Tuesday, June 29, 2010


kairos: a time in between, a moment of undetermined period of time in which something special happens

Yesterday, after dinner, I went out and opened up two of the gates that lead into our small backyard. I had already given the equines free access to the barnyard, and had several "escape hatches" opened up so they could all mill around safely from barn aisle to hay to water, a break from the heat and the routine wherever they could find it.

I needed to water the garden, and the back yard, recently mowed, is already growing, so my idea was to let the horses and donkeys help out while I worked with the hose.

Cody and the donkeys came in first, then Keil Bay. Salina made her way in last, and the pony was in the arena being ridden, so he had to wait. It was nearing dusk, and very peaceful, with the water flowing and the horses pulling grass. Every now and then their teeth would pull just right and the grass would squeak.

I lost the regular passage of time, referred to by the Greeks as chronos, and found myself in that special place where it seems like I've slipped through to some other way of being. I was in the midst of the pinwheel of garden beds, with the hose dragged around the corners, watering. The pony was on one side of me, Redford behind me, Cody behind me, and Salina on the other side. I hadn't noticed the configuration or the crowding that was happening, but suddenly in that very still moment I felt a sense of ... not panic, but a sort of worried alertness, and when I turned around, Cody was standing still but looking like he was feeling very trapped - by the beds, the fence, the pony, and Salina. Without thinking I stepped toward the pony and moved him around the pinwheel, out of the logjam, at the same time thinking to Salina that she must stay put and allow Cody to be in her space until things were clear for him to move.

This was a rare and special moment when I felt like I had joined the herd mind. I wasn't functioning as the alpha or boss mare, but more as a coordinator of space, insuring that no one got trapped, no boundaries got crossed, there were no accidents, and their lovely grazing time with me didn't have to come to an end.

Salina stood patiently, not flagging her head, not even moving an ear. Cody waited, trusting that I was working on clearing a path for him. The pony moved, hoof by hoof, and Redford went underneath the low-lying butterfly bush branches so he wouldn't be in the way. It was one of those moments when there was no time to think. I just felt what the herd felt, acted, and in a few moments all was okay. I suspect this kind of thing goes on all the time in a herd, but I am not often right in the midst of it, and so very open to feeling those finely-tuned and silent communications that happen between horses.

As it got dark, both my children, teenagers now, came out to help with feeding dinner tubs. We got our own routine going, our communications louder than the herd-speak of earlier, and it reminded me how loud we humans can be - not only with our voices and fairly constant talking, but in our gestures and demeanors. I was reminded again of how effective it is when working with and training horses to actively try the quieter approach. A softer touch, even the thought of a touch, often works so much better than the loud request, or worse, the demand.

It was fully dark by now, and I was refilling a water trough beneath the night shade of the big oak. My son and daughter were silhouetted in the light of the barn, talking over one of the stall doors. Because of the water running, and the tree frogs and cicadas, I couldn't hear what they were saying. It was a moment in time, seeing them speak as teenagers, almost as if I were seeing a moment from the future.

They let the horses out one by one. Cody sauntered past, heading through the spilled pool of light from the arena, fully strided and gleaming as he made his way to the back field. The donkeys followed, side by side, like body guards preceding their queen. After a moment Salina came out. She wasn't sure which field they were in - we just rotated from front to back, and I had both gates open earlier in the day. She stopped in the patch of arena light and looked from front field to back. Her blind side was to me, and even though there is no eye there, and the light filled the empty socket as she turned in my direction, it seemed she could see. She still blinks on that empty side, and I could see the blinking muscles moving and working as she turned back and forth.

One of the donkeys snorted and she nickered, then moved into a big beautiful walk to join them. There was no trace of arthritis as she moved.

Keil Bay came by doing his huge and swinging panther walk. The pony came last, having waited in hopes of dinner tubs to clean. Each one passed by me, walking through the shadows, through the pool of light, and then literally faded to black as they neared the gate at the far end of the paddock. After they passed through the gate, I could hear the snorts and movements as they entered the blackness of the back field.

I don't think you can always find kairos, but when you stop thinking and doing and simply be, it finds you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

the garden of earthly delights


I've been trying this week to keep up with the garden more closely than I had been - these very hot days dry everything out very quickly. Since I took the squash, cucumber, and zucchini plants out, I noticed immediately that the remaining squash bugs migrated to what I thought were my watermelon mounds. 

Score one for the squash bugs - they knew exactly what they were doing. I must have gotten my seedlings mixed up, because the watermelons are not watermelons! I now have a yellow squash mound and a zucchini mound!
So it's back to doing battle with the squash bugs. We'll keep them at bay as much as possible, but I think we've had our share of yellow squash and zucchini anyway, so if these mounds start getting inundated with bugs, I'll take them out as well.

