Sunday, January 31, 2010

double woolgathering and the magic of metaphor

Last night I happened onto a link that took me back to my own blog posts in 2007, and before I clicked away again, I noticed a post titled woolgathering.

I love the notion of woolgathering, the word itself, the image it provokes in my head, and the idea of the physical action of gathering bits of wool, which in my mind are all the lush, deep colors I love best.

When I was in graduate school, seeing my very first client as a therapist, I had a powerful dream in which the client, a young child, brought me bits of wool. Together we wound the wool into a ball, which came to life, and over the course of several months, I taught the child to care for the living ball of wool. Later, in the end of the dream, the child came up with the idea of knitting a sweater with the wool, which would keep him warm long after I was gone from his life, and would be alive with all the work we'd done as client and therapist.

I wrote a paper using that dream as the basis for what has become my personal metaphor to doing therapy. So the notion of woolgathering grew another layer for me, much like that growing ball of yarn grew for the client in the dream.

Last night, instead of leaving the page of posts I'd happened onto, I scrolled on down, scanning my own writings from two years back, intrigued with the ability to travel so easily back in time for a little while.

Then I came across the following excerpt:

Addendum: I was looking through some old writing this a.m., looking for a particular passage that I thought might fit into the work. Didn't find it, but did come upon this dream I had back in 2005:

a huge garden (writing) spider built a gigantic web over my bed - it was thick and wide, the shape of a book when lying open. woven into it was a cross (runic cross??) there was a beautiful hummingbird hovering behind the web, trying to get through, but the web was so thick ... and then it began to glow, gold and green.

My gosh - I have absolutely no memory of that. What a wonderful dream. This is why we should write them down - we forget, even the ones we don't think we will.

I had written that dream down in 2005, discovered it in 2007, at which time I did not even remember having it, and then, last evening, rediscovered it yet again in 2010.

I still don't remember it, but even five years later it creates a huge wave of wonder in me, and appreciation both for my dream world and for the ability of words to transport, not once but many times.

In a way, the act of forgetting here is a gift, because it's the rediscovery of such a joyful memory that makes it so incredible. If I remembered the dream it wouldn't have the magnitude of impact it does when I find it now.

I don't know what meaning I attributed to the dream in 2005, but now it describes, in a perfect symbolic image, what the process of writing means to me.

And without going into a long ramble about where I am right now writing-wise, suffice it to say that finding that forgotten metaphor last night held a particular magic. The timing for my woolgathering was perfect.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

the snowy day

Rafer Johnson was the first to actually take a stroll in the snow, but he was also the first one back to the barn! His sojourn as a snow donkey was fairly brief!

The snow queen! Once she had breakfast this morning she took a walk in the snow too. First thing she did was stick her face in it!

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat nor gloom of night stays these Couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds!

Unfortunately, the stunning head and neck shot of Keil Bay was lost to a memory stick corruption. Something similar has happened every time it has snowed - and every time I lose the Keil Bay photo. There's something about a red bay against the white that I would love to capture - maybe later today I'll get another shot.

The pony had ice beads in forelock and eyelashes, and of course there is no photo of that either! But he looked quite the dashing Shetland.

Cody had been out too but didn't have the beads!

It's sleeting right now. Hoping this ends soon so we can enjoy the white stuff a little before it melts - probably Tuesday unless it warms back up sooner than forecast.

Friday, January 29, 2010

thank you, British Horse Society

From Horse & Country today:

29 January 2010

Rollkur has prompted debate

Following the news that the Swedish rider Patrick Kittel will not face disciplinary action after the FEI's investigation into his warm up techniques in Denmark in October 2009, the British Horse Society has released a statement confirming their position on the use of Rollkur, or hyperflexion.

The statement, posted on the BHS website, says:

"As the debate over the use of hyperflexion as a training technique continues, The British Horse Society’s policy may be stated as follows:

The British Horse Society strongly recommends that all riders training horses on the flat and over fences should adhere to the official instruction handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation. Whilst we appreciate that horses are as individual as humans, and that some may require corrective schooling, the BHS’s stand on hyperflexion (by which we mean the extreme flexion of the horse’s head and neck beyond normal limits) remains clear: it is an unacceptable method of training horses by any rider for any length of time.

We recognise that the scientific evidence is conflicting, and likely to remain so as each party seeks determinedly to prove its case. For this reason we doubt that science will ever provide a single, clear, unambiguous and unarguable answer. It therefore falls to humans to do what the horses cannot, namely to follow the precautionary principle: as nature provides no evidence of horses choosing to move in hyperflexion for an extended period of time; and as hyperflexion can create tension in the horse’s neck and back which has no justifying necessity; and as the horse in hyperflexion is, by definition, unable fully to use its neck; and as the psychological consequences of such treatment remain latent (perhaps in an analogous position with horses which are whipped aggressively but which can still pass a five star vetting), we should take all appropriate steps to discourage the use of this training technique, for the horse’s sake."

The furor surrounding Kittel's warm up broke after a Danish journalist posted a video of the rider on YouTube, in which his horse's tongue appeared to turn blue. The rider said he had consequently received hate mail. While the FEI have decided not to take action against Kittel, they have issued a written warning to him concerning appropriate and inappropriate warm up techniques.

joining the herd mind/getting ready for the snow

There's a more than good chance we'll be getting significant snow tonight and tomorrow, so before I launch out to get things set up (stalls stocked with shavings, water troughs clean and full, horses groomed, groceries, feed store - yikes, I have to do all THAT today?) I wanted to take a few minutes and write about a magical experience I had yesterday afternoon.

It was 60 degrees out, gorgeous skies, really peaceful afternoon. After Salina's morning of bucking and trotting, and her afternoon arena walking with me, I moved her, along with the donkeys, to the front field by themselves so she wouldn't overdo it, and the geldings were in back.

I wandered back to see the boys, and had a sudden impulse to lie flat on the ground so I could see the sky from that angle. The moment I stretched out flat, all three heads were pointed in my direction. Keil Bay and Apache Moon stood where they were, but Cody walked over to check me out.

It reminded me of what an important job he has. Whenever anything scary happens, Cody moves out front to assess the situation. Generally the pony will move up a few yards from Keil Bay. That's exactly what happened. Cody came right up to me, and then spooked a little bit, as if he were shocked to see me lying down. The pony came about halfway between me and Keil.

