Tuesday, September 29, 2009

daytime turn-out

This is our third day of daytime turn-out after the long hot summer. I've actually been closing them into the front field instead of giving them the option to wander in and out, mainly because it's been really nice and I want them out and moving and getting back into the swing of this routine.

You can imagine the two who love it the most. This morning the dog across the lane was barking and the guardians trotted down front and center to check it out:

The rest of the herd lounged in the shade and let the donkey patrol take care of the dog:

I was working on fire ant mounds, which seem to be popping up suddenly. You can see why it's important to buy food grade DE:

Yes, he ate it. I'd nearly finished my dusting, so there wasn't much left. Lest you think I've lost my mind, some people feed this to horses as parasite control. It won't hurt him, but it gave him a very white muzzle:

You can probably guess who had to see what was going on:

I turned around and Rafer Johnson and the Big Bay had found their own treasure - a succulent young honeysuckle vine:

The sheer number of the shots I took of this is proof of how cute they were:

And of course Rafer Johnson plays it to the hilt:

Then Keil Bay gets in the game:

It was hard to put the camera away and get back to chores. I stood in the field awhile and had my own daytime turn-out along with the herd. Between daytime turn-out and grinding flax twice a day, there's no doubt we're heading into autumn.

Monday, September 28, 2009

labyrinthine perfection

I discovered this weekend that the labyrinth path is in its best incarnation yet. I haven't been down there since early July, when I injured my back and stopped doing the wheelbarrow chore. And then I worried that without my vigilance the entire project had probably fizzled out.

Oh me of little faith.

I walked down on Saturday with a wheelbarrow of manure and when I got to the bottom of the woodland trail I was stunned. With delight!

The labyrinth path was soft green grass, and it is a true labyrinth now, with trees growing over my head high, goldenrod in full bloom, and a true sense of the mystery and allure of a labyrinth.

My husband expressed surprise at my surprise. He says he told me he had been mowing the path itself, and that it was looking good. Somehow I never quite "heard" this. But he was understating the beauty of that entire space.

I took some photos but because of all the green, you really can't see the path and how it winds down and curves out of sight, pulling you to walk on down and see where it goes.

Once you're in the path proper, it feels like you've left everything behind and are in a quiet, special place. Exactly what I wanted when I started it.

Not quite as frequently as the tide washing sand castles away, the labyrinth path space is periodically cleared due to power lines. So I can't fully control the way things grow down there. But for this autumn, this month, it's absolutely perfect.

Friday, September 25, 2009

does your horse have a job?

I was reading something earlier that made me want to ask: for those of you who live with horses, do they have "jobs"?

If so, how important is that job? What happens if the horse can no longer do it?

It occurred to me as I was reading that my definition of job is very fluid and flexible.

If a horse can't do its "job" for whatever reason, I just find something else it *can* do. Or maybe all my horses have a multitude of jobs, so if one can't be done, it's not such a big deal.

In my mind, simple companionship is a fine and respectable job. Companionship for me AND for the other horses.

I hear horses being referred to as "pasture puffs" a lot. Which intrigues me, because if we as humans can't work because of physical issues or age we certainly don't refer to ourselves that way.

But I guess society does tend to value people for how much they can earn, so from that angle it's a similar phenomenon.

I'm still pondering this.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

we have sunshine and wine

It rained most of yesterday, all night last night, and when I woke up this morning I hoped the sound I heard outside the open screen was not rain. But it was.

I had my coffee and tried to gear up for a mucky gray day with horses and donkeys who wanted to get out and graze.

Surprisingly, against all weather forecasts, the sun came out. I uncovered the hay, threw open the barn doors, and let things dry out while I did chores. And then left everything open so it could continue to dry as the day rolled on.

One time I thought it might rain, so I went out and took precautions, but it was a false alarm. The sunshine returned quickly and this evening I was lured out with a glass of wine and my camera, to see what might present itself.

First, Redford came out to join me and met Dickens along the way. Look at those donkey ears!

