Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dutch Party For The Animals looks at rollkur/LDR and Epona hits the bulls-eye

Interesting development on rollkur/hyperflexion/LDR issue - READ HERE.

And PLEASE go READ THIS article written by Julie Taylor and Luise Thomsen where they hit the nail squarely on the head about this ridiculous ploy by Sjef Janssen to sue Astrid Appels.  Thank you, Maire, for directing me to this!

Makes me want to buy a video camera, head to the local dressage show this weekend, and start my own YouTube extravaganza. And you never know. Maybe I will.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dickens should start his own natural horsemanship (and dogmanship) empire

I've spent the last 15 minutes watching our cowboy feline Dickens E. Wickens training our 12-week old Corgi pup, Bear.

Dickens, of all 5 cats who live here, is the one best able to manage the exuberance of a bold puppy who really wants to play but has a herding instinct that is growing and developing, and has to be carefully shaped so he doesn't end up herding everything that moves.

The other cats will smack Bear but they either end up running to get away, thus engaging the chase, or getting overly aggressive, which backs him off but seems to incite him into coming back for more.

Dickens truly stands his ground, not moving an inch, and uses his paws as needed when Bear comes in too close. He also employs the stare-down technique, staring into Bear's eyes until Bear looks away.

And interestingly enough, Bear is developing a true fondness and respect for Dickens. I think Dickens is so clear in showing Bear the way he wants to relate, Bear understands the relationship and relaxes into it. The two (as seen in a previous post) are very comfortable lying beside one another when the work (Dickens' perspective) and game (Bear's) is done.

I've seen Dickens use equine-appropriate techniques with the horses and donkeys. In a particularly moving bit of work with Redford, who wanted to do the donkey guardian chase and stomp routine with cats, Dickens utilized the picnic table to get the 'upper hand' until Redford understood the rules. As most horse trainers advocate, Dickens didn't allow Redford to move him back - he moved Redford back, first from the top of the table, then from the bench, and finally from a cat's normal position - on the ground. The training worked. But Dickens didn't stop there. He frequently enjoys lying flat on his back in the barnyard, or the pastures, during his cowboying. So he tested Redford to make sure the boundary was clear. Cats are allowed to roll on their backs, exposing their bellies. Donkeys don't take advantage of that. The training stuck. Redford understands the rules.

Dickens is lean and lanky, not a large cat. Although he is a tuxedo cat, you can see the cowboy in him as he moves around the farm. I often imagine a cowboy hat perched on his head. He operates with complete comfort among horse hooves. If he needs a face-to-face, he has no problem getting up on the stall door for a feline-equine meeting of the minds. The horses all make a path around him when he's lying flat out. They often touch noses with him as they meander around together.

We sometimes joke that Dickens does have a secret empire, and is one of those cats with a big fat bank account he chooses not to show off. Every now and then he disappears for longer than we like (24 hours is the max so far) and during those times, it makes me feel better to imagine that he's doing his banking business.

It's nice to start the week (a hot one, but I am telling myself it's summer's last hurrah) with a piece of elegant and effective training. Thanks, Dickens!

Puppy cuteness of the week: last night I had forgotten to give Bear his last (small) portion of puppy food. I was lying on the bed reading when I heard him run in the bedroom door and to my bedside. I looked down, and there he was with his empty bowl neatly tucked in his mouth. He moved it around in the air to make sure I saw it was empty. I went in the kitchen and he came running, bowl still held aloft, and then he plopped it down with a big boing at my feet. What a pup!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Please support Astrid Appels

Sjef Janssen and Anky van Grunsven are suing Astrid Appels of Eurodressage. See this article for more information, and please GO HERE to sign a petition in support of not only Astrid Appels, but the right to report freely in the press.

The irony of Janssen and van Grunsven suing over a photograph that is in the public domain, shows Anky riding in rollkur or hyperflexion or LDR, whichever name they choose to give it, after both have expounded widely claiming the invention of this system of riding, is huge, but the reasoning is clear.

Friday, August 27, 2010

the cowboy breaks in the bear

Of course as soon as I managed to get the camera, set it to video, and hit the record button, things were winding down. At one point Dickens had The Bear lunging like a pro!

At the end of the day, they're getting to be pals:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

relief and a magic moment

Just wanted to update that last night, while I was working with a client in the arena, Salina's abscess burst. I found her grazing with all four feet weighted evenly, enjoying the dusk with her donkeys.

