Thursday, April 30, 2009

donkeys gone wild

Yesterday afternoon I was in the small barnyard giving the Big Bay a bath. I had the barn doors closed so the donkeys and Salina were in the barn aisle with access to one stall and the big barnyard, which is their usual hang-out at that time of day during this time of year.

Cody and the pony were in the bare paddock, with access to their stalls and the back field. The sun was shining, the afternoon was quiet, and all was peaceful. I scrubbed the Big Bay with a soapy sponge, thinking how nice it was to be out there with all the animals surrounding me. What a peaceful scene! Everyone was right where they were supposed to be. Or so I thought.

My daughter came out from the house and then she came running through the barn exclaiming, "Redford just galloped out of the barn with a lead rope in his mouth!"

I laughed and told her to go get a picture. A few minutes later she came back. "The donkeys are gone!"

I had just finished rinsing Keil Bay, so I scraped him down and went to help her find them. Salina was walking around the big barnyard calling madly to her donkey boys. They weren't answering.

My daughter had gone down through the gate to the front, thinking they might have gone through the stile.

I walked to the arena, and as I looked for them, noticed the gate to the labyrinth path was open. Husband must have left it when he took wheelbarrows down!

I called to my daughter and we went down the path. Along the way we found the green lead rope, stretched out at full length as though Redford had dropped it in full gallop and it had fallen as he ran.

We went all the way down, and there in the midst of the extravagantly green and tall grass that is now taking over the labyrinth area, were two donkeys. Those long ears were the first thing I saw.

They both looked at me, alert, and for a split-second I thought they might run to get away - but they didn't. Rafer started walking toward me, and Redford followed. I gave them a rub and directed Rafer to head back up the path.

"Your mama is calling," I told him. "Head back to the barn."

He did, but Redford decided he wasn't done exploring. Daughter had to head him off and get him back on the path. Then Rafer helped out and herded Redford up the hill, keeping him on the straight and narrow.

They started running.

Up top, when they saw Salina waiting, they slowed to a walk and got in a proper donkey line. You have never seen anything so cute. Rafer Johnson in front, followed by Redford, a slow walk like two kids who got caught in the cookie jar, walking toward the mama who was going to give them a lecture. Ears were sideways, heads hung just a little. Of course Salina was so glad to see them no lecture happened, at least not that I could hear!

By the time we got back, Keil Bay had rolled, Cody was hanging his head over the gate asking for his own bath, and the pony was standing at the paddock fence looking totally disgusted. You could see exactly what he was thinking. "If that had been ME, I'd be walking around on a lead line right now, yielding this way and that. Those donkeys get away with EVERYthing!"

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

a day of writing with horses and sand

A Day of Writing With Horses and Sand

(no experience with horses necessary, no mounted work)

Two dates available: Friday May 29th OR Saturday May 30th (you are welcome to register for both days if you like)

10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Come to November Hill and work on poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journalling, or anything you like, in the company of horses, miniature donkeys, and myself.

Schedule for these days:

10 - 10:30: introductions and intentions for the day

10:30 - 12: time with horses and donkeys

12 - 1: writing time (you may work on your own or do guided writing with me)

1 - 2: lunch - bring your own, beverages provided - with discussion

2 - 4: time with the sandtrays

Cost: $75 for the day (reduced this year to help with budgeting in these tighter times)

Email to register HERE

Saturday, April 25, 2009

foreshadowing summer

This is what greeted me this evening when I went out to the barn, a big giant rune in the sky:

And then the donkey boys, who see a camera and here they come:

It should be spring.

We've had our annual sprinkle of April birthdays: husband, Keil Bay, Apache Moon, and my daughter's is soon to arrive. The baby birds in the barn erupt in a fit of chirping every time we make a sound. We're on our second batch of fly predators.

The carpenter bees are buzzing, insects humming, and green explodes around us in every direction.

But we're into a string of 90 degree days right now, and it feels a LOT like summer already.

Today the big industrial fans got taken down, cleaned, and put back up with new baling twine. The horses came in and I am pretty sure I heard Keil Bay heave a sigh of relief when the fans came on. They're like big sound machines, almost like the roar of surf. When you're inside the barn on a hot day, with the fans going, it's like being on a big ship sailing for a distant destination, motor churning softly, far away from the hustle and bustle of the regular world.

