Friday, December 31, 2010

ending the year on a lovely note

This morning I went out for the first time in almost a week to feed breakfast to horses and donkeys. I've (and my daughter) been sick with a nasty cold and my husband has been doing the entire roster of chores - he is now getting his turn with the cold and so it's time for us to get back to our regular routine again.

The horses were totally silent as I mixed tubs. As I've written before, there is usually an entire symphony of sound outside the feed room door as I mix and prepare the feed tubs. At first I thought they were all just preoccupied in paddocks, but then I realized they were all in the barn - but they were truly not making a peep.

So I called out: You are all so quiet today!

Salina instantly did a big whinny. Then one by one they all began to do their usual routine. Keil Bay and Salina are what I call the Hanoverian chorus. The rest add their own sounds to the mix. It was good to be back in the barn, and with the temperature going up to the 60s today, I felt almost naked. No snow pants, no Lands End parka, no hat, no gloves.

Although the cold was gone, what we have now is one big muddy mess. Six inches of snow is melting into already fairly saturated ground. I don't remember seeing standing puddles in the arena before, but there were some up at the shady end.

All the equines needed grooming, so after doing some tidying up in the feed/tack room, and doing some mucking, I came inside for a snack and something to drink, and then went back out to the field with the grooming bucket.

Cody enjoyed his grooming so much that when Keil Bay approached, Cody pinned his ears at him! I have literally never seen Cody pin his ears at all, but at Keil Bay! I was shocked.

Keil Bay wanted his grooming done as a sort of progressive party. We started in the front field, passed through the paddock for a spell, and ended up in the back, standing at the arena gate while my daughter rode Cody and then her pony. Keil Bay went into a sort of trance as I used the tiny black currycomb I have for horse faces. It is rubber and very soft. I made little circles all over his face, and even did his eyelids, which he loves. He dropped his head, closed his eyes, and heaved a big contented sigh. We did a little bit of ground work in the arena, and then I moved on to groom the lovely black mare.

Rafer Johnson did not want to wait, so he wedged himself between me and Salina, and I got a nice rhythm going of a few strokes on Salina and a few on Rafer Johnson. He ended up putting his entire head into my arms and gave me a super-duper donkey snuggle. I think he missed me.

I noticed that Salina's neck muscles seemed tight and hard, so I pulled out one special grooming tool that is pretty hard rubber with lots of "prongs" and began to use it gently but firmly across all her major muscle groups. She lowered her head and began to chew softly as I worked. Finally I pocketed the tool and used my hands to massage her neck from poll all the way down through her shoulders and onto her forelegs. She really loved this, and I could feel some difference in her muscle tone as I worked. I think it's time for a professional massage for her - but for today she was happy to get what I could offer.

As the sun went down on the last day of the year, I was in the barnyard with Keil Bay, Salina, and the donkey boys, who kept sneaking into the hay tent every time I turned around. Cody and Patch Pony were under the barn shelter eating hay from piles.

It was a mushy, muddy mess out there, with some areas still slick with melted snow that has turned solid again during the nights, and other areas that are melted down but have big chunks of frozen snow/ice/mud lying about.

Hearing the sound of equines eating hay, snorting softly, obviously okay with whatever the weather has given us, I was very happy indeed to be with them, spending the last day of this year with such a loving, generous, funny, and talented bunch of equines.

Happy New Year! Enjoy this last day of 2010!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

foxhunting scenes

Although I have not been given permission to post some of my favorite foxhunting images (the ones that feature my lovely daughter) these are some of the photos from a recent hunt.

I am struck by how timeless the images are. Except for the horse trailers, the scene could be from years ago, or yesterday.

The hounds in the kennel:

A closer look. They look so peaceful to me, and the two in the back look like the rear guard.

Riding out, hunt masters first.

And the field rides behind:

This little guy had to stay behind - he's too cute for words with those flying nun ears!

A view from the front, with the whipper in and hounds leading the way.

The hunting photographs have tempted me - I wonder if the Big Bay would mind the dogs and the horns and all the horses?

I have to confess, I also love the attire. It's amazing how elegant the women look with the black coats and stock ties and gloves.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

would you use Gumbits to alleviate teeth grinding in your horse?

As usual, I've been on my morning meander through the internet, catching up on various blogs, doing the clicking that leads me from one thing to another thing to yet another, and enjoying all the information that unfolds as I click and read.

Today I was quickly caught up in a post about the use of Gumbits, a small "treat" that is apparently being used to deal with the grinding of teeth in horses.

It caught my eye because Keil Bay has occasionally ground his teeth under saddle. His previous trainer both told me about it and demonstrated it when I first looked at him. He didn't grind during any of my trial rides, and as it turned out, he has ground them with me three times since he came to live with me, 6 years ago. All three of those times were when I was riding in a lesson, following the instructions of a trainer. My sense was that when pushed hard to do an exercise (not the same one), he resorted to the grinding.

He also did the grinding fairly regularly when ridden by my trainer.

My response to the grinding was to ride him in such a way that did not lead to tooth grinding. That led me to go against the recommendations of my trainer at the time: instead of entering the arena with contact and warming him up doing walk, rising trot, and canter, I came in and rode him on the buckle using walk, sitting trot, and then a big fun canter. Instead of insisting that we drill movements over and over, I began to leave the back arena gate open and take little "mini-hacks" in between our arena work. By accident, I discovered that he loved to pop over baby jumps, and so we used that as a way to insert some fun into the arena work as well.

As it turned out, my doing these things not only led us away from the grinding of teeth, but led to the most beautiful, light, relaxed, classically correct rides I've ever had on any horse. And for Keil Bay, it led to a trust that I would not ride him straight into resistance and then rely on his kindness and general safeness to wrestle him through a movement, but would do everything I could to ride him into relaxation, and only then would we try some of the more difficult movements.

But still, even given all that, even given the fact that he has not ground his teeth in at least two years, I wondered this morning if I'd had the Gumbits to use when we were dealing with this, would I have tried them?

This is what the company says about the product:

GumBits was conceived and developed by two Atlanta women in a quest to aid in the daily training of their dressage horses. By promoting the salivation process, they eliminated the teeth grinding which often can occur during the intense training of high performance sport horses. 

Not only does GumBits encourage chewing activity, trigger salivation, and eliminate teeth grinding, horses love the sweet taste. GumBits are made of all natural FDA approved ingredients and is safe and palatable. 

I tuned in to the line:  eliminated the teeth grinding which often can occur during the intense training of high performance sport horses.

What is it about the intense training of sport horses, in particular dressage horses, that leads so often to teeth grinding?  Apparently the Gumbits are being used to address the grinding of teeth, to create "foam" at shows, and to make the training sessions more pleasant.

My take on teeth grinding is that it is a symptom of something. Dental issues, tmj issues, ulcer issues, pain/discomfort issues, or perhaps the only way a horse can "resist" a style or session of riding that is physically or psychologically (or both) uncomfortable.

Does using Gumbits therefore mask a symptom we need to be paying attention to? What does it say about the show scene if creating foam via a treat in the horse's mouth is used as a way to make it appear the horse is "on the bit?"  (don't get me started about the whole "on the bit" thing)

I can easily imagine Keil Bay loving a sweet treat. And maybe it would cause him to salivate and forget all about whatever it is that pushes him to grind when being ridden a very specific way. But if I give him the treats, am I simply masking a bigger, deeper issue?

Where is the line between creating a dressage "facade" and actually doing the slow, kind, layered work of training that leads to a relaxed, happy, balanced horse that both looks AND feels good doing his job?

Certainly, to a large degree, the answer to this question depends on one's riding goals, as well as one's philosophy about what constitutes solid horsemanship. While I know what my own answer is, I concede that there is no one right answer - we are all where we are on our paths, and so each person's answer might be different.

The critical thing is that we each think through scenarios like this regularly, to examine our goals, to look at, step-by-step, the pros and cons of what we do in our work with horses.

Often we do things simply because it's what the majority of riders and trainers do. And we use the justification that, hey, it works.

