Friday, April 30, 2010

the last birthday celebration for awhile

I'm officially the mother of two teens - and this birthday wraps up a month that resembles a domino run of celebrations. 

I'm a big fan of simple breakfasts, but today I'm making pumpkin pancakes and this weekend the celebration includes a mile-long ziplining through the forest adventure as well as a trip to a tiger rescue.

And of course there will be a nice meal that ends with cake and ice cream and candles.

Otherwise we have had several cool days and frost advisories at night - but are moving into a much warmer weekend with a high near 90 and some possible thunderstorms. We need some rain, although it will be best if it waits 'til Sunday as I noticed yesterday that the local hay fields were being cut. No rain until the hay is baled and stored, please!

The grass is growing, the garden is growing, and buttercup patrol is in full swing. I'm back to the front field for the second round of mowing those things down. Usually three times and they don't come back that season.

No need for chemicals and we sort of enjoy the brilliant yellow until it's gone.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

healing prayer and thoughts at 10 p.m. EST

 A note from me:

Thank you all for the healing thoughts. I won't keep posting this request, but just know that each night anyone is welcome to join in the ritual for H, who has a long healing path in front of him.

It is a sobering thought that a close contemporary in age to my oldest son is going through this. Of course it happens every day to many families around the world, but as we all know, when something like this happens to someone we know, it becomes so much more personal.

Someone wrote on FB today that teenagers heading into adulthood are like baby turtles trying to get to the sea. That made me tear up b/c I remember several beach trips when my son was a toddler when my husband helped some misguided baby turtles who were heading to the pier lights instead of the ocean.

Thinking of it that way, I almost want to institute a nightly healing ritual for all teens everywhere. Adolescence can be such a tender and tempestuous time.

A friend's son is in need of prayer and healing thoughts after a major drug overdose and brutal beating. He is in intensive care, and although he has sustained brain injury, a medically induced coma, surgery to stop internal bleeding around his heart, and other injuries, the latest report is "cautiously optimistic."

A number of us who have known H and his family since he was very young are planning a candle-lighting all around the globe at 10 PM EDT for anyone who wants to participate and simultaneously send healing energy, thoughts, prayers, mojo, vibes and whatever else we think might help.  Please feel free to participate.  Light your candle at 10 PM EDT and leave it burning for at least an hour... longer if you wish.  Focus on sending healing energy to Henry.  Some of Katie's friends will remember when we did this several years ago when E was a baby and very sick.  I know Katie valued that immensely then and will appreciate it just as much now.  Thank you to Cee who set this up for us.


You can read an update on H's condition HERE.

The rad-mamas, an online group of moms who have been together since my son was an infant (15 years) have decided to continue the nightly candle-lighting vigil for H until he is out of the hospital. We invite you to join us in sending healing energy and prayer to H and his family.


He looks better to me this afternoon. Cousin Thomas doing sound and scent therapy with him alongside the high tech machines. I feel sure it's helping. Lots of love in the room with him.


he prowled, he growled, he yowled... and now she's home

My daughter's cat Mystic had a rough weekend with her off on a photographic expedition with her dad.

The first day he prowled the house and yard, as if he were searching for her, or waiting for her, returning to her room periodically, where he sleeps (we call it his lair!) and then coming out again to renew the prowling.

The second day he was grumpy, seeking attention from me but then growling in a low rumble when I picked him up for a cuddle.

The third day he was roaming the house aimlessly, yowling. Fortunately he didn't have to go to the next level of distress, because she came home! My son had Mystic in his arms at the door when she walked in.

She took him, snuggled him, and he was back to his usual Mystical Kit self, playing and stalking and trying hard to be a Cowboy out at the barn. (thwarted only by the presence of the REAL cowboy, Dickens E. Wickens, who has that whole desperado thing going and doesn't want the company!)

I have never seen a cat so attached to one person, but it seems this type of cat tends to that, and he definitely is.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

a couple of birthdays and the gift of connection

This morning I was awakened by Kyra Corgi, who I believe thought I was rudely sleeping in when clearly it was breakfast time. Six a.m. I got up, fed her and the felines, and decided to repeat my lazy woman's way of feeding early morning hay - open the gates and let the equines have at the round bale.

It was still covered by the tarp I put over it last night in advance of the rain that came through, but I figured (correctly) that the horses and donkeys would nibble around the edges and get plenty.

Since they spent at least part of the night in their stalls due to the rain, there was some mucking to do. I did most of it and then came back in for coffee and a break before feeding breakfast tubs.

When I went back out, the sun had burst through the clouds, and as I finished up the last of the mucking, down at the far end of the dirt paddock, I thought: I should probably take the tarp off and let the bale air out since it's going to rain again tonight and it will have to be covered again.

But I needed to finish mucking, and let go of the thought. Then I heard a loud crackling noise and looked back to the barnyard. Keil Bay was dragging the tarp completely off the round bale. It was a big tarp, and it required him to take it in his teeth and walk away to pull it, which is exactly what he did. And then he looked at me, and it was clear he was saying: there you go. 

A few moments later a big wind blew through the barnyard, but up high, so that suddenly, in the morning sunshine, all the big trees did a shimmy, like horses shaking after a roll, loosing raindrops that looked like twenty little rain showers all around the barn.

