Saturday, December 31, 2011

me and Keil Bay canter into the new year

Yesterday afternoon I went out and called the Big Bay in for a ride. He was at the bottom corner of the front field, shining his red bay coat in the late afternoon sun, and he galloped right up to the gate where I let him through. The sun was brilliant, it was in the mid-60s, and I figured we would get in a nice daylight ride.

Alas, by the time I finished grooming him, which included an impromptu sheath cleaning (made easy by the new electric kettle I have in the tack room for heating up water!), a layer of clouds rolled in. Suddenly it looked like rain, but I was again determined to get our ride in no matter what.

We went in and did our usual long walking warm-up. I noticed at the mounting block that my fidgeting has subsided for the most part and also that Keil Bay has gone back to his usual cooperative self. "Move up one step," I asked, and he politely complied. "Wait, move back a little," and he did that as well. The only thing that has changed is the way I feel as I mount. For awhile I was feeling like I needed perfect placement of block and horse. Now I feel more agile and more confident. I actually stopped to think about this yesterday. How much the way we feel influences the way things go, in life, but particularly when working with horses.

Our walk was nice. When we warm up, I choose the direction and the patterns but I let Keil Bay choose the pace of the walk itself. I keep a loose rein and if anything feels uneven or stiff I use the corners of the arena and sometimes changes of direction and circles to stretch both of us out. I've also been doing the flexions at the walk as taught by Jane Savoie, and then some shoulder-in via Walter Zettl. These two things work the best of anything I've ever tried to supple Keil Bay's entire body and get us into a very good place to move into trot.

Keil Bay's trot is a work of art right now. The day before yesterday we did some free work with all three geldings and Keil was doing a huge extended trot, landing heel first, and looking like a 3-year old in the arena. Under saddle he is offering his back, putting himself on the bit, and moving into high gear almost instantly. By the time we got to trot yesterday it was nearing dusk and we had a little extreme rounding of head and neck in response to a squirrel that was running through the neighbor's yard. Interestingly, as Keil Bay coiled up all his power and brilliance into one big inner spring, something I could feel in every inch of my own body, I did not tense up myself. I sent him forward up the long, far side of the arena, the side closest to the forest, and enjoyed the power of that coil as it cycled into his trot. When we came around the short side he asked to half pass across the diagonal, so off we went, right back to the scary squirrel area, but he was so engaged he didn't even think about it.

By this time it was dark and we were riding in the light of the arena. I'm usually a bit cautious in the night riding but last night it felt like both of us were so connected, I was ready to canter. I worked into it by doing a big, balanced trot with Keil Bay, incorporating figure 8s into the work, and then as we came around a corner, asked for the canter to the right. I think he was surprised that I asked for it, and he responded by going into a massively forward, engaged trot, so I asked again and he went into his big, bold, forward canter.

I felt like I was 10 years old again, begging to canter and then absolutely thrilled when the instructor said yes. I'm not sure what the canter meant to me exactly when I was 10 but as an adult rider it represents balance and forward motion and going with what feels right. Leaping into the moment. Keil Bay has a gorgeous canter, but it is definitely big and forward and bold, so when I ride it with him, it feels like we're no longer earthbound. If I was a painter I could show you what it feels like: woman on horse sailing over the curve of the earth itself.

We down-transitioned to trot and then walk and halt so I could exclaim for a few minutes, then we changed directions and did the same thing going left. Usually Keil is stiffer to the left but lately that has not been true, and our canter depart was perfect in this direction. I could see our shadows cantering along beside us, and I looked closely at them, because I loved the way that shadow rider looked on her horse. It took me a few seconds to realize: that's ME!

Happy New Year! I hope everyone finds a way to canter, or at least walk boldly with intention, into 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

christmas wish

I've heard for many years that if you go to the barn at midnight on Christmas Eve the horses can talk to you.

Guess what? Horses talk to us every single day if we are willing to stop and look and listen.

We all come into this world with our five senses and no language. Horses come in with a highly developed instinct and the wisdom to use it. Humans come in with that too but we shift to learning language - words - and in many cases learn to ignore what we feel and focus on what we can say instead.

If we choose to go beyond words and training and what we think we know, we come to a place where we can simply be. We come to the place where we can listen to what the horses have to say to us.

My Christmas wish for everyone is that you come to that place with your horse. It's the most wonderful, amazing, productive place I've ever been in the company of a horse, and that is my goal every single day - to go there again.

Happiest holidays from all of us on November Hill.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

christmas eve surprise - free copy of book one in the Magical Pony School series

My middle grade novel, Jane's Transformation, book one in the Magical Pony School series, is free on Amazon until December 26th - if you have a Kindle, or download the Kindle software onto your Mac, PC, or any smartphone, you can get your copy.

Although this is aimed at middle grade readers, it's a story I think any horse person will enjoy. You'll recognize a few of the minor characters... hint: two little donkeys and a one-eyed mare make a cameo but very important appearance. :)

Book two, Fiona and the Waterhorse, will be coming out early in 2012.

Happy holidays to all - and thanks for reading and commenting here on camera-obscura!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

solstice gifts 2011

The winter solstice is my favorite holiday of the year. The thought of the longest night appeals to me, a life-long night owl with many memories of late-night revelry, creative peaks, and the quiet that falls even in the busiest of households when everyone but me is asleep.

I love the metaphors of light and dark, and have woven them into all my books. Jane's Transformation (book one in my Magical Pony School middle grade series) literally begins on the afternoon of the winter solstice. If novels have seasons other than that in which they take place, I think it's true that all mine are winter solstice novels, looking at darkness and light and how one contributes to the other.