As you can see, they have become good friends:

Finally, they finished their hello and joined me at the picnic table:

Redford decided that if Sheaffer and Jack are vintners sampling apples, he is ready to sample some of the final product:

Then Dickens went for the wine:

By this time, Rafer Johnson appeared. He'd rather share a snifter of fine brandy with his mentor Sheaffer than sample the wine. Dickens can't help himself. He's a camera hog:

Meanwhile, over at the round bale, Redford illustrates how to be king. I love this shot because it shows Rafer Johnson's unique mane coloring - click on the photo to see his black "points" along the mane. And it shows Redford's snow white belly alongside his dark donkey cross:

My daughter took the camera and captured her pony and the sky:

And then her pony's handsome face:

All in all, a big beautiful day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

trim notes and the equinox

We had our date with the trimmer this a.m. and after taking a drive down the lane to help out a neighbor in need (her horse had lost a shoe and the other one was loose) we returned to get started on the November Hill herd.

I had planned to do Salina first so she could relax and munch her way through the rest of the visit, but Rafer Johnson gently put himself into position by the trimmer's tools and quietly refused to budge. He lifted his hoof and waited for his trim! I don't think I've ever seen such an eager equine when it comes to trims. It's quite apparent that he actively wants his feet done.

Redford went next and then Salina, and we started with the hardest hoof so we could put that behind us.

Then the geldings and we were done.

Trim notes are easy this time - everyone looked good, with Cody and Apache Moon tying for best feet all-around. I suspect it's no accident that they are getting worked daily by my dedicated daughter. I need to follow her example!

Today is the equinox and I had forgotten all about it until the trimmer handed me his sheet and I saw the date up top.

Unconsciously, though, I was aware, because I woke this morning from a long and quite detailed dream about 4 black snakes that linked themselves together into a sort of ouroborus in my front field.

It clicked with me that finding the snake skin on Sunday, and now this dream, both fit perfectly with the cycle of the year and with some other things going on in my life.

Ted Andrews wrote about snakeskins and snakes:

Because it sheds its skin, the snake has long been a symbol of death and rebirth. It sheds its skin as it outgrows the old. This death and rebirth cycle is part of what snake represents. It has ties and significance to the ancient alchemists and their symbolic transmutation of lead into gold. This is associated with higher wisdom that comes with the passing of time. This cycle of death and rebirth is often symbolized by the ouroborus, the ancient image of a snake swallowing its own tail. It is the symbol of eternity.

Before the snake begins to shed its skin, its eyes will begin to cloud over. It gives the snake a trancelike appearance. To many mystics and shamans this indicated the ability of the snake to move between the realms of the living and the dead, of crossing over from life to death and then back to life again. As the skin begins to shed, the eyes begin to clear as if they will see the world anew. For this reason, alchemists often believed that wisdom and new knowledge would lead to death and rebirth, enabling the individual to see the world from an entirely new perspective.

The snake has often been depicted, along with its relatives, the serpent and dragon, as a guardian. It is found in myth and lore guarding treasures, the springs of life or sacred places.

All of this makes so much sense to me right now. I've written before about the feed room feeling like an alchemical space, and finding the snakeskin there on Sunday seems like the perfect symbol.

The idea of a big 4-snake ouroborus in the front field makes me sigh with happiness. Autumn and rebirth and eternity... good things to focus on as we shift to the next cycle in the year.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A.S. King's "Writer's Middle Finger" Part 3 is up at mystic-lit

Go HERE to read. As usual, she has nailed another piece of the writing life.

and finally, the tack room is clean

Yesterday I spent nearly 12 hours cleaning the tack/feed room, with the help of my dear husband, who was cheerfully willing to pick things up and carry them to the barnyards, lest I accidentally touch a spider. He also washed things down - with the barn aisle being dirt floor and the tack room dirt with crushed stone, there's a lot of dust.

There were a few spiders, but none alarming. No black widows! We did, however, find a snakeskin, about 30 camel crickets lined up on a wall behind a big sheet of wood paneling (which is now gone), and many dung beetles.

We took every single thing out. I washed down the walls and all the nooks and crannies with Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap to get the dust and cobwebs out. I leveled out the crushed stone floor while husband rescued the camel crickets and released them elsewhere. A few managed to leap at me and elicited small shrieks.