We're celebrating two birthdays this weekend. Keil Bay is 21 and Apache Moon, also known fondly as the Little Man and The Pony, is 10.

They got an entire bag of baby carrots yesterday, and will get more in the way of shared treats for the herd today and probably again tomorrow. But it occurs to me. How do you say happy birthday to a horse that means the world to you?

Anyone who reads here regularly knows we have a special herd of equines. And I love them all dearly. But Keil Bay is very special to me. He's the horse I found late one night when I typed my ideal criteria into and he's the one horse that popped up when I hit "search."

There was little doubt when I met him that he was the horse for me. Ever since he came to live with me, first at a boarding barn and then to November Hill, he has showered me with gifts.

When I needed to overcome a slight fear of his huge trot, he did a very elegant spook at the gait to show me I was secure in the saddle. When I worried some over his huge canter, he did a spook and spin that was so balanced and elegant all I knew was that one moment we'd been cantering one way, and the next, we were going in the opposite direction. There was nothing anyone could have said or done that made me more secure than those two elegantly executed spooks. In a matter of a few moments, Keil Bay proved to me that I could ride anything he might offer.

One afternoon he took me over a few baby jumps in the arena and reminded me what it felt like to ride as a girl, many years back, with no fear and the pure joy of going fast and going airborne.

He twirls lead ropes and tosses halters to entertain me while he waits for his breakfast. He does yoga stretches that make me smile. He turns radio dials from classical to rock and bobs his head when the chiropractor hasn't yet found the spot that needs adjusting.

Keil Bay is often referred to as The King around here. And I often say he's The King of All Horses. But what Keil Bay is really the King of is Bringing Me Great Joy, and sometimes I wish I knew what I could do to thank him for that.

A riding teacher told me when I first brought Keil Bay home that he didn't need constant rewards from me. That the reward for him, just as it was for me, was the connection we shared. That as much as it meant to me when we read one another's minds, and found moments of pure harmony during a ride, and shared humor and fun, it meant equally as much to him. And that was the reward for both of us.

She was right.

Thank you, Keil Bay, for being my dream horse. And a very happy birthday to you and to the Little Man.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

it's going to be a long weekend

My husband and daughter have set forth on a photographic expedition and the chores are overwhelming me after only one day. It's amazing how much work it is when one person has to do it all.

The equines were absolutely nonplussed yesterday evening when I put on fly masks and opened the gate to the front field. They got a few hours of bliss and I could barely get them to come in for dinner so I could close the field off and move them onto the back again for the night. Keil Bay came in when I called - and finally Salina and the donkeys begrudgingly came, but Cody and the Little Man HID from me and had to be retrieved with a flashlight.

I went to bed last night with an ice pack and an NSAID, remembering something the vet said to me a few years back: Bute is your friend.

Maybe he was talking about ME and not Salina!

This morning I was awakened before dawn by Moomintroll on my chest, pushing at my face with his mitten paw (he's polydactyl). My husband does the early morning cat, Corgi, and hay for equines feed, but today I had to drag myself out of bed and do it myself. I confess that I simply opened the gate to the barnyard and let all the equines come in to the round bale until breakfast.

I may be exhausted but I will be very popular!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

the FEI comments, and I have a few questions

This afternoon I received this comment on my recent FEI post about the new guidelines for stewards. Malina, the FEI press manager, has commented here before and I'm glad she has returned to shed some light on the guidelines.  Her comment:

Hello Billie,

The new Guidelines for Stewards were issued on 15 April 2010; they were announced that day and published on the FEI website. I tried to post a comment on your blog to alert you to the fact but it never appeared. That might be because I included a URL, I've had that problem before.

In any case, I wanted to clarify that, according to the new FEI Guidelines for Stewards, any head and neck position achieved through force or aggressive riding is unacceptable for any length of time. Even a head and neck position achieved harmoniously and without force can only be maintained for a maximum of ten minutes.

Also, just to confirm that the FEI has stated categorically that the use of rollkur/hyperflexion is unacceptable and the Stewards will intervene. The diagrams that will be provided to Stewards will illustrate what head and neck positions are acceptable. The new Guidelines will be implemented from 15 May 2010.

All the best,
Malina (FEI Press Manager)

My questions:

How are force and aggressive riding defined, exactly? I have not yet seen anything revealing how this will be determined by either stewards or judges.
For example, the riders in the photos HERE.

The rider in blue shirt on black horse and rider in tan/black shirt on bay horse appear to me to be riding with force. The arms are behind the riders' torsos, which are torqued back, the curb shanks are nearly horizontal, the horses' muzzles are nearly touching chests, mouths gaping open, and horses' tails are not at all relaxed and swinging. Is this not force and/or aggressive riding? Is it not the perfect illustration of rollkur/hyperflexion?

Secondly, I am very curious and eager to see the diagrams that to my knowledge have not appeared anywhere as of this writing. When will they be revealed to the public? It's pointless imo to refer to them if they are not able to be examined.