Every year I wait for what gifts the solstice day will bring. A couple of years ago it was a baby raccoon in the big oak tree by our barn. Tiny little thing, a living metaphor of light and dark. He or she came down and you can see the painted pony (a metaphor himself of light and dark!) looking on with curiosity.

Another year there were black vultures in the tree by the mailbox, inky black against the white-gray sky.

Today I walked out to the barn to feed breakfast tubs to the equines and the first thing I noticed were the bare trees, dark with soaked-in rain, and the white overcast sky.

As I stood in the dim feed room mixing tubs, with my strand of white twinkle lights burning and NPR on the radio, Keil Bay started his Hanoverian breakfast chorus. He whinnies and sings for his breakfast almost every morning, but today it got quiet and I continued mixing. Although I didn't hear any horse sounds, I suddenly felt the presence of something close by, and I turned to find that Keil Bay had somehow opened his stall door, tiptoed across the barn aisle, and was standing with his head and neck inside the door of the feed room, in arm's reach.

Later I was dumping the muck barrow along my compost snake in the back field. I had my back to the forest and was looking up toward the barn when I heard something in the woods behind me.

A small herd of the November Hill deer were walking up the hill across from me, walking further into the woodline, almost invisible except for the white flashing of tails. Over and over again they flagged their tails, stopping and then slowly walking further into the woods.

The black tree trunks, heavy with rain, the shadows of the deeper woods, and those white flashing tails. Another wonderful solstice gift.

If you've read the story of November Hill Press you know that the deer played a huge part in its creation. Today, looking toward a new year, seeing them flashing their call across the clearing was its own bit of magic.

Happy winter solstice to all! 

come celebrate the solstice with November Hill Press!

Head OVER HERE to participate. A blog hop, giveaways, Magical Pony School promo, etc.!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

another Keil Bay ride

Happy to report another good ride on Keil Bay this evening. He came in and met me at his back door and licked and chewed his way through the entire grooming and tacking up process. In the arena we did a long walking warm-up and then eased into some trotting. We did some shoulder in at the trot and it felt good - lots of suspension tonight in the SI and regular trot work.

I've broken another 'rule' of riding and am holding the whip in my outside hand. I have trouble managing the inside rein and the whip together and finally decided that I would do what works best for me and not what everyone says is the proper thing to do. It worked.

Another good leap forward for me is that I think I finally have some ability to isolate my hips when riding. Maybe I had it all along but just didn't know how to use it? Not sure. But over the past few weeks I have been doing something new with my seat that is working really well. It's subtle and I'm not sure how to explain what exactly I'm doing but Keil Bay is responding instantly to it and since his training is more impeccable than mine I think I must have hit on something fairly advanced. :)

Part of what is making it work is that I am stepping evenly into both stirrups and also focusing on NOT hollowing my back. At some point when I started getting better at these two things, i.e. not having to constantly remind myself, the seat thing clicked in and Keil Bay clicked in too.

He's probably thinking - FINALLY! - she gets it. At least a little piece of it!

And I'm back to riding without half chaps. I go through phases where I really like them, and then I go through phases when I want to feel my leg right up against Keil's barrel. Right now I'm wanting the feel of the leg to be pure. Another telltale sign that I'm doing something different (and in this case I do think it's better) is that I can feel the pull in the muscles in my hips when I ride. I'm sitting (I think) more correctly and using my core more effectively and I can feel it.

So happy to be winding down 2011 with some great rides. And looking forward to 2012.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gwen Stockebrand, a former Olympic dressage rider, charged with animal cruelty

GO HERE to read the story.

I'm glad this is making news and I am passing it on here because it's important for people to know that just because someone achieves a high level of success in the competition world it DOES NOT MEAN they are always good horse people. Or that they care deeply about horses.

The sad thing is that I recognize the name of the Hanoverian she is currently riding, Drambuie. I fell in love with his photos and videos when he was a baby. I hope he escapes the same fate as the horses who were mistreated by her.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

mats in the barn aisle

When we moved here 7 or so years ago, our barn aisle had a dirt floor. My first instinct was to put a cement aisle in and then mats on top of that. But it wasn't really a top priority in the beginning when we had so many things to buy to get "set up" here. As time passed, I came to think the dirt floor was actually pretty nice. Easy to rake out, easy to make cozy by just allowing scattered hay to lie on it, pretty easy on the horses' feet.

Eventually I came to be familiar with the downsides. Dust. And more dust. No clean surface for doing anything with hooves. More recently, since I've been letting Salina and Rafer and Redford have the barn aisle as part of their "territory" it has gotten worn down in some places and not quite as level as it used to be.

We've been doing some work around the barn and paddocks this month. We've filled the shelter (just need one more load) with small stones. It was dirt too and I had some issues with it over time in some ways similar to the barn aisle. I wanted the shelter to be tidier and also a different "terrain" for the hooves. These stones are small and very cushy. The horses are loving standing on them and I can already see a difference in their feet, which seem tougher.

I considered putting screenings or even these small stones in the barn aisle too. I also considered rubber pavers. Somehow, I wanted a smoother surface in the barn aisle so that ruled out stone, and the pavers were nice but expensive.

I read about doing cement and inlaying mats - I still like that idea but right now I'm not wanting to spend the money to do that - and I still hesitate about the cement just because if I end up not liking it, it's such a bear to change.