And lesson learned about seedlings: have the beds ready so the seedlings can go in the minute they're ready. I lost a number of things because I ran out of space and waited too long to transplant. (and didn't pay as much attention to those seedlings in tiny containers as I should have)

Right now, as I wait for the basil and the tomatoes to come fully into harvest, the sunflowers are keeping me happy and entertained.

There is something about sunflowers that brings a big smile to my face no matter what.


Even the new ones not yet blooming are stunning. I can't get enough of them. 


When selecting tomato seeds early in the spring, I decided to plant German Johnsons in honor of my dad. When I was growing up, I accompanied him on his annual spring search for German Johnson seedlings to plant in his small but very well-maintained garden. He always loved the German Johnsons, and during the last 15 years or so of his life, the variety became more and more difficult to find. One year we went to the farmer's market together and he patiently asked grower after grower if they had German Johnsons. We didn't find any that year, and I don't think he ever found them again before he stopped his gardening.

I found this about the variety:
GERMAN JOHNSON PINK is a North Carolina heirloom tomato notable for having been one of the four parents of the famous Mortgage Lifter tomato. If you want to be able to brag about your tomatoes, German Johnson Pink is a variety to grow as the hardy plants produce huge pinkish red beefsteak type tomatoes that weigh 1.5 pounds or more. Their flesh is very thick and has few seeds. The fruits have an excellent flavor and are outstanding for slicing, but may also be used for canning. Good disease resistance and very productive despite the large size of the fruit. The indeterminate vines will grow very tall and bear fruit all summer long. Mine each require triple staking because of the weight of the fruit and the large vines. This variety has consistantly ranked high in the tomato tastes held each year at Thomas Jefferson's preserved estate Monticello.

I started everything from seed this year, and when I saw the German Johnson seed, I snapped it up. So far these vines are doing well, and the first tomato is starting to pink up now, and it's huge. The moment it's ripe, I'll pick it and have tomato sandwiches in honor of my father. He'd be proud of the harvest, but would probably shake his head at my gardening practices - no formal staking, planting very close together, random watering and in some ways benign neglect.

We all have our gardening styles and my personal theory is that I want to feed our family, I don't mind sharing with wildlife, and I have so many other things to do in a day I can't really be a slave to the garden. So... I'll take messy vines and some bugs, and we'll eat what we get, which so far has been more than enough.

One thing I wish is that he could have access to our November Hill compost - I think he'd enjoy growing his summer garden with the gift from our horses and donkeys.

This German Johnson is for you, Dad! 


It's slated to cool down to the mid 80s on Wednesday, so once it does, I'll be planting more seed in the space now cleared. More dragon tongue beans, and whatever I have left. I lost my eggplant, so will try to get more of those going, and I'm going to try a catnip mound to see what the five fearless felines do with it.  The feed store has row cover material by the yard, so I'll use that to get the seedlings going and test out how it works with keeping bugs away!

Friday, June 25, 2010

the big bay blend, and some jumping position critiques

I realized one day this week that my favorite Trader Joe's coffee has special meaning around here - when I glanced at the container and saw "Bay Blend" of course I thought of the Big Bay! I think Trader Joe's should rethink the design for this particular blend - can't you just see a photo of Keil Bay galloping up our hill? Rich and full of flavor indeed!

On another note entirely, the below is NOT the Big Bay. And although I'm impressed with the horse and the height of the jump, the rider's position is possibly the worst I've ever seen considering this is apparently a top, winning rider.

Not naming names, and in any case, it's not a name I recognized when I ran into the photo online earlier today. But what ever happened to a balanced seat over jumps?

Could I do any better? I don't know. I wasn't taught to jump that way, when I was younger and actually taking decent-sized jumps. Whether I could stay on today is one issue, but I feel fairly confident in saying that my hands would never go where those hands are. I don't *think* my legs would go that far back, either, but that's a harder call since I haven't jumped anything of consequence in so many years. 

So I'm critiquing from the safety of my computer chair. Can't believe that is what a winning rider looks like, though. Wow.

I looked for some photos of what I consider balanced seat jumping and found these old cavalry riders. Note the difference - legs, hands, overall balance and being one with the horse in a way that allows the horse to best take the jump.

J reminded me of Kathy Kusner and this photo she has pointed me to before wrt jumping position. What a gorgeous jump, and notice the rein, which is not at all tight or restraining. Something to emulate. (in my dreams, at this stage of my life)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

anthropomorphism and horses

Over and over again, I read and hear horse people saying, "I don't want to anthropomorphize, but..."  Or it's used as a cautionary statement, "You shouldn't anthropomorphize your horse."

What IS anthropomorphism anyway? And why shouldn't we do it?