As you can tell, I am very frustrated about the way this recent announcement was handled by the FEI. It feels like the assurances that were made have not been honored, and with the current brouhaha concerning McLain Ward and Sapphire, it also feels like the FEI's inconsistency in addressing these issues across the board is veering wildly from no response at all (Patrik Kittel and Scandic, on videotape) to targeting a horse who by all accounts appears to be in sound jumping form and has now been completely disqualified in a whirlwind of "protective action."

What is the bottom line here? If rollkur/hyperflexion is no longer allowed, then why am I seeing photographs of Anky et al doing it as recently as this past weekend? 

To my knowledge there was no intervention by stewards.

The above horses are not happy athletes. The riding does not meet the current FEI guidelines. Why is it being allowed?

If all this is going to change, in a 180 degree turn for the better, on May 15th, I will be thrilled. But I see no evidence to think this is going to occur. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong.

more FEI insanity

I've been following this story all week but haven't posted anything about it. But HERE'S A LINK to a site that has really followed the various press releases, interviews, etc. and presents them in sequence.

Worth a read.

My latest feeling is that there should be some legal action put into play against the FEI. For both not protecting horses when it should AND for targeting riders and horses inappropriately.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

light and shadow

Another of my daughter's photographs - until she gets her own site up and running, I will continue to post her work and enjoy the fact that I'm off the hook for taking my own!!

I love this one because of the contrast between the light and shadow, and the quality of the light coming through the leaves shaped by the dark trunk and branches of the trees.

I have many, many negatives of photographs I took simply exploring the way light falls onto different surfaces, and the patterns it makes coming through various objects and filters. It's so much fun seeing her explore some of those same things.

Today is a gray day, and I notice as I look out the window that with gray you lose both the brightness and the shadows. Gray brings everything to the middle.

Interesting because it works that way psychologically as well. We all need some gray for balance, but the highs and lows we experience are like light and shadow - they seem to go together, the contrast being part of what defines them.

All my novels explore light and shadow in the lives of the characters, most of whom have to learn about their shadows in order to find the light. It's a fascinating journey, navigating the shadows, following a path through darkness into something lighter, and being able to enjoy the light because of the shadows that surrounded it.

Yesterday evening I mowed the weeds, mostly buttercups, in the front field, while all the equines grazed the front yard. Because of the way we have the front enclosed, as a temporary grazing area, we monitor things closely when the horses and donkeys are up there. A dark grey was beginning to roll in anyway, but as evening approached the front began to get murky, and the young, round evergreens that seem to sprout up everywhere looked like figures looming beneath the trees. The horses are more alert when in the front yard, attuned to the same sights and sounds, but in a different way because of the smaller space they're in.

Between the buzz of the mower and the overall dimming of the day around me, my biggest connection to the world at large was the movement of the horses and donkeys. I discovered that even when I was mowing away from where they grazed, I could sense their movement behind me. I'm not sure how - it was not by sight or sound, but a distinct change in the air around me that caused me to turn and look, and I'd catch sight then of the shifting herd.

It was nearing dark when I finished up, and drove through the gate at the top of the field and on through the darkened barn aisle, the headlights of the mower cutting a vague path as I passed through. The horses were happy enough to be driven up as a herd by my husband, back to the security of their regular areas.

In the barnyard, the feel was different. We all let our guards back down, and let the night and the possibility of rain take us over.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a cat and a quarter horse

My daughter captured this photo of Mystical Kit and Cody the other day.  It offers an up-close glimpse of the feline-equine connection here, and I love the perspective she chose.

Each day when the horses get their grass time the cats seem to cluster up front - on the porch, in the grass, in the front beds where they can hide and watch. The horses are slightly less interested in the cats when they're grazing, but they are aware of them and often choose to interact.

We're having a lovely week weather-wise. The temps are near-perfect, and the pollen is gone. We could do with some rain, but otherwise, it's glorious weather.

Sometime around 5 p.m. every evening, the chorus begins. The geldings begin to stroll up and down the paddock, awaiting the moment when the gate opens and they can get to the good stuff. Keil Bay issues his most musical, inviting whinny, over and over again - his version of a siren song - hoping that I'll not be able to resist and will let them down early.

Yesterday Cody went into a full gallop between the dry paddock and the green stuff. But as he neared the gateway to the green, Salina flagged her head and told him NO.

Cody went from flat out gallop to dead halt in about 3 feet of space. I realized a few moments before he stopped that he was going to, and I held my breath a little because with his PSSM issues, this is a move that would completely test his ability to use his hind end muscles.

I half expected him to dig in with his front legs and stop in the unbalanced, uncoordinated way you sometimes see horses do, or to wheel around instead of stopping - but he didn't. He came underneath himself and sat into the halt as nicely and as controlled as I've ever seen. This isn't a move we do under saddle here - gallop to halt - so I've not really seen him do this quite so clearly. In the open field he's more likely to dodge than halt.  Seeing him do this made me happy - there's no doubt his PSSM is in good control if he can stop that way.

It also lets me know that he's ready to step up in his work under saddle. I think a few jumps are in his future!

Monday, April 19, 2010

does anyone know who sponsors Michael Morrissey??