Good energy + brilliant mare + Animalintex poultice x right homeopathic remedy = RELIEF

Onward to a streak of 61 degree lows - the horses have been running around more as the days aren't so hot and the nights are bringing a distinct feeling of autumn. We can see the light at the end of the long, hot summer!

After breakfast tubs this morning I noticed Redford was in the arena attending to something in the back field. I walked out to see what it was, and it was a lovely turtle. The turtle was on the other side of the back gate, and he and Redford were staring at one another.

I suspect this turtle is a relative of the one whose empty shell we found the day we first looked at this farm. Between the empty turtle shell, which we asked to keep and were told yes by the owners, and the twin fawns that leapt through the back field, we could barely wait to get out of the driveway to make an offer.

It's nice after a long hot few weeks to feel the circle of life here - reminding me that seasons circle 'round and we'll soon be looking at different colors, smelling different smells, and enjoying the joys of autumn.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Salina, equine goddess, takes charge of her own treatment

Salina has been off on her left hind for a couple of days. I haven't been sure if it's an abscess or if she did something (she galloped up the hill a few nights ago) so haven't yet done any abscess-related treatment. She is eating, whinnying as usual when her donkey boys go too far away, and is making her way around the barnyard at her own pace.

This morning the biggest thing she seemed to want was for me to rub a bug bite on her flank. She stretched her head neck about in a perfect straight line and turned her head back and forth with great pleasure as I rubbed.

I gave her a remedy this morning that fit her symptoms about as perfectly as you can get. Usually when you get a remedy right with homeopathy you will either see a quick improvement or sometimes you'll see a brief worsening of symptoms before things start to shift.

Husband just came in to tell me (he's been working on a project in the barnyard so was able to see what was going on in the barn) that Salina soaked her own foot in one of the water buckets just now. She stuck it in, stood there, and then after 15-20 minutes she took it out, and when he checked, it looks like an abscess is getting ready to blow.

I noticed earlier today that one of the water buckets in the barn was dirty in a way it never usually gets - I wondered what in the world had done that - now I know.

Salina is soaking her own hoof.

We have pretty much stopped soaking hooves as a treatment for abscesses, preferring to wrap with Animalintex. But Salina, being 27 years old, has likely had her hooves soaked over the years and I guess she's taken matters into her own... hooves!

Sometimes I wonder why anyone anywhere doubts the intelligence of these animals.

Monday, August 23, 2010

summer's end, some speed bumps, and Wendell Berry

After a writing weekend that got canceled at the last minute,  I proceeded on my own and worked like a maniac. I didn't set foot in the barn from Friday afternoon until this morning.  I was eager to get out there today, but discovered we seem to be running our very own vet clinic this week.

Keil Bay got a small cut above his eye last week that is not getting infected, but keeps re-opening because of where it is and the fact that his facial muscles keep it moving.

Rafer Johnson is off on his right hind. No swelling, no obvious signs of anything, just tenderness on that foot. It's better - definitely not getting worse - but of course we have to keep our eyes on him.

Now Salina is off on her left hind. Seems to be hoof tenderness as opposed to joint or muscular issues. Abscess? Don't know yet. She too seems fine otherwise but is just taking it slowly around the barn and barnyard.

My mind is spinning with possibilities and diagnoses and remedies and the usual big question: is it time to call the vet?

My typical reaction to equine offness in any form or fashion is an immediate increase in stress. I feel out of control, I want to know exactly what's going on, and yet I am never comfortable with a huge veterinary intervention that tends to rule many things out before ruling anything in.

So this morning I did my own assessments of each issue and have plans for each of them in terms of what I can do myself and when it will be time to get the vet out. The weird thing is, the instant I get out there and start looking and checking and doing my equine nursing care routine, they all seem to get immediately better.  Sometimes I wonder if my not being out at the barn for a weekend is what gets these things rolling in the first place.

I also spun out initially to a morbid sort of place that in an odd way helps me settle down when dealing with unknowns and equines. I reminded myself that no animal here will ever have to suffer, that they all have good, rich lives, and that if the worst thing comes to pass, it will be sad and hard, but it won't be the end of the world. Death is part of life. When we live with animals, we take on the responsibility to help when things get to a point of no return, or to a point where quality of life must be assessed and acted upon. Reminding myself of this usually brings tears to my eyes, but then it brings me a sense of peace - and from that place I can march on and do what needs to be done.