One definition from dictionary.com defines anthropomorphism this way:

The attributing of human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects, animals, plants, or other natural phenomena, or to God. To describe a rushing river as “angry” is to anthropomorphize it.

On some level I agree that we shouldn't make a habit of attributing human characteristics to anything other than humans. However, the case for not anthropomorphizing our horses has become a way to say they don't have human characteristics, therefore they don't think with logic. They don't feel emotion. They don't share affection. They can't truly bond.

My frustration with this mindset is that we assume all those characteristics are human in the first place! How presumptious!

Back in 1927, Pavlov wrote that animals should be viewed "without any need to resort to fantastic speculations as to the existence of any possible subjective states." 

That makes it really easy to subject them to both experiments and a kind of treatment in training and caretaking that we wouldn't dare apply to our children or other family members.  Yet this approach is all too common in horse training the world over.

That kind of training works, but at what cost? If we merely observe and seek to shape a behavior without also looking at underlying emotion, we discount an entire layer of a horse's state of being. 

Darwin wrote:

Even insects play together, as has been described by that excellent observer, P. Huber, who saw ants chasing and pretending to bite each other, like so many puppies.

Many of us who live with horses see on a daily basis the complex emotional responses they are capable of: playfulness, affection, annoyance, anger, loneliness, fear, compassion. The list goes on. 

Why then are we discouraged from saying: my horse loves me, or my horse misses his buddy, or my horse is afraid of the umbrella?

Probably so we can feel okay about selling the horse when he gets too old to ride, or too expensive to keep, or his buddy gets too old or too expensive, or so we can feel just fine about shoving the umbrella in the horse's face against his will in the name of de-spooking him, all the while considering that any movement away from us, self-appointed herd leader, is disobedience.

Do I sound frustrated? I am. I've been reading anecdotes of horse people saying I don't play with my horses, as if doing so might make them less 'professional.'

And that when helping a young horse learn about fly spray, you put him on a halter and lead line and never stop spraying until he stops moving, because god forbid you reward him for his fear.

To eschew anthropomorphism allows us to also eschew empathy, and to do things in the name of training we would never do if we had to consider the emotional impact of our methods.

Frans de Waal wrote:

To endow animals with human emotions has long been a scientific taboo. But if we do not, we risk missing something fundamental, about both animals and us.

So yes, the next time someone suggests I'm anthropomorphizing Keil Bay, or Rafer Johnson, YES, I will say, ABSOLUTELY.

Because every time I open my mind to the reality that these equines are thinking, being, loving, intentional creatures, I allow the beauty of real relationship to blossom and flower.

My life, and theirs, is richer for it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

equine ice lollies

The frozen yogurt I am enjoying today got me thinking, and I did some online searching. I've adapted a recipe I found which looks like it might be a nice, cool treat for the horses and donkeys on a hot summer day. I'll report when I try this out, or if anyone tries it first, let us know!

1 cup carrot juice
1/2 cup apple juice
carrot shreds

apple diced into small cubes

Mix the above and put in the container of choice. Ice cube trays, paper cups (you can peel them off for serving), or popsicle molds would all work. Slice a few carrots into uniform stick-like pieces (matching length to your containers) and use them for the popsicle sticks!

Freeze and serve.

beat the heat with some good books

Rainy days are good for reading, but so are these extremely hot, humid summer afternoons we're having. Here are a few books I've got lined up to get me through the blitz of mid-high 90 degree days we have coming up:

Tish Cohen's The Truth About Delilah Blue

Joshilyn Jackson's Backseat Saints

Jon Clinch's Kings of the Earth

Vanessa Woods' Bonobo Handshake

Lauren Baratz-Logsted's The Education of Bet

If I had more time, I'd download cover art and flap copy for you, but now that morning chores are done, my sweat has dried, and I've eaten lunch, it's off to pick up Moomintroll's homeopathic remedy from our vet, to the feed store to stock up on flaked oats, wheat bran, alfalfa pellets, and beet pulp shreds, and somewhere (if I'm lucky the feed store will have these items too) for a new spray nozzle for the hose and a new scrub brush for the water troughs.

If I'm really lucky Angelina will have whipped up some fabulous Greek frozen yogurt flavor for today and I can treat myself. (NOTE: yes! just checked the menu for today and this is the frozen yogurt flavor, made with local blackberries: orange blossom with crushed frozen blackberries!)

Go to the bookstore of your choice and check out the above books - although I have not yet read them, I am confident they will all be good reads.

Monday, June 21, 2010

summer solstice 2010: the honey moon

The longest day of the year is going to be a very hot one here, but even so, we celebrate the turning point, when the days begin to get a bit shorter and we move toward our favorite season, autumn!