I maintain that by questioning things, and most importantly, by listening to our horses, and letting our horses be our trainers, we end up with a much greater depth of knowledge, and even more, a much greater connection to the animal carrying us around on his/her back.

I would love to know what readers think about this.

Monday, December 27, 2010

me and my kindle

I'm inside with a cold watching my husband roll the hay barrow down the hill. The sun is out today, and although it is 30 degrees with winds blowing in (up to 35 mph by the afternoon) the geldings were out playing this morning and we decided to give them some hay out in the sun, on top of the snow, and give them a few hours out of their blankets so they can run and roll and get some sunshine all over their bodies.

My son had this cold last week, then husband got it, and daughter. Finally, on Christmas day, after most everything I needed to do had been done, it kicked in for me.

Fortunately my Christmas gift was a Kindle, which I've been eagerly awaiting. I've had the free Kindle for Mac software on my desktop for months, and although it's great for doing research or checking formatting issues, it's not all that much fun to slide my desk chair into place and settle in for a good read.

I tried putting the software on my old Mac laptop, but it's just too old to support this new technology.

And I spent a long weekend with an iPad a few months back, buying and reading most of Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom, enough to know that reading a book on an electronic device was vastly more appealing than I ever thought it could be.

Since Christmas morning when I opened the Kindle and powered it up, I have carried it around the house with me, charmed by its lovely habit of putting a new image onto the screen each time I put it to sleep. It's like a mini-magical Etch-a-Sketch, and who knew that putting a device to sleep would be so much fun?

I finished Freedom, bought Emma Donaghue's Room, am nearly done with that, bought Caroline Leavitt's Pictures of You for next read, and have downloaded samples from about 10 different books I've been wanting to browse.

The Kindle is light in the hand, easy on the eye, and the ability to shop for a new book and have it in my hand in less than a minute is like some kind of childhood fantasy come to life.

I thought I would be sad about the lack of color, but to be honest, as someone who adores black and white photography and pen/ink sketches, the black and white images on the Kindle are so charming I really don't care about the color.

That's not to say I won't be first in line when Amazon puts out their color version.

Love, love, love it - more than I can say.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

snow day!

No need to take any photos - the blog itself is exactly what it looks like here right now. We woke up to 5 inches and it is still snowing - gorgeous landscape but of course we know what it means to horse folk: extra mucking, a week of mush and mud, and sometimes, a few grumpy equines.

Inside the house I am grateful for the two LL Bean Waterhog door mats I finally got - should have gone ahead and gotten 2 more for the laundry room!

Corgis are bringing in balls of snow on their bellies every time they go in and out. Mystic is outside in bliss - he is one snow-loving feline.

And the power is off and on, so I'm going to go ahead and hit send before it catches me.

Will close with one of my favorite poems from childhood - which reminds me what I wanted so much way back then, and now have, and thus I can end on a grateful note:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, December 24, 2010

merry christmas!

I still love Thelwell's ponies after all these years! Here's to a very happy holiday weekend for all. We may get snow for Christmas tomorrow - and then in a week highs in the 60s!  Crazy weather but it keeps us on our toes.

Best holiday wishes and a happy 2011 to come.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

winter solstice 2010

Without doing anything special, I began celebrating this year's winter solstice yesterday just after sunset. I was at the barn, preparing stalls for horses and donkeys, and as the geldings came in to gather beneath their shelter off the back of our barn, I let them through so they could join Salina and the donkey boys in the big barnyard.

As I did that I noticed the big yellow moon rising behind the back field, as though she knew she would be eclipsed later in the evening and needed to shine especially bright as she ascended.

This is why it takes me so long to do chores. I end up stopping: to watch floating horses, laughing donkeys, felicitous felines, luscious light, and fancy full moons.

Cody let me know that he was ready for a clean stall with a full manger when he began to try getting into the hay tent from the side. As strong as they are, I quickly imagined him ripping the entire tent in half, so trotted out with a lead line and asked him to come on in. His stall was ready. He went in gladly.

After a few minutes, Keil Bay sauntered in, assuming his, too, was ready. And it was, so I opened his stall door and waved him in.

Salina came in, followed by the donkeys. Their side was ready too, but Salina was too busy guarding the barn door so the painted pony couldn't come in to notice. The painted pony was so enjoying the barnyard he didn't really care that his stall wasn't ready yet.

Since the wheelbarrow was full and I knew my husband would be home at any second, I decided to wait and let him dump the last load so I could get started on grooming.

Every few minutes I walked out to the barnyard to look up and see how high the moon was and how she had changed from yellow to an almost uncanny blue/white.

Keil Bay was fairly well covered in dried mud so it took awhile to groom him. Cody was thankfully not so dirty, and Salina and the pony were miraculously very clean. The donkeys had no mud - it would never occur to them to roll on wet ground - they save the rolling after rain and snow for the barn aisle, where they are sure to get some good dust worked into their very furry coats.

They did have some hay tucked into their fur, and they love the feel of the brushing, so I gave them each a good turn.

Although it wasn't yet the longest night, I felt as though it was, and decided there is no better way to spend an evening than just the way I'd spent it.

A well-used (in terms of manure and urine) stall transforms to a fluffy, clean one with fresh hay and water via the fairly meticulous application of hay fork and muck rake.

Dirty (and happy) equines come clean with a little elbow grease.

The checking of water troughs and the night-time rituals of bringing rinsed feed tubs in to the feed room, where they are lined up in order, the removal of hoses that are laid out down the hill so they don't freeze up overnight, and the pause to listen to horses munching when I turn out the lights.

All guided by the magic of barn time and marked by the rise of a very special moon.

Although we will celebrate today's solstice proper with intention and some special rituals, it was last night's impromptu celebration that marks, for me, the shift toward longer days and light.

Happiest of solstices to everyone!

Friday, December 17, 2010

warmer, sunshine, and poetry in motion

This morning I was getting feed tubs ready for mixing. Salina had already come in to her stall to wait, and the donkeys were lining up as well.

Cody had gone through the open back gate into the arena, where he'd been herding Redford a few minutes earlier, so I asked Kenzie to open the closer arena gate so he could come through into the paddock and get ready for breakfast.

She opened the gate, but Cody didn't come out. He tossed his head in his characteristic circle toss, inviting both Keil Bay and the Little Man to come in and play.

I was shocked when Keil Bay accepted the invite, since he tends to be so focused on breakfast he is nearly always waiting at his back door, ready to bang if need be.

But this morning, after all the wet stuff that came down yesterday, I guess he welcomed the no longer frozen footing, the sun beginning to shine, no ice in troughs, and a generally warmer day. The knowledge that breakfast was coming was such a sure thing he was willing to forego it for a little romp.

Cody trotted around the arena, soon joined by Keil Bay. The Little Man really didn't do much except hunt for acorns, but my guess is he'd already done his morning exercise.

Although I am usually pretty focused on serving breakfast, I dropped the tubs I was carrying and stood watching the two big boys move. At one point they trotted toward the center of the arena from opposite ends, whirled their heads at one another, pivoted, and bucked, each kicking one hind leg up, completely in sync. It looked like they were doing a dance, mirroring one another's every move.

Keil Bay started at C and cantered straight up center line, doing an absolutely gorgeous collected, balanced, powered from behind canter. Cody trotted like an upper level dressage horse, with absolutely gorgeous suspension (and he's a Quarter Horse!), and that elusive schwung that is hard to describe but when you see it in action you absolutely stop and hold your breath it's so beautiful.

I recently tweaked their minerals, tightening the ratios (Ca:Ph and Fe:Cu:Zn:Mn) even closer to the "ideal." I have no idea if this is why they are looking and moving so beautifully or if they just both hit their best strides at the same time on this welcome morning. Whatever the reason, it captivated me. Even Redford stood and watched, as if appreciating each step.

Sometimes when I watch competition dressage I am disheartened by the mechanical movements that seem to get the high scores. The whole discipline begins to look labored and the horses look constrained and unhappy.

And then I see what Keil Bay does when he feels good and wants to show off, and what Cody does too. The fact that what they are doing with their bodies so obviously FEELS GOOD to them is all the difference between classical dressage and competition dressage.