Meanwhile, the horses stood munching their hay and watched from stalls as all this went on. Cody had the best view, and at one point he was waving the lunge whip around. Then he tossed the dressage whips, one by one. Keil Bay was hoping this break from routine had something to do with extra food.

The donkeys kept poking their noses into the crack in the barn doors. Rafer Johnson, especially, was wanting to come in and help.

Around 5 p.m. my husband went to buy two big boards to make a shelf on one side of the room, up high, to get the blanket bins and other bins of stuff we don't use regularly out of the way. He also took all the tools and assorted "junk" back to the garage so the tack/feed room could cease doubling as a storage unit. Over the past year, it's become easier to put things in there 'so we'll have them next time' - but it had become too much. I suspect finding the snakeskin did it. There was so much excess stuff in there we'd created the perfect spa for critters.

I cleaned all excess tack that doesn't get used on a daily basis and put it inside a bin so it will stay clean. I labeled bridle racks and saddle racks. My husband fixed the extension cord for the fans so it isn't lying on the floor. All my feed cans are now sitting on the pallet, and I have the shelves clear for the vitamin/minerals and the supplements.

There's also a bin of stuff to sell.

The one drawback is that the room is now so clutter-free all my "stands" for feed tubs are gone! I need to work on a solution, as mixing them on the ground is tedious. What I really need is a long counter-top that stays clear. We talked about one day making the feed room a dedicated space, and adding on a dedicated tack room. There's no obvious place, so I'm not sure that plan will ever materialize, but it was fun to dream as we worked.

I realized when I came inside and took my boots off that the bottoms of my feet were sore - I barely sat down all day long!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday's unexpected treasure

This afternoon I went for the first time to the tiny post office in our tiny town. I usually go to the bigger post office in the slightly bigger neighboring town, and combine the trip with other errands.

Today, though, I wanted to try something new.

I thought I knew where it was but couldn't find it, so a quick cell phone call to husband yielded access to the internet and he guided me to the right place.

The moment I saw it, my eyes lit up. It's a tiny brick building that adjoins what looks like an old general store. (apparently, it used to be that, but is now the studio of an artist who makes bird houses!) The gravel parking lot is shaded by huge oak trees. About the time I stepped out of the truck, a friend and neighbor pulled in and we walked in together.

I haven't seen her in several months so we did a quick catching up. She's a writer, editor, master gardener, and teacher, and she was putting up a beautiful hand-made flyer.

I walked on into the post office and was very warmly greeted by the postmaster. A few moments later, my neighbor walked in to introduce me and express her hopes that I will now use the small post office instead of the bigger one in the bigger town. About that time a mother and her daughter, around 8 years old, came in with a slip to pick up a package.

I stepped aside and asked if they wanted to go ahead, as I had a stack of packages to send as well as a question. The girl was so excited she could barely stand still. When I said they could go ahead, she gave me a big hug. "I think my Junie B's are here!" she exclaimed.

The postmaster handed over the big box and the mother said they could open the box up right there. I immediately loved her - knowing how hard it would be to wait if you were 8 and got a package. It was 25 Junie B books and the girl was ecstatic. The rest of us got excited right along with her. I know so well the feeling of getting not just one, but a big stack of new books, and the pure pleasure of knowing all those pages await me.

It was such a wonderful treat to set off on a not-very-excitable errand and discover a treasure, run into a friend, and watch a little girl wrap her arms around a big stack of new books.

According to my friend AND the postmaster, this is just one typical day at the little post office. I suspect I'll be going back.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

uncoiling the life energy, with horses

Sheryl from my classical dressage list wrote the following sometime last week, and kindly gave me permission to post it here.

I was so moved by it. She touches on something very potent that I feel on a daily basis with our horses, even though I'm not rehabbing damaged horses.

The last paragraph, especially, feels like a gemstone. It describes the gift I feel every day when I spend time with the equines here.

The uncoiling of the life energy of both the horse and the rider is hardly ever discussed on this list because it seems that the members that post are usually caught up with technical details.

I have found it to be true that when one works with a horse that has had prior injuries or is unsound that one is constantly working on bringing out the inner horse. The technical knowledge on how to train the horse is important to a certain extent but success is dependent on getting to the inner horse for it is the inner horse that decides if you will succeed or fail at rehabbing a horse.