At that point, this morning, I asked Salina if we are nearing a difficult decision. She flat out ignored me, which I think means no, we aren't. I walked out to the pondering bench and decided to just sit down and relax for a few minutes. Rafer came out and stood with me. He put his full weight on his right hind, used his left hind to scratch his nose, and then looked at me as if to say, "See? I'm okay."

I reminded myself that I wake up many mornings with little aches and pains, most of which work themselves out as I begin the day. Sometimes I end the day with little aches and pains, most of which heal with rest and a bit of time. Horses get those too. As do donkeys. And it's been a long, hot, very itchy and buggy summer for all of us.

With Salina in the barn whinnying her usual "where are my donkey boys?" and Rafer Johnson standing with me, alert and happy,  I looked up to the sky, through the leaves of the big oak, and saw many small dark objects in the dripping down of a different set of leaves. The wild muscadines are ready to eat. So I stood up and helped myself to as many as I could reach. I wait for these each year, as I have since I was very young, and today I savored the taste of the first in this end of summer season.

Each year now when I eat them I'm reminded of my most favorite Wendell Berry poem. (and my favorite poem, in general):
The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

Wendell Berry


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

walking in their hoofprints

This morning when I went out to feed and do barn chores, I was quickly dripping sweat even though the temperature was not all that terrible. I didn't think much about it, but then noted that the horses were banging at their back doors ready to come in, even after they'd eaten breakfast. (I fed and then turned them back out to the paddock so I could get their stalls tidy and set up with hay.)

My daughter groomed and put fly spray on legs, and by that time I was sweating and getting itchy. I don't know why this summer is being so itchy, but I've heard other people say they're itching, their dogs are itching, and their horses are itching. I decided to mix up a bucket of a very mild vinegar rinse so we could wipe down faces, figuring it would likely feel good to them. They welcomed the extra attention, except for Keil Bay, who likes to stick his head up in the air. When he lowered it I found a small cut above his right eye, which meant I needed to get the wound ointment out. He allowed that with no problem - he was probably waving his head around in the first place to get me to notice the cut!

Finally we had everyone's stall set up and they couldn't wait to get inside in the shelter of the barn with fans, hay, and clean water. I headed out to do some paddock mucking. It was very humid. I figured out pretty quickly that if I just moved more slowly I wouldn't sweat as much, so I was literally taking a few steps, mucking a little, moving the wheelbarrow, stopping to look at the sky, mucking a little more.

The tulip poplars tend to leaf out very early in the spring, and they begin to lose their leaves much sooner than the other trees do, and as I stood in the paddock a tulip poplar leaf wafted down right in front of my face. For a moment I was astounded by the fact that the leaf seemed to be defying gravity, and then I realized it wasn't a leaf - it was a butterfly that looked exactly like a yellowing, browning leaf. The instant I realized it was a butterfly, it fluttered up and away, as if once I had gotten the message, the butterfly's job was done.

I made my way to the end of the paddock and out to the front field. I'm doing daily fire ant patrol right now, and I went around to the mounds I'd treated with DE yesterday and stirred the ants up again so more would come out and get into the powder.

Even in the shade of the trees, it was hot, muggy, and I was being dive-bombed by giant biting flies. I went all the way down the hill and to the front fence, around the perimeter, and back up again. By the time I was back at the barn I felt like I was going to simply melt or pass out. It was no wonder the horses and donkeys wanted in - being out today, even to just stand and do nothing, was work.

Sometimes I think we forget that there's always one easy way to see what's going on with our animals. Put ourselves in their footprints for a little bit. Turn off our churning brains, the cell phones so many of us carry around, and just let ourselves be in our bodies, feeling what we feel, imagining what they are feeling. It takes a few minutes, like today, when I took the extra time to muck and check ant mounds, to feel the effects of the heat. Sometimes we're in such a hurry we never actually get the full effect of something as simple as the weather.

And I wonder about things like loud radios in barns, and stalls that haven't been cleaned and smell of ammonia. All the things we don't really notice as we go in and out, not living the life they live, not stopping to feel what they might feel when they don't have the option to change it.