So, after living with the dirt aisle for years, we got stall mats and have doubled them up down the center of the aisleway. Ideally, we will put in stone dust, pack it down and level it, and cut mats so they fit flush to the stall walls on all sides and go all the way to the barn doors. But for now we've just lined them up, leaving a bit of room on either side.

I could see when we put them in that Redford was alarmed about this new thing in his barn, so I let Keil Bay in first so everyone could see him saunter through. He lowered his head to check them out but didn't even slow down as he clop clop clop clopped through. Salina was right behind him. These two have Been There and Done That and nothing really upsets them. Redford skedaddled right and left and right and left a few times, wanting to follow Salina but nervous about these black things in his way. After about 15 seconds he made a mad dash through the barn, and the cutest little hoof sounds!

Rafer was totally fine with the mats. In fact, he seemed to like the authoritative sound his hooves made and he kept walking back and forth and back and forth.

Cody checked them out and then walked on over. The pony was last and just in case we changed our minds and diverted him from going through, he came through at a big pony trot. He loves trotting through the barn aisle, so this was no different for him.

I cleaned hooves tonight on the new mats, which immediately got nice and brown with dust, and then white with the hoof powder I used. It was nice to be able to clean a hoof and have it stay pretty perfectly clean when I set it down. I swept the hoof pickings into a pile between each horse. Nice and tidy. I think we'll live with them this way as we work on putting stone/gravel/screenings in some other areas and then we'll see proceed with the full matting process.

Any thoughts and ideas are welcome! And we're getting ready to re-roof the barn, so I would LOVE to hear any input about metal roofs versus shingles. We are seriously thinking of going metal.

Friday, December 16, 2011

one of my favorite things to do with horses

It was just getting dark and we have rain coming in fits and starts along with some cooler weather this evening. The horses were all ready to come into stalls for hay and shelter, so I got hay served, let them in, did some mucking of paddocks before the rain returned, and then opened up Keil Bay and Cody's back doors.

I went into the arena with the lunge whip and opened the gate from the paddock hoping they would join me. Cody had gone into Keil's stall and Keil turned to watch me from his stall door while Cody cleaned up the rest of Keil's hay.

Keil Bay wasn't yet sure he was answering my invitation, so I walked around from dressage marker to dressage marker, tapping the lunge whip handle on the markers, tap tap tap, and he couldn't resist. He walked in and joined me. Then of course Cody had to come in too.

Cody and Keil Bay walked off side by side as I swept the whip across the footing and raised my left arm. They immediately got in sync and were walking in nice long strides. We did a number of circuits of the arena in a figure 8 pattern at the walk and then they decided to trot. We played back and forth a bit and then they got in sync with ME. I walked, they walked. I trotted, they trotted. I cantered, they did.

I love the sound of their hooves on the very slightly wet footing in the arena, and the shared energy. The pony was watching out his stall door. Salina was watching from the other side of the barn. The donkeys came out to see what was going on.

Of course at some point Keil and Cody worked themselves up into a higher energy level and they galloped and bucked and snorted and went a little wild while I watched. As they got bigger and faster, I took myself out of the path of that much energy and as soon as I stepped to the side, Keil Bay brought himself down and walked up to me, as if he was trying to include me again.

Cody stopped too, and the three of us walked around together for a few minutes before I opened the gate and stood there. Keil came over and stood with me for a bit before heading back to his stall. Cody waited and then did the same.

This is something we've often done on rainy evenings, a ritual that got started when we first moved to November Hill, and I love that it happens so easily and with nothing more than me opening the gate and inviting them in. Taking turns giving the cues and leading and following.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

feed store and a good ride on the Big Bay

I made a trip to the feed store today and realized I haven't (I don't think) written here about the new offerings they have added to their already pretty nice selection of feed items. I went in one day about a month ago to find a table full of Mason jars that were each full of samples of various things. That's the kind of display that catches my attention, and I was absolutely thrilled to discover that they have a new and local feed supplier who is providing an array of locally sourced, organic, feed items.

They have alfalfa pellets, whole flax, whole oats, barley, and a number of other things. And it's all incredibly affordable. So I'm now buying the organic alfalfa pellets and the organic whole flax. They come in plain brown bags with the name of the item written on the outside in black magic marker! Gorgeous, good smelling ingredients. I use steam rolled oats for Keil Bay and Salina but have wondered if it might be possible to buy the local, organic whole oats and do the steam rolling myself. Haven't investigated that fully yet, but it's exciting that what I priced over a year ago that was completely out of reach is now affordable and easy.

When I got home I unloaded feed, did a little mucking, and then Keil Bay headed up to the gate indicating that yes, he was ready for a ride. We used the bitless today and I landed in the saddle just as the sunset was painting itself across the sky. It was absolutely gorgeous out.

We had a slightly less forward ride initially but we did some flexions, some figure 8s, and things picked up quite a bit at that point. We went into high gear for the last 2/3 of the ride. It's probably notable that we had extremely warm temps today so all of us were a bit laid back. As the sun set though, a very cool breeze picked up and that's when we went into high gear.  I had no twinging today and felt like my legs were about 6 inches longer than two days ago!

If we're lucky tomorrow the coming rain won't get here until late afternoon and I can ride mid-day. Or in the rain again, since I got lucky and found a Thinline sheepskin dressage pad at a terrific price and only used a handful of times. Now if one gets wet we'll have a back-up.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

lessons in riding, 16: ride the one who comes to the gate

Yesterday I went out and called to Keil Bay to head in for a ride. He was focused on something that didn't seem to be "of this world" - he was staring off into the distance and actually went down to the front fence facing the sun setting and just gazed westward. He does this now and then, and I always wonder what it means. He seems peaceful when he does it. Like he might be remembering something pleasant.