Some horses will never recover mentally from something that has happened as deep down at their core being they are unable to overcome it.

I am sure that Nuno was very aware of this.

We can look at top level competition horses and see the physical damage that has been done to them. Maybe with correct training the physical damage can be helped but the inner light of the horse can often never be kindled again.

It takes a very brave horse to work through the layers to get at the very core of themselves.

Sometimes the horse is not able to do this no matter how much the trainer may want it for them.

It can be very dangerous for the trainer working with them as often they can be suddenly explosive and dangerous. Other times they can become depressed.At times they can be calm and at peace but as you go deeper with them this can suddenly change and they can become irritable.

The trainer also has to go deeper and deeper within themselves and grow within themselves so that their life force is uncoiled along with the horses. This is a very hard thing to do as one also has to face their own short comings. At times one needs to become reclusive so that they can go deeper within themselves to unfold a part of themselves. I am always surprised at how the horse can sense this change deep within the trainer and the positive way the horse reacts to this change. I can only describe it as once a door opens inside ourselves then the horse joins us to go thru it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

day at the barn

Although a bit warmer than it has been, today was gorgeous, with lots of sunshine and blue skies. I had intended to clean out the tack/feed room but got sidetracked by some chores in the barnyard that ended up taking most of the day to finish.

Working in the barnyard always turns out to be more fun than not, once I'm doing it, especially when the season is changing and that change is palpable in the air.

We discovered yesterday that Dickens E. Wickens, who occasionally gets scarce and worries us if we don't see him either coming in to eat or hanging out in the barn, has a new hide-out. He is sleeping in the hay manger in the horse trailer.

Now that we know where to find him, he was lured out for a photo shoot by my daughter, who had a good time capturing Dickens in all his cowboy glory.

After marching by as if he owned the place, he did his characteristic Dickens yoga stretch:

And his regal Dickens In the Sky With Clouds and Tongue pose:

He played with the grass:

He gazed demurely in front of the Lilliputian gate and muck bucket:

And when sister Keats was brought out to join in the fun, he barely flicked a whisker and she went running back to the safety of the back yard, turning to make sure he wasn't in pursuit before she launched herself up and over the fence to safety:

If it didn't take a bit of time to upload all the photos, I'd show you the entire set. There are so many good ones, and the sheer number of poses would convince you that Dickens Edward Wickens quite possibly has a second career as a male model.

The requisite headshot (this one is better if you click and enlarge):

Thursday, September 10, 2009


This says it all, to me.

Every day I walk out into the world / to be dazzled, then to be reflective.

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
Keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

- Mary Oliver, from "Messenger" in Thirst (2006)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

the brave and happy life

Happiness comes more from loving than being loved; and often when our affection seems wounded it is only our vanity bleeding. To love, and to be hurt often, and to love again -- this is the brave and happy life.

-J.E. Buchrose

The phrase "brave and happy life" sticks with me. I'm not sure what I have to say about it here, but it sounds like the kind of life I'd like to live.

This morning after equine breakfasts I put Salina, Rafer Johnson, and Redford into their stall and paddock area so I could have the barn aisle free for chores. It was a cool morning, but I'm still turning on the fans out of habit and I like having them on when I muck.

I've developed a routine of cleaning out Salina's stall first, while they're all eating (she eats in the middle stall, which I think of as the donkeys' stall, and the donkeys eat in the barn aisle) so that when she and the donkeys are done they can move into the clean stall with the paddock and I can have the barn aisle free to do the rest of my chores.

Usually I muck, clean out the hay manger, de-web with a damp broom, and then serve hay.

After I move Salina and the donkeys over, I shift to the opposite side of the barn and start with whichever of the geldings finish first. As they finish up, I let them into their paddock and move on with the stalls.

Cody generally gets moved out of his stall during the summer days so I try to get him set up first, with his stall door closed so he can lie down for a nap and munch his hay without needing to pay attention to his back door.