Today, if I was hot and sweating and literally feeling like dropping, I know for sure it felt worse to my horses. They are bigger, with hair covering their bodies. They can't easily escape the horrid biting flies, closing them out completely with doors and windows. The one way to get away from the big flies is to outrun them, but who wants to exert that much energy in this swelter?

I was happy we have shelter to offer them, and although I know many people (some members of my own family) think I go overboard sometimes with the animals I live with, I'm glad to do what needs to be done to make these extreme days (right now it's heat, but in the winter, it's cold biting rain and sometimes ice they need shelter from) more comfortable for them. Especially the seniors, who seem to appreciate the little things as much as the big ones.

It's why I sometimes sit down in the stall so I can smell what they smell, why I stop and just listen, and smell, and let the elements sink in for a few minutes. It doesn't take much time. It means a lot to them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

a tale of two corgis

A quick note to say that today seemed to mark a milestone. Bear and Kyra have been getting along famously, but suddenly they seem to be forming a pair. I came in from the barn and for the first time in over a year, was greeted by not one but two corgis running up the path toward me. It swept me back in a flash to all the times Chase and Kyra did that, and made me miss Chase but at the same time made me love having Bear with us now.

After their baths this afternoon, they both went outside together to dry in the sun, roll in the grass, and then came in ready for dinner.

And just now I came out of the bathroom to find two Corgi bodies stretched out sleeping on Kyra's comforter. Of course I tried to take a photo and of course the moment I aimed the camera, they both came running to me.

Bear is still so young and so adorable - but he's also able to sleep outside the crate already, sometimes lets himself out through the dog door now (and back in again), is learning to heel and sit, and right now is chewing his bone instead of the furniture!

I think Kyra feels like things are back to a new normal. Chase will never be replaced, but finally, she's got another Corgi in the house, and I think she was ready.

Interestingly, the cats have forgotten their old battles with Moomintroll and he with them. They seem to be a united feline front - especially the sisters and Moomin, who are being spotted three to a sofa several times a day since Bear arrived.

another week is getting away from me

I realized this morning that I generally take August off from blogging - it seems to be a busy time and the days roll past before I can even blink.

All the years of getting ready for school to start, whether it be grade school, high school, or college, have imprinted me with the idea that August is a time for preparing, for organizing, for getting ready for the autumn season.

This year I am finding myself organizing all over the house and in the barn, trying to maintain the pastures, which are probably the most verdant and in need of management than they have been the entire time we've lived here, and incorporating a new pup into the family. (he is sleeping by my feet on Kyra's folded comforter and just did a little yip in his sleep - either he's dreaming or he knows I'm writing about him!)

Every time I finish one little project something else shoves front and center.

Prioritization isn't really working for me right now - everything on my plate feels important and satisfying, and I don't WANT to put anything at the bottom of the list.

This is one of those things that qualifies as a "good problem" to have.

I'm not going to go on one of my "official hiatuses" here, but if you come to visit and there is no new post, think of the calendar as one of those water slide things people set up in the yard. It was the beginning of the week and I was going to post, but hit that slick surface of things to do and wheeeeee! it's the end of the week and time to walk back to the top of the slide and take another turn for the weekend.

And enjoy the end of summer. I think many of us are more than ready for the fall this year.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

the week got away from me, and a farmers' market serendipity

It seems like it was Monday and then zip - now it's Friday already. I'm not sure why the days flew by this week, but we've had another hot spell (that is being broken somewhat as I type by a very isolated and very sudden downpour) and keeping animals and people comfortable in the heat while also incorporating a new pup into the family has kept us busy.

A very fun thing happened today. I was at the farmer's market, and a new vendor was there with a table spread with absolutely gorgeous cutting and cheese boards, all made from many different kinds of wood that has fallen or died on his farm. The boards were all made of 12 or so strips/stripes of wood, creating lovely patterns and shades of color.

As I tend to do at the market, I stopped to talk and ask him about his work. I was amazed that the boards were only $25 - $35. each. He pulled out a portfolio and began to flip through the pages, showing me various things he's made. He was most proud of his workshop floor, which is truly a work of art. It made me think to ask him about my feed/tack room floor project, which has never gotten off the ground because I had in mind a specific thing - old, wide planks - that would need to be located before I could even think about installing them.

So I asked him if he knew of any sources for that kind of wood.

He thought for a moment and then said, "What you need is some poplar."