It was clear Cody was concerned, so I sat up. He immediately relaxed and began to graze right in front of me. The pony went back to grazing and Keil Bay approached and began to graze just behind Cody.

Although the sky was beautiful from a reclined position, I forgot about it. I had slipped into herd mind. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I stood up. Immediately, Keil Bay came to stand beside me, and Cody took a step away, to give space to Keil. The pony stayed where he was.

Keil Bay put his head into my hands for a moment, and then, again without thinking, I moved. As I moved, I realized I was in sync with the herd. We all took the same number of steps, in the same direction. Our heads all went to the front field, to see Salina and the donkeys, then returned to our own space.

I suddenly smelled something and Keil Bay and I lifted our heads together and both took simultaneous deep breaths, trying to figure out what it was. We lowered our heads at the same moment, then took more steps in the direction of the gate.

It lasted about two minutes. But during that brief time, I was not me making conscious decisions to move and breathe and look. I was one of the herd, doing what they do, as one entity. It was a wonderful experience.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

this is what happens when women take better care of their horses than they do themselves!

I talked with Patsy yesterday afternoon and received my kinesiology test results. Whoa! I am a wreck compared with my horses! I did not write it all down, but here's what I remember:

yeast overgrowth
thick blood
low bile
low sulphur
low seratonin
low digestive enzymes
low EFAs

tailbone out and spine needs adjustment in 3 places

The interesting thing is that I told Patsy nothing of my medical history, and nothing at all about my back injury in July. Nor did I tell her that I have been having a few twinges in lower back the past month or so and already suspected I need to head back to the chiro. I had my gall bladder out years back and the low bile makes a lot of sense. The constitutional remedy I am most often prescribed by my homeopath is sulphur. I generally need to take it a couple of times a year. And it's nearing that time.

Even more intriguing is that my profile is very close to what Keil Bay's was, and for everything we shared, we tested for the same supplement to correct it.

And, probably the most amazing thing of all - the cost. For all the supplements needed to address the above, in a 7-week program, the total was $81. which included FAST shipping.

Salina was waiting for me at the gate yesterday afternoon, ready to do her walking in hand. This morning she was out back with the boys bucking and trotting like a wild woman. We're nearing 60 degrees today and she seems to be feeling like a million dollars.

Thanks, Patsy! I continue to be extremely impressed with your work.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The FEI's conclusion on Patrik Kittel and Scandic

Watch the video again. Then read the FEI's finding regarding this case. If you disagree with their finding, please follow up your grumbling to self with a LETTER or EMAIL to the FEI, letting them know your feelings.

Swedish Dressage News

Patrik Kittel Exonerated by FEI in Blue Tongue Scandal

January 27, 2010

The FEI investigation into the training methods used by Patrick Kittel on his horse Scandic in Odense, Denmark on 18 October 2009 has been concluded. Witness statements and video evidence have been thoroughly reviewed and the investigation finds are that there is no reliable evidence that the warm-up techniques used by Mr Kittel were excessive.

As a result, the FEI Legal Department has ruled that no formal claim against Mr Kittel will be submitted to the FEI Tribunal, however Mr Kittel has received a warning letter regarding the appropriate and inappropriate use of warm-up techniques and has been made aware that his actions will be watched very carefully going forward to ensure that there are no subsequent violations of FEI rules relating to horse welfare.

The FEI is conducting a major review and analysis of its current policy on pre-competition warm-up activities, with an emphasis on hyperflexion. A working group has been set up with a specific brief to define the term “prolonged and excessive” in order to provide more precise guidelines for stewards.

This issue relates to the welfare of the horse in general and not just to dressage and will be discussed in detail at a round table, taking place on 9 February, where all stakeholders will be represented.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

one of those manifesting days

I can't remember the first thing that manifested today, but it kept happening and by dinnertime I had to laugh at how fun it is when things flow this way.

Some examples:

I wondered about a check that was in limbo. Got a message on my cellphone that the check is now in the mail.

I decided that Salina is going back into work. Not under saddle, but some serious walking in hand and maybe some trot when we see how the walking goes. I proceeded to forget about it, and was standing in the barn aisle wondering what it was I'd forgotten to do when I noticed Salina leave her hay and walk to the arena gate, where she stopped and stood, looking into the arena. Got her halter and lead rope on and off we went. She was incredibly focused and fussed at the donkeys when they got in our way!

Noticed that our weather forecast now has snow in the picture and a low in the teens by Sunday night. Thought to self: need to remind husband so he can get firewood ready. Gas truck arrives at that moment and fills the tank.

Was getting ready to walk the heavy muck-barrow down the back path and thought - where are my kids when I need them?! Son appeared and took the wheelbarrow from me.

Walking through the woodland path, which now has two connecting paths that make it so much more interesting. Was thinking "I need a circle somewhere in here." Then I found two vines that had wound themselves perfectly together. It was about 12 feet long. I picked it up and whirled it and then let go. It landed in a perfect circle, perched on top of some brush so that it almost seemed like it's floating in the air.

Standing in the front field watching Keil Bay and the pony playing. Remembered a fall morning soon after we moved here, when the two of them galloped up the hill and Keil Bay jumped a log between two trees. I walked over to the two trees, thinking "I need to put a log here again." Moments later Keil Bay galloped through the two trees and leaped over... nothing!

There were so many of these moments today I couldn't keep track of them. But here's the really funny one:

I was complaining that I needed help with chores. In full Mom mode. Saying maybe I needed to advertise for barn help in exchange for riding. (my kids both know that is so unlikely to happen it's virtually meaningless, but sometimes it gets them moving)

Come in to read email and there is one asking if we are interested in an exchange student.

X is cheerful, positive, spontaneous and open to new challenges. One of X's greatest passions is riding. She has always had horses in her life and has ridden for over 11 years. X also enjoys writing and writes about her day to day activities. She loves animals, especially, horses, cats and dogs.

That one raised my eyebrows a bit.

When we put it out there clearly, we get quick results.

go well, Blue Hors Matine

Sadly, she was put down due to a broken leg at the young age of 13. The statement of her death said:

It is with great sadness that Blue Hors today have had to say goodbye to their wonderful mare, and she was undoubtedly a novelty that will touch people and horses dressage enthusiasts the world over.