I haven't seen the video and am not sure I want to watch, but he apparently has charges being brought against him following a temper tantrum in competition during which he beat his horse 13 times when the horse had issues with a water jump.

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to take a whip to the rider.

However, the least I can do is write to his sponsors and alert them to the fact that they are giving money to the wrong rider.

I can't find any info in my brief Google search - if anyone knows more, let me know via comments.

The FEI, extreme flexion, and the ongoing battle

The FEI recently published the new guidelines for stewards, without fanfare or any announcement I could find on any of the sites they previously used for communicating with those of us who have been watching and waiting for this information.

According to Horses For Life, late on Friday an additional link was added which led to the following. Please go directly to paragraph number 3 and note that they have now inserted a rule allowing up to ten minutes of what they are calling "extreme flexion." As far as I can tell, this is the new term for rollkur.

As usual, you are welcome to leave comments; however, I would actually prefer if you used the energy to write, not to the FEI, but to the sponsors of riders who use rollkur in their training and riding.

I recently bought a Thinline saddle pad, and I know they sponsor Eliza Sydnor, a classically trained rider/trainer who does not use these techniques in her work with horses. I plan to write Thinline and let them know that I bought the pad because they sponsor her, and that I am adamantly opposed to the use of rollkur, hyperflexion, and extreme flexion, and hope they will choose carefully the riders they support.

Although I am disappointed and frustrated, this is not really a surprise. As I have written many times here, this is not a one-time issue but an ongoing battle. It doesn't only have to do with the abusive bending of a horse's head and neck, but with international competition and its perspective on winning, on the horse as vehicle to fame and fortune, and probably most of all to human ego. 
It's important to get angry, once again, and use that anger to fuel some action. Boycott, videotape, flood the FEI with reports of rule infractions, and most of all, every single time you buy an item for your barn, yourself, or your horse, take the extra few minutes to research the companies. Reward those that are not sponsoring riders who use the items you need. Contact those who are, and let them know why you cannot support their company with your purchase.

I also suggest a quick email to the above address, from the FEI's own website, FEI CLEAN SPORT. Let them know you are concerned with an integrity issue - THEIR integrity in inserting a paragraph on extreme flexion into the stewards' manual, and allowing even 10 minutes of an abusive practice.

15 April 2010, Geneva (SUI)
FEI Stewards Manual


Pre and Post Competition training techniques – position of the horse’s head -

1. Background

The use of correctly executed stretching techniques, both before and after training and
competition, is recognised as an important and long-established practice in almost every
physical sport. In equestrian sport it is used for the on-going suppleness and health of the
equine athletes.

2. Permitted stretches

Stretching principally involves the lengthening of the horse’s ligaments and muscles (soft
tissue) and can be done at the halt (statically) or in  motion (dynamically).
Athletes should aim to stretch all the relevant groups of muscles within the horse’s body,
especially the muscles involved in hind leg locomotion, but the part that will be most
visual to both stewards and the public will most likely be the horse’s neck.
Neck stretches may take several different forms. ‘Long, deep and round’ (see diagram i)
and ‘low, deep and round’(see diagram ii) and ‘long and low’ (see diagram iii) are just
three commonly used examples but there are other variations involving both longitudinal
and lateral flexion which result in different neck positions.

3. Extreme flexion

In assessing the position of the head carriage the Steward will be mindful of each horse’s
natural conformation, especially in relation to native breeds or ponies, and will therefore
use discretion in determining this.
Deliberate extreme flexions of the neck involving either high, low or lateral head carriages,
should only be performed for very short periods. If performed for longer periods the
steward will intervene (refer to diagram and photos for examples of extreme head and
neck positions).

Movements which involve having the horse’s head and neck carriage in a sustained or
fixed position should only be performed for periods not exceeding approximately ten
minutes without change. Change may constitute a period of relaxation and lengthening or
a movement which involves stretching the head and the neck of the horse (refer to
diagrams and photos for examples of sustained fixed head and neck position).
It is the steward’s responsibility to ensure that riders respect the above procedure and
intervene if required.

4. Variation of stretches & neck positions.

Stretches of the horse’s neck maybe specific and appropriate to each horse and equestrian
discipline, but no single neck position should be maintained which may lead to tiredness or

5. Method of achieving stretches

It is imperative that stretching should be executed by unforced and non aggressive means.
By unforced’ is meant that the rider is not permitted to use rough, or abrupt aids or apply
constant unyielding pressure on the horse’s mouth through a fixed arm and hand position.
It is the responsibility of the steward to intervene if these requirements are not respected. 

6. Action by the Steward in the case of incorrect behaviour of athlete in
relation to flexion of the head and neck 

Ref. Annex XII, Guidelines to the FEI Dressage Stewarding Manual

The steward will intervene should he observe;
 Neck stretching achieved through forced, or aggressive  riding
 The  use of extreme flexion  if it does not comply with the above 
 A rider deliberately maintaining a sustained fixed head and neck carriage longer
than approximately ten minutes 
 In cases when the horse is in a state of general stress and/or fatigue 

The steward may also ask the rider to walk for a certain period in situations where the
rider’s stress may cause undesired riding.

