Saturday, July 31, 2010

finally, a night in the 60s!

I think the horses and donkeys knew the temperatures were falling even before the sun set yesterday - Redford and Cody were having one of their extended play sessions, something they haven't done lately due to the oppressive heat.

My grand plan to be out in the cool of the night was shifted somewhat when I walked by the sofa barefoot and somehow rammed my little toe. It hurt and throbbed so hard I knew it was more than the usual stubbing - this morning it is purple and swollen and possibly broken. But I can walk, just not quite normally!

Last night though, I hobbled out with my husband and watched while Salina got her evening stroll in the arena. Two donkeys were running like mad, circling and chasing one another. There was the slightest hint of chill to the air, and it brought out the frisky play. The donkeys took a break to come stand beside me as I rested on the mounting block. There was a little bit of jostling for best scratching positions, which they got, and then they were off again.

Salina was really walking out, which was nice to see.

I couldn't bear to give up completely on my plan to spend some time with the Big Bay, so my husband put on his halter and lead rope and brought him into the arena for me. I hobbled along with Keil for about 1/4 of the way around the arena and realized I couldn't go the entire way. So we spent a little time together backing and turning on the forehand and haunches, and then just stood together for a few minutes, listening to the night sounds and enjoying the cool air.

While my husband was feeding dinner tubs, I laid down along the bench of the picnic table and looked up at the sky. After a few minutes a soft warm muzzle appeared, along with some very handsome and very sweet donkey eyes. Rafer Johnson had finished his meal and come out to visit. He stood and rested his muzzle on my abdomen while he got scratches in his most favorite place - along both sides of his neck. I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is nothing sweeter than a donkey's gaze.

Our feed store is trying a new brand of beet pulp shreds and they asked if I would sample a bag for them, as they know how picky I am and that I do a fairly elaborate rinse/soak/rinse routine and inspect the feed closely. This particular brand is not nearly as dusty, but the shreds are larger and I wondered if the horses would note the difference. It rinsed about the same as the other does, but once rinsed and soaked, the last rinse before feeding seems "cleaner" and the final product looks nice.

Donkeys approved, Salina approved (usually she's the one who refuses something if it's different), Cody and the pony approved. Keil Bay left over half his meal! I was shocked, as he is generally a very enthusiastic eater and I can count on two fingers the things he has refused. One was a home-made from scratch carrot cake with cream cheese frosting I made for the first birthday he shared with me. I think he thought the frosting was dewormer paste and I was trying to pull a fast one. The second were alfalfa pellets that used soybean oil as a binder. (the entire herd refused those - it was quite bizarre)

Last night, when he didn't finish his meal, I asked for a cup of oats and went into his stall to sprinkle them over the beet pulp/alfalfa pellet plus salt and ground flax mixture left in his blue tub. I knew if there was something wrong with the food, the oats wouldn't make a difference, but as soon as I lifted his tub up and sprinkled the oats, he came back and resumed eating with great relish.

In the mornings I often go in at the end of the meal and hold Keil's tub for him so he can lick it clean more easily. I've always done this, and it has always been a special few minutes of time we share. He seems to appreciate the gesture, and will usually lick my fingers a few times during the process.

Last night my toe was throbbing, so I sat on the edge of the manger and held the tub. Keil was careful to when he moved his head, not bumping me, and because it was actually half his meal, it took awhile for him to eat. He ate the bulk of the meal and then meticulously slurped up the juicier portion (we feed wet). At the end, he proceeded with the careful licking clean he likes to do. The other horses had already gone out to the field, but Keil was very happy standing there with me, taking his time, enjoying his meal. I was happy to be there, sitting so close with his tub, and getting smeared with feed as he lifted his head to chew and look.

We had one "hanger on" - Apache Moon often stays behind in the evenings so he can lick out the tubs. For awhile he was waiting patiently at Keil's back door, but it took so long he wandered down the paddock.

When Keil was done and I opened his door so he could rejoin his herd, he didn't leave. I think he wanted to stay and hang out for awhile. I waited in the paddock right by the barn, and he came out, stopped to say good night, and headed down the paddock, through the light from the arena, and then into the dark shadows.

I hope the equines all enjoyed the taste of a changing summer last night - it was so nice feeling the cooler air, and remembering that the heat of summer does move on.

Friday, July 30, 2010

power walking with the Big Bay

Yesterday I went out earlier in the evening to see if I could continue the ease back into work with Keil Bay. He was in the arena grazing (yes, that is unfortunately true! GRASS in the arena enough to graze!) with Cody and Rafer Johnson.

The pony had let himself into the barnyard with Salina and Redford, who were all peacefully co-existing with some hay.

Keil lifted his head as soon as I walked in the arena. I had a halter and lead rope, so he knew something was up. I think he thought we might be heading to the barn to tack up, but I surprised him and took him for a walk all through the front of our property. It's been so hot, and the horses have been slow-moving and slightly sluggish, so when Keil walked out very big with ears up and in his fullest Big Bay posture, it took ME by surprise.

What pleasure to take a walk with a big, alert, handsome Hanoverian! Everything is immensely green, the light from the sun low in the sky is so soft and lovely, and there we were in the midst of it. As we headed up the hill and back toward the barn, we jumped together over the creek bed, and through the loose lead line I could feel the power in Keil's big body, coiled and in his complete control, waiting to see if I would keep the forward momentum and build it into a trot, or continue the walking we'd been doing.