The summer solstice is a wonderful day to go out and take conscious note of the bounty that exists for many of us during this time of year. Green grass, many flowers, abundant wildlife. And the vegetable gardens that are offering so much produce.

Pagans referred to the summer solstice as the "honey moon," and since we've just celebrated the apache moon here, it's nice to move into another special lunar time.

I invite you to share any rituals, readings, etc. that have to do with the summer solstice. I may add things throughout the day if I get a chance!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

an apache moon night and the black mare's song

When the moon gets to the point that it looks like the moon on our painted pony's left flank, we say it's an Apache Moon... and we have one of those this evening. The moon is a bit over half full, and lying on its back, as Isak Dinesen wrote in her book Out of Africa:

If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?

November Hill's evening song today included pulling out spent squash plants to make room for new ones, being joined by two donkeys and a black mare who love to help weed, finding the toad prince in the barn aisle, and listening to Back Porch Music on NPR while the horses ate their dinner tubs.

The best part of tonight's song happened as my husband and I, along with Dickens E. Wickens, cowboy cat, walked the path from barn to back gate. My husband called out good night to the equines, and Salina whinnied in response: wait - something's not right.

So we turned and went back to the barn, realizing that Rafer Johnson had not been turned out with the herd. He was standing by the gate to the front field, and Salina was letting us know we needed to come let him out.

The black mare knows the song of being a mother, and we have learned to listen when she sings.

Friday, June 18, 2010

finding treasures at the local farmers' market

Last week at the farmer's market one of my favorite local growers had these allium in a glass jar at the center of his vegetable display, and when I inquired if he was selling them he gave the entire bunch to me for $4.00, telling me to enjoy them in a vase and then hang them upside down to dry and I could savor them for months to come.

They were gorgeous last week, but this week began to open up even more, looking even more magical and whimsical than they did originally.

Yesterday I had $15.00 in cash, so that's how much I took to the market.

I came home with a bag full of beautiful corn, a bag of rainbow cherry tomatoes (we have many on the vine, but not yet ripe), a head of lovely lettuce, a bunch of green onions (bulbs striped purple, almost too pretty to eat!), three huge home-made cookies, and a large iced latte from the local mobile espresso vendor.

I also came home with joy and laughter from conversation with the people who grew this food.

The grower of my beloved allium told me he will be bringing the actual garlic bulbs in soon and will give me some to save until fall, when I can plant them and have my own flowers next spring.

The lettuce grower handed out free tomatoes and we all laughed when a very talkative girl put hers whole into her mouth and then couldn't speak.

The man who makes bird houses told me about some wrens he'd watched this week.

The corn man made a math joke as he and I both struggled to do a simple calculation.

The espresso vendor and I discussed local history and basic business tactics.

All that and I still came home with .50 cents.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

why we do all the work we do

My daughter captured the Big Bay cantering up the hill in our front pasture yesterday, and then came running to show me the photo. I was de-webbing the barn, soaked in sweat, sporadically shrieking when webs came down in my face, but the moment I saw this photo I was reminded why we do the sweaty, never-ending work of keeping horses.

Keil Bay

The Big Bay

The King

The Most Handsome Horse in the Whole World

Big Bazooka

Dream Horse

Whatever name I give him, he is my partner in zen.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

the fine art of making lists

Yesterday afternoon the sheer number of possibilities of things "to do" around here became overwhelming and I found myself suddenly stuck, not able to do anything at all. I ended up focusing my efforts on laundry, because that always needs doing and at some point with two adults, two teens, barn chores, and sweaty weather, we actually run out of towels.

In between laundry loads I floundered around trying to pick just one thing to work on. I finally ended up flinging myself onto the bed and finishing a novel I was reading. But then I had to pick the next novel to read and that process propelled me right back into all the things that "need to be done."  Writing things.

Sometime last night I realized what I needed to do was make a list. I have a love-hate relationship with list-making. I seem driven to do it, and I feel it helps, but at some point my own imagination and broad scope get me into trouble.

My lists can be so comprehensive they become yearly plans. Except I often see them as what needs to be done - today.

I've gotten good at tossing entire lists when they begin to feel too restrictive, but yesterday I was clearly at the opposite end of the line. I needed some structure.

So I made a list of the top five things I wanted to do "tomorrow" - which is now today. Seeing that when I woke up has helped. I can pick from the list and get those things done. It's a reasonable, do-able, meaningful list.

I used to keep my lists in notebooks, which was interesting because I could look back and see that some of the items that kept showing up on my lists over the course of time NEVER got done, and in fact, nothing bad happened as a result. I also saw that some things repeated themselves over and over, which indicated that those things were part of a daily routine and probably didn't even need to be listed, which helped carve the lists down over time.