I hope that the use of the word novelty is a translation issue and not how she was viewed, but I also know that many horse breeders, riders, and trainers view these animals as livestock, and not as sentient beings.

For a very different take on the death of a horse, GO HERE and read what the Purple Pony has to say.

Monday, January 25, 2010

braving the elements

We had a fairly intense night of rain and wind last evening, and although the sun came up bright and early this morning, we're still blowing pretty hard outside.

When we get a lot of rain in a short span of time we get a stream flowing through the front field, and this morning it was enough of a stream that it occurred to me we needed to take advantage of it to do some work with Cody and crossing water.

There were actually two streams in front - a smaller one that was a fairly easy success for him, guided by my daughter, and then the bigger one, which he crossed one way and then turned around and came through a deeper, muddier section that really tested his bravery.

He did it with much praise and a few alfalfa pellets as a reward.

Back up at the top of the hill, daughter took off his halter and let him negotiate the huge mud puddle now sitting at the gate that leads back to the paddock. He walked the fence line a few times, hoping maybe we would let him off the hook and bring him through the other, drier gate, but we didn't. When he realized hay was being served in the paddock he walked to the gate and hesitated, then marched on through.

He will often brave the water by either going airborne or going through fast, but today, he did a good job of marching through, keeping solid contact with the ground.

We're proud of the big red Quarter Horse.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

re-reading L'Engle, pondering middle life

Madeleine L'Engle's A Circle of Quiet is a favorite book of mine. I re-read it every couple of years, along with the other volumes of her Crosswicks Journal series.

This time the re-reading happened on impulse. I was doing some cleaning in our book loft and for some reason this was lying on top of a bookshelf. I picked it up as I headed down the stairs and put it by my bed. That night, it pulled me away from the novel I'm reading, and I haven't been able to stop.

Mid-way the book I came across a page where I had turned down the corner. Curious as to what I'd wanted to mark, I read quickly and then stopped short at this passage:

Jung disagreed with Freud that the decisive period in our lives is the first years. Instead, Jung felt that the decisive period is that in which my husband and I are now, the period of our middle years, when we have passed through childhood with its dependency on our parents; when we've weathered the storms of adolescence and the first probings into the ultimate questions; when we've gone through early adulthood with its problems of career and marriage and bringing up our babies; and for the first time in our lives find ourselves alone before the crucial problem of who, after all these years, we are. All the protective covering of the first three stages is gone, and we are suddenly alone with ourselves and have to look directly at the great and unique problem of the meaning of our own particular existence in this particular universe.

I suspect I marked this passage when I last read it out of wonder. Would I agree with it when I got there?

I'm close enough to this stage to realize the truth of what L'Engle was getting at. Like L'Engle at Crosswick, I've ended up in the country for this stage of my life, where the pondering can be done while doing chores, or in the company of horses and donkeys, cats and Corgis, or even standing inside the house looking out at the mostly quiet landscape.

There is pasture and forest, paths that lead to clearings, and although I can't sit with my feet hanging in the stream as L'Engle did, I often find myself filling water troughs with the hose in hand, just listening to the water, letting it soothe my mind.

There is a busyness to the first three life stages. In childhood we seem driven from within to master basic skills: self-constancy, the notion that we exist separately from our mothers; sitting, crawling, standing, walking - the ability to move about; and of course numerous other milestones.

In adolescence there is the energy of growth and maturation, of separation and individuation from parent figures, of peer relationships and the beginnings of sorting out who we are, separate from our parents and family. Who we are in our own essence.

Young adulthood brings partnering and career and childbirth.

And then middle life comes. And it is quiet. I know for many people the quiet is difficult and there can be a sense of loss and confusion. Who am I can be a terrifying question when one is no longer the child of parents (who may be dead), no longer focused so intently on career, and no longer needed quite so particularly as a parent to one's child.

For me, the quiet is a return to something I always needed and gave up for awhile to pursue the other things. And I'm thinking of it as a time to create the kind of life I always wanted, to find joy in the moment and let that ripple out, because I think it does. I think it matters.

I read on and reached one more page that had its corner turned down:

I am naive again, perhaps, in thinking that the love and laughter of Crosswicks is, in its own way, the kind of responsibility Mann was talking about. I do not think it is naive to think that it is the tiny, particular acts of love and joy which are going to swing the balance, rather than general, impersonal charities. These acts are spontaneous, unself-conscious, realized only late if at all. They may be as quiet as pulling a blanket up over a sleeping baby. Or as noisy as the night of trumpets and stars.

She describes a night at Crosswicks, watching the stars with toy trumpets in hand, heralding the arrival of each star with a "wild bray" of the trumpet.

And I was totally back in joy. I didn't realize I had been out of it, caught in small problems and disappointments and frustration, until it came surging back. It was as radiant as the rock, and I lay there, listening to the girls trumpeting, and occasionally being handed one of the trumpets so that I could make a loud blast myself, and I half expected to hear a herd of elephants come thundering across the far pastures in answer to our call.

And joy is always a promise.

Friday, January 22, 2010

excitement on the hill

We were watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night, woodstove gallantly attempting to warm the house with mostly wet wood, all the chores of the day and evening behind us. Daughter was on one sofa wrapped in a blanket, and I was on another. Husband generating his own heat, apparently, as he was on the bare floor with no blanket much of the time!

Daughter suddenly asked, "what is that noise?"

Husband answered, "the cats."

I hadn't heard anything but then my husband exclaimed and when I looked, Dickens Edward Wickens was walking through the living room holding a live bright red cardinal in his mouth. The bird was squeaking repeatedly.

Husband removed the bird and found that while it had been injured somewhat, it seemed not to be too bad. He decided to drive the bird a little ways away from our house and release it where hopefully none of our quite interested cats would find it.

At that point, all the resident felines were circling with big eyes.

Husband went down to the garage and the squeak squeak squeak continued until he got in the car.

When he let the bird go, it flew away, so we are hoping he heals and lives on.

I can't quite believe that late on a cold, rainy night, Dickens managed to capture a cardinal. The entire scenario was quite surreal and I don't think I'll ever be able to watch the movie without thinking of the dramatic entrance, vocal bird, and circling cats.

