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!