Cody, however, came to the gate and planted himself there, and after a few times of calling Keil Bay to come ride, I listened to what he was saying, listened to what Cody was saying, and rode Cody.

We used the bitless bridle and I enjoyed spending some quiet time in the barn grooming the big red Quarter horse. We had a good ride together.

Unfortunately today was busy for me and I had to let the idea of a ride go. I had an early chiro/massage appointment and a perio appointment in the afternoon. They have fitted me for a "night guard" that is supposed to address some teeth grinding I have apparently been doing. I haven't been aware of the grinding but know I've been clinching my jaw muscles off and on. As they were fitting this monstrosity (they took impressions last week using some soft stuff that changed colors as it dried) it occurred to me that sleeping in one of these might be akin to a certain young donkey having to get used to a grazing muzzle. And I wondered if I took the piece of clear plastic out to show him whether it might make him feel better about that muzzle. I doubt it, but maybe he'll pick up on my sympathetic energy and that will ease the adjustment for both of us.

I had a number of adjustments done today from lower back all the way up to my neck so I HOPE things feel good tomorrow!

Monday, December 12, 2011

another good ride and an alternative holiday "shopping" opportunity

Keil Bay and I had another good ride today. Some of the ride we had two little donkeys alongside and some of the ride we were trailed by a pony and his girl. I have a twinging something or other in my hip but also have the chiropractor and a massage on Wednesday so hopefully will be back to normal by that afternoon.

I was in the barn tonight with six happy equines munching on organic hay, drinking clean water in clean stalls, with full feed bins in our feed room. To be honest I didn't think too much about the hay or the feed or the clean water. We take that for granted most of the time. I did consider as I often do that we have loving horses here who are truly loved in return - and I know that the relationships we have with these gracious, beautiful equines brings happiness to our lives. I hope these relationships offer the same happiness to them.

In that moment of noting how much I get from my horses and also how much I enjoy giving to them of my time and resources, I can't say I really thought much right then about horses who don't have the kind of home we provide.

Tonight I found an email in my box from Raymond and Paula Petterson, the creators and owners of Whinny Warmers. I've posted here about their winter and summer socks for horses and how much we love them. I've also posted about their company and how committed they are to helping horses. It is sadly a rare thing for a company that makes products for horses to give back freely to the very animals who make their businesses possible. Raymond and Paula do.

The following email is typical of their care and consideration for equines. And as it happened, I was just getting ready to put up another holiday shopping post when I read it. It occurred to me that this in fact is a holiday shopping opportunity - to help a small, family-owned horse rescue that appears to be the only one in the California county in which they live.

From Raymond and Paula:

Dear friends, I've sent this out to a special few of you, those that I figure might be open to helping me out on something important. I'm not one to ask for much and I hope you will consider this request for help to a deserving horse rescue group out in California.  Read their letter to us which is below mine.

This horse rescue put out a "help" request on FB last week and Sox for Horses, Inc. was the one single response they got.  We know things are tough for everyone, but when we get a request for help from a rescue, and they aren't all that common given how many rescues there are out there, we stop, give them our attention, check them out, and send them money or socks for horses that they can auction off at their next fundraiser.  Of course it's all tax deductible for our business, but then again, Sox For Horses, Inc. is all about helping horses so it fits.  We've had an incredible year and to share our success we sent them $75.00 which to us seems like a drop in the bucket for these people, but we knew when combined with others responding, it would add up.  It didn't add up for them! 

Please consider going to their website and donating a few bucks.  We all can't do it every day or even every week but I hope you will consider adopting a horse rescue and giving a little every month.   You can't change the world, but you can change the world for that horse.   Lets see if combined, we can make a difference for these good people and the horses they've given comfort to. I will also give them plenty of connections so that they can learn how to successfully fundraise as many rescues do but in the meantime, while we get them all trained up on marketing...send a little money.

Thank you!  Have a wonderful holiday season and Merry Christmas!

Raymond and Paula 

the letter from the rescue:

Hello Mr. Peterson, This is Al angulo, I'am the VP of ERO and do all marketing/fundraising. The socks you sent are amazing. I would like to tell you a few things about us, us meaning my wife and President, Christine angulo and Ally my 15 yr old daughter and my 13 yr old son Drew. My wife started rescue over 15 yrs ago and in  2009 became a non profit org. Thinking that we could offset the cost associated with rescue thru donations. While I worked as a union Laborer building highways I was away 5 days a week living in a fifth wheel and home on weekends. well long story short we have funded this rescue and have done great things for our community. we are the  only approved rescue for fostering horses confiscated from abuse until a court  decides their fate, all with no help from the county or people of kern co. but that's ok it is our passion to help and fight abuse. 13 months ago I was laid off. so I took this time to concentrate on fundraising for this rescue. Mr Peterson can I tell you this is the toughest task I have ever tackled.  You are A Angel to this rescue, you need to know, my wife sent out emails pleading for a little help and you are the only one that has helped. You also need to know today was the day I needed it most as we were out of senior feed for tonight's feeding, your donation has brought tears to my eyes and I;m so grateful I cannot thank you enough for this. my wife is on her way to tractor supply in town (a 100 mile round trip) for the much needed senior feed. I have been selling mistletoe on ebay for the rescue. You are the second person this year that has sent this rescue a donation. the third person their donation check bounced and caused all kinds of other problems. my kids do alot of work here and this is a family run rescue. the kids dont expect much they know things are tight.  I wish more people were as thoughtful as you are. If at anytime you need anything in California please know that you can count on us for help. well I need to end this please understand I am so thankful. Your timing was great. from my family to yours have a great holiday season. I,m sorry for rambling on i don't mean to bother you. but thanks for listening.  you will hear from us and get some pictures.  Thank You again,  You are so kind, Al Angulo.   