My ears perked up. "You mean like tulip poplar?"


I proceeded to tell him about the huge tulip poplar in our front field that has been debarked by a herd of sap-loving horses. It's standing tall, but is definitely dead and we have been talking about taking it down at the end of the summer.

He got very excited, and told me he can give me local sources for taking down the tree and also a local sawmill that will cut the planks. He also said he'd love to have some of the leftover if we have any.

This is one of those serendipities that makes me want to jump up and down. I had the idea for the wide planks, but couldn't find the exact right wood or source. But to use a tree from our own property that has died is absolutely perfect. And how cool is it that the tree the horses were obsessed with to the point of killing it ends up as the floor to their feed room? There's a certain poetry to the way they debarked it that would be neat to photograph before we take it down and hang that in the feed room above the wood plank floor.

I'll have to price the cost of the sawmill, but hopefully it will be affordable. A different kind of farmers' market treasure this week - but a very special one.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

update on Michael Morrissey

Remember the post I wrote about Michael Morrisey? He lost his temper in competition and hit his horse 13 times because of issues the horse had with a water jump.

An anonymous poster commented that CWD sponsors MM, and so I wrote to them asking if they would continue the sponsorship in light of what happened.

It's been several months, but I just received the following reply:

Even though our first reaction was the same as yours, we did discuss the
issue with Michael after the facts (which our CEO actually witnessed in

He is young and deeply regrets his behavior; which he also said in a public
apology in these terms: "I overreacted when the horse stopped and that is
unforgivable. Horse welfare has to take precedence over competitive
interests and I know that I was in breach of that basic principle."

He was suspended and fined by the sport's highest authorities; which seems
like an adequate sanction to us. We trust that his regrets are sincere and
we truly believe that he loves his sport and respects horses; that's why we
decided to give him a second chance.

Should there be another episode, we would of course reconsider our
endorsement as we've already done it in the past for other riders.

In light of these facts, you are free to give your business to us or to
another company of your choice.

I'm glad to know that CWD takes their sponsorship seriously and actively discusses situations such as this with the rider, takes the rider's response under consideration, and then makes a decision based on what they feel is fair.

In this day and age writing to sponsors takes only a few minutes and can make an impact. Money talks. Most of us spend a relatively huge amount of money every year on our horses and all the gear we tend to use as riders. When we threaten to take our dollars elsewhere, companies will listen. And riders will pay if they consistently get bad publicity for bad behavior.

Monday, August 09, 2010

celebrating the intuitive mind

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

~ Albert Einstein, "What Life Means to Einstein"

I love this quote and everything it says.

So many problems are solved by letting go of rational thought and allowing intuition to step in and offer different answers.

It's the rational mind part of me that gets so frustrated and tangled and wants to wrestle with things that aren't right or that I don't know.

The intuitive, imaginative part of me relaxes and then soars as all the mind-churning stops, I reside in the moment, and then what I need to know just seems to pop into my thoughts like iridescent bubbles.

Not sure why this popped into mind for today, but since it did, here it is. A reminder.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

more bear

This toy has probably not been played with in years; Bear found it within a few minutes and trotted all over the living room with it:


Here he is with his chewy bone. He enjoyed it until he made the mistake of bringing it to the bedroom onto Kyra's sleeping blanket. He laid it carefully down and when he came back to find it, it was gone. Guess who took it to her special hiding place and crunched it down to nothing? :)


This is who! She was so captivated by Bear yesterday when he first arrived. She has done nothing thus far but accept him happily. When she wants a break she goes upstairs. For now, that works...!

This is one of the portrait shots. He has such an engaging face. There are a ton of photos like this, in different places around the house and yard:


Here is Bear practicing being a Corgi:

 Another of the portrait series:

 He's had another full day, but time for naps as needed. I think he's having a growth spurt today!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

the little bear

Once upon a time there was a little bear. Actually he was a Corgi puppy. And he came to live on November Hill.

First he met Kyra Corgi, who gave the international Corgi sign for thumbs up - a wagging hind end, some conversation, and a romp.

Then he was ceremoniously welcomed by Moomintroll Cat, who walked through the living room, the laundry room, out the cat/dog door, through the back yard, sniffed noses, and then gave the little bear a resounding smack with his polydactyl (and declawed, not by us) paw. Now that boundaries were clear, the rest of the cats said a very begrudging hello.