Watching horses in double bridles, muzzle to chest, looking like something is going to literally explode out of their necks, always causes me to tighten up. I feel the muscles in my shoulders clench, feel my own neck draw up as though it's being pulled out of alignment with the rest of my body.

But this morning, watching the Big Bay and Cody, my entire body relaxed. I felt like my legs had taken root in the earth, and yet at the same time my upper body felt free and flowing. It occurred to me that this is the way to judge what you see when you watch horses being ridden. How does YOUR body feel?

With every step the two geldings took this morning, I could feel the movement as if I were riding it. And I wonder, when I get back on either/both, if that sensation will carry through and bring my own lightness and balance up a notch.

I suspect it will. Even now, writing about it, my body feels soft and supple. Poetry in motion. A simple but profound gift.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

wild angel water bucket cozy

Last week I went looking for water bucket and trough insulation ideas - I have never been willing to try the electric bucket or trough warmers due to my paranoia about either electric shock or potential for barn fires. 

I found THESE.
I only ordered one, so I could see the quality in person, and so I could try it out. UPS was on the road very late tonight - with snow and ice and now rain, I am impressed that they kept delivering! - and the bucket insulator arrived.
It is very nice - excellent quality, aesthetically pleasing, and I will try it out tomorrow and see if the Big Bay gives it his stamp of approval. Then, if it works, I will order a couple more!

I'll have to figure something else out for the donkeys and Salina, who drink from big HorseTech buckets on the ground.

And the water troughs, although I discovered that filling them to the brim before sunset and removing every chip of ice in the a.m. and on through the day help immensely.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

the girl and the horse

This popped up on Facebook today and it is so lovely it made me cry - a story many of us share:

cold and clear

Last night I went out later than I usually do to help my husband lever the huge new round bale into its shelter. This involved two jump poles, an extra straw bale, and me laying my entire weight on the end of the pole and then shrieking, "It's not working!" But in the end it worked perfectly, and the hay ended up right where it needed to be.

My husband generally does the night-time feed for me, so I'd forgotten how a clear, cold night can be almost magical. All the equines were enjoying their barn time, with lots of hay, straw bedding, water straight from the well (and thus not ice cold!), and lights off. I peeked in at them and saw 6 pairs of blinking eyes.

Out in the arena, the Mystical-kit was dashing around chasing leaves blowing in the wind. I never knew how quickly a small gray body could get from A to X, or how fast a 20-meter circle could be run!

The wind was finally beginning to die down, but we had one more frigid night to get through - 12 degrees F - and the temperature was slowly dropping toward that low.

One of the best things about caring for horses, and I'm sure it's true for caring for any farm animals who live outside, is that it brings us into contact with nature at different times of day than we might otherwise experience.

Early mornings in winter can be brutal, but there is a clarity of thought that coincides with those coldest mornings that I find impossible to replicate without the actual sensation of the early morning sun and the cold.

Similarly, cold nights have a sense of magic, as though something is waiting to happen but you have to be very alert to see it. For a few moments, I waited.

Then I walked to the gate, on along the well-worn path in our backyard that leads to our back door. There's something palpable that happens when I come out the back door to head to the barn - a feeling of being drawn forward, to the horses and the donkeys, to the "barn time" that is for me very different than any other time. Actually it's more like walking out of time, leaving the world ruled by clocks behind.

There is also something special about walking from barn back to the house, especially at night, when the lights from within are shining through the doors and windows, and now, nearing the winter solstice and Christmas, the lights on the tree are twinkling, much like the stars twinkle in a dark night sky.

Feeling the warmth of the wood stove, seeing cats lying on sofas and chairs, Kyra and Bear already inside on their beds. When we go out in the cold, clear night, maybe what is waiting to happen is the homecoming at the end.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

adventures in stall bedding - straw!

Well, actually straw on top of pine pellets.

With the frigid weather we're having, I was not really happy with the pine pellets alone - the stalls felt very unsnuggly and although the horses and donkeys aren't really IN the stalls all that much, I wanted them to have someplace soft and warm to lie down during the times they ARE in.

I've wanted to try straw bedding for years, but have never quite managed to convince myself to go for it. Yesterday, with several cold nights in front of us, high winds that would mean the horses would in fact have access to stalls all night (and in the case of Salina and her donkey boys, would not be turned out to the bigger fields at all), I decided it was a good time to try.

Our hay supplier usually has wheat straw but didn't have extra this year to sell. He gave me a name of someone else. He just sold the last of this year's crop. He gave me the name of someone who had oat straw. An internet search said oat straw was more likely to be eaten by the horses than wheat, so I called the feed store. Bingo - they had wheat straw.

I headed over and got a baker's dozen wheat straw bales. Just as the sun was setting, my daughter and I unloaded them and began to bed the stalls, while impatient equines watched over the stall doors and one in particular began to bang loudly to be let in.

The straw made all the difference. We used 2 bales per stall and banked it up high in the corners and along the edges. It was so cozy I wanted to lie down on it myself!

Everyone except Cody and the pony took a few bites. This morning it was fun to see what each equine did with their stalls during the night. Salina and the donkeys kept their straw fairly clean. They used one area in each of their stalls (and the barn aisle) to deposit the manure.

Keil Bay obviously slept more than usual in his stall - there were many flattened manure balls and he uncharacteristically deposited most of his manure in the edges, along the wall. Those balls were frozen hard, while the ones he laid on were still soft.

My daughter mucked Cody and the pony so I'm not sure what they did. It was interesting to learn a new mucking technique this morning. I used the pitchfork to heap all the straw, which was 98% dry, only a little bit was wet with urine, high into the corners so I could muck pee spots and get the manure that was "in the open." Then as I forked the straw back out, discovered that there is a completely different technique to getting the manure out from under the straw. Instead of pushing forward with the rake, as you do with the pellets. what works best with the straw is to insert the rake just under the manure and then pull back, shaking the rake gently as you do so. Once I got the hang of it, it was easy.

I don't know that we'll use straw year round, and it might be drastically different if we stalled the horses many hours a day, but for our purposes, it worked really well. The barn felt warmer this morning, and the horses were in good spirits after a very cold and windy night.

I'd love to hear if anyone uses straw full-time - any special tips, etc.

Monday, December 13, 2010

a sweet december scene

We're having a very cold week for us - highs in the 30s and lows at night in the teens. The horses have remained on their turn-out schedule except for one night when it was cold and dry but very windy - that night we kept Salina and the donkeys in the barn with access to their paddock, and allowed the geldings access to the barn all night as well. 

We have been blanketing after dinner tubs with lows in the teens, and one very cold day I left the blankets on all day long, but generally I remove blankets before I feed breakfast so they can eat their warm tubs, head into the sunshine, and soak up the warmth. This morning, Keil Bay rolled immediately after getting his blanket off, which is usually a clue that he appreciates being "naked."

I glanced out this afternoon and saw the sweetest December scene ever. Unfortunately the photo is not great as I knew they'd move if they thought I was coming out. But you get the gist:

This photo tells the story of the herd and one of its configurations. Salina, as usual is in a position of being protected. Cody and Keil Bay are resting, while Apache Moon and Rafer Johnson keep their eyes on both directions. Redford moves around like a satellite guardian, keeping watch over the entire area. 

Both from my vantage point and through the lens, the oak tree in the foreground seemed very present in this scene. The oak has the aura of strength and majesty, and here its bare branches seem to be protective over the equines. 

After a while, Cody got up, then Keil Bay laid out flat for a little while. Then he got up. It was only then that Redford took a much-needed rest - and he slept so long the herd wandered away from him to graze hay - at which point he jumped up like a little rocket man and torpedoed down the hill to Rafer.

I've been mesmerized all this week and last by the equines lying outside my window in the sunshine. One day they lined up by size, from smallest to largest, three at the time, while the other three stood with eyes pointing in three directions - except for my window. I think they know I am in here keeping my eyes on them, covering this side of the herd.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

sunday catch-up and simple pleasures

I've been trying to put up a new post for two days now. We're having some internet issues and I haven't been able to upload photos, redecorate the blog for the winter season,  or do anything except check email and browse the internet!