7. Maximum duration of pre-competition warm-up and post-competition
cooldown periods

Only in exceptional circumstances and with the permission of the Chief Steward, may a
training session exceed one hour. The training session must include a number of
relaxation periods. Riding the horse at the walk whether prior to, or following the training
session, is not considered to be part of the one hour training session. There should be at
least one hour break between any training/warm-up periods. 

Repetition movements carried out in the practice arena, following a rider’s performance in
the competition arena, may not exceed a period of ten minutes.

8. Exercise / Training arena 

All training sessions, including pre-competition warm-up, may only be performed in the
official training arena while under the supervision of stewards. Use of a training arena
outside the official training period, and/or in an unsupervised arena, may at the discretion
of the Ground Jury lead to the rider’s disqualification.
During competition preparation periods, and the duration of the competition itself, the
Chief Steward must be present in the training arena, or be in a position to observe the
training arena at events where numerous training arenas are in use. 
If the Chief Steward is unable to be present himself, it is his responsibility to ensure that a
steward with the required experience and knowledge is appointed to supervise the training

9. Appointment of Chief Stewards

The Chief Steward at CDI-4* and higher level events and above must be of three-star
level. He is appointed by the FEI on the recommendation of the Organizing Committee.  

10. Revision

These directives may be subject to review and Stewards are advised to check for periodic

8 April 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

two very persistent equine pals

I couldn't help but post this. Today someone let himself into the off-limits front field TWO (make that FOUR) TIMES, and someone else started pacing and whinnying at 4-something p.m., unable to wait until the usual 7:30 p.m. grass cocktail hour.

If you're like me, you probably think PONY!

But we're both wrong.

Rafer Johnson, the sweet, serious, intelligent young donkey is the one who let himself quietly into the front field, and Keil Bay is the one loudly announcing his impatience for all to see and hear.

Can't you just hear the translations:

Rafer Johnson:  It's the quiet ones you have to watch out for. Ha ha.

Keil Bay: It's GOT to be 7:30 SOMEwhere!

more yellow flowers and our Corgi rescue saga

All the animals seem to be posing lately near these kerria japonica, or japanese yellow roses. They are generally very stunning when in full bloom, but this year they have gone quite mad with sheer volume of blooms and color.

Some of my weekend work has been postponed due to mower suddenly needing new fuel filter. I spent some time yesterday cleaning the feed/tack room (and ended up sticking pinwheels into a number of my compost mounds in the front field, which made me happier than it probably should have) and today I am going to relax while husband and daughter take kayak and cameras down the nearby river. When they get back, chores will resume!

We found out earlier this morning that what we had suspected is true - the man with the Corgi we were hoping to adopt has decided to keep him. Which is fine, but it has taken us weeks of attempted meetings and one aborted "meet me halfway and I'll give you the dog" episodes, as well as many unreturned calls and emails, to finally get a clear statement. It was my understanding that the dog was spending lots of time alone in a house in a crate, so I hope that the prospect of giving him up prompts the owner to spend more time with what sounds like an amazing Corgi!

Meanwhile the local Corgi rescue has only two dogs (a good thing, don't misunderstand me!) and neither are matches for our household. Kyra is in a very upbeat place right now - I feel the time is ripe for a new canine family member - so we are actively looking again and trust that the right dog will find his way to us soon.

We're having a near-perfect day today - sunshine, with high of 70 degrees F, so I'm heading out to enjoy it right now!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rafer's reminder: stop and smell the flowers!

An English proverb says:

If the first thing you hear in the morning is a donkey bray, make a wish and it will come true.

Now I know why life is better with donkeys!

Friday, April 16, 2010

front porch musings

Last night we had my husband's birthday dinner (Indian food, a favorite of 3 out of 4 of us here) on the front porch while the equines, all six of them, provided the background music: grass munching.

Several of the felines joined us, and I have not had many happier moments than we had yesterday evening, sitting with good food, white wine, excellent company, and the loving companionship of horses and donkeys and cats.

Kyra Corgi was inside with teen son, whose schedule is out of whack right now, and since he's the one not into Indian, we ate without him.

 We don't normally allow all six equines down in front at the same time, as there is the potential for a stampede back up to the barn, but they are so into the grass, and it was so quiet in the neighborhood, we allowed it.

There are pictures, but they are from my daughter's camera, which has raw data that needs converting to jpeg format (I think that's right!) - so as soon as I can get husband or daughter to send them to me, I'll post them.

Meanwhile, here is Dickens E. Wickens stretching toward the light.

It was shining brightly here yesterday evening.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

waiting for the learning moments

I was going to write about yesterday evening, when we fenced off the front yard, as we often do about this time each year, so we can utilize horses to do some mowing for us while at the same time acclimating them to the growing brilliant green carpet of grass.

Keil Bay and Apache Moon took their turn first, while I did some pruning and kept them company. They worked their way from the top of the side yard all the way down to the very front edge, and I watched in the usual wonder at how expertly efficient Keil Bay is in grazing. He has it down to a fine art.

They neither one wanted to leave when their 15 minutes were up, so my husband marched up to the barn for halters and the dressage whip so I could do a little driving from behind. I didn't need the tapping of the whip; once the halter was on, I got Keil's attention off the grass and onto me, and we practiced walking, halting, my verbal invitation to return to grazing, my request for head up, and more walking. This was one of those moments that was perfect for reviewing basic leading manners.

