characters I'm writing about, in this case Wendell and her father Scott, get inside my head and take their places at the table. I walk around the house interacting with the rest of my life, but in the midst of toasting bread or looking at photos online with my daughter, something Scott thinks pops into my mind, or the way Wendell would see something hits me, and somehow I hold all that, off to the side maybe, but right there, for when I get back to the page or the screen.

In a way, it's like living parallel lives, which intrigues me. I suppose it's a large part of why I write.

Because of what I'm doing - revision geared to incorporating new material - I'm really pleased it's moving along this way, b/c it's so much easier to do with the whole of the book in my head as I go.

Here's to continued smooth sailing and forward motion - and for any of you out there working on any writing projects, please feel free to share progress, new goals, excerpts, frustrations, anything.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

from the novel front...

I started a month-long "marathon" yesterday along with a number of other writers on Backspace, a similar thing to the Nanowrimo that happens in November, except a number of us on the forum wanted to keep that group energy going all year round.

I'm not trying to get a certain word count or the draft of a new novel during April, but I DO want to get through a fairly deep revision of my second novel. I've been doing some research on a subplot for a couple of months and now it's time to weave that into the existing storyline.

So, I started yesterday. I cleared my work areas in the garret, and barely avoided getting sucked into a major spring cleaning, but caught myself - more important to give that energy to the book right now. I printed out pages 1-38, read through my research notes in the Moleskine, and got to work. This morning I typed all the edits and new material into my novel's word doc and then printed out pages 38-76, which I've worked on today.

My plan is to go right through the novel like this, and hopefully have some time at the end of the month to go back and read the entire ms in one sitting so I can get a sense of the whole flow.

So far it's going really well. I had written some scenes in the midst of doing research that slid perfectly into place yesterday and again today, which makes me think I'm onto something with this subplot.

If anyone wants to join with me in this "April showers bring May showers" effort, please speak up!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

showers and flowers

Another rainy day, but it's the wonderful, warm, soft-falling rain of spring. I marched the wheelbarrow down the hill this morning in it, and the horses were on the back hill grazing in it. Rafer Johnson is quite enamoured of the copse of trees in back that has stumps and a pile of red clay dirt, and he was climbing around in his own little playground as I passed by.

Stalls are mucked, horses are fed, and the front porch is quite the contrast to the gray skies.