It was like having a big, horse-shaped balloon full of energy on the line, but more even, because of the connection between two living beings.

As  went up the hill, Keil's energy increased and I responded silently, with a sense of pleasure in his movement and power, and the energy seemed to circle. He went into a piaffe.
I've not done advanced work in hand, nor have I done long-lining, which I so want to learn. I think a lot of people feel that kind of work is mostly done to get the horse ready for riding, but when I experience the power that I felt yesterday with the Big Bay, I realize the absolute wonder of that kind of work.

That a horse weighing 1300+ pounds chooses to stay with me, connected in spirit and by the lead line, and circles his energy into such a lovely, still movement, is pure magic.

We moved on in our walk and ended up back in the arena, where we did some more walking, really big strides and Keil keeping his head at my shoulder.

My plan was to end with a good groom, but I realized that all the sweat and hosings and rollings had left his coat in need of a real bath, so we spent a good half an hour under the big oak tree. I used the soft scrubber he loves, and about halfway through, he shifted from enjoying the bath but wanting to get to hay, to wanting to just be there with me. I rinsed him on one setting but he loves the mist setting so much we created a rhythm - rinse rinse rinse, clickclickclick to mist for his face and muzzle, clickclickclick back to circle setting to rinse.

Keil Bay is the kind of horse who thrives on the routine of being worked and cared for - he shows his gratitude by engaging at a very deep and connected level once you connect with him that way. It is a mystery that I suppose I will never solve - is he simply oriented this way personality-wise, or did someone nurture this tendency carefully to grow and develop it?

The answer is probably some of both.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

back to some work

After our huge rains on Tuesday, and yesterday's drying out and return to "normal" summer weather, the slightly cooler evening seemed like a great time to get back into some work with the horses. I noticed the forecast is predicting lows in the upper 60s again, instead of the mid-70s, and there's something about that shift that makes me realize there will of course be an end to the heat.

Given we have been, including the equines, simply existing the past few weeks, I decided to just do some walking on the ground with Keil Bay in the arena. But first, we took Salina and the donkeys in and while Salina had a walk with my husband to stretch her legs and get her joints warmed up, I pulled grass (the arena is undergoing a transformation - going green! - kept company by Rafer Johnson and Redford. I think they thought I was doing my own version of grazing but Rafer looked at me like I had truly gone crazy when I tossed my harvest over the arena fence into the woods.

We finished up picking feet and applying some ointment to frogs.

The geldings had gone out to the front field earlier, but came marching up to see what we were doing. My daughter grabbed a handful of alfalfa pellets, divided them between herself, my husband, and me, and we proceeded to invite the geldings in for a walk. Keil Bay had to be rewarded for the first three big steps out of his stall and into the arena. It was approaching dinner tub time, and this is not the normal routine, so he was not amused at my timing. But he couldn't ignore the possibility of a few pellets. He first turned himself nearly in half but once he took the first real step it was pretty quick moving from stall to arena.

My daughter was walking with her pony, and my husband with Cody. It was dark and the arena light is in the phase it gets to before it needs to be replaced - still bright enough to see by, but definitely dimmer than usual. It's actually pretty nice having it dimmer - it has a pinkish cast that makes the arena seem slightly surreal.

All I wanted to do with Keil Bay was get back into the arena, do some big walk strides together, and get him to connect with me as a partner. The first few minutes he was walking for the pellets, not able to contain himself from going to my hand, and paying more attention to my hand than to me. We worked through this. After just a bit of time he stopped caring so much about the pellets and we were just walking, turning, stopping, and then I asked him to move his haunches away from me a few times in both directions.

Once we were working together easily and smoothly, we stopped and he got the rest of the pellets all at once. Daughter did some nice work with her pony - she ended up hopping on him and worked on walking and halting, which was something considering there were two other people in the arena with hands full of pellets!

Cody was his usual quiet, respectful self, although he did try to leave husband at one point to come join Keil Bay and me - sometimes I work with both of them together that way and he enjoys being part of a two-horse team, I think.

So - we're over the little slump now and if the weather will cooperate, I'm going to do a little more each day (or night) and aim for actual tack in a week or so.

Monday, July 26, 2010

an appeal for humane and connected horsemanship

Seventeen years ago I was given a book by William Sears, M.D., called The Baby Book, in which Dr. Sears talked about his theory of parenting, referred to as attachment parenting.

Dr. Sears' theory of attachment parenting (often called AP), calls for developing a secure bond with our children, the goal being a secure, connected child who grows into an empathic, connected adult.

Attachment Parenting International offers the following guiding principles, which facilitate strong, nurturing connections between children and their parents:
  1. preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
  2. feeding with love and respect
  3. responding with sensitivity
  4. using nurturing touch
  5. ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally
  6. providing consistent and loving care
  7. practicing positive discipline
  8. striving for balance in personal and family life

With only a few tweaks of language, all of the above could easily be set forth as guiding principles for living humanely and in connection with horses (and donkeys, and all equines).

Last week it was Pat Parelli and Catwalk.