Hopefully things will be fixed tomorrow.

Meanwhile, it has been a very cold week, a rainy and warmer weekend, and now that everything is nice and wet, a cold front is blowing in with winds which means tomorrow night's wind chill is below zero and in the single digits all of Tuesday. Thank goodness for Salina's Whinny Warmers, and for horses that grow teddy bear coats! (no need to even mention the donka boys - they are as fluffy as stuffed animals!) I am so ready to pack up and move somewhere else until this early winter shifts in a different direction. Highs in the mid-40s and lows in the mid-20s would be welcomed. I hate to say this, but I would gladly welcome a winter solstice and Christmas day with the bizarre warm temperatures we sometimes get here during the winter.

Yesterday daughter and I braved the rain and headed to a lovely little tack consignment shop that is jam-packed with riding attire, gear, tack, and home decor. There is an absolutely stunning set of china there that has driving horses and carriages. I drooled a bit over the set and also a foxhunting scene tree skirt while daughter tried on hunt coats, shirts, breeches, and stock ties. We found a very beautiful black wool coat for her that fits well. She has room to layer, a little room to grow, and it looks extremely elegant on her. We also got a white shirt and stock tie, and some tan breeches without breaking the bank.

Unfortunately, the junior hunt and hunt breakfast this coming Saturday looks like it will have a high of 38 degrees and possible rain. There is no way I would go out in that kind of weather, but I suspect they will, and she will, and I will be standing in the cold waiting for her.

It's a good thing I discovered Rita Mae Brown's foxhunting series and just finished the first, called Outfoxed. Maybe I can root around for my inner foxhunting self on Saturday when I'm totally wishing I was home by the woodstove with Rita Mae's second novel!

Today was mostly spent driving around with husband running errands. I rarely go to more than one store or shop in a day's time, as I have totally lost the ability to drive around, park, deal with crowds and those horrid lights they have in most stores, and then stand in line to buy more stuff. But we needed groceries, pine pellets, Christmas tree lights, miscellaneous this and that, and some long underwear (which I couldn't find in the right colors/sizes) so off we went. I am a devoted local shopper but sometimes we have to venture further, to the bigger stores, to find certain things. I am now an even more devoted LandsEnd and LLBean shopper than I already was. I just have to get more organized so I have time to order things enough ahead of time to allow for the shipping.

We did see a double rainbow, there was a cranberry bliss bar and latte from Starbuck's, and the bag the cranberry bliss bar came in made the entire shopping fiasco worthwhile:

Stories are gifts.


Good food is like a good story.

With a red deer in snow banks, with huge dark brown antlers tipped with red holly berries and a white dove lighting on one antler, and snowflakes falling all around.

It was almost like a November Hill Press omen landing right in my hands.

Of all the "stuff" that came home with us in the truck, this little brown paper bag is what I have carefully made sure ended up here on my desk.

Sometimes, many times, the simple pleasures are the very best.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

of what does a donkey dream?

The two little donka boys are napping in the sun this afternoon, watched over by Salina. I'm sitting here watching them, thinking how lucky I am to have such adorable family members and wishing I could just whisk them right in here with me and tuck them into my bed.

In the midst of his nap, Redford started braying. In his sleep! He kept going until Kyra Corgi barked from the back yard and woke him up.

What does a donkey boy dream about? Hay, full feed tubs, running and playing? He is sitting there right now, little donkey knees tucked tightly together, ears aimed back at Salina who has decided to come closer.


I might be the last person to see this (we don't have TV) but it came through as a link on my classical dressage list and reminded me of Keil Bay (the king, you know) and then stuck with me as I posted about Tilikum and the huge group that enslaves him.

If I was technically savvy enough I'd take the words and music from the Chivas ad and put them with a Sea World clip of Tillikum in his tank and broadcast it far and wide.

But in any case, here it is.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

more on Tilikum, the sperm whale at Sea World

Yesterday I noticed a tremendous spike in the visits to camera-obscura - huge numbers, out of the blue. I investigated and discovered that the crowds were coming from Google searches for Tilikum and sperm collection.

You may remember that I heard a story on NPR several months back that so incensed me I wrote a blog post about it. You can go back and read it HERE.

Apparently, and who knew, Tommy Lee of Motley Crue and I have something in common. We both find the fact that Tillikum is being held captive for use as a sperm bank unconscionable. We also find the method they are using to collect the sperm, as Tommy Lee put it, "sick and twisted."

Tommy Lee wrote a letter to Sea World. Perhaps we should all follow his example.

See the article HERE.

There is also a wonderful article of this on Psychology Today's blog. I hope everyone who comes here will read THIS and do something today to speak out about yet another example of humans using animals for gain even if it means a life of suffering for the animal.


Sheaffer has requested information on how to speak out on this issue. I'm searching and will add info as I find it online.

To start, here's an easy online letter you can send via PETA:  CLICK HERE.

As best I can determine, Sea World is owned by Blackstone Corporation. Here is the info - write and mail, write and fax, or call!  If I can find any email info, I will add it here later.

The Blackstone Group
Stephen A. Schwarzman
Chairman, CEO & Co-Founder
345 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10154
Phone:+1 212 583 5000
Fax: +1 212 583 5749

Sunday, December 05, 2010

when we are old and gray

I was thinking of a favorite poem this weekend, by William Butler Yeats, which opens:

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
 And nodding by the fire, take down this book
And slowly read...

And in my head it morphed to this:

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And mucking out five stalls...

It reminded me of an older woman I saw once while with my daughter at a Pony Club activity. She could walk, but not easily, and two women around my age were helping her from the car to the barn. I imagined she might be one of the women's mother, come to see a horse, but after a while the women and two saddled horses came out of the barn, and with a fair amount of struggle, they helped the older woman mount. Then one of the other women mounted and the two rode off together. The older woman seemed happy, and her horse was frisky, but settled down as they rounded a curve in the path and disappeared.

Someone told me later that the older woman boarded her horse there, and although she was barely able to walk or mount, she often came out with various friends who agreed to help her and ride with her, because she was determined to keep riding as long as she could.

Sometimes, when I'm doing particularly difficult chores here on November Hill, I wonder what it might be like to manage things when I'm old and gray, and have to go more slowly, and more carefully than I do now.

I'm fortunate to have a husband who not only pitches in mightily on a daily basis, but is ten years younger than I am, and two children who I think will try to help as much as they can. But in the later years it could certainly be difficult for even an aged couple to do all the things that need doing.

I have in mind a retirement arrangement for horsewomen, where instead of struggling alone a group go in together, pooling resources so that everyone keeps their animals at "the home" and everyone pitches in to do what they can do. What can't be done could be hired out, which would be affordable if divided among the group. Wouldn't it be great for the grown children to know that aging parents have company and help and animals are safe and cared for?

Likely what set my mind on this course was the snow that fell here yesterday. We live in an area where the snow generally melts pretty quickly, but even one afternoon of trying to keep horses comfortable, especially Salina who can't go out on slippery footing but can't be stalled either due to her arthritic knees, set me thinking about my own body and abilities in the future.

While I walked around thinking about the future, the animals were all solidly in the present moment: horses and donkeys grazed their hay for half an hour as the snow fell, then made their way one by one to the barn where they went into clean, dry stalls full of hay. The Corgis ran wild, barking at the snow, Bear enjoying his very first snowfall ever. The Mystical Kit leaped into the air, capturing the snowflakes before they could hit the ground, and the other cats found baskets and boxes by the woodstove and poured themselves in like liquid fur.

I'd seen Keil Bay curl up like a kitten in the front field outside my window yesterday morning, soaking in the sun, as if he knew that later he would need that warmth. And last night, when we put blankets on, I realized that the first blanket I ever bought for Apache Moon, which was bought at the tack shop at the last minute on the day before a huge snowfall was forecast, and which was too big for him, now fits perfectly. I saved it as an extra all these years, but rarely used it because of how big it was. He's standing outside my window right this moment as I type, wearing the blanket, proving that I wasn't dreaming, or measuring wildly, when I taped him in October and discovered that he has grown an entire hand.