There was a sense of satisfaction knowing that I had done all those things that were crossed out and checked off.

It was also a creative process. Many of those notebooks contained detailed sketches of garden plans that never happened, redecorating schemes that never quite came together, renovation plans that were huge and possibly not affordable. But I loved noting all the ideas, and planning them to the smallest detail. A year later, when I glanced back in the notebook, I'd realize that I now had an even better plan to think about, or that some aspect of that earlier plan would never work in the present, so what a good thing I hadn't actually DONE it!

I sometimes used those notebooks when I wanted to go on catalog shopping sprees. I'd sit with the many catalogs that came in the mail, and carefully itemize in my notebook every item I wanted to buy. I'd list the prices, calculate shipping, and total it up. Usually the grand total would be such that I would instantly know I would never spend that amount of money on a bunch of "stuff" - with that amount we could take a trip, or do one of those renovations I'd been plotting. But the process was satisfying in some way - giving myself permission to list all the things I wanted, and then realizing I didn't want them that badly after all.

For the past couple of years I've been on a recycling binge, and I save all the junk mail that has clean writing space to use as note paper. So my lists have appeared on the backs of envelopes, the backs of advertisements for services we'll never use, and on lovely envelopes from gift cards that have only our names written on the front side. And these scrap paper lists get tossed when no longer relevant.

I realized last week I had an extra blank book sitting on my desk, and in a moment of whimsy and old habit, decided to make it my new "list" book. It has lines and is so satisfying to write in. It is so new that yesterday I forgot I even had it, but when I started the list last night, I remembered.

Writing my lists in the book is a way to honor the process. I'm thinking of it as honoring all the things I do, and also the things I never manage to get done. We can't do everything! We're not meant to do everything. So even those items I write down, in a grand moment of thinking I can do it all, honor my human-ness and remind me that in fact, the world doesn't end because my to do list didn't get done.

One of the items that has been on my list since about 1985 is the J. Peterman "Counterfeit Mailbag," shown to the right.

I don't know what it is about that bag, but I wanted it then and I want it right now. One of these days I'll treat myself and order it. Here's the catalog description:  (and if you've never seen a J. Peterman catalog, do yourself a favor and order one - every catalog is like its own novel!)

The secret thoughts of an entire country were once carried in leather bags exactly like this one. Except this one, a copy, isn't under lock and key in a museum. It's for sale.
I borrowed an original from a friend, a retired mailman who, like thousands before him, was kind enough to test it out, for years, on the tree-lined streets of small towns everywhere. Before you were born.
The test was successful; even though discontinued, it can't be improved upon. It's simply perfect as a device for carrying important ideas and feelings back and forth. And the same as with those old and scarce and beautiful mailbags, people will look forward to seeing what you've got inside.
The Counterfeit Mailbag (No. 1005). Containing one vast unzippered pocket, and another zippered. Shoulder strap and handle. Size: 15" long x 7" wide x 12-1/2" tall. Strong, soft leather that will only get better. A beauty. (Imported)
How to take care of the Mailbag.

The first scratch will kill you, but in fact, it's the first step in the right direction: patina.
So the sooner it gets scratched, nicked, bumped, dug, hit, squeezed, dropped, bent, folded, and rained on, the better. Really.
When you receive your mailbag, it's so fiercely new looking I'm almost ashamed of it. But there's no choice. It would cost too much to pre-age each mailbag before sending it out to a customer. (Antiques cost more than new, for a reason.)
Here's my recipe for “accelerating” the aging process. First, spend one day (the day you get it) the way it is. Brand new. Then, the next day, scratch it all over with your fingernails. Lightly. This will horrify you, at first. Then, spray-mist it with plain water, lightly. Let it dry. The scratches will lose their rawness. They will look old. Repeat this treatment as often as you can stand to; once a week for 5 weeks. Then once a year. (Clean mailbag with plain water only. Not petrochemicals, not oils, not detergents, not mystery solvents, not leather “cremes.” It will do just fine with plain water and will outlast both of us.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

keeping horses and donkeys comfortable on hot days

Since we have yet another day of heat index over 100, I thought I'd write about what we do here on November Hill to keep the horses and donkeys comfortable.

During this time of year, our herd is on night-time turn-out, which allows them to graze during the coolest part of the 24-hour period, when insect pests are the least annoying, and when the sugars in the grass are lowest.

Over time, it's become obvious that they will self-regulate this pattern if given the chance. When we first moved to November Hill we would generally close the paddock gate each morning to keep them from grazing during the daytime, but I've found they don't really need that precaution. Especially Keil Bay, who loves his cool quiet barn, his fans, and being served hay while he relaxes out of the heat.