The pony defied a couple of attempts to halter him, but once I had Keil Bay back up to the barn, he came trotting up the hill after us, looking like a movie star pony, head held high and body floating across the grass.

This morning my daughter and I were getting horses and donkeys ready for the day. They all seem to enjoy having fly masks on this time of year - those gnats and midges that go for the ears are out in full force. So Keil Bay, Cody, and the pony got their masks, and daughter went out to search for Salina's. When she came back she decided to put on Rafer Johnson's mask (his doesn't have ears, as the donkeys don't seem much bothered by bugs, but he likes the mask during the sunny days - I think of it as his sunglasses).

Redford never wanted his earless mask last year, just as he doesn't want any fly spray, so instead of forcing the issue, we simply offer, and when he says "no thank you" we let him be.

Much as learning to read in humans seems to be something that comes easily when the child is ready to learn, there seem to be moments when equines make learning leaps. Things that were scary suddenly seem fine, and if you're paying attention and make the most of these moments, you can save a lot of stress for both the equine and yourself.

This morning Redford was offered his fly mask, yet again, as he was many times last summer. Today he decided that even the sound of the velcro being undone was not scary, and that he'd take his mask just like everybody else in the barn. No fuss, no hard work. It was just as easy as if he'd been doing it his entire life.

There are lots of things that horses and donkeys need to learn to be what we consider "good citizens," but many of these skills are pushed not because they're absolutely necessary but because of our own human timetables that often make no sense.

Much like reading is pushed because of the agenda of the school systems and the need to get children "on the same page" at the same time.

I've advocated for a more laid back, individualized structure for children for my entire adult life, but since returning to the world of keeping horses I now find myself advocating for the same thing for them.

When we learn something when we're physically AND psychologically ready for it, the lesson is easier, and it sticks.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

the nature of work


 For the past five days, my work space was the above, a double room at a mansion that offers writing retreats for the very lucky writers in our state, thanks to an organization and wonderful group of people who are committed to maintaining this historic home as well as the philosophy that artists need space and time to create.  

 Indeed, this trip provided that, and I came home happy and satisfied that I'd met my writing goals while there.

This morning I returned to my usual place of work, this messy desk, where I am surrounded by mail, seed packets, to do lists, books, stacks of paper in need of filing, and a few talismen that manage to keep me inspired despite the clutter: the feather of a crow that I found in my labyrinth path, two stones my writer friend Dawn brought me from Shakespeare's stomping grounds, a carved bird, a white fairy horse, and the stuffed magical pony Ryan that Dawn gave me for my birthday.

Although clutter on my desk is not my preferred way of being, most days I have to make the choice. Focus on household chores including decluttering, or spend time in my other main work space, the barn. Not much of a choice! I headed out and was immediately transported back into the world of horses, donkeys, and the morning routine that at this time of year involves quite a bit of labor.

Mixing and feeding breakfast tubs, getting stalls set up with hay and clean water, doing a light groom and tick check, fly masks, etc.

 The work I did in the lovely pristine room above for the past few days was its own kind of labor. Pulling together a book-length story that has been in my head for many years now, needing to get the first draft out so I can move on to the different task of editing and polishing, is a job, although one I happen to love very much. The last two days I struggled a bit with the idea of ending. Not the ending itself - that was there all along, and accessible. What I battled was the work of ending something that has been ongoing for what feels like a very long time. I finally did it yesterday before lunch, and when I read the final chapter out loud to Dawn in the early evening, I started crying as I tried to read the last two paragraphs.

It's been awhile since I wrote the last page of the first draft of a novel. I'd forgotten how emotional I get when I do it. In the end, Dawn had to take my laptop and read that last bit out loud FOR me. And the work of writing, the labor of it, the shift from novel-in-progress to complete draft, was done.

Once it was read out loud, it was fine. There's a reason writing a book is often compared to giving birth.

This morning I came back to the more physical labor of keeping horses. As I scrubbed buckets and mixed feed tubs and stuffed hay nets, I realized that the beauty of my writing retreat is actually the same beauty of my daily life. Both involve meaningful work, and work that has meaning, and even when there are rough days where things don't exactly flow, underneath the bumps and struggles there is the deep sense that what I'm doing makes me happy, and matters on some level.

My friend Dawn wrote a beautiful post this weekend, which you can read HERE.

Something about what she wrote made me think about art and work and the value of how we choose to spend our time. And the value of how we VIEW the way we choose to spend our time.

If I were in charge of everything, career counselors and guidance counselors would teach students of all ages not only how to find meaningful work, but the skill of finding meaning in our work, because we need both skills in our lives.

Today I'm grateful for the work I have in front of me, and that all of it has the potential to give me joy and satisfaction, whether it be writing a page that sings, or treating a mare's tick bite so carefully and gently she lifts her tail and stretches her neck in appreciation. Editing pages and finding the silver threads along the way, or rinsing beet pulp until the water runs clear.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


My time on retreat has been special - outside regular time, almost as if I've left daylight saving time, eastern standard time, and entered magical writing time. It's always special down here, but this trip seems particularly potent.