The snow is already gone, but we're in for a week of colder than usual temps for us. The wood stove is going strong, and I'm getting ready to take my daughter to a trail ride with her jumping classmates. While she rides out onto a 3000+ acre tract of trails, I'll sit in the truck and keep warm with a book.

The geldings just cantered past my window, reminding me that we are, for now, young and still full of beans on a cold morning.

Friday, December 03, 2010

trim notes december 2010

Cody apparently had a small abscess blow recently in his right front!  We never saw any soreness, lameness, or even slight offness. Trimmer says no treatment is needed - it is clear and healing already. My question is whether this might have been simmering in a low grade way and our turn-out routine brought it to a head, which imo would be a good thing. There's no way to know, but we'll keep watching and see how things go. Otherwise, his feet are fine.

Redford and Rafer Johnson have some thrush - we are probably going to treat them with CleanTrax to knock it out completely.

Salina has the most dramatic change this trim. Her concavity has gone from okay to great and all her frogs are particularly healthy. I definitely attribute this change to her increased movement in the turn-out routine, and to the diet change I made (from a senior mix 4x/day to an IR friendly mix 3x/day) - for the first time this fall I wondered if she might be getting slightly IR as she ages.  I gave her a course of chaste-tree berry as we transitioned into fall, changed her diet, and increased the amount of turn-out. She is moving well and hooves are looking better than ever. Best news is that she is now able again to bend her knees for front hoof trims. I usually give her Bute the day before the trim only but have started a new course of treatment where I give her Bute am/pm Wed/Th/Fri then taper off with am/pm doses again on Sunday and Wed. I muddied the waters a bit by starting this at the same time I changed her diet and turn-out, so am not sure how necessary it is - but will tweak as needed and d/c the Bute if it turns out she doesn't need it for comfort during the trims. An additional note is that she used to do a minor amount of quidding with her hay, but I've noticed that has stopped - so between the fairly large amount of hay she's now eating (and chewing well) and the complete senior diet she was on, I suspect her trace mineral ratio was off - now I'm counting and balancing the hay for her, and this is likely making a difference too. A good example of how we must constantly monitor and be willing to tweak things with care and management.

Keil Bay's thrush is 95% better after his CleanTrax treatment. I may do one more treatment for him - would really like to see his frogs up front get to 100% - but he is moving well and not at all sore, so... will evaluate over the next couple of weeks and decide what to do. He also blew a section of hoof wall on his right rear - not sure if this is associated with his increased hoof wall growth this spring/summer/fall but my guess is again that the increased turn-out (which I should clarify - they now get access to the entire field about 20 hours/day, and their hay is spread all over the field so that they are in near constant movement as they forage and graze) has progressed the hoof wall "trimming" itself - our trimmer cleaned it up and his sole has created a thickened area to compensate. This should work itself out this next 6 weeks as his wall regrows.

Apache Moon has "great feet" as usual. You just can't improve much on pony hooves!

Very interesting hoof notes this time - I love seeing what happens when I make a big change in the care routine.

Some additional diet/nutrition notes I want to document for my own self here:

1. I added 10g lysine to both Keil Bay's diet and Salina's - several months ago - with excellent results. Then I switched the source of lysine and the results seemed to fade. Back to my original lysine source last week and I have seen another huge improvement in Salina's top line and overall condition. Her muscling looks fantastic right now - she easily looks 10-12 years younger.

2. I increased the copper and zinc levels I supplement to account for the new hay and for the pasture (heretofore not tested since we generally feed hay year-round) - this year we had a richer/longer season of grass and I am sure that threw my ratios off. I had noticed some bleaching of color in coats, which corrected itself incredibly quickly once I upped the copper and zinc.

3. Getting ready to put Salina on her winter course of Phyto-Quench, which eases her through the winter months.

4. Getting ready to add glutamine supplement for Cody after work only to help with his PSSM/muscling issues.

**I highly recommend Eleanor Kellon's online nutrition courses if you are interested in learning more about equine nutrition, supplementation, and treating various equine conditions with a good understanding of the whys and hows.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

mowing meanders

Yesterday I was on a mission to get the back field mowed/mulched/harrowed before the big rain rolled through - wet leaves, especially that many, take forever to dry out, so I wanted to get it done. After feeding breakfast tubs, and making sure the equines were set up in the front with a nice long hay trail, I drove the mower out of the garage and headed out back.

As usual, I got sidetracked into a quick pass around the big barnyard. Although I've already done the front field, both barnyards, and both paddocks, there are still leaves falling and blowing, so it takes a few times over the course of the season to get everything mulched down nicely.

My problem is I love doing it and for some reason the big barnyard is especially fun to do - you can see the patterns so clearly there. I often do circles and Celtic knots but yesterday did a sort of cross-hatch pattern that became very mesmerizing as I drove along, but the impending storm (and darkening skies) fortunately kept me from getting completely lost in the chore.

I tend to drive the mower at a slower than usual speed because all of our different spaces have trees, tree roots, and in a few spots, large rock outcroppings. There are also a fair number of big rocks that seem to sprout up from the ground like mushrooms, so going slowly helps me keep my eyes on the ground so I can avoid anything that won't get along well with a mower blade.

In back, I was thrilled with the prospect of an entire area full of leaves, and immediately did an entire circuit of the perimeter just to enjoy the difference between mulched/harrowed and unmulched/harrowed. I suspect I am a hay farmer in a parallel life - one of my favorite things is seeing hay fields where the farmer has mowed a path around the edge. The contrast between the mowed path and the taller grass always makes me smile. Since I don't have hay fields to mow, I do the best I can with my leaves. But I couldn't "leave" the field with that lovely clean path around it, so I stopped for a moment to enjoy the way it looked and then chugged onward.

After that first pass around the perimeter I made the decision not to continue in the part of the back field we call the "canter chute." It's a very uneven, often rocky area where the donkey boys love playing king of the hill and where my daughter used to canter her pony up and down. Lately there are more rocks emerging there, and I leave it the way it is so that they get some hoof wear on that kind of terrain. There are trees too, and grape vines dripping down, so it's a favorite spot during summer months.

But the leaves in that back area were deep and I couldn't really see what I was mowing over, so I decided to let it be - will go back later with rake if necessary. I have a couple of paths I maintain - one is a sort of natural bank that is good for conditioning and just adding some challenge into a ride.

I spent about the same amount of time sitting on the mower pondering that section as I spent here writing about it. Another reason my chores end up taking longer than anticipated, because I never remember to count the "ponder time" I always end up inserting!

But back to the mowing. After mentally cutting that back corner off the circuit, I decided to divide the field into thirds. The first third is on a slope, and has the trickiest areas to mow, so I started with that one. I immediately noted that when I'm on a slightly precarious slope with the mower, I curl my left leg a little - which seemed to be my body's way of balancing. It's no surprise that I also do this when riding - though in the saddle it doesn't seem to serve as a balance aid as much as it reflects my level of concentration. If I'm doing something tricky or new, I have to actively relax my left leg so it doesn't curl up in an expression much like the squinting of an eye, or wrinkling of a forehead.

It makes me wonder - is that why my left pelvis is the one that comes "out" and needs adjusting? Or do I curl it because I've had the joint out off and on for awhile? At this point it is pure habit and I just have to "manually" relax the leg, which immediately restores balance in the saddle, and on the mower immediately relaxed my mind.

I finished the first tricky third and moved on to the other area. That area I ended up doing as one big circuit. Half is on a slightly lesser slope and the other half is flat, but there are some tree roots and a couple of rock areas that have to be monitored. I realized that I'd spent so much time on the first third, I was going to have to speed up a little in order to get the whole thing done, so I refilled the gas tank and notched up my speed. Whoa!