This week I have read an article about a miniature donkey strapped into a harness against her will and parasailed up and down a beach in the name of "publicity." The donkey was terrified, landed quite roughly, and apparently was in such distress while in the air, left many children crying in upset confusion. And yet, after a public outcry when the owner was finally located and the donkey examined by a veterinarian, there will apparently be no charges of abuse or cruelty because the donkey sustained no physical injuries.

In the smaller circle of equine community, I have read a post on a forum about the need to keep working our horses, despite the heat, because of the need to maintain a training schedule. Heat indexes where I live have ranged from 112-119 degrees for the past week. It's easy enough to see that extreme heat affects horses more quickly and more seriously than it does the average, healthy human. They have hair covering their entire bodies. Their digestive tracts rely on regular intake of forage and water to remain functional. When we ride them, they are not only working, but carrying our weight.

I received an email informing me of things to do to haul horses safely in heat, in advance of Pony Club National Championships coming up next weekend in Virginia. Nationals are held in Kentucky and Virginia on alternate years, always in late July/early August. Why schedule something that involves hauling horses and ponies from all over the US during the hottest time of year?

I read a Facebook entry referring to a pony as a "butthead" because he didn't want to go into the ring for a show class, tried to leave, and bucked. Has the pony been checked for physical pain? Bit fit, saddle fit, muscle soreness, feet checked, chiropractic issues? The pony's behavior is indicative of something being wrong, either physically or emotionally. How else can he express it? My guess is that if he didn't want to go into the ring to jump, and that was paid attention to, he wouldn't have then needed to buck to get his point across. And yet no one listened. He was a "butthead."

Is there no end to the narcissism, self-centeredness, and downright ignorance of human beings? I can't think of any reason save an emergency trip to the vet school that would call for loading any horse or donkey into a trailer at this time of year, in this heat, with the expectation that the horse/donkey stand in a strange stall, hot, stressed, and yet ready and willing to perform strenuous work in a competitive setting.

I can't imagine having hauled any of my horses to any event this week and being remotely capable of disparaging them because they resisted being ridden.

And I could no more strap Rafer Johnson or Redford in a harness and drag them through the air for the sake of making a little money than I could one of my human children.

What in the world are we thinking when we expect animals to serve as vehicles for our bank accounts, our egos, and our apparently desperate need for external validation?

Alice Miller wrote a number of books about parents who expect these things of their children. She describes in great psychological detail what this does to children, and how the effects ripple into adulthood.  It's time someone wrote a similar treatise on people and their horses. There is no ribbon on earth, no amount of money, and no genuine self-gratification worth the cost of treating animals like objects, with no feelings, no rights, and little effort on our parts toward creating, nurturing, and maintaining a deeper relationship.

When we ignore the deeper, unspoken needs of the equines we ride and use for our own purposes, there is a cost. Not dollars and cents, although certainly we may end up with broken down horses and big vet bills at some point down the road. The cost I refer to is a psychic, soul-deep cost that I'm not sure we even know the consequences of incurring. It's a cost to humanity and to growth as human beings.

 I know this sounds serious. I believe it to be true.

I'm not opposed to competitive horse sport, but the reward of competition should be based in the maturing of the rider's increasingly connected relationship with the horse, and in the making of sound, safe decisions based on the needs of the horse, who can't leave a voicemail saying "oh, by the way, I really don't feel like carrying you over jumps in 90+ degree heat - how about we do it another time?"

As much as our children rely on us to intuit and meet their needs when they're too young to do it for themselves, our horses and our donkeys (and our cats and dogs and birds and all the other wonderful animals we surround ourselves with) need us to be their biggest, most thoughtful advocates and partners.

And I can say with certainty borne of experience, when we say NO to "smack him harder," when we say NO to "that noseband needs to be TIGHT," when we say IT'S TOO HOT TO HAUL, WE WON'T BE THERE when we get the email asking about the upcoming horse show, and when we say "I'll do what it takes to find out why you bucked in that last class" - what we get in return is something far more valuable than a training schedule checked off, a thumbs up from an unenlightened trainer, a few new clients for our company, or a fistful of cheap show ribbons.

We get connection. We get devotion. We get to participate in the magical relationship that is the amazing and most genuine gift horses and donkeys offer humans.

And more than that, I think we elevate ourselves as humans. We raise the bar for our own species. Instead of expecting more of them, how about we expect more of ourselves?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rafer and Redford join in Sheaffer's outrage

Our dear friend Sheaffer has posted this about the Russian donkey who was harnessed and parasailed up and down a beach by the Sea of Asov.

We were alerted to the story first by a camera-obscura reader, and appreciate the information and heads up.

Please join all our donkey friends and family in expressing outrage against this act of extreme cruelty to an innocent donkey.

If you live in the US, you can contact the US Ambassador to the Russian Federation, John Beyrle, at:

U.S. Embassy in Moscow

Bolshoy Deviatinsky Pereulok No. 8
Moscow 121099, Russian Federation
Tel: +7 (495) 728-5000, fax: 728-5090
(Moscow is 8 hours ahead of Washington)
Consular e-mail (for questions regarding visas and other consular services):

Let him know that you want this act investigated and punished to the full extent of the law. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

dreaming about the keebler elf (my interpretation added at the end)

My hilarious husband sent me this image a bit ago following my a.m. dream report in which I told him the dream I had just before waking this morning.