The first full day I was given the name of an editor for my book by a random visitor to the mansion, a perfect poem arrived in my Writer's Almanac daily email, and I found myself being incredibly productive writing-wise, instantly upon arriving. No decompression time, no transition between regular life and writing retreat. Just. Writing. Now.

Yesterday I had a major breakthrough connecting something I'd just written to the earlier chapters of the book.

Today I am working on the final two chapters, in that magical space where the entirety of what's left to write is hanging fully formed in front of me. I'm the funnel, and all I have to do is make sure I keep myself in place so the words can filter down.

This morning a dove landed on the iron rail outside my bedroom window, directly facing me as I typed. It called out two times, looking into my eyes, and then flew away.

This afternoon there's a concert downstairs, so the music of violins and piano and other stringed instruments will be floating through the various wings and hallways of the mansion. I'm trying to time it so I write the last chapter during the concert. I like the idea of finishing this pony novel with music.

Tonight we'll read pages out loud and tomorrow I'll be in the wonderful position of tying up the loose ends I've discovered in the ms. When I get home I'll let it sit for a week and then dive into editing.

Sometimes when I'm here time goes too quickly, but this trip it's being perfect. I'm so in awe of things lining up this way.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

heading off to writing retreat

Time flies - it's writing retreat day, and I'm getting packed and heading out soon. The magical ponies are ready to ride, and I'm leaving the real magical ponies at home in a cloud of pollen. With my sincerest hope that the rain comes tonight and cleans everything up for them.

Also leaving behind a list a mile long for husband. (Sheaffer, this is when I need your love of lists and perfect memory - though it would be hard to choose - leave you here as my list-enforcer or take you with me to the mansion - I think you'd be going with me!)

It's funny and wonderful that even in the midst of the hard part about writing retreat, which is extricating myself from my routine here, from the animals and all the things they bring to my days, I can already feel the pull of the story I'm working on. The promise of uninterrupted time and perfect space always revs the writing engine.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

shop for the cause!

Just discovered these stickers:

I LOVE it!

Plus a number of other cool items including shirts, jackets, more stickers, and a saddle pad with the anti-rollkur symbol on the corner.


Stock up and go to your local spring shows!

beet pulp meditation

I don't know how many of you feed beet pulp to your horses, but three of ours get it and the rinse/soak/rinse method we use to prepare the shreds for the meals is something of a ritual here.

 Salina gets beet pulp 4x/day and Keil Bay and Cody get it 2x. I like the beet pulp to soak for hours but prefer not to make it all up at once because of the way we do it. I use Rubbermaid pitchers for ease of rinsing and so beet pulp making gets done after the last feed of the day (9 p.m.), after feeding breakfast (about 9:30 a.m.), and again after Salina's first lunch (1 p.m.).

Rinsing 'til the water runs clear takes a bit of time, so as you can see, this beet pulp making ritual is a regular part of every day on November Hill.

Suffice it to say that when one introduces a ritual to more than one person in a family, each one will adapt it to his/her own methods, even given some basic instructions that need to be followed.

In an effort to stop nagging and yet remain clear about what needs to happen with reference to the actual, physical rinsing of the shreds, I made an instruction sheet. But then I thought that if I shared some of my own inner routine with family members, they might come to see the ritual of the beet pulp as something more than just a heinous chore that never ends.

That in fact they might embrace it, and I might be able to give up my role of beet pulp monitor.

When I installed my effort on the laundry room wall, my husband saw it immediately and began to laugh. "You have to put this on your blog," he said.

I laughed too, because I knew he would, and I wanted there to be a certain amount of humor brought into the moment, but guess what?

I am also serious!

Using visualization and metaphor to transform the drudgery of daily tasks and chores into useful rituals is is a powerful tool in learning to be more present in the moment, reframing feelings of annoyance and dread, and turning tedium into magic.

I've taught these tools to clients for many years, and I use them myself pretty much all day, every day.  Of course, when people get referred to you for your expertise, and pay for it, they tend to give it value. Around here, I'm more likely to get laughter and sometimes the rolling of eyes. Maybe I need to send a statement of account and see who gets the last laugh! :)                                      

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

the latest in hideous equipment for horses

Marian, a new commenter who just posted on the Lifestyle of Totilas post I wrote a few weeks ago, pointed me to this torture device called the Kick-Stop, produced and sold by a company called Quiet Stable (interesting choice of name, imo):

The kick plate measures 58 cm x 58 cm and is equipped with an aluminium band for hanging.
The plate is easily adapted to different needs; it can be cut in to smaller pieces with a small knife just as it can be made to cover a larger area by connecting the plates.
The kick plate is delivered with an energizer (power supply), an earth rod and cords - ready to be put up.
"Kick-Stop" is a unique product that has been patented.

The idea that we can lock animals in 12' x 12' boxes, put up bars so they can't stick their heads out, and install rubber plates that shock them if they kick the walls makes me ill.

Wouldn't it be simpler, more humane, and in all ways just a BETTER IDEA to allow horses to live as horses? 