Christine Angulo,
CEO Equine Rescue Outakuntrol
PO Box 102
Caliente, Ca. 93518

I haven't personally done any research to check this rescue out. I went to the website, looked it over thoroughly, and I read Raymond and Paula's note. It sounds like they have subsisted without much help in the way of donations and so I'm offering the information here so that anyone who wants to pitch in can do so.

GO HERE to donate. You can look at the facility photos, check their contact page for nonprofit info and service provider info (vet and farrier), and decide if you feel they could use some support.

All of us who live with horses know firsthand the expense it entails to feed them, shelter them, and maintain basic care and maintenance. Those who do rescue and do it well are always in need of our support to keep things going.

There are many rescues out there and even if you choose not to support this particular one, consider finding one you can support and instead of one gift, send a donation for the horses and donkeys who haven't been as fortunate as yours or ours have.

Thanks so much!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

back to the holiday shopping on November Hill

I was absolutely thrilled yesterday when I went to the post box and found a package from Curious Crow Jewelry.

I discovered Curious Crow when Linda Carson at the 7MSN posted a photo of a gorgeous donkey necklace. I was holding down the work of November Hill Farm solo (with the help of a friend who came for three days) while the rest of my family went to the beach. When I saw the necklace Linda posted I immediately ordered one for myself as a reward for a week of hard work taking care of my animal family.

And when I got that first necklace in the mail, I was so impressed I contacted Curious Crow to see if they might make something very special for me. I knew I was looking at a fairly intensive dental procedure, and I wanted to treat myself for finally summoning the courage to go through with it.

Wendy and Jenny, Curious Crow artists, were wonderful to work with and took great care in coming up with my custom design. I couldn't be more pleased with the results. And because I waited a little longer than they thought was necessary to get the final product, they sent me a gift - another necklace!

(actually, two, but shhhhh! one is a secret)

Here's the original donkey necklace plus my tree of life one that they sent as a gift. Click on the images below to see them in greater detail:

And, get ready... here is my custom design bracelet. It makes my heart sing every time I look at it. All my equine friends in one herd:

I love the boxes almost as much as the jewelry! Head over to Etsy and see what they have on hand, and if you have an idea for something special, don't hesitate to ask. They are wonderful.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

lessons in riding, 14: two's company, seven's a... herd?

My schedule on Thursdays is typically pretty packed, so I had in mind that today would be a break day from riding for me and Keil Bay. Things changed late this afternoon and suddenly I had time available, so I went out and brought him in. He was a mud cake and had to be curried, and then I forgot to put my stirrup leathers back on the saddle so had to leave Keil Bay at the mounting block (he followed me to the gate and then waited there for me) to get them.

By the time I was in the saddle it was dusk and the full moon was up over the tree line.

I looked up, saw it, and said "Wow! Keil, look at that moon!" You might not believe this, but I am serious - he looked up at it.

All I wanted to do today was take it easy and enjoy some walking and a little trotting. He marched forward the same good way he has all week. I was focused on how his stride was moving my seat, noting that when I even thought about it his stride lengthened.

Then BANG. Cody managed somehow to open the arena gate. Before I could get to it to close it, in he came, followed by Salina, then Redford and Rafer Johnson, and finally Apache Moon.

I knew if I got off and took the time to get them all out I'd end up deciding it was time to stop. So we rode with the herd.

At first they were all following Keil Bay. Then gradually each one found his/her spot and something to do in it.

Salina and Redford went to the corner by the hay tent and grazed for stray bits of hay. Rafer Johnson found an empty hay net hanging on the gate and tossed the metal ring in the bottom into the air over and over again, pointing out that yes, the hay net is empty, and yes, technically, this is the time I usually serve hay.

The pony rustled through fallen leaves looking for acorns. Cody stationed himself at X so my changing directions across the diagonal wasn't really an option.

Keil Bay and I used the empty half of the arena and did some trot circles, leg yielding, a little shoulder-in, and mostly just relaxed. Those dark shadows in the back field aren't quite so scary when you have your entire herd with you.

Keil and I have had a blast this week - and I guess it was time to share the joy!

donkey rescue - a dream come true


Make sure to watch the video!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

lessons in riding, 13: rain is good

Today I was determined to get a ride in between my morning chores and our hoof trim/consult this afternoon for Rafer Johnson.

Rain was due to blow in today but it was delayed so I managed to get all the work done and thought I was ahead of the game to ride too. I did a quicker groom than usual on Keil Bay and tacked up. Just as we walked through the arena gate the rain started.

I have ridden in rain before but I'm generally not going to start a ride in the rain - if it starts while I'm already riding I'll finish up. But our string of great rides has been so wonderful and yesterday's canter was so beautiful I really wanted to ride today.

The wind was gusting, the rain was falling, but there we were. All tacked up and ready to go. So I got on.

I hoped it might stop, or at least stay minimal. Keil Bay went into the most gorgeous frame the moment we walked off from the mounting block. I was instantly sucked into the ride. We warmed up at the walk as usual. The harder the rain fell, the better he got.