In the dream someone had given me a very large herd of driving horses and equipment, and I had a brief time in which to find a place to move them. I was working with a realtor, looking for a piece of land large enough to provide plenty of pasture for this herd of big horses, and she talked me into going to see a place she thought might have "potential."

Guess where she took me?  Apparently, the Keebler Elf died, and left behind his mansion, many-acre property, and elf factories. We arrived at the very stylized mansion, and she convinced me I had to see the inside to get the full sense of the potential.

The inside was everything you might imagine the Keebler Elf's home would be: curlicue molding of many colors, elf-like decorations dripping from every inch of wall and ceiling space, and all the accoutrement that an elf might end up with by the end of his long elf life.

"There is no way I can live here!" I said to the realtor, who assured me there was a HUGE market for elf decor and that I would make enough selling the stuff to collectors to pay for the entire property.

Still not convinced, she took me outside and instead of showing me the land where I might house the driving horses, she led me to a little gravel lane, which had tiny elf factories on both sides. "All the equipment is still in place!" she said. "You could sell it or put it back into operation and have a working farm that pays for everything you need!"

I woke up feeling like I had been through an ordeal, and like I had a huge decision to make - horses needed a home! There was a property that would allow it to happen! But the private estate of the Keebler Elf????  I just wasn't sure if I could do it.

And I'm still not sure. However, it has kept me chuckling to myself all day long.

(please note that I am hereby starting to label my posts, in a very belated effort at creating some order here on camera-obscura!)

And now, let me write my interpretation of this wild and crazy dream, after it's been sitting in my subconscious/conscious most of the day today:

The big driving horses being offered, if I can only find a way to house them, are not horses at all, but "big dreams" - likely writing related since I am in the process of launching a "small" press. In my mind, big driving horses are powerful and capable of huge forward motion. Galloping forward, in a big way. But that estate is too small - the mansion is packed with elf stuff, the factories are too little.

The Keebler Elf - well, who knows, really, where that crazy image came from, but my guess is that my unconscious was really trying to knock me over the head with something so outlandish I couldn't fail to pay attention.

The Keebler Elf is small, has died, and has left behind a huge "field of possibility" - but much of what exists there is useless to me - crowded and gaudy and not my "size." I could make the connection to big publishing here, but that might be pushing it. :)

I'm thinking the Keebler Elf also represents the part of me that is being cautious, keeping my dream of a "small" press "small" - and not allowing for the "potential" the realtor promises is indeed there: she says there is a huge market for the stuff in the mansion, the factories can be sold or used, in other words, make use of what you have, get it all out there so it can work for you. Go for it!

There's more to be said, but it's subtle stuff that would only make sense with a longer explanation - but I am reminded of the Keebler Elf commercials that were so prevalent on TV when I was younger. Lots of making and baking and sending those cookies out the door to be sold.

All that activity, all those cookies - from a little, tiny tree.  What's small can still have a BIG impact. And, elves have magic!

Isn't it pretty fabulous what our unconscious can use to get our attention? If this dream had incorporated any other symbol I would have forgotten about it by now. But the Keebler Elf made me stop and pay attention.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

the very best thing about July is...

celebrating Rafer Johnson's birthday!!

Rafer Johnson, miniature donkey extraordinaire, is 3 years old!  We have postponed his party until this heat wave breaks, when I will hopefully have the camera back in my hands, when party treats don't melt down into mush, and when Cody is over his sudden patch of hives.

But meanwhile, a very very very happy birthday to the donkey who has taught us about the best hugs in the world, about courage when a bone is broken, that a happy donkey is a fast-healing donkey, and that all those things people say about donkeys (in the vein of stubborn, etc.) are so far from true it still befuddles me where the sayings came from in the first place!

We love you, Rafer!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

stopping for as long as it takes

This morning I was reading Ponies At Home and Maire reminded me that one of the many lessons we can learn from horses has to do with attention and intention and being present in each moment.

Sometimes I get too busy rushing around the barn/barnyard, doing chores, etc., and the horses and donkeys seem to be sending me the message: Stop!!  Just stop for a moment!

The sound of all those equine voices is silent and yet very powerful, like a wall of noise I can't ignore. So I stop, and stand, and let myself be quietly with any one of them, or all of them in turn.

And when I do, they test me - will you stand here for as long as it takes, or will you stop, pat, rush on? Are you in a hurry, or are you willing to be here, quiet, listening and absorbing, but mostly just being?

They remind me daily that we lose nothing and gain everything when we stop for as long as it takes, which in the scheme of things, isn't very long at all.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Last week I had the camera on my desk but no cord, and this week I have the cord but no camera. I will eventually add some photos and video, but if I keep waiting until I have both necessary parts to that process, it might be awhile before a new post goes up!

Lots of little stuff going on here, though.

Saturday I went and met three Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppies and ended up putting a deposit on a tri-color male, firstborn, big, cute as can be, called Bear by the breeder. Bear has a certain presence and self-assurance that I think will mix well with Kyra Corgi and the five felines here. Not to mention the donkey boys, who are going to get well acquainted with this little guy right from the start so there is no question that he is allowed in the barnyard.