Or if a horse is a chronic stall kicker,  look at the reasons BEHIND the kicking and alleviate them.


Saturday, April 03, 2010

in the flow

I've been thinking about why I chose this background photo for the blog, specifically wondering what it is about water and stone and movement that so captivates me.

On one level it's because the image nearly perfectly represents one of my favorite states of being. I've always called it "being in the flow." It used to be something I got mostly when writing fiction, but after I started riding horses again I realized: all my years of riding as a girl had been about finding that same flow.

Something magical happens when I write and when I ride. I no longer feel the limitations of my body, the stream of thoughts that normally fills my head disappears. It's the purest sense of being in the moment, being present and losing track of everything outside my characters or the horse I'm riding.

The thing about being in the flow is that once you find it, however you find it, it begins to seep into the rest of your life. Being in the flow in the bigger sense means things begin to fall into place without you trying very hard or even at all to make them happen. Synchronicity reveals itself. Suddenly you encounter things that have special meaning to you. You think of an old friend and she calls. You write a chapter about crows and when you look out your window there they are.

Suddenly everything seems connected and moving through the day seems effortless.

I'm not always in the flow. But when I made a commitment to write the first novel, and then the second one, and then the third one, and when I made the late-night decision to do a search for my dream horse, and found him, I also made the decision to open my life to being in the flow on a regular basis. At some point it overruns the boundaries of writing and riding and more often than not, there you are.

Living with our horses makes it easy to find the flow when things get a little crazy. It's sometimes easier to walk out to the barn than it is to open the Word file with the current novel in progress. Often enough walking out to the barn gets me in the flow and riding nearly always pushes the novel writing into higher gear. I didn't set out to create this pattern, but when I happened to find it, I recognized its value and I try not to forget it.

The way to finding the flow is through doing things you love that put you in a heightened state of being at least some of the time, regularly.

The other thing about the photograph of water and stone that speaks deeply to me:  the symbols of the elements themselves. Water is my element. When I get stressed, a bath or shower helps. I love creeks and rivers and lakes and oceans. Waterfalls and the sound of a slow rain. My calming meditation is a rough, turbulent ocean calming to perfect stillness. Water can be deep and still, it can move.

And then there's stone. I've always loved the mountains. Stone formations. The sense of groundedness they bring. I often imagine energy flowing down through my forehead, through my body, into the earth below. Lying on a big piece of stone, particularly one warmed by the sun, is a sure way to settle myself. 

Water flowing over stone is a powerful combination.

Water. The flow. Grounding.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

a season shifting

Over the past few days it feels like spring has really hit. The daffodils are finishing up, and we now have tulips in bloom and irises budding. It's getting greener and greener by the day, and the air is filled with flying insects.

I found frog eggs in one of the water troughs.

I put the first fly mask of the season on Salina. And had to go retrieve it from the ground by 4 p.m., which is a regular summer chore here. She wears it until she gets tired of it, then she takes it off!

And now we're into a string of very warm days - they predict we'll hit 90 degrees later this week. (I hope that is wrong, but we'll see!)

Yesterday around 4 it was warm enough that the horses came in to the barn seeking shade and I decided it was as good a day as any to make the change to night-time turn-out. I closed windows on the sunny side of the barn, put hay in mangers, and let them in. I turned on the fans! Not because of the heat so much but to blow any little insect pests out. The gnats that love the insides of horsey ears are out already.

It was funny to have everyone in until after their 9 p.m. feed - they all had access to paddocks and I never actually closed the gates to the back field, but they were happy to rest and relax and when they realized we were serving hay out for the night, they all sauntered back out to the field together.

This morning I saw Cody and Redford doing a bit of morning exercise together in the arena. Cody was tossing his head and doing his fancy-prancy trot. Redford was doing his lovely ground-covering donkey trot, head held high. I don't know why but seeing them in the arena, on their own, doing figure 8s, 20m circles, and changes of direction makes me laugh out loud. Dressage in its essence is when they do it on their own!

Today I need to clean up the back field and get horses settled in after breakfast tubs. Which will be easy because the stalls now get mucked in the evenings after they go out, so they're nice and clean when horses come in - the change in routine is nice. It's an entirely different experience mucking after dark than in the mornings.

 We're using the pine pellets in two stalls now, one on each side of the barn. I'm absolutely loving the ease of mucking and the reduction in stall bedding hitting the wheelbarrow and the compost piles.  We'll be closing Keil Bay's stall off later this week so we can resurface and then convert that one to the pellets. Then two more to go and we'll be done with that.

My next barn project is to level the shelter floor and then cover it with straw. I'm going to put some "curtains" around the perimeter using the sun shade material so that it will make it cooler in the afternoons and also deter flies. I had this idea end of the summer last year and by the time I did all the research on materials it was too late to implement. Now I found the materials at a very good price at our local home supply store, so... it will be fun to try this out.

Mostly we're enjoying the springtime, getting into new routines, and making some new ones. The seedlings covering my dining room table are being carried outside to the shade for most of the day now, and will go into the ground in the next few weeks. I have another batch to start, and many loads of compost to haul and spread. Even with the longer days we're getting, there are still not quite enough hours of daylight to get these things done.

The days are full, life is good.