Today the rain stopped except for a very occasional misting, and I took off all blankets, throwing grooming caution to the wind, and let the horses into the back field, with access to the arena in case they wanted to get out of the mud.

Rafer and Redford had donkey derby practice, Cody and Redford had a re-match, they all went at the load of fallen firewood I gathered as if I had hand-picked it just for them to chew the bark off, and I served as master gate opener from the arena to the back field while I did some much-needed arena grooming. They were like cats deciding whether to go out or stay in.

Other than the extreme mud, it was a lovely day. Perfect temp for working without sweat, and although it would have been nice to have some sunshine, the muted landscape was soothing and peaceful.

I have to say: after dealing with Cody's hind end stiffness and finally finding the right diet and supplement for him, it was pure pleasure to watch him cavorting with Redford, matching Redford's feints and quick tiny turns without problem. The Quarter Horse talent for working cattle was apparent, and even if we never need Cody to do that job, it was wonderful seeing that he's healthy and feeling good enough to move so well.

Tomorrow - one day of respite from the rain! And then it's back for Sunday and Monday.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

reasons to be grateful for the rain

I'm so tired of mushy ground! We had several weeks of respite, when everything froze solid, but other than that it has not truly dried out here in probably 6-8 weeks.

And now more rain is coming.

In an effort to overcome my increasing grumpiness this morning, I'm starting a list of reasons to be grateful for the rain. Feel free to join in with me in the comment section!

1. Rain fills the creeks and rivers and lakes, cleaning things out.

2. When the creeks, rivers, and lakes are full, kayaking is more fun! And we now have kayaks!

3. Rain gives the earth a drink. More rain gives a deeper drink.

4. Rain makes the bare trees in winter look black against the gray skies and muted landscape - one of my favorite vistas.

5. Some people actually pay for mud treatments. We can get all we need for free.

6. Horses and ponies love to roll in mud. Little donkey boys not so much.

7. We have cats lying about all day long in the living room. Sleeping cats are peaceful cats.

8. The sound of rain can be meditative.

9. While basic barn chores still get done on rainy days, many things get postponed, which makes the rainy days good for writing novels.

10. If you're smart enough to park your car outside the garage during the rain, it will get washed off.

11. Rain falling is better than no rain at all.

That's about as far as I can get this morning. I had to stop myself before I put number 12:

Sometimes weather forecasters are wrong!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

it was like spring here today

No jacket this morning when I went out to feed breakfast, no fire in the woodstove, and the pile of gloves lying near the back door offered a distant memory of the bitter cold from two weeks ago.

At the barn I discovered a cycling mare who spent half her day chasing (and sometimes at a trot) the big red QH, fly predators on my composting manure piles, and later in the day, tiger-striped mosquitoes on the Big Bay's face.

Keil and I had a lovely late in the day ride. He met me at the gate and I got most of the dried mud off him before tacking up. My daughter was already riding her pony, and we crossed paths many times before the sun started to set.

Cody got ridden too, which made me happy. I was in the arena two days ago and not only were the donkeys shoving at the gate to get in, but Cody too. The day before that the pony had nearly knocked the gate down, wanting to get in where I was riding. I love it that the arena is such a popular place!

After the ride, I untacked Keil Bay in the barn aisle and gave him a snack. About 2/3 through it he heard something and strode purposefully to the barn doors and looked out. It was moments before sunset, and he had done that magical trick horses do where they seem to gain several hands. With his head held high and his entire body on alert, he was 18 hands and counting, highlighted by the last few rays of sunlight.

We ended up by the round bale, with me putting his oil of oregano onto frogs. I happened to look up and the sky had suddenly gone pink and purple, in long layers of alternating color. Only a few minutes later, the pink had gone to white and the purple to a deep indigo blue, in the same layered pattern.

There's not much more one can hope for in a day: perfect weather; a handsome, happy horse; and a gorgeous sunset.

Monday, January 18, 2010

some new info on the rollkur issue


On an exciting note, Heather Moffett's Blue Tongue Facebook page now has over 4000 members!

More examples of Helgstrand's training techniques and riding behind the vertical. Please note each horse's angle - I didn't see one single moment where any of the horses were "slightly in front of the vertical" which is the standard. Also note how even Helgstrand is hanging on to the reins and leaning back. Why are the horses so herky-jerky in their movement? Is this really good riding? I leave you to make that call.

In this article on Edward Gal and Totilas there has been some after the fact editing:

The photo that showed another horse in Gal's training facility that was being ridden in draw reins and behind the vertical has now been removed.

This was the photo which originally appeared:

Isn't it interesting that although they all say there is nothing wrong with these methods, they don't want any photographic or videographic evidence linked with them?

NEW: Look in the comments for a link to Gal riding Totilas in the Windsor warm-up. It's 20 minutes of an almost continuously horizontal curb bit, pulling the hand back to the thigh and a few times to the waist, and lots of the Gal "body as lever" riding, which I personally do not enjoy watching, nor do I feel it even approaches the harmony and grace an upper level rider should possess.

Note the foamy sweat forming along the neck where the reins are rubbing, as well as on the flank where Gal's legs are scrubbing back and forth. I don't recall ever seeing foamy sweat in those areas. The sound of T. huffing as he canters by, the foam flying off in flecks behind him, makes me ill. There are several moments when he tries to protest but is immediately shut down with that curb bit.

In the background you'll see plenty more nose to chest riding going on. I'm glad people are videotaping. I'm not sure I could stand there quietly, watching horses under lockdown, body and spirit.

There's a new study which looks at hyperflexion:

A new study by Graf-Lehndorff-Institute (Austria/Germany) is about to be published (Cavallo 02/10). The scientists used a newly developped endoscope to observe the breathing in horses in movement (so far only possible at halt). 16 horses on the lungeing ...line first with long side reins then lungeing session with side reins so short that r hyperflexed. They also assessed superficial body temperature in horses with different degrees of hyperflexion of the neck.
Not only does it take 'their breath away', but pulse rate increases. Thermoscopy shows the horses get tense, blood circulation changes and the back is being hollowed.

On January 11, 2010, this was released:

World Horse Welfare comment on Rollkur

In a recent article in the Observer newspaper, the quote attributed to World Horse Welfare with regards to the practice of Rollkur was not entirely correct.

