Saturday, February 28, 2009

the equine pantry is overflowing

I went by the feed store today to see if any of my orders had come in. She had two of my new items, and I was so eager to get them I piled the bags in the car (it's raining, so the truck was not an option) and headed home to unpack the equine groceries.

The laundry room and feed room are stuffed to the gills.

In the laundry room right now I have beet pulp pellets, alfalfa pellets (finally found the pure ones, no animal fat added!), vitamin E soft gels, l-carnitine powder, coconut oil, and something new I'm giving after de-worming called Ration Plus.

In the feed room there are more alfalfa pellets, whole oats, steam-flaked oats, whole flax seed, my mineral/vitamin mix, rice bran, wheat bran, iodized salt, and Quiessence.

I'm still waiting for the timothy balance cubes on order.

I'm fairly organized with all this stuff but it is not what I'd call convenient - when I head out to feed, I have two gallon-sized iced tea pitchers (the kind with lids that have strainers so I can rinse, soak, and then drain the beet pulp pellets), a loaf pan that serves as a deep tray for the l-carnitine powder, the coconut oil liquefying in its warm water bath, and the Vitamin E soft gels. During the winter when there's not much green out in the fields I give chopped apples and carrots with dinner, so usually the colander holds those. Now I'll be adding a container of alfalfa pellets to that, as I want them to soak a little before feeding too.

In the feed room, I have two large cans, one medium, and a number of smaller ones, so that the various items can be stored safely. I use masking tape and a black marker to label everything, and I have a small table for the very small containers and for the actual mixing.

This week I'll be adding a scale to the feed room, and a grinder for the flax.

I actually love making feed tubs, but sometimes I wish I had a dedicated space out there that had all the amenities:

A big double country kitchen sink with hot and cold water.

A refrigerator.

Airtight pull-out bins with the right size stainless steel scoops in each one.

A big white board with multi-colored markers.

A nice big island with clear space for mixing.

A smaller counter with scales and grinder.

XM radio and access to my iTunes library.

A big overstuffed chair so I could sit down.

As long as I'm dreaming, let's add a washer and dryer over in the corner.

May as well throw in a stove/oven because who knows when I might need to heat up something.

All that would be nice, but I suppose the way it is now, with Salina and the donkeys lining up outside the door, Keil Bay doing his most musical whinny across the aisle, and the quiet patience of Cody and the pony keeping the balance, is really not to be topped.

The best thing about the equines who live here is that they are very enthusiastic about mealtime, hang out with me while I prepare the tubs, and then the reward, the real music, is listening to them eat, and knowing they're each getting something they love that's also good for them, individually.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

dun gone crazy

With the ATV chaos, I forgot to write about the game my daughter and I had going yesterday while we were tacking up and then riding Cody and Keil Bay.

We have a history of this kind of game. One version - giving our animal family members and ourselves Ben and Jerry ice cream flavors. So the pony might be, for example, dark chocolate swirl with a Thelwell core.

Yesterday my daughter started coming up with what I call "Quarter Horse names." They can get pretty silly.

She decided Rafer Johnson would be "Dun Got A Dollar."

I countered with the pony. "Dun With Work."

She came back with Cody. "Dun Not A Dunce."


So she changed it to "Dun Lost My Money."

I decided Keil might be "Dun By the Bay."

Salina: "Dun By Midnight."

Redford: "Dun Won The Lottery."

Somehow we got off on a Charlotte's Web tangent.

What would Charlotte write about each of our herd members?

About the pony: "some pig!"

Poor Apache Moon. He puts up with a lot.

ATVs and neighbors

Did you ever hear the old saying, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?

There is only one thing I CAN say: their house is for sale and I wish them a speedy and lucrative offer.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

trim notes for the end of winter

Our trimmer arrived at 8:30 this a.m. and since it was so cold I'd gone out early to feed breakfast tubs in hopes that everyone would be warmer as a result. I think it helps that they are not waiting for breakfast while being trimmed!

The geldings went first, and then the pony. This six weeks I not only touched up Keil Bay's hooves but I also did Cody's. So far I am making some positive difference. No one is getting long and ragged between trim times. All three had huge amounts of wall growth, and considering the wet winter we're having, they are all hanging in there wrt thrush/yeast. I have a feeling the diet balancing is going to do away with that issue once and for all. Should know by the first trim of the summer if that's indeed true.

Salina was next after the geldings, and we opted to do her trim in the little barnyard, in the warm sunshine. At one point B. was doing her hind hoof, and Rafer Johnson was behind him, resting his donkey head on B's shoulder, while Redford was in front of him, resting HIS donkey head on the other shoulder. We all got the giggles at the idea of donkeys that refuse to be caught for trimming. Ours will not leave B. alone - they get as close to him as they can, and seem to consider it a privilege to have a turn.