Bear (who will get his permanent name soon) will be coming home in 3 weeks and I'm very happy we've found the new Corgi family member. I did not take photos, but you can bet there will be a ton once he gets here.

Thanks to Catherine who sent me the photos!

We've had rain daily since Friday, and the grass is growing at an astounding rate. Today was fairly mild at 90, but we're back into the upper 90s starting tomorrow and I'm not looking forward to it. July is when I wish we had a mountain farm to escape to, although I'd surely be a nervous wreck transporting every one of our animals at once to anywhere, much less up the side of a mountain. The thought of that makes the heat a little more bearable.

My son started driver's ed today, and was there for one hour before my cell phone rang and he said I needed to come back and pick him up. Apparently they spent the one hour being lectured to about cell phones and the fact that the teacher feels they are unnecessary. Until someone came in to the classroom and informed him that the water pipes weren't functioning, class was canceled, and the students would need to "get out your cell phones and call your parents to come get you."

Needless to say, my son is not all that enthused about his very first experience with the public/formal school system!

And finally, I have done a bit more work on my very important project, something I care a lot about, and something you'll be hearing more about as time passes. For now, if you're intrigued, head on over to November Hill Press and see the little bit that's there. Slowly, but surely, another lifelong dream is coming to fruition.

Friday, July 16, 2010

chris irwin tosses a gauntlet?

I don't know anything about Chris, but I found this intriguing. Anyone know more?

no drama here, just a peaceful July evening on November Hill

I actually have video! But can't find the cord for the camera, so will have to add it later.

Horses and donkeys are transitioning from back field to front, so in the evenings they go to the front for a few hours, until dinner tubs are served, and then they go to the back field for the rest of the night. The first few days of the new field they are very intent on grazing, and yesterday there were lots of equine jaws in action, along with tails swishing away whatever insects were out and about.

The setting sunlight made sections of gold in the front field, and periodically a horse or donkey would pass through, utterly illuminated for those moments in the light.

Sometimes I think "I should be riding" or "the back field needs harrowing asap!" But yesterday, no thought of any chore intruded, and even the idea of riding was an intrusion into the moment. The horses and donkeys were doing their own work, grazing and sampling, walking and swishing, enjoying a new patch of ground, and keeping track of all the herd members as they reclaimed the front field.

My job was to stand there and share the moment. Rafer Johnson made sure I knew I was wanted. You'll see, when I find that cord!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

when big name trainers get too caught up in their own egos: Pat Parelli and Catwalk

I keep hoping someone with better footage will post it online, but even though the quality of what follows is poor, it's plenty clear enough: Pat Parelli will go against his own philosophy to accomplish his goal in front of an audience, and if it takes ropes on legs and twitches on gums, so be it.

These are his words about working with an ear shy horse (here, and in all Parelli quotes, I have left the typos as they were):

EAR SHY? By Pat Parelli
Can you touch your husband's ears? What about your best friend's, your child's or your mother's?
If you couldn't then there's probably something wrong with the relationship! This is how I want you to think of your horse's so-called 'problem'. If he doesn't like his ears to be touched its because deep down inside, he does not trust you. There is a flaw in your relationship.
When I talk about the solution here I am going to give you the natural approach, the one that consider's the horse's point of view. To effect a 'cure' you have to gain his trust and permission. The normal way is often to force the horse to accept it, twitch him, tie him, throw him…. In my mind (and in the horse's I'm sure) this is akin to rape and I won't use it.

I guess all that goes out the window when you're in front of a paying crowd and your ego is on the line.

The idea that this went on for several hours is horrific. I can't believe the owner of this horse allowed Parelli near him the next day.

This is an example of what I meant in my comment on the recent Edward Gal post: when a trainer comes to believe his own hype,  he'll do almost anything to protect it, even when it proves to be wrong for the horse he's trying to help.

IMO, the Parellis are way over the line at this point. There is no way either of them would get anywhere near any of my animals.

I hope the huge number of people who follow their work stop and take a good hard look at what's being done to horses in the name of training. Those who walked out on this demonstration are the ones who deserve the accolades.

There are better ways to do this kind of work - with no force and no trauma to the animal. First and foremost, a veterinary exam, a chiro exam, and a dental exam. After all physical reasons for this behavior have been ruled out, proceeding with some work on the issue at hand. And guess what? It doesn't involve gimmicks or being the alpha. It simply involves gaining the respect and trust of the horse, and breaking down the task into small, manageable pieces that build on one another to the end result.

Here's the video posted of the entire 3 days as edited by the Parelli team.  Note that none of the rope restraints show up on their version. A number of people report that the horse was obviously drugged for days 2 and 3.  I don't know. But it's obvious they are hell-bent on getting the bit into the mouth, even if it's the ring instead of the bit itself that goes in. And that Parelli's solution utilizes all kinds of contraptions, lots of drama, and ZERO common sense.