Suddenly it felt like I had some impulsion! And interestingly, without even thinking about what I was doing, as I got to an area where the mower seemed to balk a little, I circled just as I would have done were I riding Keil Bay. That set me thinking that I could actually do a dressage test while mowing if I stuck to the lower part of the field instead of climbing up to the flat area, so that's exactly what I did.

There's a section of the back field that has a natural dressage arena layout - but it's on a slant. Which is pretty interesting if you're doing conditioning work - if you just ride a few dressage tests back there, you've effective worked both sides of the horse up and down in both directions. I often think of putting markers back there just to make it "official" - but even without markers it's easy enough to "enter at A" and proceed with a test.  Even on the trusty mower. Very interesting. (some might say crazy) 

I felt I was mowing at about what would be a trot in mower gait, so I did the first test that way. I got lost for a little while pondering metaphor and mowing and life, thinking the obvious things about the clean swath of ground behind me, mowing over (or around) obstacles, etc. And then suddenly it felt like I literally hit something big under the mower and we came to a very sudden stop. I backed up a little (the harrow was behind me) and inched my way around what I assumed must be a big rock. There was nothing there. I decided maybe the sudden stop was itself a metaphor - that I was woolgathering too much and needed to get back to the job at hand.

Somehow when I stopped my knee must have notched the speed gear up a few degrees, because when I put the mower into forward again I shot off like a rocket. Much like it feels to ask for trot and get a big canter - exciting, and ground covering. Wow! Why had I been going so slowly before? I flew around the circuit a time or two, and then realized there's a reason we don't do entire dressage tests in extended canter. Unlike the smooth downward transition on a horse, the mower requires some major left leg work to downshift, so I did that. And decided to finish the flat area, which had assumed a rather intriguing spiral shape that just begged to be whittled down to ... nothing.

As I got to the final area, which looked like it wouldn't take long at all to finish, rain drops began to fall. At this point I noticed that Salina and the donkeys had come to the barn shelter and were standing there watching me mow. Rafer Johnson is especially intrigued with machinery and he kept his eyes on me for a good long while as I went around and around. Sometimes when he watches me that way I wonder if he's making sure I'm okay, or if he's trying to figure out what in the world I'm doing. He always seems so deep in thought as he watches. I waved and went at the last remaining rectangle in the dressage area of the back, noticing that with each pass it seemed like I still had the exact same amount left to go. I realized that the wind was very methodically blowing leaves down the hill, so that the area I'd just covered was in fact covered over by new leaves each time I came around the path.

You'd think at this point I'd be ready to be done with all this, but I was so intrigued with the thought of going forward but making no progress, I happily went around and around, enjoying the phenomenon of what seemed like futility in action. Sometimes just going through the motions - going around and around the same path - has its charms.

When I saw the geldings come to the barn I knew the rain was getting ready to fall, so I quickly adjusted my route and finished off the final section, making some adjustments to clean up a few areas where the harrow had left clumps of leaves.

On my way back through the arena into the barnyard I couldn't resist doing a perimeter pass around the arena itself - at this point the entire herd were watching me, possibly wondering if I had completely lost my mind in this mowing frenzy. You could almost hear Cody saying to the Big Bay: is she going to keep driving that thing around and around right on through the storm? And the pony: as long as she stops to feed us, I don't care WHAT she does. Keil Bay: she has her quirks, but for the most part, she's okay. I feel sure Salina was clucking at them: you geldings just don't understand. Rafer, of course, does. I think Redford has his own little view of the world - still in formation as he gets older.

I sometimes imagine myself on a big blue tractor, making much bigger circuits and more elaborate patterns in a huge hay field. There's something to be said for finding and doing chores that have repetition and even tedium involved, where our minds can let go and wander, and where we can clearly see the results of our labor, not only at the end of the day, but inch by inch.

It's a very satisfying, and not at all boring, way to pass half a day - and to await the storm. (which fortunately didn't turn out to be as severe as had been predicted - we had a little rain and some wind but no thunder and no tornadoes)

Monday, November 29, 2010

to leg yield or not to leg yield - interesting article

I've been reading over the past six months about the finer points of using the leg yield - or not using it, as the case may be - and when several blogs I read had leg yielding info this morning, I decided to look for something that concisely addresses the controversy over the movement, which many classical dressage riders feel should never have been put into the first level tests in the United States.

A quick Google search found an article that does a great job looking at the leg yield and outlining its benefits and its disadvantages - GO HERE TO READ.

You'll need to scroll down to get to the article itself, and once you've read that one, there just happens to be another article below it about the older rider - written by a dressage rider who is also an MD. Interesting material and recommendations for those of us "riders of a certain age." :)

Over the past few years I have gradually stopped using leg yield when riding Keil Bay. He much prefers shoulder-in as a suppling exercise and the immediate benefits are glaringly apparent in whatever exercise we move on to in that ride.  I get the best canters from him when we do shoulder-in first, and I also sometimes use shoulder-in as a "go-to" exercise if he is being spooky towards any particular part of the arena or any object - especially if the object is known to him.

With Cody (although it's been ages since I rode him - daughter keeps him working well!) I used to do spiraling circles using the leg yield, which seems to balance him and get him using his hind end in a more engaged way. However, the last time I watched daughter do spiraling circles on him, I made a note that it's beyond time to teach him shoulder-in (I'm actually not sure if he's ever done it or not) and see what the benefits are for him. There are only so many spiraling circles one can do in a given ride, and that exercise is not one I'd drill over and over again.

I'd love to hear folks' thoughts on the leg yield, and what your experiences are using it, or if you don't use it, what you do instead that works well.

Friday, November 26, 2010

the last part of the wonderland series

 I had these last few photos of the remaining structure of the Wonderland left and wanted to finish off this series. These two with the huge stone fireplace are shots of the dance hall. In the second photo you can see the raised stage where the bands played.

There's something about this room that particularly takes me back in time. Standing there, you almost hear music, and I felt a definite sense of motion - dancing couples and all the little dramas that most certainly played out.

One of the main characters in my third novel, Signs That Might Be Omens, is very attached to this place. In a brief scene he lays out a fantasy that he and Claire might have lived back in the time of Elkmont's boom years. It occurred to me today as I uploaded these photos - the character Bingham basically gifted me with a novel. He laid it out so beautifully it would be easy to take the idea and run with it. A sort of "past lives" novel. In the past minute or so this little germ appeared and then grew to the point that it is now being written down in my black Moleskine notebook.

This is why when writers tell me they're blocked, I suggest they get out into the world and walk around, open their eyes and all their senses, take photographs, find interesting places and people to watch and soak in. At some point bits of ideas will begin to float up and will push at you until you pay attention to them. For some of us, it happens almost too much - and the task is holding the ideas at bay long enough to finish other things already in progress!

My head is full of books.

The above is a small structure near the back of the hotel. It may have been a cottage for staff, or an extra kitchen. It, too, seems occupied, although as you can see, it's long been empty. Part of the appeal of these structures is that with the camera and a zoom lens, you can ratchet in close and get a sense of the emptiness - and also of the ghostliness of the place. Often, in all these photos, when I click and get the biggest image possible, I see things I didn't even know were there.

This is a view of one of the remaining fireplaces, looking back toward the site of the hotel.

I was struck with nearly every shot at how much life there still is in the place. And without all the fencing keeping us out, there was a sense of peace there too.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

happy thanksgiving 2010

Here's hoping that everyone has a "zen horse" day! I'm thankful for a wonderful family of humans and animals, a home we love, and the best friends (in person and online) anyone could hope to have.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

a few photos from the writing retreat week, and a brief essay on small towns

This was the view out the writers' kitchen door. The golden leaves were especially brilliant in the late afternoon sun, and each time I came down to the kitchen I felt the illumination surround me. 

One afternoon I took a drive to a neighboring small town where I actually rented an office for about a year while working on my first novel. I used to drive there one afternoon a week and used the office to write. Somehow, in all that time, and in subsequent visits to the little downtown, I never noticed this street name, but this trip, with the subject matter of my new novel fully blooming,  it seemed like a huge omen.