When trimming Rafer Johnson, B. said "if you could put what you've done with this boy in a bottle people would pay a thousand dollars for it." Rafer was standing quietly, relaxed and snorting with donkey happiness. It was a meditation in contentment. After all he went through with his broken leg, it makes me very happy to see that Rafer is so at ease with having his feet and legs handled. We tried hard to make that experience one that would have no lasting effects, and I think we have succeeded.

And I can't say enough about how much B. adds to everything we do. His demeanor is always calm and easy, he wants the process to be positive for the equines, and he goes out of his way to do things that attend to their comfort. It is not uncommon in our barn to see the horses drop their heads to lick and chew while B. is trimming. We're so grateful for that.

Redford was waiting for his turn and he too stood quietly. He was not quite as relaxed as Rafer, but you could see he was trying hard to be. Salina stood and nickered to let them know she was there, almost as if she were being an encouraging mother.

Overall, everyone is doing well and we are hopeful that when B. returns the beginning of April we might have some warmer weather!

My daughter and I came inside for cocoa and pumpkin cake. I am still not completely thawed out, but am getting there.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

busy weekend

On Friday, my daughter and husband set forth on a little excursion to a Pony Club Quiz Rally, where regional PC teams exhibited their knowledge in a variety of ways - written and oral questions, stations where they did hands-on tests, a barn phase, etc.

My husband and daughter are 2/3 of my equine care "team" - so with both of them gone, I knew it would be a busy couple of days. Fortunately, my son is very horse-savvy, having ridden and handled horses from age 7-13, and he is more than capable of doing anything that needs to be done with our herd. He pitched in and made my work tremendously easier, and we treated ourselves to dinner out on Friday night, which was very nice.

We learned that he is very gifted at managing the resident equine goddess, Salina. And I was intrigued by the fact that of my family members, the teen-aged son is the least likely to question my "way of doing things." Who would have imagined *that*?

We also learned that the pony much prefers his girl to do his daily care!

Keil Bay did a very nice thing yesterday, and while I wasn't surprised, I want to share it so I can take the extra opportunity to appreciate what a fine horse he is. I was picking his hooves in the paddock, sans halter or lead rope, and I was talking to my son at the same time. Somehow, I inadvertently gestured with the hand holding the pick, and the pick flew up under Keil Bay just as I released his hind hoof. It didn't occur to me not to just lean up under him, from behind, to grab the pick. Had he put his hoof down at that moment, it would have conked me right in the head, so he held it up, and actually drew it up close to his body to give me more room down there.

It wasn't until after I got the pick and stood upright that I realized he had his entire hind leg drawn up and was holding it that way until he made sure I wasn't beneath him.

Such a good horse!

Late in the afternoon yesterday my son and I decided to make a run to the store. When we were in the parking lot getting ready to come home, I had a little premonition. And when we got back home, I found that my daughter had called to share a little news.

Her team won their division in the Regional Quiz Rally! Congratulations, girls!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

the rest of the birthday

Redford's birthday cast a magical spell on November Hill this afternoon. While I was riding Keil Bay, we were doing some very focused, good work, and all of a sudden I looked up and there was a colony of at least 20 vultures pinwheeling overhead like a kaleidoscope, quite low, as if they were dancing with the Big Bay and me.

After our ride, I went in the back field in search of donkeys and some birthday photos. The magic continued!

Redford played peek-a-boo, and then someone joined the party:

Then the two love buns decided they would pose for me. Look at the handsome boys! They are absolutely amazing. Happy Birthday, Redford! Rafer is fine with the fact that he has a second birthday coming up mid-summer, and we will celebrate again.

we celebrate a birthday

Redford, our amazing flying miniature donkey, is ONE today! He will be getting the usual special birthday breakfast, lots of extra hugs, and photos will likely appear here as the day rolls on.

We had a nice rain yesterday, but today, the sun has returned, temps will rise to the 50s, and my guess is that much of his special day will be spent basking in the warmth with his herd.

Happy birthday little Redford!! We will never forget that you came at a moment's notice to lift Rafer Johnson's spirits when he needed it, and we will especially never forget you sailing over the wall into his stall to be closer to him.

You're our superstar, and we love you.


And on another, but very fitting note, Rafer's birthday post marks my 500th post here on camera-obscura! I started this blog mostly for photographs, but have ended up writing quite a bit on a regular basis, and have made some wonderful cyber-friends.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

what a great company!

When I checked email a few minutes ago, I found a comment in response to an older post in which I had praised Salina's Whinny Warmers. These equine leg warmers have been a great help in keeping her arthritic knees comfortable on the cold nights and days we've had this winter.

This was the comment:

Dear Billie, Please call us at Sox For Horses, Inc.
We want to thank you for writing about us by donating some socks to your favorite horse rescue effort.
or drop me a note at
and we will donate socks in your name.

Salina looks very cozy and quite nice in blue.

Warmest Regards, and Thanks!
Raymond Petterson- President

I wanted to post this so that everyone sees it - I love finding great products at good prices but when the company is this nice it's even better.