World Horse Welfare does not believe that Rollkur is a "valuable training method". Our comment was that there are many people within the equestrian world who feel that Rollkur is a valuable training method, although clearly there are many people who take the contrary view. We also stressed that Rollkur, like any training method, can cause great harm if it is misused.

World Horse Welfare is taking a stance on this issue. Current FEI rules do not allow prolonged or excessive use of Rollkur. We are seeking robust guidance for stewards at FEI events as to what “excessive” and “prolonged” use of Rollkur means in practice. We are also pushing for robust research to look at whether there is a welfare issue involved in training techniques using Rollkur.

AND, JUST IN, a note on doping in competition. The FEI has launched a new website:

Ironically this new website, which seems to focus on the FEI's concerns about doping, is actually heralding the NEW RULES they have come up with that actually ALLOW certain drugs to be legal in competition!


Even more bizarre, they have established an "Integrity Unit" with a nice note that says this:

Concerns regarding integrity issues?
Call the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit confidential hotline on +44 (0) 20 7935 5822 or email:

I have lots to report when it comes to integrity on the part of the FEI in the sport of dressage.

Friday, January 15, 2010

more reasons why I love the Big Bay

I told him at breakfast that once it warmed up fully we would have a ride together. When I got back out to the barn mid-day, he was lying curled up in the front field, soaking up sunshine. My daughter tried to take a picture, but my camera battery died the instant she pressed the button.

I walked into the front field with his new Micklem bridle in hand, and he stayed curled up until I reached him and rubbed his head. There is something special and sweet about rubbing the Big Bay's star while he is lying down. He let me get that bit of magic, and then he stretched full out for a moment and then carefully stood up and shook himself off.

He stood sniffing the new bridle and the booklet that I was consulting to make sure I got the bridle adjusted correctly - it's made differently and I wanted to get the buckles set just right. We worked together to get it fitted, and then I removed it and told him to enjoy the hay daughter was serving while I groomed him in the field.

When I went back to the barn to get organized for tacking up, I realized my saddle was having some issues - the cold damp we had did a number on the leather and it needed a thorough cleaning and conditioning. So I called out to Keil that I was going to clean the saddle and then we'd ride. I pulled up a make-shift stool, turned on the radio to NPR, and got to work.

Once I got everything ready I brought Keil in and tacked up. We haven't ridden in about 5 weeks, but Keil was wonderful. No fussing, no fidgeting. He seemed intrigued by the new bridle and walked with me into the arena. We had a little issue with mounting. The same issue - when I haven't ridden in awhile I get extremely obsessed with the mounting block being in one very precise place in relation to the stirrup. And then I hesitate as I start to mount and Keil steps back one step with one foot, which puts him off square and I stop to move the block.

All this would be alleviated if I would just go buy a 3-step block! But I'm stubborn and I feel I should get over the obsession, which gets better anyway if I'm riding regularly. So we played the game for a minute and then daughter came out and I asked her to just stand at Keil's head, which always works too.

Alas, when I put my foot in the stirrup, it slid almost to the ground. I hadn't buckled it back after cleaning the leathers! Yet another instance where Keil likely knew something I didn't, and instead of checking everything, I kept trying to do what wasn't working.

In any case, I fixed the buckle and got on, and that was that.

We had a very unstructured ride, only walking, and mostly focused on relaxation and just getting back into the swing of things.

One thing stood out though - Keil was walking with a huge amount of freedom in his shoulders, with his head and neck relaxed and ears curious and alert. There was a forwardness to his motion and his general physical demeanor that I loved. I kept looking at his front end, noting the position of head and neck, and also looking at his shadow. Something was different and better.

I'm not sure if it's just Keil being in a good place or the addition of the new bridle. We certainly didn't try anything strenuous or fancy, but as we strode effortlessly along the arena, me practicing an exercise I sometimes practice, which involves just letting my eyes hit a point and then Keil goes there, straight and in balance, with mostly no aids required, I realized that we were doing what I think of as the perfect "working" walk.

We looked like one of those old photos or sketches of a horse and rider walking with purpose and yet pleasure down a country lane. Keil's attention was with me and yet we noticed the neighbor cat walking toward the woods, the crash of a deer in the opposite direction, my daughter mucking out a stall, and various other things that went on around us. We noticed but weren't distracted, as if we were on a path to somewhere important, but there was no rush to get there, and no reason not to enjoy the things blooming up around us as we went.

There were no thoughts of dressage or work or anything like that. No getting on the bit, no fussing with position or trying to achieve a goal. I suppose you could view it as Keil Bay and I not trying to accomplish anything at all, and succeeding at that. But it felt too like we had transcended something and were simply, but brilliantly, enjoying a piece of our journey together.

What more could I ask for? The Big Bay takes me where I need to go.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

daktari, or, we change/we stay the same

Something this morning sent my memory skipping back to childhood when one of my favorite TV shows, Daktari, prompted several years of major play. I and several neighborhood friends played "daktari" for hours on end. My back yard was Africa, and we had assorted neighborhood dogs and cats, as well as a collection of stuffed animals, who were treated for various ailments, protected from poachers, and generally adored.

There were numerous cardboard boxes that contained all the Daktari "stuff." I remember things like pecans in the shell being used as big "pills" and there were empty syringes and various makeshift surgical instruments, along with many things I can't remember. But I remember each time we played, the boxes were pulled out of the outside closet in our carport, and we would proceed to set up the main play area. We took pretend jeeps all over the neighborhood, on safari in search of animals needing help.

For most of the years of my childhood I wanted to be a veterinarian. I applied to and was accepted into a pre-vet degree program in my junior year of high school. I had volunteered at our personal veterinarian's office during two summers, loved animals, and felt I knew exactly where I was headed career-wise. With much consultation with my father, I designed a home/office scenario where my living room and office waiting room were on either side of a huge built-in saltwater aquarium wall. In my mind I wanted the place where I worked to be right where I lived, because even back then, with no models to influence me, I realized I would never want to leave animals in cages in an office while I went home for the nights and weekends.

In my freshman year though, I became discouraged with the coursework, which was mostly conducted in huge classes and had no direct relation to animal care. I realized I loved my English classes and stood out in those, while in the science classes I was one of several hundred and the material was dry and generic. So I changed majors.

Sometimes I wonder if our educational system had been different, and veterinary school was more of a "trade" school, would I have gone on to become a "daktari?"