The same evening, as I walked from the bookstore across the train tracks to a coffee shop, I glanced up and noticed this little scene. It seemed like the opening line to a novel. Maybe the next one? Since I generally have to have one germ of an idea securely in place at all times, and since my previous germ is now a fully-bloomed idea with a first page, this might have been my subconscious trying to get me back in my fully loaded writer mode. I admit, there is a vague germ forming in my mind even as I type this.

The Brief Essay:

Pushing your religious views onto an entire email list of high school classmates is inappropriate and offensive, even if done "with love."  Getting angry when someone (me) speaks up and points this out is intolerant and a pretty good sign that instead of praying for ME to be saved, you might need to do a little more work on your own character.

Gossiping with other classmates about it off the list, posting about it on your Facebook page, and then defriending someone (me) is just about the exact thing I remember happening not only all through the early years of school in a small southern town, but in Sunday school classes taught by similarly-gossip-prone mothers - one of the reasons I stopped going to church when I was young - even at that delicate pre-adolescent age, I recognized hypocrisy in action. Some things just never change.

Other things do change: when one of the quietest members of a high school class grows up, leaves the small southern town, and blooms, she (me) gets a lot of private support and thanks for being willing to speak up about something that apparently drives a lot of folks nuts.

Moral of this story: be really careful what you say and do when you start up an email list for old classmates and then act out your lack of growth as a human being. Be even more careful when you do it and the quiet one (me) has a memory like an elephant and is now a writer of novels, especially one whose mother (mine) has been trying to talk her (me) into writing a novel about this little town for years and years.

Considering the little town started out as Hinton's Quarters (my ancestors from England) and ended up like Peyton Place, you just never know. While my interest in writing about the small-minded people in a small southern town is just about zero, I've always been one who rises to the challenge when there are under-dogs involved. And goodness, to come home from a week of writing bliss, sans germ, and stumble into this ripe with drama material. Ripe with drama, maybe, but not all that appealing.

And yet, in the same small town there were folks like this. He and his family were neighbors for many years and one of his daughters a friend. The contrast in the range of humans in that tiny town was (and still is) staggering. Not unusual, but I think more noticeable because of the smallness of the community. I encountered the extremes on a daily, even hourly, basis. On some level, as both a person and a writer, I'm still trying to resolve the things I loved about living in a small town with the things that pushed me to leave it as soon as I could. It's that struggle, if I could write it, that would make the story a meaningful one.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

back on the hill just in time for the full/blue moon

I'm home again after a nice, productive, magical writing retreat, and now have to make that flying leap from living with no responsibility except to my characters back to the very full life with a big family, a small mountain of laundry, and a SCHEDULE. (it's the lack of schedule on writing retreat that lends to such amazing productivity)

It was great to get home and see cats, dogs, horses, donkeys, teens (one who has now completed his driving education course in full and is awaiting one document before getting his driving permit) and husband. We were all supposed to go see the Harry Potter movie tonight but I sent them on without me, as I started feeling like I just needed to lie down on my own bed and relax for awhile tonight - the real return to daily routines begins tomorrow morning, and I want to be well-rested as I make that leap.

I have a few photos to share but at the moment am too lazy to go unpack the camera cord, so I'll save them for tomorrow.

Savoring the full moon (it really does look blue right now) and looking forward to a quiet Thanksgiving with the entire November Hill gang.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

weaving some wonder

(title courtesy of the Triscuit box on the kitchen table here in the magic mansion)

Since arriving on writing retreat Tuesday, I have edited the second novel, The Meaning of Isolated Objects, done a fair amount of book research for my new novel now officially in progress, and given the new book some space and time to germinate.

I've had the basic idea for this book for at least two years, but hadn't allowed myself to think much about it because I really wanted to get the other books sorted out first. Once I start a new novel, it's hard to pull away from it, and I didn't want to be pulled in any more directions than I already am.

So... now that novels 1-3 are situated, middle grade novel is on the metaphorical conveyor belt, and nonfiction book is nearing completion, it was time to reward myself.

I did a lot of editing of Isolated Objects on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. At some point during that span of time, I wrote the first paragraph to this new novel. I gave the main character a name. I finished the editing work yesterday. And today, sitting at the desk in my room, the entire new novel formed inside my head. It's hard to describe this - it was almost like layers of the story began to assemble themselves, and within the space of about ten minutes, the entire thing was "there."

It's very much like I have been saving the seed, planted it on Tuesday when I arrived, watered it a little each day, and suddenly today it sprouted.

I will never ever get tired of the magic of a new book unfolding. It's such a great feeling.

Today, driving a back road where major scenes in my first novel take place, a motorcycle appeared behind me, disappeared, reappeared, passed me at what seemed like warp speed, and disappeared again. And when I say disappeared, I don't mean around a curve - just... vanished. The main male character in my first novel rides a motorcycle. I think he was saying hello.

It's been a wonderful week with two amazing writer friends. Lots of good stuff going on, and of course, best of all, is that I get to go home to the beloved November Hill family.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

let's all say thank you to the DONKEY - Nov. 18th at 11 a.m.

Lest our equine friends the donkeys think they have been left out, but most importantly because they are such loving, intelligent, fine companions and teachers, tomorrow at 11 a.m. let us all take several minutes to stop and say THANK YOU to them.

Anyone who has marveled over photos of Rafer Johnson and Redford, reveled in the writings of Sheaffer, and watched the ongoing beloved antics of George and Alan, not to mention cheered on the donkeys and mules of Primrose Sanctuary, knows just how endearing, engaging, and amazing the donkeys are.

Join me in giving them a day all their own!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Let's all say thank you to the HORSE - Nov. 17th at 11 a.m.

This comes from Mark Mottershead and his Horse Conscious newsletter. It's an email he received from Monica, who makes a wonderful proposal!

Please give 1 Minute of your time to say Thank you to the Horse.

At 11.00 am Wednesday 17th November, 2010

"Over the past few years, I have been lucky enough to meet many people involved in the horse world and what sticks in my mind as I work, is how diverse the role of the horse is within their lives.

For some the horse provides an income.  Farriers, vets, livery yard owners, tack shops, feed companies, therapists, instructors, racehorse trainers, studs and many more; their income is based on the horse.

For some they provide the ultimate achievement. From winning medals for our country in many different disciplines, or winning outstanding horse races all over the world, to mastering the first day of rising trot, or the first leap over a small jump, this sense of achievement comes because of the horse.

For some they provide a social network.  For example pony or riding clubs; people getting together to share experiences outside of their working lives.  They provide a social network at a time in society where many network avenues are being shut down.

For some, they are healers.  Horses are being used in several therapeutic riding programs, not just for physical improvement and well being, but for cognitive and emotional conditions in both adults and children.

For some, they are part of the family.  They provide routine, stability, they stretch our emotions; they provide a bridge of communication between children and parents, a way of teaching responsibility, leadership, vocational and educational skills.  They become friends, soul mates, and most importantly, they provide joy!

Horses deserve this recognition.  As modern society encroaches in to land space, the horse and the activities that we enjoy with them, are being squeezed.  We are seeing more unusual horse illnesses, some apparently originating from the soil or land that the horses naturally feed on.  In certain countries, horse welfare has become critical as the breakdown of social and economic structures has created poverty. In other countries, wild horses are being restricted and/or slaughtered allegedly for the land that they stand on. We as humans have affected the balance of nature, which in turn is affecting the horse.

The horse gives us his generosity, his strength, his ability to 'know' how we feel.  They show us, with their herd structure, how to create leadership and order, how to work in harmony and unity.

The Horse deserves a universal 'Thank You'

Whatever the way that the horse enriches your life, I would like to ask you that on Wednesday 17th November, 2010 at 11.00 am, you think about their role in your life and say thank you."

If Monica's message resonates for you, then please feel free to forward this email on to your friends so you can 'thank you' to the horse together.

Monday, November 15, 2010

crazy day, writing retreat, November Hill Press calendar

The day went slightly sideways when I opened the new bag of beet pulp pellets and found they were both coated in molasses and slightly burned. This is the second bag like this in a month's time, and while our feed store is wonderful about taking things back, it's a real pain to take a 50-lb. bag you've opened back down to the truck, especially when it's necessary for Salina's lunch tub, the day is already short due to daughter's riding lesson and my Proust group, and I really, really wanted to ride Keil Bay this morning.