After that the little bear underwent an hour of pupparazi - at one point three cameras were clicking at one time. What's a young handsome bear to do? He found a safe place to get away from it all for a moment.


When Kyra Corgi stole his brand new chewy bone and made away with it, the little bear found something even better:


He found one of Chase Corgi's old tennis balls and immediately took right to it. And what he did next was actually captured on film, but the crazy film lady took it sideways and can't figure out how to rotate it. So you'll have to turn your head sideways to see. 

 I do believe he is smarter than the average bear! 

The end of a long day for a little bear:

Welcome, Bear/Tristan to November Hill!

The End

(but of course this is just part one - more and better photos coming soon!!)

Friday, August 06, 2010

soldiers in the storm

I really wanted to title this post Fire and Rain, because in a way that's what it was!

Yesterday our temps went back up the thermometer to the mid-90s, and the heat index was over 100 again. I knew the temps were supposed to drop today, but I wasn't expecting such a dramatic weather event yesterday.

I spent time in the morning doing some extra chores - dewebbing the feed/tack room, doing some deeper cleaning in a few spots, and making sure there was plenty of clean, fresh water for horses to drink.

After a quick trip to the feed store and farmer's market in the afternoon (we got peaches and blueberries, Asian pears grown locally, cucumbers, baked goods, home-made picante sauce - to go with our continuing dragon tongue beans, tomatoes of all colors, sweet peppers in two colors, and basil) I went out thinking I would give Salina a full bath, offer showers to the geldings, and let the horses graze for awhile before the night-time thunderstorm hit.

Even when bathing Salina, the skies began to darken, and by the time the geldings had been hosed, stalls picked, wheelbarrow dumped, waters checked and topped off, I realized the storm was going to hit sooner than later, and that I would need to serve hay and then cover the round bale.

By this time the wind was picking up, and the pinwheels I'd stuck into compost piles earlier in the day were spinning wildly.

It's amazing how much the colors shift when a storm is coming. The warm and brilliant green shifts to a darker, more silvery shade, and the light-colored undersides of the leaves blowing in the wind add to the effect.

The wind whipped up strong and Salina and the donkey boys trotted in from grazing the barnyard to the shelter of the barn. Keil Bay, Cody, and The Little Man were standing out in the paddock, enjoying the sudden coolness and the big breeze lifting their manes and tails. I'd opened the back gate earlier so they could graze, but realized with the storm so imminent I'd better close it again. So I ran past them. They of course followed, but when I called out that I was closing the gate, Keil and Cody stopped. The pony kept coming - he's always game for some grazing, no matter what. But I got the gate closed and then they all came forward and stood by me in the wind, putting me in the middle of the herd. I gave them each a pat and a rub on the shoulder, and went back to finish my chores.

Back in the barn, I checked windows and doors and made sure everything was latched (not closed, but just secure, so we'd have no banging in the wind) and then went out to cover the hay. I got the big tarp on, but the wind was wild by that time, and the tarp was literally lashing from one side to the other. In a crazy fleeting moment of thinking I could boss the wind itself, I called out "Stand" and held my hand up the same way I do if I need one of the horses to stay put. Even more crazy, the tarp stopped flapping and the wind stilled long enough for me to get something on top to weight it down.

Dickens and Mystic, brave cats extraordinaire, were literally lying flat out in the open, gazing up at the show.

I lingered awhile with the horses. Salina and the donkeys had gone to the little barnyard where they were grazing, waiting for the rain to hit before they came back in. The geldings had lined themselves up three abreast in the paddock, facing away from the barn in the direction of the storm, as though they were a united front protecting us from what was coming.

It made me remember a day when we had just moved in, when the skies grew dark and the wind got so strong it was making a high-pitched moaning sound. I stood under the barn shelter with Keil Bay and the pony, the only two equines living here then, and figured we'd weather it together.

After it passed and I'd come inside, my mom called to see if we were okay. "Why?" I asked. And she said a tornado had just passed right through our little town, and by the radar on the TV news, it looked like it went right by our farm. "Oh, that's what that was," I said. "The wind was really blowing and there was a weird noise."

"Did you get in the closet?" she asked. (we have two interior closets that are perfect places to go if necessary during bad storms)

"Of course not," I answered. "I was in the barn."