They come in on their own most mornings and get a serving of hay. Breakfast tubs are served wet, as always, but this time of year instead of being like warm oatmeal, I serve their mixes with cool water. I like going into a hot day knowing they've absorbed a good amount of fluid, and because I feed loose salt in their tubs, I can add extra if I know we're going above 90 degrees.

They start off their day inside with nice, clean stalls. I close off all doors and windows on the sunny side of the barn, which keeps the heat and the flies out. We have big fans mounted so that air circulates in two different directions, and the sound of the fans is almost a white noise, like the rushing of water or the ocean.

They each get hay and clean water. We're fairly obsessive about the water buckets in stalls, and I also make sure the various troughs are clean, as they will often walk out to drink during the day.

Each horse gets a quick grooming and check-over in the a.m. and legs sprayed with the herbal mix we use. We do use fly predators and various and sundry traps, but when we have heat and rain, the flies seem to thrive, so we do as much as we can to keep them away from the horses. They have fly masks (I like the Cashel ones, with ears but no long noses) and they are offered to each horse. If they don't want it, they don't get it. When it's especially hot, I think they prefer to go without.

On unusually hot days I have wet down the Cashels with cold water, squeezed out the excess, and put them on wet.  Sometimes on those very hot days I will also use the hay nets so I can rinse the hay, which rehydrates it a little and makes sure the horses are getting water every time they take a bite.

By eleven or so each morning, the horses are generally in stalls, munching hay, or simply resting. No one is closed in, although I do often close Cody's stall for one or two hours so he can have the chance to lie down and sleep undisturbed if he wants to. He's the low man in the herd horse-wise, and the pony can be a real pest sometimes!

It's not unusual to go out and find Salina and the donkeys on their side, all together in one stall, and even the geldings will double up. It's a reminder that horses ARE herd animals, and for the most part, I believe they prefer to be with their herd. In our barn, the stalls are very open and they can all see one another at all times - so it fascinates me that even in the heat, when I know their bodies must be generating some extra, they will pack themselves in together and stand sleeping, usually facing in opposite directions.

On especially hot days I usually mix up a big bucket of electrolyte powder and water and leave that out for the geldings. We also have a salt block situated between the two paddocks so that anyone who wants to can lick as needed.

I love when the horses are in for the days, because the stalls get mucked at least 3-4x. Frequent mucking makes it easier, as they haven't mixed anything around. Salina gets her first lunch at 1, and her second lunch at 5, so it's easy to muck and give hay while she's eating.

Keil Bay still thinks it's highly unfair that he does not get the 4 senior meals a day that Salina gets. So he is sometimes allowed into the barnyard while she eats so he can graze a little or have some hay from the round bale.

All the horses are offered showers in the afternoon when the heat is at its worst. They seem to know when they need cooling down, and they come out to the paddocks and stand in a line. Usually Keil Bay always wants a hosing, Salina usually does, and the Cody and the pony sometimes do. The donkeys NEVER do, but they will often go take a dust bath in their very lovely dust circle in the grass paddock.

When the sun shifts to the other end of the barn, we close that end up and open the now shady side. All this is very methodical and makes a very nice routine for the horses, who seem to thrive on having things happen in a regular way they come to expect. We do mix things up enough to provide some variety and to keep them from being fixated on a very exact way of life, as I think they all need to be flexible enough to be okay with some surprises and some changes in the routine.

I'd love to hear of any things fellow horsefolk do to battle extreme heat - for yourselves and for your equines!

Monday, June 14, 2010

monday morning: heat, trims, back to the real world

I had a fairy tale existence this weekend, with writing group here and no responsibility for chores or meals. When you're needing to get rolling again with writing, I think sometimes the retreat mode is what it takes to get you there, but this time, the retreat came to me right here on November Hill.

My goal was to finish the final edit of my pony book, and I hit that Saturday night/early Sunday morning, which meant I was able to keep rolling forward into the next goal. I'm now about five chapters into reformatting my first adult novel for the Kindle, doing a little tweaking along the way. It won't be long - November Hill Press will launch its first title, and claire-obscure will be out in the world after a number of false starts.

I'm excited.

But for right now, it's re-entry into summer heat, 97 degrees today, and on top of that, hoof trims, and hoping I don't literally melt by the time I get back inside.

This is my least favorite time of year, once it gets this hot. Fortunately we are having early evening thunderstorms, which keeps things from drying out too much, and also makes an immediate dent in the heat index.

Last night, right after the rain, the temp dropped from 95 or so to 74, but after an hour, it went back up to 77!

There's not much I want to do in this kind of high humidity heat, but the back field needs dragging, so that much will have to get done.

Here's to an early fall.

Trim notes, added in after the fact:

Basically, every equine had lots of growth this time and all looked good when trimmed and dressed. Worst thing was the heat and the greenish/yellow biting flies that were out mid-day. Yuck! We made it through, and hopefully next appt. won't be this hot - heat index 104!