I've contacted a local rescue group and Mr. Petterson, and am happy some more horses will have warmer nights thanks to Whinny Warmers.

a rainy day

I'm welcoming it, since the arena could use some moisture and a good harrowing!

Yesterday I had a good ride on Cody, who had a few very engaged strides of trot in each direction by the end of the ride, and lots of stretching work at the walk. We were joined by Rafer Johnson and Redford, who meandered around the arena and watched, tore apart a few old fire ant mounds up against the rail, rolled a few of my dressage markers into new spots, and played "push the pole."

They love being part of the ride, and at the end, they came to the gate with Cody and me, as if to say "Okay! All done! Time for a few minutes at the round bale!"

The pony had a lovely bareback ride with my daughter. It was delightful to come in and get food cooking while watching them out the kitchen window. The painted pony and his girl.

It's nice to get this rainy quiet day mid-week. A break from business as usual. A good day to work on the book!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

another ride on the Big Bay

Yesterday afternoon it was chillier and windy, and the sky kept shifting from sunshine and blue to dark gray. I decided I wanted to ride anyway, keeping the routine in place, and seeing how Keil Bay and I did on the ride *after* our good work on Saturday.

It's been dry lately, so all the horses have been easy to clean up, which makes for a much faster "tack up and ride" experience. I used the extra time to do some TTouch massage, from Linda Tellington-Jones. Years back, a riding instructor recommended her book as a good one for a girl getting her first pony, and my daughter and I read it together and have occasionally used some of the techniques. Keil Bay loves anything that falls into the category of pampering or giving him special care, so he lowered his head and chewed and licked.

He was relaxed but at the same time alert. It was one of those days where he seemed to be 17.2. Tarps were flapping on the shavings pile, and one was completely loose in the barnyard, flying around as the wind picked it up and dropped it back down again.

Fortunately, Keil has become nearly immune to the tarps. His thing yesterday was the wooded end of the arena. Each time we rode into that area he wanted to cut the corners so as not to get too close to the woods. I let him check it out and then began to ask that he pay attention to me as we approached the corners and rode deep into them with a correct bend. When he torqued his neck to look at the woods, we rode a circle and tried again. Initially, it took 4 circles to work this out. On the fourth circle he let out a big sigh and gave up the idea that there was something to spook at.

My line in the sand with him about spooking is that if he doesn't spook at something when he's not under saddle he shouldn't be spooking when I'm riding. He'd just been loose in the barnyard, prior to tacking up, and had gone down the labyrinth path to the gate, looking for bits of green to nibble, without so much as a peaked ear or snort.

On some level, I think Keil enjoys making the rides interesting, and usually when he starts out acting like there might be something to spook at, I know we're going to have a good ride.

We did a lot of walking correctly. My focus was on two things: making sure my entire body was positioned well, and riding with what Sally Swift calls "soft eyes." I've noticed that I can get very fixated on Keil's body when I'm riding - noting the bend, etc. - and while some of this is a good thing, it can also add to the crookedness. Often if I let my eyes go "soft" and look ahead without focusing too hard on any one thing, Keil will straighten and move much better. I'm sure it's my body that's torquing in the hyper-focused moments and when I do the soft eyes, I relax.

So we walked. I decided to let him set his pace, since he was already up and alert, and just ride what he offered until it settled into a good rhythm. This was a wonderful part of the ride yesterday. He enjoyed being in charge of the rhythm while I stayed soft and correct. We rode the full arena, we changed directions, we did serpentines, we did the entwickeln exercise again. It went much better today, as I was able to do it without thinking too hard through the steps, and after a couple times in each direction it became obvious that Keil Bay was nice and warm and flexible.

(I forgot to mention that I also did this exercise with Cody on Sunday. Cody does not know shoulder-in, but this exercise presents it in such a way that the horse seems to get it instantly. Cody did a great job and the suppling was evident in his gait after the exercise.)

I had planned to do lots of trotting with Keil Bay, and we started to the right. Again, I asked him to trot very correctly, and I put each part of my body into a good position, checked back periodically to make sure it was still IN that good position, and otherwise just looked up and enjoyed the ride.

The reward for this was Keil really getting down to work. Which I think is a misnomer - what he gets down to is really a pleasure in moving well, with his rider balanced and staying with him. I wish I could show a short video of what it looks like from my perspective from his back when he goes into this "mode."

He rounds his back, which makes my whole body feel suddenly like I'm an Olympic-level rider. It feels easy, and like I can do it really well. His neck rounds, his poll is suddenly the central point I see, and the movement of his shoulders is different, as though they are being pushed from behind by a well-oiled engine. We got this trot going to the right in about one long side of the arena, and we kept going for quite a few circuits, as I really wanted both of us to incorporate the sensation of that lovely, balanced movement.

The transition down to walk was elastic and wonderful. I gave him a few minutes' free walk, but still correct, as we changed to the left across the diagonal.