What they said after the Friday session:

Our challenging horse lived up to its billing tonight at the Royal Featival of The Horse demo. Catwalk, an extremely Left-Brain stallion showed us his wonderful spirit and demonstrated that his unwillingness to bridle hasn't been created during the 8 weeks that Robert Whitaker has owned him but is clearly due to many years of fear of being bridled due to the lack of a basic foundation training.
We ran 45 minutes over and a couple of folks were upset at what they think they saw, saying they may post on YouTube. We all have nothing to worry about except misunderstanding. Pat stopped at an appropriate time in the training process when he saw a breakthrough and preserved Catwalk's dignity, which is more important than getting the bridle on tonight. 
How arrogant to blow off all the upset observers - "what they think they saw" - and if this is preserving a horse's dignity, well, I have a very different notion of dignity than the Parellis do.

Vote with your wallet, folks. And if you boycott a horse festival because the Parellis are doing a demonstration, let the venue know why you aren't coming.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

a reposted piece of pony work

 I'm reposting the following, which was originally titled "play therapy with ponies" - because it came after a tough spell of riding and training during which my daughter was readying to do her pony club D3 rating, and although the pony had proven his ability to jump the required height (and higher, with balance and beauty) he suddenly became sour and although everyone around her was encouraging her to go through with the rating, she decided not to, because she felt the pony needed her to listen to him and honor what he was telling her.

In retrospect, I believe that was the best decision we've ever made regarding a horse. Since that time, and since the video below, she has focused on relationship instead of ratings. She spent an entire year riding him with no agenda except that of creating harmony and softness. She has taken him to dressage schooling shows and done well, and right now she's riding him bareback on a near daily basis. He's no longer sour to the jumps, and I think the bottom line is that he knows she won't force him into anything that is scary or that hurts.

I've seen him stand at the arena gate and wait for her when she runs inside to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, his eyes glued to our back door. She has a deeper connection with him than she ever would have had she gone against everything he was saying to her and done that rating.

I'll try to get some new video footage today to show the two working together. You'll see a much taller girl and her ten-year old pony.

Reposted portion:

Today, out at the barn, we were playing around and decided to use an old rein as a cordeo to see what Apache Moon might do. He was a pretty good sport once we got him into the arena. She rode him bareback and with the cordeo for a half-hour, walking and trotting and cantering. He kept circling toward a jump in the arena, which was a bit high for today's play, so I lowered it nearly to the ground. The pony was obsessed with that jump. He kept circling right and taking the little jump at a canter over and over again, even though he could have easily trotted over it without breaking stride. It was as though he were working through some conflict about jumping. It reminded me quite a bit of traumatized children in play therapy, and how they will sometimes replay the trauma over and over again. It was fascinating to see Apache Moon choose repeatedly to jump with my daughter astride, no saddle or bridle, when he was in total control of where he was going.

After awhile I encouraged her to hop off and do some ground work with him. What he did was so cute she ran in to get the camera. I was sitting in the arena on the mounting block and when she went inside, he stood at the gate watching the back door of the house for her return. There was grass at the edges of the arena he could have nibbled on, but he didn't even look at it. It was pretty amazing. I wish I had video of him waiting for her - his focus never shifted.

So here's one little piece of what they did together today. It's by no means the first time they've done this kind of play together, but it's the first time we've captured it on video. She is using no treats and has a dressage whip in one hand that is mostly getting in the way. I purposely selected this bit because you see near the end that he intrudes into her space in a rather cheeky way and she holds her hand up and lets him bump into her fingertips. His response to that is very dramatic, but then you see him come right back to their connection.

Monday, July 12, 2010

the sunflower thieves

The drama unfolded on Friday evening. We decided to open up both gates to the back yard and let the horses wander in and graze down the grass while we made dinner and waited for writing group weekend to begin.

I watched as a little red sorrel donkey realized the gate was open and made a beeline for the backyard. Cody came in next, gleaming chestnut in the setting sunlight. Keil Bay followed, his red bay coat looking even more red against the green grass. Salina and Rafer Johnson brought their black and gray colors to the scene.

The painted pony stood by the gate which Salina was guarding, not realizing the other one was open and he could have gone around to get in. He stood and stood, watching her intently for the one moment when she might let her guard down. I should mention that Salina had her blind side to the gate where the pony was standing. She had no way to "see" him, but she knew he was there, and each time he even leaned forward to take a step, she flagged her head at him.

Eventually she let her guard down for a split second and he darted through, smart enough to get 15 feet or so out of her way before dropping his head to graze.

This is our normal evening routine: horses grazing, donkeys grazing, various cats lying about. It was peaceful and they were all enjoying the grass.

I kept glancing out at them, not because they needed watching so much, but because every single one was literally gleaming in the sunshine, their colors rich and deep, and I was admiring the palette they made all together.

Then suddenly I saw a small donkey dashing across the yard with something hanging from his mouth. A huge green something. Upon closer inspection it was a sunflower!

We removed it from him and laughed. A little bit later, I looked out and saw a big black mare standing headfirst in the pinwheel of garden beds. The sunflowers are in the center of the pinwheel, planted in a mound. Suddenly Salina's big black head made a sharp motion and one of the gigantic plate-sized sunflowers came off its stalk. She had the whole thing dangling from her muzzle.

It was getting dusky so we decided it was time for the horses to go back to the barnyard until their dinner tubs. I realized when I looked at the stolen sunflowers that they are going to seed, and the big ones especially have the black shiny seeds that are exactly what we used to feed the horses as a supplement. They loved them then and I guess they love them now, because once Salina nabbed one of the big ones, Keil Bay suddenly got interested in those tall yellow things too.