Friday, June 11, 2010

it's writing weekend and I can't wait

I'm racing through morning chores this a.m. because I have a meeting to attend, and then a little grocery shopping to do, but when I get home, I'm declaring writing group weekend's official start.

D. will arrive sometime after 2, and I am so grateful that she's coming, because I have been walking around with my head full of books for two weeks and I need this writing time badly.

We will write through the night, through the heat, through all the chores that other members of my family will take over and do for me, because it's Writing Group Weekend!

Looking out my window, it is overwhelmingly green. The horses are transitioning to the front field and hopefully grazing the cooler nights makes up some for the very hot days we're having right now. They're all slick and shiny and even the donkey boys are beginning to shed out.

Send good writing energy this way, and if you happen to be a writer yourself, send an excerpt and we'll read it out loud and send you encouraging words back!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

the magic behind the morning

I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.
 - J. B. Priestley

My friend Sue's kaleidoscope of the day post this morning offered the above quote, and not only do I love it, I think it sums up my approach upon waking every morning.

Today's magic included several friendly encounters with the young black snake living in my feed room. He (or she) is very respectful of my work space,  staying near the walls along the floor. After I said hello, he left for a few moments but then came back, peeking out (literally) at me from behind the oat bin, and then coming around behind my work table to peep out from that angle.

This morning's magic also included Dickens E. Wickens lying sprawled, legs all akimbo, upside down, in a pile of hay in the grass paddock. Salina and the donkeys are used to having a tuxedo cat mixed in with their hay, and the donkeys will sometimes nuzzle Dickens' very white belly.

There were more squash, more zucchini, more cucumbers, a few beans, and new sunflowers blooming in the garden. Last night we had yellow squash and zucchini tempura. Delicious!

The tomatoes are coming in, still small and green, but we should have a nice crop soon. The basil is getting bigger - can't wait for the tomato/basil/garlic/olive oil/salt/pepper/brie pasta that is so easy yet so good it almost seems too good to be true. It's only good with vine-ripened tomatoes that have never seen the inside of a truck or refrigerator.

The watermelon vines are thriving and the pepper plants are now blooming.

Although I still have squash borer moth eggs, we are getting so many squash I can hardly complain. It might be that when the squash decline I just need to clear them out and plant anew. I'd rather do that than use chemicals!

I started a new compost pile yesterday, in a very bare spot in the bottom of the front field. I'm excited to watch the compost mature, and I'm thinking by late summer I can spread the black gold out and transform that area into more fertile ground.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

zen harrowing and some other things

Last night after dinner I went out to harrow the arena. Sunset, orange and lavender, coincided with my methodical circling, and husband was there to move jumps, standards, dressage markers, and ground poles so that my circuits were uninterrupted. I hadn't realized just how calming it is to go around and around, making harrow lines in the near darkness.

Just before I drove through the gate to the barnyard to begin the harrowing, Dickens E. Wickens, cowboy and hunter, came from the forest with a young bunny in his mouth. Since the bunny was already dead, we gave it back to him, but when I first spotted those dangling ears, I called out to husband and was making upset noises. Rafer Johnson and Redford came running when they heard my cries - with looks of concern on their donkey faces. It was about the sweetest thing in the world to see them look at my face, searching to see what was wrong, donkey ears held high. They are true friends and guardians.

Today I spent some time checking my compost piles after getting the barn set up for the day. There is so much color this time of year - green grass, green leaves, yellow goldfinches, blue birds, red cardinals, brown tree trunks. Walking through the field is like opening a new box of Crayola crayons, the big box, and trying to choose which one you'll use first.

This afternoon I went into town to run errands and ended up running into my dentist at the gas station. He came over to say hello and reassure me about an upcoming dental appointment. Have I mentioned lately that I love our little town? I grew up in a different small town and couldn't wait to leave when I graduated from high school. I'm beginning to see the benefits, in middle life.

Another thing I did today was set up the second pondering bench. I have one looking into the back field, and today's looks over the barnyard. These are simple benches, utilizing leftover cinder blocks and pieces of wood, but they sit nicely and provide two shady spots to sit and watch and think. Redford walked with me to the back field bench, and knocked the bench off with his nose, but when I put it back, he allowed it to stay.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

summer sunday supper

Today was another hot one, and I took an uncharacteristic late afternoon nap that I guess I needed but I am really not a napping kind of person - I always wake up groggy and feeling off kilter.

However, it was nearing dinnertime and I had a special meal in mind, so I shook it off and headed to the kitchen.