And then we repeated, but to the left. It was harder getting the correct bend going left. We had to do some 20m circles to establish it, and then try to keep that up the long side. There's one spot in the arena going left where the tends to show his stiffness the most. I think the footing is thinner there, or perhaps it's just his habit, and mine. I tried to let go of my expectation that he would stiffen on that stretch, and tried not to automatically torque my body. We rode through with much less stiffness the first time around, and the second, right as we entered the stretch again, he went into his power trot and we both nailed it. Very very good. I wanted to end on that note for that particular stretch, so we kept trotting, but I circled at E the next few times around so we could continue the work but not push our luck.

I often end the ride by riding on the buckle and letting Keil Bay go wherever he wants to. I practice thinking directions in my head and seeing if he heads that way on a loose rein with no aids, and often he does. He was so relaxed by the end, and I felt completely relaxed as well - strong and relaxed. It was a great ride, nothing fancy, but like both of us notched up quite a bit from the previous ride. I know part of it is the regularity we've had, and that we're both getting back into shape.

There is nothing quite like riding Keil Bay's big, powerful trot when both of us are feeling good and doing our parts together.

Monday, February 16, 2009

dressage book club and a special meeting

Yesterday, after my daughter and husband headed to a local dressage show to volunteer, I moved on with the horse chores, rode Cody, gave afternoon hay and Salina's lunch, and then left my son in charge of November Hill while I drove into town to attend the first of 4 "dressage book club" meetings with Cindy Sydnor.

There was a nice group in attendance and we were all eager to listen and talk about one of our favorite topics: dressage.

I got there right as things were gearing up but found a seat in the front row. I'm not always a front row sitter, but for anything horsey, I like to be right up front, for some reason.

Cindy passed around her copy of the massive tome School of Horsemanship, by Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, who, among other things, is considered the originator of the "shoulder-in."

I was excited, as I had an epiphany earlier this week using Walter Zettl's shoulder-in entwickeln exercise, which not only helped Keil Bay and I deal with some left-sided crookedness (both his AND mine) but prepared us for that beautiful canter circle we enjoyed together on Saturday.

When we moved on in the book club discussion to look at Walter Zettl's book Dressage in Harmony, which is a long-time favorite of mine, and was actually translated from Zettl's dictaphone by Cindy Sydnor some years ago, we got into a discussion of shoulder-in, and the fact that it is such an important exercise and a foundation for many upper level movements.

Cindy asked us to share anything we might have to say about it, and I eagerly shared my revelation with Keil Bay, although I never mentioned his name. But I described some of his weaknesses, and mine, and excitedly shared how the exercise had helped me fix something I was doing with my right arm, and how that trickled into him getting a more correct bend going left, and how working carefully through that a few times seemed to prepare both of us for the amazing canter circle.

As I finished talking (Cindy's response was encouraging, and she finished by saying "that's so great - now YOU should write a book!") the woman next to me leaned over and whispered, "What's your horse's name?"

I answered without pause, "Keil Bay." And she got this beaming smile, her face lit up, and she said, "I'm J.S. Keil Bay was my horse for 6 years."

We exclaimed and promised to talk after the discussion, which we did. She and I corresponded when I first bought the Big Bay, and she kindly sent me a many-page document that summarized her work with him, his likes and dislikes, and a few stories about his wonderful personality. I sent her a couple of updates after he moved so she would know he was doing well and was much beloved by not only me but my entire family.

Yesterday, she wanted to know how he's doing, and I was thrilled to get the chance to fill her in. I talked about his work but even more about the Keil Stories that have become family legends, told her about his herd, and she told me that she has a TB now who fits her body better and is going strong at age 20, but said she doesn't think she'll ever love a horse like she did Keil Bay, and it makes her feel so good that he has such a loving and adoring home.

When I got home it was dark out, and my husband and daughter were still gone (Pony Club quiz prep after the show) so I headed out to the barn to get started on evening chores. Keil Bay was in the paddock munching some hay while I mucked a stall, and I called out "Keil Bay, you'll never guess who I saw today!"

I could hear him raise his head and pause, and so I went on. "Judy! She talked on and on about how much she loves you and misses you, and I told her how we love you too."

At this point he came and stuck his massive head and neck over the stall door. I rambled on and he stood listening until I ended with, "she said to give you a hug and a carrot, so here's the hug. I'll bring the carrot later."

After he got the hug, he stood and looked at me for a moment, and then went back to his hay.

All this made me realize that the very best thing we can do for our animals is love them and treat them well. They trust us and they carry that forward should they move on at any time to new homes. It was obvious from J's face that she adored this horse, and it's obvious from his demeanor and personality that he has always been loved and adored.

I told her we call him The King, and she smiled. "That's Keil Bay."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

sunday morning tableau

I looked out the back door a bit ago and saw a huge crow fly from the ground up to a fence post. It was so shiny and black in the sunshine, and Salina happened to be standing nearby having a morning sunbath, so the black of horse and bird was very striking and held my attention. I was trying to figure out if I could possibly get a picture without alarming the crow.