Things got more complicated when I got to the feed store and discovered all their bags were from the same batch and were all unsuitable for feeding.

I went to the other feed store and got a different brand, which was fine, but all this took a big chunk out of the day.

I enjoyed watching my daughter jump the big horse though! And Proust group was its usual great self.

Now I'm home, nearly 11 p.m., trying to do laundry and otherwise get organized for my writing retreat, which starts tomorrow. You may remember some photos I shared of the place I usually go:

While I always look forward to my writing time away, I also find it very difficult the day or so before, and usually some little crisis occurs that makes me want to can the whole trip and stay home. It's hard for me to leave the animals, especially the horses and donkeys, even though I know they are in good hands with my husband, son, and daughter.  If I could teleport home to check on them once a day I'd be much better off!

And in other good news, my November Hill Press calendar, Partners in Zen 2011, arrived today, and it is beautiful. The quality is very good and although I must confess I'm partial to the wonderful animals featured, it will be a treat seeing them each month all through the new year.

You'll find the link to the November Hill Press store at Zazzle on the sidebar. (and eventually, links to the books at Amazon!)

I'm looking forward to starting a new novel this trip. It's been awhile since I embarked on a journey with not one single sentence in my word file. Actually this one doesn't even HAVE a word file yet - but it has a new blank book that has a couple of things taped in, and somewhere, my black Moleskine has some initial research and ideas jotted down. I seem to have lost that Moleskine! Which normally would be very upsetting, but for whatever reason, it isn't bothering me much at all.  I'll do the research again, and hopefully the black book will turn up.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

the Big Bay does it again

I am SO EXTREMELY proud of Keil Bay. His trimmer and I decided that it would be useful to do a deeper treatment of Keil's hooves, especially the fronts, to address the on again/off again thrush issues he has.

We decided to go ahead and use CleanTrax. After reviewing many home remedies, a number of commercial remedies, and seeing the results from the things I've tried (generally good results but we tend to hit a wall at some point no matter what I do), I felt it would be worthwhile to go for the fairly major treatment protocol and see if we can resolve this issue.

CleanTrax is used in human medical treatments for several issues, including finger and toenail infections, flushing the bladder, severe bedsores, etc. It is non-necrotizing to tissue, which was important to me - many of the otc remedies for thrush are extremely damaging to healthy hoof tissue.

We tried to make the experience as pleasant as possible, setting the Big Bay up in his clean stall with fresh water, a huge manger of hay, and a bag of baby carrots that I planned to use as needed to keep things fun for him. We stayed with him, which helped keep him from moving around much. He spent a fair portion of the time chewing hay with his eyes half-closed as I stroked his neck and shoulder.

If you GO HERE you can see the soaking protocol we used. I wasn't sure how Keil would take to the very tall blue soaking boots I'd ordered. I considered doing a run with plain water, but then decided that it might be better to just do the treatment, expect the best, and at least if there were issues, we'd have treated the hooves while managing whatever might happen.

I'm happy to report that there was absolutely no problem at all. Keil had his hooves picked first, then I assembled our supplies while husband walked and trotted Keil Bay in the arena - the footing tends to polish off the hooves and really cleans them out.

Then I scrubbed the hooves with plain water, dried with a towel, and we put Keil into his stall.

My husband mixed the solution and put it into the soaking boots, and I stood with Keil (with halter and lead rope) with some carrots. He enjoys when I tuck the baby carrots into the hay and let him root around for them - he also enjoys me finding them when they fall to the bottom of the manger. But in no time at all, Keil had two tall blue boots on, with some wild aqua vet wrap helping keep them secure.

We listened to NPR, praised the Big Bay, and stayed right there with him for the first 45 minute portion of the soaking. When 45 minutes had passed, we had to remove the soaking boots, put plastic bags on the front hooves, then shift the soaking boots to the back feet. I'm fortunate that I have a husband who is willing to jump right in and do this kind of thing without blinking an eye. He remains calm, is good at manipulating vet wrap and following my constant instructions, and as it turned out, Keil was perfectly happy to have me at this head feeding carrots, praising, and cheering husband on through the process.

By the very end, when we had plastic bags on his back hooves and were merely counting down until we could take them off, Keil was ready to be done with it all, but even when he was finished and we opened his stall door to the paddock, he didn't rush out. I think he actually enjoyed the attention. Not to mention the bag of carrots!

One of my favorite sites for natural hoof care is Linda Cowles' Healthy Hoof.

She gives so many great tips, and has many good articles on barefoot hoof care.

zooming in for the moment on seat and the 6 points of contact

As often happens, as I was thinking and writing and focusing on the phrase "on the bit" the past two days, an email from a list I'm on popped through and mirrored some of what I was trying to express.

I'm paraphrasing, but this is the gist:

In conversation with one of the Spanish Riding School instructors, the instructor offered that the rider should never ever close the seat - but in fact should do the opposite, especially in transitions.

He noted that the SRS asks that their riders be capable of allowing the horses to come "through" utilizing 6 points of contact - calves, seatbones, and hands.

The scales of training cannot be attempted unless the rider is absolutely relaxed with a wide seat at all times - which is why it takes so long to develop into a classical rider and why time on the lunge is so precious.

If a rider tightens the seat at any time, the horse will tighten his back in response, which will create discomfort and put the horse onto the forehand and/or increase the front leg action.

He notes that with horses even a tiny bit of tension is felt as a lot of tension.


The above is why I think the phrase "on the bit" can be so dangerous in its broad, misunderstood usage.

Six points of contact must be independent but at the same time utilized in harmony in order to create a horse who is "through" and on the aids.

But nothing can proceed classically without the complete relaxation of the rider, most importantly with the rider's seat. After all, this is where the weight of the rider literally bears down on the horse, onto a particularly vulnerable part of his body.

For riders not capable of relaxing their bodies completely (how many of us can even come close on a daily basis?) the horse is continually protecting his back against our tension by creating his own tension, which then brings everything we're trying to accomplish to a halt.

The focus of getting a horse "on the bit" - as it is most often used - misplaces our attention totally.

Even "on the aids" is confusing, as so many riders don't even consider the seat an aid. Think of instructions you hear from the vast majority of riding instructors: glue yourself to the saddle, plug into the saddle, etc. I see riders pumping the canter, grinding the sitting trot and the canter, posting like jack-in-the-boxes, many times while legs are pinging with every stride, and forearms are stiff. In worst case scenarios, the reins and contact to the horse's mouth has become the balance bar the rider must hang onto to accomplish all of the above contortions.

We should all be hearing instructions that focus on the relaxation of our bodies - I was fortunate that when I came back to riding I did it with a classically trained friend whose instructions to me as I went around on the lunge line week after week were: breathe, breathe out, look over your outside shoulder, let your legs drape quietly, breathe, breathe, breathe, close your eyes, feel your seat bones, etc.

The answer to every single problem I encountered in the saddle was to breathe. 

She didn't allow me off the lunge line until I could use my seat (and breath) to initiate a walk, trot, change of tempo, and halt with my seat alone. And if she saw me "scooching" at all while doing it, it didn't count!

She is the trainer who taught me to "think" half halt - as opposed to doing anything with those six points of contact. "Think" the transition. There is always the opportunity to consciously add aids, but if you "think" them first, you at least allow for the subtle energy aids that our horses understand and respond to so easily - if we only let them.

Really, if we were smart, we'd teach every new rider to "get on the relaxation" with nothing else said until they do that as a matter of course. Children are good at it - and if we make the connection for them early, by showing them that the horse or pony responds when they breathe out, when they drop their legs, when they close their eyes and feel their seat bones move, they can carry that with them as the mantra for creating beauty and harmony in their riding, and in their relationships, with horses.

So, I fell up onto a soapbox here, but when it comes to being "on the bit" or being "on the relaxation," I think this is actually not a soapbox, but higher ground.