It occurred to me today that in many ways where and how I live now, as an adult, is the fulfillment of that childhood dream and play. Yesterday was spent mostly outdoors, with horses and donkeys, monitoring Salina's progress, interacting with the equines, and then dealing with a yucky cat ear and later two territorial male felines drawing boundaries. It wasn't Clarence the cross-eyed lion or Judy the chimp, but Keats-meow and Dickens, Salina and the donkeys, Kyra the Corgi and all the rest of the gang.

Throughout the days I'm handling various syringes, medicinal herbal mixtures, checking for wounds and injuries, and administering a feed routine that rivals a chemistry lab. While there are no surgical instruments, there are muck rakes, pitchforks, harrows, and grooming tools galore. The hoof pick is reminiscent of some of those early toys we used in our pretend play.

It's funny how much we grow and change from child- to adulthood, and yet if you look beneath the surface just a bit, some things are very much the same.

For a very long time, my career goal was to be the official veterinarian for the U.S. Olympic Equestrian team. The very idea that I would be doing that now, treating injuries resulting from using horses in sport, for medals, makes me laugh. It never occurred to me as a young girl that a job like that would entail monitoring horses for abuse. But it probably explains my fascination today with equine advocacy, and with issues like equine deaths on eventing courses and rollkur in warm-up arenas.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the first of a few warm days!

Although it was really cold this morning, the day warmed up to about 46 degrees, which felt downright tropical after the last few weeks. My morning relief was complete after breakfast tubs when Salina walked out to the gate that leads to the front field. She has not asked to go out with the entire herd in awhile, and although she will always willingly walk out if you lead her, it was nice to see her at the gate.

Of course as soon as I rushed to open it, Keil Bay came up and wanted to visit, so we spent a minute clarifying that no, he wasn't going into the barnyard. He headed back to his hay pile and Salina and the donkeys walked through.

For about an hour after breakfast the entire herd stood out front soaking up sunshine.

After some time spent enjoying the horses and donkeys, I discovered that Keats, our one solid black cat, had a very yucky ear thing going on. Daughter and I swabbed it out and dislodged some of the gunk, and when I checked on her later in the day it was cleaner than it had been. Tonight husband took a turn. She is not rubbing or scratching it, is eating normally and seems comfortable and not in pain - and while it is fairly gross, I already have a vet consult on Friday morning, so unless something worsens tomorrow I'll put that on my list to address then.

When I went out to the barn again I found Salina and the donkeys in the back field. She hasn't been back there in over a month, and she was checking things out. The donkeys were quite happy to escort her. The geldings had traveled to the far corner of the front field where they were nosing a patch of red clay.

This time of year I often leave everything open so they can range around and eat hay and munch on whatever they can find growing. Unfortunately there isn't much growing - so they chew tree bark and dig for minerals - it's usually late January/early February when they seem to start craving grass. Last year I gave them a month of Barlean's Greens in their feed tubs, which I think helped alleviate the intense desire for spring.

Late this afternoon daughter hopped on Cody in the back field and walked him around a little bareback and with no bridle/halter. He was pretty good for a few minutes but then seemed to be heading off into the sunset with her - until we realized he was going to the back gate to the arena, where he patiently waited until I went and opened it. I had to laugh - I guess this means he is ready to go back to work!

I barely got inside this evening before I had to break up a cat encounter between Dickens E. Wickens and our neighbor cat. When I finally got the neighbor cat to go home and Dickens to come inside, they had been through two skirmishes, two containers of cold water tossed at them, and a big flashlight beamed into their eyes. And Dickens was holding up one paw. The list for Friday seemed to be growing, but then I realized he was just holding up one paw and then the other, almost in a slow motion kneading gesture. He ate dinner and seems fine.

It's too early for spring to be in the air, but it almost felt that way today! Tomorrow should be even better, with temps in the 50s. If I don't post about a ride on Keil Bay, someone please fuss at me!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

rasslin' redheads

Thanks to my diligent (and red-headed) photographer daughter, there is photo-evidence of the wildness that ensued this afternoon on November Hill. It all began when Cody was stalked by the "red devil" - otherwise known as Redford:

Okay, you little squirt!

Facing off for round 1:


You can't catch me!

Wanna bet?

First I'll do my Rod Stewart imitation:

Then I'll try out my teeth:

Mirror images:

Now let's go the other way:

Get along, there!

Now, just one minute, you little donkey!

I happen to be BIGGER THAN YOU!

And I can pin you down!

Ummm, wait a minute...

Let me up, Redford...

Really, I mean it, cut that out!

Whew! A break to lick and chew:

But we're not done yet!

I've still got one trick up my sleeve. You'll bow down to me yet, you big red horse!

Na na na NAH na. Can't get me NOW!

on duty: a painted pony

This morning while I was sitting here reading email and blogs over coffee, I noticed out my window that the painted pony was standing at high alert, looking across the front field and on across the lane toward the neighboring property.

Trusting his judgment, I went right out the front door to see what was going on.

One neighbor's dogs were barking at something I couldn't see, so I stood and listened for a few minutes and, not hearing anything, came back in.

The painted pony moved forward about 20 feet in the pasture, still watching. He smartly placed his quite splashy body next to a big oak tree, so that he was at least somewhat hidden from the lane.

I went back to the front porch. Although the barking dogs were directly across from me, the pony was looking far to the right, so I focused my attention there as well. In the distance I could hear a woman's voice, presumably calling the dogs.

My chief security officer stood tall and alert, pointing my lesser human ears to where the action was. I realized he was no longer looking toward the voice, but had shifted to a spot about midway between the direction the voice was coming from and the two barking dogs that I could see.

After a few moments, I spotted two small dogs, exactly where the pony was looking, but mostly obscured by brush.

We watched together for a few minutes. When the dogs ran off down the lane, hopefully back home, I came inside. He has now determined any danger is gone, and has turned back up the hill to a small pile of hay.

I believe he's going for my Employee of the Week award for the second week in a row. And he will likely get it, as there are literally NO other equines anywhere in the front field checking this out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

letting the cold go, welcoming three ravens

According to the weather forecast, this morning's wake-up temp of 14 degrees is the end of our long cold spell. Later this afternoon we're supposed to hit the 40s (one source says 41, another 49!), and tonight will see us in the 20s. Nights in the 20s are still a bit cool for us, but after many nights in the teens, this upward shift is welcome. The ground doesn't get *quite* so rock hard in the 20s, and the ice on troughs not quite so thick.