The morning routine now includes feeding, checking for ticks, rinsing any bites or scrapes with calendula tincture in cool water, and then a quick brushing and fly spraying.

The horses go back out after breakfast until the heat of the day arrives, when they wander in again to find clean stalls, fans, hay, and fresh buckets of water. If you go out between 2-3 p.m. you are likely to find Keil Bay stretched out snoring. Other times you find horses playing musical stalls, and Salina and the donkeys are likely to be standing in the barn aisle.

Around 5-6 p.m. they head back to the field, rested and ready to enjoy the onset of evening.

In the next week or so we'll be getting eastern encephalitis shots and updated Coggins, and they'll all have their teeth checked to see who, if anyone, needs floating.

I'm excited to have a new homeopathic remedy from our vet this year, for use on the day of shots to help ameliorate side effects.

Riding needs to be done either first thing in the morning, or well after sunset. I hope to try out the new Cool Medic vest this year, which you soak down with water, squeeze out, and then wear. Supposedly it keeps you cool as a cucumber, which will make riding so much easier on these hot days.

I think we're all hoping this is an aberration, and that we get at least another month of spring before summer arrives. Meanwhile, there are cat and corgi bodies laid out like little throw rugs all over the house, I have put in the annual Lands End sandal order, and I'm counting down the days to Thursday, when the local farmers' market will surely be bursting with locally grown bounty for easy summer meals.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

tree of life Bay

This morning in my email inbox, I found the most lovely photo of Keil Bay, titled Handsome Bay, from my husband, who must have snuck this photo in sometime over the past week or so.

I kept looking at it in between checking email, reading blogs, etc. and then I saw the real picture within the picture.

It's Keil Bay, with the tree of life coming right up out of his back. What an amazing photo, and so very appropriate for my handsome, amazing horse. Thanks, Matthew.

Monday, April 20, 2009

the photos to go with the post

Free walking at home the day before:

Warming up at the show:

Waiting to ride the test:

In the arena:

The first ribbon (the second one was white and made a nice pair!)

And the best part of all comes after the work is done:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

the schooling show

After bemoaning the ordeal (to the horse) of hauling and stabling and showing, we woke up this morning and prepared to haul the pony 40 minutes to a Combined Training schooling show at the barn where both my children learned to ride. It's an easy haul, a good atmosphere, and I think our familiarity with it makes it fairly easy to manage.

We got a good start to the day. The pony self-loaded! My daughter has been teaching him to walk forward when she throws the lead line over his neck and says "walk on." He's been self-loading half-way (his front end, then he seemed to want to stop and wait for her) for the past week, but today he did it perfectly.

Interestingly enough, I was distracted by Dickens E. Wickens, our tuxedo cowboy cat, who had gotten in the trailer and sequestered himself in the hay manger behind the hay net. Fortunately I saw him when he went in, and was able to extricate him before we drove off!

I was also distracted by a certain young donkey (Rafer Johnson) who seemed to be toying with the idea of loading himself and going along for the ride.

In a new trailering protocol, I am feeding a bit of alfalfa pellets mixed in with the pony's timothy hay balance cubes when he travels, in an effort to reduce the possibility of ulcers. I think it made a difference, and I plan to continue doing this.

We were happy to start off on such a good note.

One of the dressage judges had a car accident on the way to the show this morning, and as a result the rides in that arena were falling further and further behind when we arrived. The first dressage test went well. I was so proud of my daughter, who, upon learning she had won 6th place, didn't care as much about that, or about the green ribbon, as she cared about the judge's comments and what she might do better for the second dressage test. She reviewed every movement and each comment, and we talked through it together.

It was very interesting to think back over the comments he got 1-2 years ago and realize together that because we took the time off, sorted out what was going on with him, and created a plan to address it, the comments he got yesterday reflected some pretty big positive shifts.

In previous tests he had gotten comments like "needs impulsion, lacks energy" and yesterday he got "great energy, ridden with authority!"