And the wetter, but I barely noticed.

The trot work was incredible. And the rain got harder and he got better. It was bizarre! But wonderful. He seemed to enjoy the work. By that time the entire herd had come in and gathered underneath the barn shelter, where they stood and watched as Keil and I kept going. He was in total work mode. Focused, alert, completely balanced between fore and hind. I felt the circle of energy going from my legs and through my hands.

I could not bring myself to stop. We got wetter and wetter and neither of us cared. At one point we were doing a very collected trot against the rain, which was slanting toward us. It felt like the angle of the rain actually slowed us into the collected trot.

I've seen Keil Bay circling his herd in rain storms before, where he looked like the paintings and sculptures of the Etruscan horses, rounded and soldier-like, and that's what he was doing today, except I was on his back instead of watching from the ground.

At some point it occurred to me that I usually find a good note to stop on - but today, even though the weather itself was providing a huge "stop" note, the work was so perfect there was simply no way to measure when to stop. What finally did it was when my eyes got so full of water I couldn't see.

In the barn, I realized everything was drenched except the area under Keil's sheepskin pad and the area of the saddle I was sitting in/on. But I was ecstatic and so was he. His bridle was dripping when I pulled it forward over his ears. I piled his manger with hay and gave him his post-ride snack of alfalfa pellets and oats. I was so nurtured by the ride we had I didn't realize until dinnertime tonight that I literally had nothing to eat all day long.

I'm not sure what the lesson is here - except that when you feel the pull to ride, go for it. I would never have thought a ride in the pouring rain could be so incredible, but it was.

and a little addendum to the previous post

I was so curious about Keil Bay's incredible forwardness the past two evenings I made sure that yesterday I got into the arena with him well before sunset. Mid-afternoon, in fact, and with our crazy weather it was also actually MUGGY out, with some biting flies that obviously took advantage of the weather to propagate and find horses' legs.

It wasn't actually summery outside, but close enough, considering they all have winter coats at this point.

So, the question was, was Keil Bay's extreme forward motion because I was riding him at night? Or is he really feeling that good?

He is really feeling that good.

I did a nice warm-up at the walk and we moved right into the trot. Big trot. Forward trot. Ears up trot. Power trot. And then some trot that got so powerful it felt like Keil Bay was going to motor us right through the arena fence. In several places around the arena he was trying to leap into the canter.

We did some trot serpentine work in an effort (on my part) to use up some of that energy. It worked *while* we were in the serpentines but as soon as we were on the rail again, he really really wanted to canter. He was getting very annoyed that I wouldn't let him, and I was feeling like if I DID let him it would be like releasing a highly-taut spring. Could I stay with that?

Probably I should have used the mantra "just do it" but I got hung up envisioning that spring releasing and me trying to sit on it, and psyched myself right out of trying.

Daughter happened to be riding Cody at the same time so I asked her if she wanted to hop on Keil Bay and see what his canter looked like. She got off Cody and hopped on the Big Bay. One walk stride, two walk strides, CANTER.

It didn't burst out in any way except beautifully, but it was big and it was forward. He looked absolutely fabulous. (and so did daughter!)

She stopped briefly to raise the stirrups a hole and then cantered him in both directions. When she got off I asked how it felt and she said "weird."

What? That gorgeous canter felt weird?

"It was like a big fast rocking horse."

And all I can say is:

The power.

The brilliance.

The Hanoverian.


He's a rocking horse for big girls. :)

Monday, December 05, 2011

lessons in riding, 12

Taking a brief break from holiday shopping posts to talk a little bit about riding the Big Bay.

He's had two weeks off after his corneal scratch and then his chiro work. The scratch healed well, and during that part of the break I rode Cody several times. I truly dislike the dressage saddle I normally ride Cody in, so I used my Thinline sheepskin pad on Cody along with Keil Bay's saddle, and one cold day pulled out my sheepskin seat saver pad - instant warmth in the saddle and it's been nice having the cushioning. I think riding Cody a number of times while NOT getting to ride Keil Bay set me up for a big realization.

The first thing that happened was I realized how tall he is! Cody is 15.3h and Keil is 16.2h - the difference seems much more than those few inches. I put my 2-step mounting block on top of some carefully arranged cinder blocks, lowered my stirrups two holes, and for whatever reason my fidgeting about the mounting process has stopped. It's no surprise that once *I* stopped fidgeting so did the horses.

I'm not sure why I had my stirrups up two holes while riding Cody but it felt glorious, notably glorious, to have them longer last night. I felt like my hips had opened and my legs grew longer, and everything just "fit" perfectly.

We had a hoot owl calling in the woods, night fell quickly, and Keil Bay was extremely alert and forward. There have been times when I felt nervous about this combination of things if I haven't been riding regularly, but last night I was so happy to be back on Keil Bay I was thrilled. We warmed up and then moved into some trot work. Cody has a smooth trot but I find it hard to post because the stride is so much shorter than Keil's. It felt like I had returned home after a journey - posting to Keil's trot. I was really enjoying the cadence and the ease of the up-down. It wasn't the best ride we've ever had but it was wonderful to be feeling his movement again. On some level maybe after what happened with Salina and then Keil's swollen knee and scratched cornea I just appreciated every moment that much more.
Tonight we had another ride and this one was quite stunning. Keil was alert and very forward again. The interesting thing is that he was not spooky. Just alert and forward. We did a good warm-up and incorporated a lot of serpentines into that. I'm not sure if it was the warming up or just the forward, but when we went into trot things got better than good very quickly. We went right into the power trot, but the most surprising thing was that when we trotted on the left rein, on a 20m circle, Keil was completely supple and I think we had probably the best work going left that we've ever had. He got soft and round and his bend was perfect, and my rising trot spontaneously shifted into sitting trot because his carriage was so perfect there was just no rising motion to be done. When I sat and his back came up beneath me, he went even rounder, got softer, and we went a full circle in what felt like pure schwung.