Off to the side, I noticed the donkeys were walking around in an odd zigzag way, noses low to the ground, and upon closer inspection, there was a small flock of birds running hither and yonder, and the donkeys were following them, perfectly mimicking the erratic path of birds skittering along, not threatened enough to fly, but not wanting donkey noses nudging them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


So far today I have a number of valentines.

Keil Bay gave me a beautiful, slightly collected canter to the right today, in an entire 20m circle.

After untacking and getting the Big Bay turned out, I walked into the barnyard to see the donkey hearts enjoying a taste of spring.

Dickens Edward Wickens planted himself in my path a number of times, and looked quite charming.

Later, we're going out for a valentine's dessert, and tomorrow, my husband has agreed to substitute for me as a volunteer at a dressage show so I can do the dressage book club I signed up for, double-booking myself in the process.

Hope everyone has a lovely day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

rafer johnson's progress

I haven't mentioned this specifically lately, but something that happened yesterday made me stop and think about how well he's doing.

After his broken leg mended, and he got his first post-break hoof trim, he has literally not taken an off step, and I have not seen him resting a hind leg. He walks, trots, and does the fast donkey run. He lays down. He rolls. He jumps, he rears when playing with Redford, he pivots, and he has no qualms about going through a certain part of our fencing that is not board or HorseGuard tape. Fortunately the part he goes through only leads to the big barnyard, which is secure. But in all ways I can see, he is back to his normal Rafer self.

I went out yesterday with my big dosing syringe and Salina's Lubrisyn gel. It is clear gel, and has no smell I can discern, but neither she nor Keil Bay like it. I suspect it's the consistency - gel not being something horses really encounter when grazing or nibbling.

So Salina sees the big syringe, and although she doesn't walk away from me, she looks disgusted. I give her dose. There's a little bit left in the syringe.

Rafer walks up and as clear as can be, asks me for some of the good joint lubricant stuff. I thought maybe if he smelled it, and realized it wasn't a treat, he'd back off, but he smelled it, licked it, and asked for his own dose. So I gave him that little bit left over, which was about what a donkey dose would be, and he was satisfied.

The last medicine I had to give him with the big dosing syringe was what we named the "applesauce antibiotic" and he came to hate it. He came to hate the dosing syringe, and he came to hate the halter. About the time we got him over that, he broke his leg, and then the halter meant vet, and needles. So we've worked off and on during the months since making the halter only come out when good things are happening. He considers getting his hooves trimmed a good thing, and taking a walk with one of us, and going into the arena to "work."

I generally give medicines, including injections, without halters, using a lead line draped over the top of the neck if necessary just to let them know they should stay with me.

Rafer hasn't had any issues with dewormer pastes, but I was so happy to see yesterday that the big fat dosing syringe is now a neutral thing again, and that in fact, he is not only happy but seeks out something he thinks might be good for him.

The funny thing is Redford, who huddles up with Rafer, and so far I just let him lick the end of the syringe, and see that Rafer likes it, in hopes that when Redford has his own encounter with the "applesauce antiobiotic," post gelding, it at least won't be scary to him. Just yucky for a few weeks and then we'll let him come back to neutral with it like his brother has.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

wednesday got a bit wild

The wind was whipping here yesterday, although it was very warm. My ride on the Big Bay was good. He had his very alert ears on, but always responded when I asked him to flick back and stay connected. We worked into his big trot going to the right, and tried to work on his inflexibility to the left, which has always been an issue for him.

Keil has a rather large scar on his right barrel, and you can feel the thick scar tissue there. I have always wondered if going left pulls on that old scar tissue in some way. But in any case, he and I have to work harder going left to stay straight and get a nice, genuine bend. I also wonder if my own crookedness is in that direction, and between the two, we really have a tough time. But we got a few good strides in and will continue working on it.

I was so pleased with myself that despite the roaring wind I got my ride in, got shavings in stalls, got evening chores done, and launched out of here at 6 to get to my office.

Sometimes when things go so easily, you know a hitch is coming.

Last night was the first time I've had to use the new alarm system in my building. I unlocked the door, went in to the keypad, typed in my code, and then felt my anxiety rise as the scary computer voice told me to enter it again. And again. I wondered if I was supposed to close the door - I'd been so nervous about not getting the code typed in before the allotted time elapsed, I'd left it open. So I ran back and closed it and locked it.

By this time the computer voice was seeming more insistent and then suddenly the alarm went off. The voice of a live person came blasting into the hallway.

Identify yourself.

I said my name, gave my code, and then she said I needed to give another code. Which I didn't have.

You are unauthorized. Leave the premises immediately. Police officers are on the way.

By this point I was so discombobulated I went to the front door, opened it, and set off a series of motion detectors, which told me every step I took that unauthorized motion was detected. I felt like I was in a scene from the Twilight Zone.

Fortunately, the owners live quite close to the office, and they drove up within minutes, letting me know they'd canceled the police call and offering to walk me through the routine.