Previously, the accuracy of the movements was not exact, but yesterday he was very in front of my daughter's legs and they did a great job of nailing the entrances and the execution of transitions.

The things to work on now are making those circles accurate, and addressing the pony's counter-bending tendency. One judge suggested we move the saddle back to free up his shoulders more, and we tried that with some success in the second test. I think we were more excited about that observation than anything else.

There was a LONG break between the two rides, so the pony got untacked, had some hay and water, and then went on a walk around the show grounds so he could experience a few new things. He was a sweetheart, and as usual, got many comments about his cuteness. At this kind of show, there are generally many, many big warmbloods, and he looks like a mini compared to them. It's so much fun walking him around.

We ate lunch, visited with my mom, and talked with my daughter's trainer. She had brought a horse she has in training, who is also for sale, and won two blue ribbons on her before we arrived. Rita, the lovely chestnut Hanoverian mare, is an absolute sweetheart. I confess I was thinking all day about how she might fit into our herd, especially after she gazed into my eyes and licked my hands for five minutes while we awaited the pony's second ride!

The second ride went very well. The pony was relaxed and much more comfortable with the commotion around him, and he and my daughter looked really good together. They improved their score and took 4th place.

By this time of the day, many people had left. We picked up the ribbon, said goodbye to my mom, and my daughter loaded the pony in about 30 seconds. I should add that we returned to hauling w/o the divider, and w/o tying, so he was free to move around in the trailer. He wasn't stiff when he got off, so he was quite willing to get back on when it was time to come home.

We witnessed the usual horror moments at the show, but we took care of our little man, tried to make his time as easy as possible, and he did a wonderful job and was a pleasure to be with all day.

When we arrived home, Rafer Johnson had let himself into the big barnyard and was waiting for us at the gate! He was determined to greet the truck, and I had to physically move him back. A few minutes after the pony got off, Rafer loaded himself ON and kept me company while I got the extra hay out and swept the mats.

The pony was ready to head out to the field with the rest of his herd. Which right now has quite the drama going on, as Salina is in heat and has once again chosen Cody as the apple of her eye. Only THIS time, he is not dumbfounded, but quite intrigued with his elevated status. Fortunately, Keil Bay seems not to be depressed this time around, but relieved that the attention of the black mare has shifted to someone other than him.

This evening, the sun set on a contented herd, a tired but happy crew, and the sound of the neighbors' ATVs blasting. Which reminds me: there are now TWO properties for sale in our little neighborhood. One is an easy conversion to an equine property (and just think, if you buy it, you'll make the whole neighborhood happy when the ATVs leave!) and the other one is a fully functional horse property just waiting for your horses to move in. I am not a real estate agent, but I would LOVE to sell these properties to some kindred spirited, horsey people. :)

And I'll add some photos from today, as soon as they get transferred from my husband's camera.

And... I forgot to add the crow sighting. At the end of the day, just before we loaded the pony, a big crow came right up to our trailer and stood there pecking at the ground. I turned to look at him, and he flew up about to eye-level and hovered there in the air in front of us. There was a pretty stiff wind blowing, and I think he was using it to hover, but it was quite an encounter.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

quick donkey tidbit

Cody (the QH) didn't like hauling with the pony very much, as it meant he had to be tied on his side of the trailer, with the divider in, as opposed to his usual method of travel, which is free in the entire trailer space. So now he is reluctant to load, and we're doing the same work with him we did with the pony last year.

My daughter was standing with Cody at the trailer door, the primary goal being for him to just drop his head, relax, and lick and chew. He's not allowed to pull back, but he doesn't have to step onto the trailer. Eventually she'll have him load one front foot, then both, then load all the way again.

The donkeys were in the barnyard grazing around with Salina, and suddenly, Rafer Johnson got a determined look in his eye and marched over to Cody, peered into the empty trailer, and proceeded to load himself!

Of course Redford was not far behind. I took Cody and we quickly gave the donkeys a treat inside the trailer to reinforce that yes, it's a good place. Redford hopped in, and we had two donkeys loaded up for the road.

Salina didn't like it one bit! She started circling and calling, I'm sure thinking we were taking her boys away. We assured her that was not the case.