The menu:

havarti potato pie
chile lime corn on the cob
cucumbers from the garden, sprinkled with salt and splashed with balsamic vinegar

My friend Debbie, who I went to school with most of the years from kindergarten on through high school graduation, and who I have come to know again via Facebook, gave me her recipes for the potato pie and the corn.

I harvested cucumbers yesterday from the garden, and although they were not beautiful on the outside, they were absolutely perfect to eat. Best I've had in years!  I attribute it all to Keil Bay. :)

The meal was absolutely delicious, and the cucumbers made a lovely a side dish. My husband took Kyra Corgi for a walk just before dinner, and when he came back he put a handful of just-picked blackberries on my plate. Even more perfect!

This summer supper was light, yummy, and easy, and Debbie's dessert idea to go with it would have been one more incredible course - mango sorbet.

There is rumor Debbie has a cookbook in the works, and if so, I can promise you I'll be buying it the moment it's available.

I am so enjoying the garden - and the farmer's market. This week past we had a beautiful salad centered around locally grown beets I roasted in the oven - they were a bright orange and deep ruby red, and when I sliced them, they were striped! The taste was rich and good. The colors were added pleasure.

And there was something wonderful about spying them at the farmer's market, making my way to the table they were on, complimenting the grower on her lovely produce, purchasing and sticking the bunch into my bag, and pondering what meal I'd make with those gorgeous beets. 

I missed the market this week and am barely able to wait until this Thursday when it's here again.

Friday, June 04, 2010

sunflowers and squash


The sunflowers have begun to bloom, and I'm not sure why, but just seeing them there makes me very happy. The echinacea is coming up, although not as quickly as those sunflowers did!

I realized that I need to be checking the garden every morning - as you'll see in the last picture, one squash was trying to break a world size record... and this one was being carefully guarded by a spider. I'm happy to see the spider, although I did ask it to move away from the squash so I could pick!


The first zucchini was ready, and one lone dragon tongue bean. I've planted more bean plants, beneath the shade of the older ones, and once they're bigger I'll take the older ones out and hopefully get more of these lovely beans.

I also found some odd copper-colored dots that look a bit like braille. I'm assuming these are eggs of some kind. Anyone know what?


Update: I just discovered these are squash borer moth eggs - which I need to get rid of. Suggestions are to spray with soapy water each day, mostly around the stems, where the eggs hatch into caterpillars which bore into the stems, causing the squash to die. I'll be out there later in the day, spraying with peppermint soap and water.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

some november hill updates: composting and tears

On Sunday I rotated horses and mowed/dragged the front field - noticed immediately that the first of several compost piles I started back in the late winter is now fully composted. My plan was to reduce the work load and make small compost piles along the edges of the fields so that we don't have to make the long trek down to the woodland/labyrinth paths all year long, and to put the compost where we actually intend to use it - for the most part, to fertilize the fields.

I wasn't sure how this plan was going to work, but I decided to give it a try while saving up for the O2 compost system that I hope to get at some point.

On Sunday I discovered that my plan is working. That first pile was black, crumbly compost and when I use the harrow behind the mower to drag this material out over the ground, there is virtually no hard labor involved.

This morning I headed to the back field to check those piles out. The first one I made in back is also black and crumbly, and when I rotate the horses back around in a few weeks, I'll do the same thing I did up front - drag, mow any weeds, and pull that lovely compost out to fertilize.

The thing I love about this is that the piles can be made where the compost is most needed. I have not turned the piles. All I did was pile manure/stall waste around four feet high, put a layer of mature compost on the mound, and flatten the top of the mound into a slightly concave shape so it catches the rain. It's amazing how quickly the compost is forming, and wonderful that when I walk around to check the piles, there are no flies. You can smell when it's working - there is no odor of manure. It smells like compost!

Added benefit: horses are beginning to drop manure next to the piles. Perfect way to start the next pile or even add to the existing pile, depending where it is in the compost process.

On another note, Rafer Johnson has had leaky eyes off and on this spring. I suspect he is still adjusting to the pine pellet bedding we switched to, and probably the fact that we made the change during the peak pollen season did not help matters.

Maire, from PoniesAtHome, shared a tip on her blog a few weeks ago. Make chamomile tea and use as an eyewash. The tea bag itself makes a nice compress as you're washing the eye. Rafer submitted to this very non-donkey experience, and when it was over, he was wary, but then decided it felt pretty good, so he came back to my picnic table treatment center to see what else I had up my sleeve. I discovered that the homeopathic remedy allium cepa works wonders for Rafer. After one dose he is a firm believer in the tiny syringe of distilled water and remedy. We love homeopathy on November Hill.

I was going to take a few photos of the Italian sunflowers, but we are having thunderstorms this afternoon, so I'll save the sunflowers for tomorrow.

And check out this very nice read over at the Thinline blog.