My client session started late, ran late to make up that lost time, and when I got home last night, all I wanted to do was have a glass of wine, a little dinner, and watch the remaining episode on my Netflix disk. MacLoud's Daughters.

My husband thinks it was crazy that I didn't know what was coming. Without spoiling anything for anyone who might watch this series, I'll just say that something that I sort of knew was coming, but not how it would actually happen, happened. And it was heartbreaking. I was in tears by the last few minutes, and I still feel brutalized by the writers. How could they have written that?

Of course, it's to their credit that they write so well. I was completely involved in their story and thus taken completely by surprise, denied the little bit I knew, and then crashed and burned as it played out.

Fortunately, today is sunny and even though it looks like it might end up even windier than yesterday, their is no rush to be anywhere, and we can deal with the wind if it comes.


My bird messengers are all coming 'round to settle things down this morning. First, my husband came in from throwing morning hay and said the redtail was sitting on the fence post.

I just opened the front door to let Moomin in and the three crows were all in the front field.

It's one of those days where you open your eyes and all the signs are there. It makes me think of the last lines of two of my favorite poems.

The whole wide world pours down.

-William Stafford

What we need is here.

-Wendell Berry

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

good rides

I keep meaning to take the camera out with me to the barn, but the focus for the past week has been on riding and enjoying this gorgeous weather, so I keep forgetting!

Yesterday was my day to ride Cody and it was a pleasure. He stretched and rounded up and we even did a bit of shoulder in. My daughter rode the pony in his bareback pad, and he did his very big, very beautiful pony trot for her! I think that's the first time I've ever seen him do that under saddle. He offers a nice trot under saddle, but never the one he uses when in the field or "dancing" free in the arena - until yesterday. I think this means he's feeling really good, and bodes well for riding dressage as we move into spring.

Of some note - yesterday was Adequan injection day for the two seniors, and for the first time in over 2 years, when I gave Salina hers I drew back blood. Two times in a row! I had to stick her 3 times, and she was her usual steadfast self. Even in the front field with the wind gusting. I was proud of myself, too. (in case you're a newer reader here, I have a terrible needle phobia, and it's a pretty big deal to me to do these injections) She had a peppermint as a reward.

Keil Bay's went like a dream. He got to lick a peppermint while getting his, and I honestly don't think he even knew I'd done it, he was so involved in that little red and white striped disk!

The pony lined up for his turn, but of course he doesn't get one!

Today we have a chance for rain later, so I need to get clean shavings into stalls, ride the Big Bay, and be clean and ready to head to the office by 6.

Monday, February 09, 2009

warm weather and mosquitoes!

It took two days of 70+ weather to bring out gnats and mosquitoes. I don't recall ever seeing this many mosquitoes since we've lived here - I hope this is a freak hatch-out that live and die quickly. I actually made up a batch of fly spray and used it at dusk to deter them, which seems bizarre for February!

Otherwise, the warm weather is really wonderful. A taste of spring.

The Big Bay and I had a good ride today, working on being very correct and moving well, and me focusing on using half halts correctly. On the advice of my daughter's trainer who was here on Saturday, I also worked hard on a hand position issue - involving making absolutely sure I'm not breaking at the wrists.

It's amazing how big a difference that has made in Keil Bay's head and his ability to go on the bit.

And I forgot my half chaps and really enjoyed that extra "feel" with my legs.

I also got an invite to audit a Mary Wanless clinic with Kenzie's dressage trainer, who will be riding. I hope I can go - I've been intrigued with Mary Wanless for a long time, and it would be fabulous to see her in action.

And as if that isn't enough, Cindy Sydnor is doing a Sunday afternoon book club, and we'll be studying Walter Zettl's Dressage in Harmony, which she translated from the German for him back when it was published.

At the end of the book club, we'll meet at her farm for some demonstration, and I am sure she'll be riding Windsor, the young Hanoverian that reminds me so much of Keil Bay, and was bred by Keil's previous owner. If I had a spare 50k lying around, I'd plunk it down and bring him home!

A little bit of spring fever seems to have hit already. :)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

the rule of 3


I had forgotten this about riding, but I think it's true. If you haven't ridden for more than 3 days you either come back and have a great ride - almost as if the break kicked you and the horse up a notch, or you have to start over on some things. In the second case, if you ride for 3 days in a row, it's that third day that you kick back up again to the good stuff.

Would love to hear if anyone else experiences this, with riding, or anything else.

almost 70 degrees, and hay net results are in

It is like spring outside! My daughter had a lovely lesson on Cody today, and he had to be sponged down afterward. Amazing.

We had about 20 deer come through the woods today, putting Rafer and Redford on High Donkey Alert. Rafer would not let me get closer to the woods than he was - each time I stepped in that direction, he walked ahead and angled his body so he was between me and the woods.

We also had guinea hens in the trees. I am hoping they stay and eat tons of ticks.