Today I went out and all I had to do was open the trailer door and step inside. Rafer was right behind me. Apparently, Donkey Loading 101 is a very short course!

Friday, April 10, 2009

thank you

I wanted to say thank you to all who have sent condolences via comments here and via private email. It means so much to me.

Yesterday was the first time in a year that my mom has been able to visit us here at November Hill. She came with my teenaged nephew, who is on spring break, and we had an entire day to just hang out.

We walked out to the front field so that she could meet Redford, who promptly darted into the thicket of trees and peeped out at the new friends, while Rafer Johnson had his nose in their pockets, but gently, as he is the best ambassador of donkeys there is.

In a minute, Redford decided it was just too hard to miss out on all the attention, so he walked over and stuck his nose into the action.

The horses all said hello, and the pony showed off his grazing muzzle, and even laid down and rolled, grazed with it from the prone position, and then got up and shook the pollen off his painted self.

It was a nice illustration for all of us of adaptation to new things, and how what starts out difficult can transform to being just fine.

I also wanted to pull a couple of things from the previous post's comments.

My anecdote from the weekend:

Sometime over the weekend I was standing at the kitchen window wondering how my dad is doing where he is now, and I thought "if you're doing okay, send me a sign via a bird in the backyard."

I waited for a few minutes and nothing happened, and I figured he was busy or else he just didn't like the parameters of my request! And I forgot about it.

Yesterday I was sitting here working on something and I kept hearing the most beautiful bird song that sounded like it was right inside the laundry room door. At first I thought it might be coming from upstairs and somehow was echoing oddly down here.

But it kept on, and I got up to go check it out. When I got to the laundry room door, I glimpsed a tiny gray and white and black finch, so tiny I couldn't believe it was making such vibrant birdsong.

I opened the door and stepped out onto the deck, and instead of flying away, the finch hopped onto the branch inches away from my face, and looking straight at me, burst into a 15-20 second song that was absolutely stunning.

The little bird looked like he was all decked out in a tiny suit: gray pants, white shirt, black jacket. And then it hit me: he looked like my father in the dashing outfits he wore when he was young. The moment I had that thought, the bird finished the song and literally darted off, in a streak of flight that seemed to begin on the branch and then just disappear into thin air.

It really made me smile.

And Maddy's comment and poem, which I found so moving:

Your words, beautifully written, of your dad's passing reminded me of this little poem by Kahil Gibran.

I have passed the mountain peak
and my soul is soaring in the firmament
of complete and unbounded
I am in comfort,
I am in peace.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

taking a quiet moment

Yesterday, after a year-long illness spent at home under the care of my mother and an absolutely amazing team from Hospice, my father passed away. He was in his own bed, in his own room, surrounded by his wife, children, brother, and the Hospice Chaplain.

Even though we had been saying goodbye to him for most of this past year, yesterday was harder than any of us expected. His death was peaceful, he was not in pain, and he knew we were there. But he, like his father before him, really did not want to go, and he had to find his peace with that as he left us.

We reassured him that it was okay to go, that he would be met by a pack of dogs: his boyhood dog Shadow, who waited for him to come home from school every day and then amazingly knew the day he came home from the Korean War and was waiting by the train track when he crossed it, Pongo our Dalmatian, Pepper the poodle who found us and stayed, Tika the Siberian Husky, Oliver the smart-as-a-whip pound puppy, and Buddy the white German Shepherd. My brother reminded him that he would see his father and mother, and more friends and family members who preceded him in death. He seemed to ease at the thought.

Sometime I might try to write down some of the many memories I have. We sat in the room after he left us yesterday, telling stories of our memories of him, breaking down in fits and starts as we needed to, and finding comfort in the haven of our parents' home.

His entire Hospice team was there, making sure things were taken care of so that we could do what we needed to as a family, and in a wonderful moment of serendipity, when the cremation service came to get his body, his Hospice social worker saw I needed some distraction, and asked me about horses.

She let me ramble on for ten minutes and then suddenly I saw her name tag, made a connection, and realized she had married into the horse family who owned the stable where I learned to ride, bought my first horse, and years later, taught both my children to ride.