I'm eager to get horse blankets off and open the barn up so the sunshine can get in and do its job.

It's hard to believe we're already nearing the mid-point of January. We still have the holiday decorations up, but it's starting to feel like it's *almost* time to take them down. I like the Christmas tree and the twinkling lights though - they make it seem warmer and not so bleak.

This morning there were three ravens in our interior back yard, which represents a kind of victory. For those who have read here since the beginning, you'll know of my long-time association with crows and ravens, and how a group of 3 began to appear everywhere I went for several years. When we moved here, the number increased, and I spent many months trying to get photographs of the beautiful black birds. They were shy, though, and for a long time flew away the moment I even lifted my camera through the window of my house. At some point last year they began to allow photographs, even some close shots, and then we called a truce and I stopped trying.

Since then, they have flocked on a near-daily basis to the arena, in the barnyards, outside my bedroom windows, and they often caw at me from trees when I'm outside. A few weeks ago I walked out to find an entire row of them sitting on the arena fence watching the donkeys play. I love these birds.

Today, the three in the closest space to our house means they have come almost all the way in to our circle. That the number was three just makes it that much more special.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

wish I had a picture

This afternoon I went out to give hay to the geldings. The day was gorgeous after all our cold weather - a one-day respite, apparently, before we get some snow and then more extreme cold. It was 46 degrees, sunny, very little wind, and the horses were so happy to be out of blankets and alive.

Salina was marching around searching for the donkey boys, who had taken a jog around the fields. She did her big trumpeting mama mare whinny, which almost instantly brought the long donkey ears into sight at the crest of the hill.

As I opened the gate to wheel the barrow of hay through for the geldings, Keil Bay gave a huge whinny from the bottom of the hill, and then he, Cody, and Apache Moon galloped up in a line and made a big cantering, prancing circle around me.

I don't think I've ever had such a joyous, whimsical moment with horses. I was the center of a living equine pinwheel.

It made my entire day. I'm not even dreading snow! :)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

trim notes for december and a few other equine notes

Our December trims happened the Monday after Christmas, and in all the reverie I didn't get around to posting them.

Rafer Johnson got the gold star for best hooves this time. I love the gold star - it challenges me to focus on the good things and it also gets me inspired to look at any issues from a different perspective - i.e. how can I support the rest of the herd so they too can get gold stars?

Our main issue this time around was probably due to all the rain and resulting mud we've had. Several herd members had eroded frog tissue, so after B. left we went on the oil of oregano treatment plan for 4 days, and then took a break from the oil just in time for the arctic blast to hit. Hooves are definitely dry right now - and clean, because the mud is frozen hard! Perhaps one benefit of this frigid weather is that it will allow the hooves some time w/o the daily mud packing.

Overall, the trim notes were good. Keil Bay, who is often the one struggling to build up good frog tissue, has very prominent frogs in all but one hoof right now, and I have to wonder if that's part of why he is moving so well. B. asked me if he had been seen by the chiropractor - and he hasn't - but when you see him walk, he looks like every muscle and joint is working perfectly. He is an amazing example of a 20-year old horse.

On other fronts, Salina got her kinesiology test results. We use Patsy Bullard of Healthy Bodies. She's in Texas, and you swab a cotton ball over the gums to gather saliva, put it in a ziploc bag, and send it with the horse's name, age, job, and anything you want to say about diet and issues, plus a check for $35.

Patsy is almost always running about 6 weeks behind because she is so good at what she does she has many satisfied customers! But when she gets to your sample, she does the testing and then calls you on the phone and reviews her findings, gives her recommendations, and then you can either order the supplements (if any are recommended) from her, or you can buy them yourself elsewhere.

I always buy directly from Patsy, b/c she knows the sources of all her herbs and supps, and she sends them neatly packaged and labeled with precise instructions, which makes it really easy to administer. She includes a sheet with everything she said on the phone written up for your files.

The great thing about Patsy is that she will talk with you at length, answering questions, connecting dots (and often there are many to connect b/c she is so good at finding underlying issues that suddenly pull a mysterious symptom picture into clarity) and discussing the treatment plan.

I've used her with all the geldings with absolutely wonderful results.

I admit I was nervous about hearing Salina's results. But Patsy said everything looked really good except for two things. I immediately thought KNEES, but Patsy said the structure is good. It was liver function and digestive enzymes!

Patsy found that Salina is having an issue with liver toxins, which can result in sore, stiff muscles, and general malaise. The digestive enzyme deficiency can exacerbate this b/c the lack of enzymes makes the digestive system work harder to get the nutrients from the food.

We talked at length about the possibility that the yearly abscess and this more recent abscess are the body's way of getting the toxins out that the liver is not able to process.

Two days later, Salina's herbs arrived. She's now into week 3 of milk thistle and digestive enzymes, and when she finishes the milk thistle she will go onto a liver-building mixture of herbs for 3 more weeks (a total of 7 weeks).

By the second day we were beginning to see some very positive changes. She has not lost her appetite throughout the ordeal with the abscess but suddenly she was moving much more easily and quickly, was nickering loudly for meals, and on several days has resumed her habit of standing right outside the feed room door, as if to hurry me up even more.

At one point she got so frisky she started running from my husband when he gave her the syringed herbs! We have been so happy to see this shift back to her regular self.

She hates the digestive enzymes - they are quite bitter and even getting a whiff of the powder will make your nose go into contortions - so we opted not to mess with her meals (she needs those calories and the nutrients) and what is working is mixing her herbs with some raspberry jam, along with a tiny bit of warm water. It syringes easily and she will accept it w/o a battle.

Meanwhile, I decided it was finally time to send Patsy MY cotton ball, so I am eagerly awaiting her call to let me know what's going on with ME.

Keil Bay's new Rambo Micklem Multi-bridle finally arrived yesterday. It is gorgeous - one of the new black ones - and I can't wait to try it out in the bitless mild configuration. He was not fond of the Dr. Cook bitless - I think the pressure on the opposite side of his face was confusing to him. The Micklem functions as a traditional side-pull, and I think the comfort of the bridle design (which is done to relieve pressure on several parts of the horse's head that are known to be sensitive) will work better for us.