And the hay net results are in. Out of 5 stuffed hay nets placed in stalls last night (alongside the regular loose hay) the geldings cleaned theirs out. Salina and the donkey boys - not so much. Which is actually fine, because it's the geldings who truly need the slow feeding thing.

I've heard that even some of our more northern blog friends are having warmer temps today, so I hope we're all getting a much needed break from the cold winter.

Friday, February 06, 2009

warming trend!

It was 32 degrees out this morning when I fed breakfast, the warmest morning we've had all week. And it felt good to take blankets off horses and know that by mid-day they'd be lounging in 50 degree sunshine.

By the time Salina had her lunch served, the rest of her herd had meandered to the bottom of the front field, and so she was able to eat undisturbed in the paddock behind the barn.

At one point I glanced over at her and she was staring intently into the woods far behind the labyrinth path. She walked over to the arena fence and stood there looking, long enough that I realized something must be down there. When my daughter and I went, we spotted 7 deer hanging out in the woods. They didn't run at first, and we climbed right up Mt. Manure, which is busy composting, and watched them. One at a time, they formed a line and started running, white tails flashing.

When we got back up to the barn, Salina was still on guard, making sure we came back. She keeps track of everything around here, and it is a distinct pleasure to share that "mother bear" role with her.

The donkeys decided to hang with the boys this afternoon, and I thought that was funny. After her lunch, Salina headed down to join them all, knowing there was nothing in the woods and all was well.

We had a nice ride today, with Rafer Johnson in the middle of the arena standing over a jump, as if he couldn't quite decide whether to go over it or not. He ended up pushing jump poles around the arena with his nose, and then he went and hovered over the mounting block. One would almost think he was ready to be tacked up and ridden! I have a feeling he is ready to learn long lining. Time for me to get busy and learn how to teach it to him!

I stuffed five small mesh hay nets this evening, and hung them in the stalls along with the regular mangers full of loose hay, as an introduction. Salina walked in at sunset, swiped exactly two times at the hay net, and with a look of disgust, marched out into her grass paddock where she proceeded to munch on some loose hay.

This small mesh thing may need some getting used to.

The thing that made me happiest today was brushing out Keil Bay's tail. It is so silky and luxurious when it's brushed completely out, and he very helpfully lifts his tail and turns it from side to side so I can get underneath. I don't do it every time I groom him by any means, but when I do, we both enjoy it. Actually, that's one of my favorite things about Keil Bay. He adores being fussed over, and it's such a pleasure to fuss over him.

I can hardly believe we have two days of sixties and sunshine coming for the weekend.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

long day

I'm not sure why this day has stretched on so long, but it feels like about 48 hours ago that I woke up. It was cold out, and when I went to the barn to feed breakfast I realized immediately that I needed to come back in with the big bucket and start warming up water tubs. They were all thick with ice and even where my husband had cleared them before he left for work, they'd refrozen.

The horses were all blanketed and enjoying the sun, and they'd been munching on hay for hours, so they weren't rushing back to the barn for their breakfast. Keil Bay stood out and nickered for his, and it was perfectly obviously he wanted to be served right where he was. But he had to walk around to the gate and come into his stall like usual.

While they ate, we added more hay piles to the front field, trying to find the sunniest spots where the ground wasn't rock hard and bumpy. I went in and out a few times, getting more hot water, and cleared the ice again before dumping it in.

Redford did his new "sound effect" which is the sound of a big truck horn. It's hard to believe that big sound comes out of such a little donkey! (as an aside, the Elevenses newsletter arrived yesterday, and Rafer Johnson and Redford were not only on the cover, they took up the entire second page! Ken and Marty are amazing to do all they do on their farm, plus keep a newsletter going out to their extended family, which we consider ourselves a part of... it's always fun to see what their donkeys and llamas and sheep are up to, and of course we especially like it when our two superstars make an appearance!)

Once we got everyone fed and watered, it was still too cold to take blankets off. I adjusted Salina's knee warmers and we came in for our own breakfast.

I have done a huge amount of laundry today, kept the woodstove loaded, and managed to answer some emails. We mucked and dumped, hauled more hot water, unblanketed around noon, and had lunch.

Did I mention tons of laundry?

On these cold days I go ahead and give everyone some warm beet pulp with chopped apples when Salina gets her more substantial 3 p.m. feed. They were all down in the bottom of the front field, so my daughter and I teamed up and managed to get Salina in the small barnyard, Keil Bay in the back field, the pony in a stall, and Cody in the dirt paddock. The donkeys stayed by the gate in front so they could be near Salina, and we served everyone their tubs. (I suppose this is why Keil Bay was expecting field service this a.m., but we almost never feed this way unless it's a special thing, so... I think he was trying to pull one over on us)

After they finished we opened everyone back up to the field and let them parade around and check all the assorted tubs in the event (which I don't think has ever happened here on November Hill) that someone didn't finish his/her food.

Did I mention I had to haul more hot water out to wash feed tubs after breakfast and again after lunch? The hoses were frozen solid.