Amazingly, she knew all the school horses I had ridden, and knew my horse's dam very well. She knew the ponies my children learned to ride on. And she had married the one member of their family who facilitated, so many years ago, the most wonderful of all my riding memories - cantering around a small lake on a trail that we often rode, feeling as free as the wind, as though I had shifted into some other dimension of water and forest and horses.

As my father's body left his home, I was back on that magical ride, and hope that in some way his spirit was having the same feeling of freedom and magic in the ethers.

I was incredibly touched by the sharing of hugs and "I love you's" that passed between my mother and this team of women who have spent the past year supporting her, taking care of my father, and whose job it is to guide families through the death process.

I can't offer enough praise or enough thanks for these women. They do their job so well.

For now, I'm taking some time off from blogging, as I think I need to open up some time to process other things, to enjoy the spring weather on the backs of Keil Bay and Cody, to work on my books, and to spend some time with my mom, who has given up so much of her own freedom over the past year to make sure my dad was comfortable and safe and as happy as he could be.

When I left November Hill yesterday morning to go to my parents' house, knowing it would be a day we had all on some level been waiting for, I encountered a large snapping turtle stranded in the middle of the main road. He was muddy and I couldn't tell if he'd been hit, but there was a fair amount of traffic, including big rigs going too fast for anyone's good. I couldn't stop, but I called home and told my husband where the turtle was. When I hung up I started crying, feeling terrible for the turtle, feeling like it was some sort of sign but too complex for me to sort out in the moment.

My husband called back minutes later to assure me he had gone to rescue the turtle, who had NOT been hit, and had moved the turtle to safety in the woods on the other side of the road. In some odd way the turtle's rescue became a comfort for me all through the day and evening.

Until I get back to blogging, enjoy the spring, live well, and travel safely.

Friday, April 03, 2009

the celebration continues

Yesterday morning, with another threat of rain, I decided to again let the herd get their transition to green grass time earlier in the day instead of later. As you can imagine there was no grumbling about this change of routine.

They entered the front field in the order they finished their breakfast tubs, so the donkeys went in first, then Cody, and then Salina. When I let Keil Bay out he immediately became very possessive of the green, and went after the lovely black mare as though he were really going to be able to make her stop eating.

She kicked up both heels at him, flinging clods of dirt in his face, but even that didn't stop him. He flagged her again with his ears back, and Salina, 26 years old in March, stepped up into a lovely canter, kicked up her heels at him one more time, and proceeded to canter a big circle in the upper field, and in the process JUMPING a feed tub I had taken out there for the horses to lick clean!

Even with her arthritic knees, I have seen Salina do an extended trot that would probably get a score of 10 in a dressage test, pivot on a dime in both directions, do beautiful flying changes, and gallop as fast as the younger men in our herd, but until yesterday I have never seen her jump.

I went back into the barn to put on the pony's grazing muzzle, marveling that nothing could top the jumping mare, but when the pony came trotting out of the barn doing his own 10 trot, wearing his muzzle with what almost seemed like pride, I knew we were having a second day of pure celebration here.

It's pure pleasure seeing horses and donkeys so happy and exuberant. A spring tonic for sure.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

the best celebration of spring I've seen so far

This morning I decided that after breakfast the horses and donkeys would get their hour in the front field, since it's cloudy, threatening to rain, and the temperature remained pretty steady overnight, so presumably the sugars in the new grass weren't spiking.

My son went out to the end of the paddock to open the gate to the front field, and Cody had already gone out. When I let Keil Bay out of his stall, he stopped to check out Cody's empty feed tub, then looked out and realized the front field was OPEN!

You could see the expression on his face: wow! not only did I get my yummy breakfast I now get to go out to that amazing grass! It was clear this was a top-notch morning in the Big Bay's opinion.

I wish I had a video - he sprang into a lively canter down the paddock, slowed to a very suspension-filled trot at the gate to make sure he didn't bowl over my son, and then revved back into the canter as he passed through.

He did a big canter circle, kicked up his heels, and then came to a dead halt, head down to graze before the blink of an eye.

Keil Bay turns 20 this month, and you'd never know it seeing his enthusiasm for life.