If I had a big video camera and some equipment, we could have had a Fellini movie on our hands.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Edward Gal: "I just want to have the control over the horse."

This is from Edward Gal's master class at Festival of the Horse. I think what Gal says: "I just want to have the control over the horse," a direct quote, pretty much says it all about this style of training.

There are more videos on You Tube of the rest of the class, which I think give a good view into this kind of riding and training.

The horse is referred to by the announcer at the beginning of the class as "it" - and is ridden that way by Gal. The absence of personality and spirit in this horse is what makes me most sad, and why I can't support competitive dressage that rewards this kind of ride.

Friday, July 09, 2010

writing group weekend, the new blog photo, noveling, and Backseat Saints

Somehow, writing group weekend has rolled around again, and while I'm excited for all the usual reasons, I'm extra so this time because I have been on a nice roll editing this week and will move into the weekend with some momentum, which is nice.

Otherwise, horses are good, donkeys are good, cats are good, Corgi is good. We are all good, although we are also all sweating. Last night I woke up to a thunderbolt that shook the planet, or so it seemed, and husband dashed out into the night to let horses in.

It thundered and there was much lightning and we lost power, which stressed me out off and on until I decided to trust that it would be back on in the morning and it was. But the internet was out until this afternoon.

All that lightning reminded me that I'd promised to share why I chose the background photo for the blog. A few years ago, a writer friend, Joshilyn Jackson, wrote something to me about hoisting my metal umbrella and marching around on a golf course waiting for lightning to strike. This was about selling my first novel, which had gotten an agent in no time flat and when that agent didn't quite work out, it got another one in even less time flat. And there was nothing I could do at that point but wait, while the new agent shopped the book and I wrote the next one.

Hence the talk about metal umbrellas and golf courses and lightning striking.

Although I keep writing bits and pieces about November Hill Press and Kindle and the first novel, claire-obscure, being close to available, this is not yet an announcement to that effect. But it IS getting closer, and I AM working on it, and so when I saw this background photo on Blogger I felt I needed to put it right up, as an emblem of lightning striking and this book gaining some reader momentum when it gets out there in the world.

As it turns out, I did not have to march around on golf courses but I have been marching about the fields of November Hill, and have been quite happy doing so.

And, as an added bonus, I won Joss's newest novel, Backseat Saints, which she signed for me and sent, and it is right here by my keyboard where I am hoarding it a little longer, as I have heard from reliable sources that once I start I will not be able to stop reading until the very end.

Thanks, Joss - for the very sweet inscription, your books, and all those good words over the years on the working novelists' email list. It was fun and it kept me writing. And may lightning still strike!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Yesterday I put three things on my docket for the day. Three things *I* wanted to do, not three things that need to be done. (although I feel that all three of these do in fact need to be done - for my own sanity and peace of mind, body, and spirit).

What I always forget is the power of synergy that happens. I did my Pilates yesterday morning. I worked up a sweat and it felt good to be working my core muscles. But even more, after putting my mat away I had extra energy and when I came back in from barn chores, instead of feeling I needed a break, I couldn't wait to get to the next good thing: my hour of writing.

I did a few household chores, ate lunch, and then indulged in an hour of editing, which is what my writing time is devoted to right now.

By the time I finished the hour I was so energized I jumped right into my household chores again, and got a HUGE amount done in a very short, cheerful time.

After dinner, I waited for the magic moment when the biting flies leave and the heat starts to fade. Keil Bay was not very amused with my bridling him just before his dinner tub, but he put up with the bareback ride (short, and just some big walking, halting, backing) until I asked him to stand by the barrel so I could dismount. (not my usual way of dismounting but I decided to do it that way last night)

The Big Bay was grumpy. It was dark, there were still a few insects about, and it was dinner time. And now I was asking him to do something we have never done before, and although it wasn't a hard thing, and he was perfectly capable of doing it, he bobbed his head. I wanted him to do what I was asking, He didn't want to. We had a little conversation, during which I decided I could push things and possibly have to deal with riding it out bareback, or I could get off and do some work in hand to see if there was something wrong - sometimes when he bobs his head when I mount it means he needs the chiropractor.

I got off normally and asked Keil to walk with me around the arena. Nothing amiss, and in fact, he went into his best behavior mode. He was my shadow as I walked, turned, backed, halted, etc. He licked and chewed. He was connected.

So I'm not sure if he was just grumpy due to the timing of my ride, or if indeed he does need the chiro. I'll try again with the saddle this time so I can check it out. Interesting thing, though - after his dinner tub, instead of power-walking out to the back field, he stood at the gate to the grass paddock and waited for me to come say goodnight. That's the Keil Bay that loves his work. I suspect I just surprised him with the night-time routine.

And the synergy of doing three things that make me happy? When I woke up this morning my son asked me to come look at something. I'd moved a dresser into the dining room in hopes that he might use it to store all his craft materials, and after I went to bed last night, he did it. Each drawer is full but organized. A treat to see all those materials sorted and arranged and ready for use - but out of the way of our dining table!

So the synergy of doing a few things you love goes even further.  And now, it's time to go do my Pilates.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

three things

I've done this before and it's time to do it again. Periodically I get completely off the track of doing the things I really want to do in the course of a day. Not the chores, not the lists of things that must be done, but the things I REALLY want to be doing. The things that make me happy.