I am still feeling the effects of that perfect circle. Sitting here typing I can still feel exactly how it felt.

Lesson: sometimes you don't have to work for good things. Just get on and let the magic happen.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

holiday shopping for horsewomen, day 3, with Snoopy

These are a few of the things that have been on my "we need this" list this year, and although not local, artsy items, they are creative in that they solve some very specific problems for those of us who ride and live with horses.

First, my Ariat paddock boots are still going strong. With half chaps or without they are probably my favorite pair of boots ever. The one thing wearing out a bit is the Cobalt footbed inside the boot. It's just not as cushy as it once was. Imagine my delight when I found these:

Here's ONE PLACE you can buy them.  I found them locally and purchased them there. Our most local tack shop went out of business last month, after five years, so I'm trying to support those remaining as much as possible. It's so nice to be able to see and try things before ordering, and to get something NOW when you really need it.

A great stocking stuffer, imo!

My daughter developed a nasty rub on one leg a few months back - inside calf where the stirrup leathers are. This happened through leather half chaps, breeches, and socks, and I still don't know exactly how it managed to form through all that, but the worst part has been keeping it from re-opening since she continues to ride. She's been wrapping the area with various combinations of gauze and bandaging and that has worked, but it's messy and I kept thinking there had to be an elegant solution.  There is:

Equifit Gel Bands. I couldn't find these locally so got a pair that are exactly like this but do not have the medicated gel part. I figured we could add our own ointment to the site, but if they don't fit the bill for us, I'll GO HERE and try these.  Again, a nice stocking stuffer for someone who rides a lot and might need them at some point. This is the kind of thing you want to have on hand when you need it!

While researching these, I also discovered that a lot of riders keep moleskin patches on hand to use for similar issues.  I haven't found these locally yet but HERE'S ONE PLACE you can get a bulk pack online.

I was browsing a local consignment shop yesterday and came upon something that made me stop and literally gasp in pleasure. It wasn't on the list of things I was looking for, but it is something all of us who ride might well need and use if we had it. An oilskin riding slicker!

Unfortunately for me, the one I found was not in my size. Fortunately for my daughter, it is in HER size, so I might make a return trek to get it if she thinks she might use it. The one I found is from Ireland and it is possibly the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen. Beautiful, well-made, and one of those items that while not used on a daily basis is perfect when the conditions are right.

I found THIS PAGE online that shows several options for riding slickers and links to places you can buy them.

Finally, continuing my theme of music from day 2, I found this:

Lantern, you ask?  Well, not exactly - it's an outdoor speaker! It's wireless and connects to your iPod and the lantern speaker itself can be mounted on arena posts at all four corners or anywhere you like so you can do musical freestyles. Or just have some music while you ride. Or play Jane Savoie's audio CDs from her Happy Horse collection. I've looked and looked to find just the right thing for our arena, and I think this might be it. At around $110. per speaker, I can buy one to try and then add the others as needed. You can find them HERE.

Guess who the first musical freestyle guinea pig is going to be?

And guess what song?

Listen to the lyrics and imagine the Little Man doing his big extended trot across the diagonal to this part... someday I'll fly... someday I'll soar... cause I'm bigger than my body gives me credit for...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

more holiday shopping on November Hill - day 2, with more Charlie Brown

Love love love the Charlie Brown Christmas Show dance scene! In the spirit of music and dancing,  here are a few links to some terrific music:

A few years ago I bought the original Vince Guaraldi Trio Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack at Starbuck's. I think I listened to it all of that year - I love the songs. And guess what? You can still get it! CLICK HERE for one buying option.

Yesterday the lovely Anna March posted her first Aural Fixations post on The Rumpus. Anna's writing paired with an amazing songlist is gift enough, but I found two new artists whose work I immediately snapped up on iTunes:

Ruth Brown's songs - Ms. B's Blues: Essential Recordings and in particular the song "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town" - LOVE it!!

And an old friend who is an incredible singer/songwriter with a new CD out, Lynn Blakey and her Meadowview.

Here's a live version of the song Immigrant Heart, which she plays and sings with her husband Ecki Heins:

If you love Lynn's voice as much as I do, check out her work with Tres Chicas and Glory Fountain too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

november hill holiday shopping - day 1 with charlie brown christmas

 I love the Charlie Brown Christmas show, especially the music! And now, day 1 of my holiday shopping guide:

If you're looking for a few books to add to your collection this holiday season, or to give as gifts, I highly recommend the following:

Ten Thousand New Year's Eves by Dawn Deanna Wilson:  I loved this one so much I wrote a blurb for it - it's a wonderful book and perfect to buy now and save for your last read of 2011.

Lessons in Forgetting by Malaika King Albrecht: Her poems put us at windows into the moments shared by mothers and daughters dealing with Alzheimer's. Gorgeous and poignant.