There's something magical about being with horses in the best of times, but there's something even more so about being with them during the other times. They tend to get still and watchful, and seeing that line of three geldings abreast, out in front as though they can shield the barn, the beautiful black mare, the donkey boys, and me from what's coming is as wonderful a feeling as I've ever had.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tilikum the orca: does this sound familiar?

I just heard most of an NPR show (Diane Rehm, but hosted by a guest today) in which three ocean mammal researchers were discussing Tilikum, the orca whale who was responsible for the death of his trainer back in February of this year.

One of the researchers, and I've been unsuccessful thus far in googling to find out her name, described the life of Tilikum, who is 30 years old, has been in captivity since he was captured as a 2-year old, and has been associated with the deaths of 3 people during his lifetime.

She noted that he is kept almost completely isolated, with no contact with other whales, in a tank much too small to be considered humane, in chemically-treated water that is known to affect whales and other ocean mammals negatively over the course of their lifetimes, and is regularly forced to donate sperm that is used to artificially impregnate female whales owned by Sea World.

She noted that since the death of his trainer, he is now even more isolated than he was before, and that Sea World has flatly ignored her suggestion that Tilikum be retired into a much larger tank, with at least one other whale, where he might be less stressed and live out his life in a more humane manner.

When I got home, I was so upset I tried to locate more information. I did find a description of how they obtain the sperm from Tilikum, which involves getting him to roll onto his bank in a small tank, stimulating him, and then collecting the sperm. Apparently they are continuing to do this, even though he is no longer being used in the shows at Sea World.

As I listened and then read, I couldn't help but think about how similar this sounds to the living conditions of many of the breeding stallions around the world whose foals are much in demand.

I read some quotes attributed to several trainers who left Sea World and have since changed their minds about the ethics of keeping these huge, intelligent mammals in captivity. Their descriptions of the living conditions of these animals at Sea World used the word "brutal."

I have been to Sea World one time, as a graduate student in Austin, Texas. I admit, the whale show was a moving experience, but I worried about the animals the entire day I spent there. As one researcher said in today's show, she tries to reconcile her feelings that there should be no Sea Worlds with the knowledge that some of these animals will never be able to be returned to a natural, free environment. What needs to happen is a harsh, behind-the-scenes look at the way these captive mammals are kept, how they are used, and what can be done to ensure a humane and dignified life for them.

I'm still looking for information, and will try to add links as I find them.

I found a link to the show, which lists the speakers and gives links and information about their publications.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

august, here we are

I changed the blog design today because suddenly I realized it's the beginning of August, and when I look out the window or walk outside in any direction, the overwhelming green-ness is what surrounds me. I think I'm ready for the blog to reflect that.

Last night I went out to spend some time with Keil Bay, and immediately noticed his right eye was bothering him. It wasn't goopy, wasn't red, only the very tiniest bit puffy, but he was blinking it a little more than normal. So after his meal I squeezed a warm wet washcloth over his eye, wiped it gently, and gave him a homeopathic remedy I thought might help. Fortunately that did the trick. Everything is normal today.

It reminded me, though, how cooperative my crew here is when it comes to things like that. Keil is a big horse and he can so easily lift his head out of reach. And he does that sometimes, but he will bring it down if I center myself and ask quietly.

August dawned with my husband going out to let horses in, and finding Dickens the Feline Cowboy sleeping in one of the horse mangers, on some leftover hay. Somehow, that symbolizes the lushness of August while at the same time serving as a premonition of a cool autumn morning. 

Today the horses and donkeys have switched pastures and they are over the top happy with the new grazing. The entire family went out this evening bearing a tray of special donkey birthday cookies for Rafer's belated celebration. I had envisioned all of us around the picnic table, but I couldn't bear to bring them in from their turn-out, so we handed out cookies over the arena fence.

Rafer Johnson knew instantly what was up and he came marching right up to us. Redford was not far behind. After a minute, Keil Bay and Salina came up. Cody received his at the round bale - he was in the barnyard eating some hay after his ride, and The Pony (I remembered to capitalize!) would not even leave the grass to come get his, so His Girl took them directly to him.

It was a quiet, quick celebration, but I think they appreciated being left to graze.

Next weekend we have a new family member coming home to November Hill.  "Bear" - whose name is probably going to be Tristan - will be making the journey and then the transition into the fold.