I've lost track of what came next. I think we came back in for a break and some cocoa. Then we went back out to get hay set up for the evening, get water buckets back into stalls with nice slightly warm water, finish the last mucking and dumping, and get Cody groomed. He'd rolled himself into a cake of dust.

Mid-way the last paddock mucking, the entire herd galloped up the front hill. Every single one of them kicked up their heels, and then the pony went into some sort of wild pony fit. He was like Nascar Pony*, blasting all over the front field, circling wildly, bucking, taking off like a shot, and basically getting everyone stirred up.

Salina and the donkeys know things can get crazy when the geldings get going, so they came into the dirt paddock and stood by me. Cody played for a minute, but even he tends to get out of the way when the pony and Keil Bay start their game of "nip the armpit." It's brutal (not really, but it does look that way) and Keil Bay sounds like something off the African Veldt.

Without warning, they suddenly galloped into the dirt paddock, dodging donkeys, the water trough, Salina, the wheelbarrow, and luckily, me. They spun around and headed back out front, dodging all of the above yet again. Except the donkeys got in the way of the pony and he basically jumped over them and kept going. It was so wild I asked my daughter to close Keil and Apache in the front field. We let them wear themselves out and then got back to work.

We put Salina and the donkeys into their grass paddock, fixed up the barn for them, and took another break. At sunset, we got the geldings into their paddock and closed the gates, then picked all the hooves.

Now I'm back inside, still doing laundry, wanting to take a hot bath, and wishing I had a chef here to make dinner.

It's been a long day, but a good one. Another cold night but tomorrow it gets up to 50! No crunchy arena, no ice in troughs, and hopefully a good ride to end the week.

* If you're wondering why the reference to Nascar, it's because I've become obsessed with the fact that the hot new novel genre on Publishers' Marketplace is the Nascar Novel. There have been countless Nascar novels and Nascar romances selling like crazy this past month. Clearly I do not have my finger on the pulse when it comes to things like vampires, demons, and Nascar drivers as main characters. Sigh.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

the snow tracked east

Thank goodness. As beautiful as it was the last time, I really didn't want to go through another snowfall that accumulated on the ground. We have a chilly day today, another cold night, and then heading into the weekend it looks like we will be up near 70. Which bodes well for riding and getting some field chores done.

Yesterday was a nice, long but relaxing barn day. After lunch, I got organized and gave Salina and Keil their Adequan injections, straightened up the tack room a little, and then my daughter and I rode together. She is alternating between her pony and Cody, and I'm alternating between Cody and Keil Bay. So Cody, who will be doing the most work in Pony Club, is getting daily rides. It works well because she is focusing on jumping with him and I'm focusing more on bend and rhythm.

By sunset I was just getting around to grooming the Big Bay, who had conveniently rolled in a patch of mud and was caked on his right side. My son came out to help, which gave me some time to get Salina and the donkeys cleaned up for the evening too. We had brought them in the back field through the arena, and they were all awaiting stalls and hay, so they were clustering at the gate into the back paddock.

Every time I leaned over to pick a horse hoof, I got a donkey head rested on my back. It was so sweet - Rafer Johnson especially insists on being in the thick of whatever is going on, and I love how the horses allow the donkeys to be so close without fussing.

I went back out at dinner time to help with the tubs. It was such a quiet night, still as the temperature dropped, and yet inside the barn we had the mystical-kit racing from one end to the other, donkeys playing chase with him, Salina in and out trying to keep tabs on her boys, and the geldings lined up in stalls watching the show while they munched hay.

Right now the sun is coming out and I'm hoping we warm up more than they expect so today's ride won't be so frigid!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

5 things that I have missed, and it's not yet 9 a.m.

I woke up this morning in my own bed, feeling a sense of comfort and happiness at being home again, and wondering what the day will bring. It's amazing how many things I miss when I go away, and only remember when I get back again:

1. being snuggled up to by various cat bodies all through the night, and waking up with the Moomintroll cat being as close as he can get

2. the click of Corgi nails on the hardwood floor

3. Redford the Great braying a good morning call outside the bedroom window

4. the sound of the dishwasher to my left (as I type here) and the Moomintroll snoring on the chair to my right

5. Keats, the lovely Miss Miaow, serving as my own personal bread warmer (she is on the island, lying ON TOP of a loaf of bread, which fortunately, is wrapped)

Monday, February 02, 2009


As much as I enjoyed my week of writing, it was good to drive up at home today and see my family including all the animals. Keil Bay didn't even act mad!

It's a gorgeous day and I was very pleased to walk outside and not sink into mud. Although now I'm reading there may be snow tomorrow - just in time for my return home.

Hoping not, but we'll go with the flow.

I also learned that Redford and Rafer are going to be on the cover of the Elevenses' newsletter this month - our cover boys!

Right now I'm catching up on laundry, getting unpacked, and feeling very happy that even when I go someplace fabulous, coming home is better still. That's a true blessing, and I'm taking time to acknowledge it.