I'm not sure we'll try it out until we get a break in this cold spell - but will report when we do.

For now we have horses in blankets, water trough ice patrol, and heaps of ice chunks growing daily by each water trough. The pony has made me laugh for the past few days - he seems fascinated by the ice and marches over the piles again and again, looking at times like he's wearing high heels because of the huge hunks under his feet.

We'll all be glad when we get back to our more usual winter weather here.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

my kind of new year's resolution

This popped into my mailbox today via Sue Ivy's wonderful Quote and Kaleidoscope of the day, which you can sign up for on her lovely blog:

Forget the resolutions. Forget control and discipline...too much work. Instead try experimenting. Go in search of something to fall in love with.

- Dale Dauten

Monday, January 04, 2010

wonderful Sylvia Loch newsletter on rollkur

I highly recommend going here and downloading Sylvia Loch's new newsletter which focuses on rollkur.

Sylvia's ongoing work against this issue and toward riding with lightness and kindness is a shining beam of light - let's not forget to support the folks who offer better ways for horses by buying and reading their books, attending their clinics, and requesting them as speakers and clinicians whenever possible.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

time to put the pressure on World Horse Welfare

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare had this to say on rollkur in today's Guardian article:

"In the right hands it is a valuable training method, and it cannot make a horse's tongue go blue, no matter what people seem to think," said Roly Owers, of the World Horse Welfare charity.

"Current rules do not allow prolonged or extensive use of rollkur. However, the incident has brought into focus that issues need to be ironed out. I wouldn't like a ban, as the method will simply be used albeit not in public. It will go underground.

"I don't think that people inside the sport realise the strength of feeling that is out there. There has been quite a phenomenal reaction to this, and clearly we want to see the Olympics bring more people into equestrian sports, not drive them away."

It's time to contact Mr. Owers at World Horse Welfare and ask him to support his above statement with facts, to offer a more complete statement on what rollkur does to horses psychologically and physically, and to provide details on any research and investigation the World Horse Welfare organization has done to look into this issue.

You can write, telephone, or email here.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

donkeys gone wild, part ... what number are we on now?

We are having the first few days of a long cold week here on November Hill. It was frigid today (for us) and the forecast for the wee hours coming up are 2 degrees with wind chill factor!

Needless to say, horses were in blankets today and spent much of their time quietly munching hay and standing with blanketed butts to the wind. Salina was happy to get her whinny warmers on this morning - keep those knees toasty.

My husband informed me when we were out getting the barn set up for the evening that two young donkeys have been UNBUCKLING Salina's blanket with their teeth! And they have actually managed to get one of her buckles undone. I know Redford is not fond of the blankets, which I think seem big and scary to him when they're going on and off the horses.

Right now they're all closed up in the barn with blankets off for a few hours. I like to give them some time each day w/o the blankets - so we can check everyone over, and so they can lay down and sleep if they want to w/o any constraint.

When they get dinner tubs blankets will go back on and they'll have access to paddocks again. I think tonight and tomorrow will be the worst of the cold week - keeping fingers crossed this is the worst week of this winter.

Stay warm, everyone.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year - 2010!

Yesterday late in the afternoon my children took over at the barn so I could stay inside and start preparations for our New Year's Eve supper. The fog began to roll in, but in the house, the twinkling white lights around the living room and dining room kept me company. For once, the timing of the meal was perfect. Everything was done at the same time, literally as the garage door hummed open and husband arrived home from work.

The horses were set up until their suppertime at 9, candles were lit on the table, and dinner was ready.

The menu:

butternut squash and mushroom lasagna
brie-stuffed mushrooms
tiny filet mignons
green salad with croutons and balsamic viniagrette
French bread with parmesan/romano and italian herbs
champagne with a splash of pomegranate juice

I never managed to get dessert made, but we enjoyed the meal and it was a wonderful treat that the timing worked so perfectly. I was most proud of the fact that not only did I get the meal made, I also cleaned the kitchen as I went! There wasn't much work to do when we were done.

I rang in the New Year watching my beloved equines out the back door. At midnight it was very foggy out, and the only evidence of the blue moon was the ethereal blue tint to the sky. (although I know the term "blue moon" doesn't mean the moon is literally blue, it almost seemed it was last night, in the light it cast)

The arena light filters through fog to a pinkish color, and as the fireworks began in the distance, the backdrop to the barn was a misty, swirling sea of pink light.

I called out to the horses that the new year was here, and that's what the noise was about. They had Rescue Remedy in water buckets, and instead of going out to stand with them, I decided to stay on the back deck and watch them sort out the activity.

After a minute or so of fireworks, Cody, the lowest herd member, marched out from the barn. He headed straight down the paddock, into the darkness. Like an advance soldier checking for danger, his job in the herd is to go out ahead of the others. He does this so well.

In another moment, the pony advanced halfway down the paddock, backing Cody up. Cody was in the darkness, completely out of my sight, but the pony was in perfect silhouette, standing square and tall, ears pricked forward, alert to whatever message Cody gave him.

In another few moments Salina emerged on her side of the barn. She was flanked by her donkeys, who went out a few feet ahead of her and stood at the edge of the grass paddock, pointed in the same direction as Cody and the pony. Salina was an inky black shadow mare, alert and yet calm.

Finally, Keil Bay sauntered out. He, being the herd leader, only went as far as the gate that separates the two paddocks, maybe 5 feet from the barn. He looked out into the darkness but then turned to me, and I called out that it was okay.

They stayed that way for an hour or so, and they were so much in control (no running around, no blowing or snorting, nothing but a keen alertness to the night) that I actually went to bed.

Our little neighborhood was dark and quiet, the horses flanked in their instinctive, perfect herd order, and the night was swirly and pink and blue, magical and mystical and full of peace.

This morning, they have all turned out to the front field, and Salina just rolled in the mud. More on this in another post, but she got her kinesiology testing done recently and is on a 7-week course of herbs, and she is doing fantastically well. It's such a relief to all of us to see her moving and exhibiting her in-charge spirit.

Husband has just called out that he is making chocolate chip pancakes before he goes kayaking for an hour. Bed linens are in the wash, cats are marching around the house, horses and donkeys are munching hay in the field, and it's already a good start to a bright new year.