Periodically I let Keil Bay come into the barn aisle with me, with the barn doors open to the big barnyard so he can saunter in and out. I don't know why he loves this so much, but he takes great joy in grazing the barnyard, snacking on the round bale, and then marching into the barn aisle to check in with me. His comings and goings create a nice rhythm to the work, and when I'm done I can either tack him up and ride or groom/check his feet/etc. before letting him back into his stall/paddock.

The only bravery associated with the morning was the management of a black widow spider. Otherwise it was one more happy day with the horses. (and of course, the donkeys too!)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

long weekend, lots to do

Today husband and I drove over to the dressage show to sell two pairs of outgrown but still in good shape riding boots, and we got to sit and watch a few rides afterward. The ones we saw were lower level tests, and either the horses were strung out, the riders were unbalanced, or both. It was not inspiring.

However, I did get to meet the horse I'm thinking of as my "dream horse in training" and had a nice conversation with Cindy Sydnor, who rode him in third level 1 early this morning. It's always a treat to talk with Cindy, and the dream horse is BIG and yes, a bay. He does not look like Keil Bay in person, but he has a similar curious and self-assured demeanor that made me smile. He licked my hands, he took my purse, he took husband's camera bag, he picked up a camp chair and waved it around. None of this was done wildly. It was fun meeting him, as I've kept my eye on him for two years now. Keil Bay's former owner/rider bred this horse, and for whatever reason it's in my head that he's like a younger brother to Keil, although he's not related at all, other than being the same breed.

I have three big outdoor chores and three big indoor chores on my list of things to do. Daughter has a pony club activity early tomorrow morning. In spite of this, we played a game of Settlers of Catan and finally, as it approaches 6:30 p.m., I'm going to get to that to do list!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

goodbye cavesson

This morning after barn chores I was amazingly free of sweat, Keil Bay had finished eating breakfast and was munching on hay, and the temps were in the low 70s... so I decided to psychologically make the switch to our autumn routine, which means riding happens after equine breakfast but before human lunch.

Keil Bay loves this routine. It's obvious that in his life before me, his rides were generally in the morning. He knew instantly when I put Salina and the donkeys on their side of the barn that he was in line for a ride.

My son had groomed all the horses earlier, so all I had to do was pick feet and tack up. When I got the bridle on and was buckling the cavesson, I had my hand inside the buckle so I could feel how tight it was. Keil opened his jaw and I realized that even with my setting the buckle to the first hole, which is where I normally put it, his jaw can't open all the way. Because of where my hand was, I felt it in a way I don't think I ever have before. So in that one moment, I decided to remove the cavesson and ride without it.

A big thank you needs to be said to Ann and Jeeves, at Transitions, because it was Ann who told me she'd removed Jeeves' cavesson long ago. For some reason it had never occurred to me to just remove the thing - I had been thinking of buying a western bridle! A good example of how we can get stuck with "the way things are" to the degree that we can't even perceive how easy change often is.

Anyway, this morning I realized it was time, so I unbuckled the cavesson, slid it off Keil Bay's head, and watched him explore his new freedom from the noseband.

I'm guessing he has never been in a bridle without one.

He immediately opened his mouth as wide as he could, just to test it. He did a huge dramatic yawn. He lifted his nose up and jiggled the bit around in his mouth. He lowered his head and shook it from side to side. (for a moment I thought the bit was going to come out, but it didn't)

He had a look of complete amazement in his eyes. Suddenly there was nothing there but the headstall and the bit, and he couldn't quite believe it.

Off we went to the arena. I can't attribute everything to the lack of cavesson - last night was the coolest we've had since spring, fall is definitely in the air, and I'm sure Keil Bay was feeling all of that as much as I was. Still, he seemed excited and eager to move, and he was freer in the head and neck than he normally is when we start out.

I've tried bitless bridles with Keil and he didn't like them. He does enjoy when I ride with halter and clip-on reins, but today's experiment without the cavesson is the most successful change I've made in terms of bridling.

He has always fussed when I buckle the noseband. The only worse thing was the flash, which I removed years ago. He hated that thing, even when it was buckled so loosely it dangled under his chin. And the cavesson is not as bad, but he always bobs his head when I buckle. And now that frustration is gone.

I cleaned it up and hung it beneath his bridle, with the flash. The bridle looks so bare! But I think this is how we'll be riding, at least for now.