Don't ask me why it is that the things that make me happy sometimes get shoved to the bottom of a long list of routine chores, mundane tasks, and the work of keeping up a house and barn and farm.

There IS a lot of work, but it's all for naught if the happy things don't make an appearance for weeks on end.

Years back I developed (probably when I had children, and realized my days could get away from me in the blink of an eye) a tactic to help me get back to the business of incorporating the important things into each day. It's easy to take this technique and overwhelm yourself, which I absolutely did initially, but the remedy for that is to limit the number to three.


Every day I pick three things I want to enjoy. Often mine are the same three, but there's no reason they can't be new each day, and different. The point is to plug in three things you really want to do, that aren't chores, or work, or longstanding items on that To Do List.

My three things right now are:

Pilates in the morning
an hour of dedicated writing time
a ride on Keil Bay

There is no earthly reason why I can't get these things into my days. The work will manage to get done, and if necessary, one or two of the chores can wait. It will never happen if I don't make it happen.

Right now we're moving back into heat wave mode, so the riding will need to be done very early in the a.m. or well past sunset. The biting flies are out too, so the best time to ride is night-time, with the arena lights and the bats. That's not my favorite time to ride, but I'm going to give it a whirl and see if the pleasure of the ride overcomes the fact that it's not ideal.

And if anyone has other techniques that help you incorporate the good stuff, please share!

Monday, July 05, 2010

birds of a feather

Yesterday my daughter and I took a day trip to visit a waterfowl park that also focuses on conservation of eco-systems and breeding of endangered species. Daughter had camera in tow, and I was her assistant, juggling lenses and operating as a spare set of eyes for when she was taking photos.

"Look, look! Quick! It's a perfect shot!"

I'm not sure I was all that helpful in that regard, as my idea of the perfect shot and hers are sometimes different.

However, we had a wonderful day, making our way through all the different areas of the park several times, enjoying the many bird species and being able to get very close to them, as many of the habitats have walk-through sections where there is no fence between humans and birds.

Most of the birds were quite social and curious. They all looked well-fed, well-cared for, and the habitats were clean and yet for the most part, completely natural, with lovely pools and water elements incorporated beautifully into the landscape.

We were able to see a staff member cleaning a habitat, which involved careful, very slow raking of bird poop and feathers into small piles, which were then scooped into a big bucket. I was impressed that the caretaker was so attuned to the birds, moving slowly and not rushing, so there was minimal disruption.

We happened to be at the flamingo area when one of the curators came by, and he not only answered my questions but took us to a private area so we could see the flamingo nesting shed. The flamingo builds a nest by pushing mud into a mound, then making the top concave so the egg won't fall off. There were four two-week old flamingos in the flock, and he said they had seven more in the nursery. He pointed out the father flamingo of two of the babies, who was ensuring they could explore without being bossed around by the other adults.

He also took us to the back of the owl habitat so we could see the owl baby, who keeps leaving the nest to stay down on the floor of the habitat. They decided to leave him there, as they were worried he would injure himself trying to fly before he's ready.

They have birds from all parts of the world. The toucan was incredibly beautiful, almost like something from a shop, painted by hand. As were the rainbow lorikeets, who were incredibly social and one in particular seemed quite taken with my daughter and her bright blue shirt and red hair.

Judy the azure macaw was taking a walk on the shoulder of one of the keepers, who told us she takes a walk every single day and refuses to go back into her cage until the walk is complete.

A favorite moment was the incredible sound made by a pair of kookaburras, who absolutely put on a show for a small group of us who formed to listen. 

I often have negative reactions to zoos and places where animals are captive, but this place had a different feel to it. Every employee seemed truly thrilled to be there, and focused on the birds. The birds themselves seemed in good spirit and each one was beautiful and healthy. I don't know much about birds, but I do know they can get very ragged and unkempt looking if not healthy, and it's easy enough to look at a habitat or cage area to see if it's being kept well or not. Every area had private spaces for the birds, shade, water and food, in many cases space to fly as well as actual trees and plants and terrain for the birds to enjoy, and in the smaller habitats there was fresh, clean foliage and branches that approximated the natural environments.

I still find it difficult to see birds in cages, and a few were: the owls, the tropical birds, the kookaburras. But the fact that they were so beautifully feathered and not stressed in any way I could see made me think they are relatively happy there, and I'm sure anyone who passes through leaves with a new appreciation of these gorgeous creatures, and hopefully a kernel of resolve to protect any birds they encounter in their daily lives.

Of note: very few insects! Butterflies were everywhere, but no flies, gnats, or anything else. I suspect all the ducks had a hand in that.

It was a wonderful day - and interesting after hours of being with birds to come home to cats, Corgi, and horses. Such different animals. The eyes of birds are very very interesting to look into. But utterly different than equine eyes.

I'll be adding photos as I get them from daughter - she came home with many amazing shots.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

an important note for July 4th

If you plan to use fireworks at home, before you do, please consider how the loud noise and flashing light will affect the animals - those that live with you, those that live around you, domestic, and wild.

Those of us with horses particularly appreciate the consideration.

CLICK HERE for more info on fireworks and the effects on animals.