Night Swim by Jessica Keener: This debut novel is available for pre-order and will be a gorgeous book to read moving into the new year. Keener creates a story that is its own song, hitting every note perfectly.

quick end of November catch-up

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving here on November Hill, and this week have gone from balmy to downright brisk outside. Yesterday morning the geldings and Redford were galloping wildly, and Keil Bay was doing his huge floating trot, which always makes me stop and watch. There is simply nothing more beautiful than Keil Bay doing that trot. Unless it's Salina walking out of the barn looking like a 4-year old, or Cody doing the "power canter" that embraces energy and collection at the same moment, or the pony at full gallop, or the donkeys doing almost anything at all.

We had the chiropractor here after the gallop session and Cody was again almost completely clear. He's beginning to enjoy the chiropractor almost as much as Keil Bay does, which is wonderful. It tells me his muscles and joints are feeling better now that we (knock on wood) have his PSSM symptoms under good control.

Keil Bay had a pelvic rotation, but otherwise was clear. He groaned with pleasure as she went along his neck checking for issues, and closed his eyes in what looked like a meditative state as she stretched out his front legs.

Salina was a handful! She's been on the Previcox for nearly a month and we are seeing her younger mare spirit rise up again. She had a very obvious to the chiropractor hip issue and seemed to know that it was going to be a big adjustment - so we marched up and down the barn aisle a few times until she settled down and allowed it to happen. The moment the adjustment was done, she relaxed from head to tail, and had the most enjoyable chiropractic exam she's ever had. It was wonderful to see.

I'm en route to the periodontist today to get my teeth cleaned after the fairly hideous staining that has resulted from the post-laser gum surgery antibiotic rinse. There have been years of my life when this would have completely freaked me out, but after the November we've had with horses the fact of stained teeth just hasn't seemed all that important to me.

The gum surgery went well, I was actually cheerful during the IV being inserted, due to two very amazing pills. I've made it through the soft food for 22 days regime. And hopefully this afternoon will have a more normal color of teeth!

On the "working on it" side of things, we have a pony who needs more hard work (he's his usual very chubby self this season and grumpy as a result) and a donkey with two ouchy front hooves. Here's hoping we move into December with good solutions for both of them.

Starting tomorrow I'm doing a series of November Hill gift idea posts for the holiday season - including gifting oneself with something special if need be! You'll see the gift I gave to myself for going through with all this dental work after dreading it for two years. Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

giving thanks 2011

It occurs to me that there is no better way to get silver of hair (and simultaneously rich in heart) than living with the antics of equines. I'm grateful for this herd of six who each bring something very special to my life:

Keil Bay: reminds me that dreams come true.

Apache Moon: lets me live the dream of little girls and painted ponies and who knows? maybe grandchildren and ponies one of these days! I used to have the Thelwell boxed set. Now I live with the real thing!

Cody: brings sensitivity and the path of opening oneself up, lengthening one's stride, stretching and using those tight muscles we all have.

Salina: offers partnership and a deeper knowing of things. and models how to be a grand old lady.

Rafer Johnson: shares his open heart and steadfast spirit and sweet kind eyes to make every day something special. the words wise and lovebug come together in Rafer Johnson.

Redford: brings a sense of the unexpected to nearly every moment. his place in the herd is always changing and morphing and it's a wonder to watch that process as it happens. he sparks so many things for us.

And, reliably, there go the donkey alarms. Music to our ears here on November Hill. It's feeding time! It's Thanksgiving Day!

Enjoy, and thank YOU for stopping by.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

the third thing (seniors giving me silver hairs)

This morning Keil Bay's eye was wonky and when it didn't respond to my wonky eye protocol I called the vet.

3/4 inch scratch right across the cornea.

The Big Bay got a shot of Banamine, eye stain,  super duper eye ointment that needs to go in every 4 hours, and no sedation because he is a remarkably cooperative horse when something is wrong and he needs fixing.

He cried green tears and gave the vet a nuzzle at the end of it. I saw the scratch and for about one minute thought there was actually a splinter embedded in his eye. The vet seemed remarkably nonchalant for such a thing, but I was very relieved that I had totally mistook what I saw!

I have maybe 30 new silver hairs and now that the third thing has hit, we are ready to move on. Cold weather, hot weather, flies, ice in troughs - I swear I will not complain. Just healthy equines and pure boredom of routine days. That's all I ask for.

Send him some healing energy. He's in a fly mask in November!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

oh my goodness! War Horse!

This horse reminds me so much of Keil Bay it blows my mind. If you hear someone sobbing in the movie theatre at Christmas time it is probably me.

So glad there is a tribute to the horses who fought the great war!

the senior horse, 7 and 8: in which Salina and Keil Bay add to my silver hair count

It's taken me awhile to be able to sit down and write about this - it was one of the most stressful times I've had since we started living with horses and donkeys, and in some ways it was a trial run of one of my worst nightmares.

A little over a week ago, Bear Corgi burst through our back gate as I was heading out to feed breakfast tubs. He does this periodically, but usually he runs huge laps around the perimeter of the arena, barn/barnyards, and our outer fence line. He's generally good about coming to me when I call, and he gets a pat for listening and goes back to the house/dog yard.

Last week his "outburst" coincided with his morning "crazed Corgi" energy run - which he usually does inside our house - AND with the horses and donkeys having gathered in close quarters up near the barn as they awaited being let into stalls for breakfast.

This was a terrible mix - wild Corgi and clustered herd - and Bear proceeded to run like a banshee up and down the paddock, going in a straight line back and forth THROUGH the horses. It all happened lightning fast, and suddenly Bear realized that Rafer Johnson was in the arena alongside the dirt paddock, and he went in and started chasing Rafer. Rafer held his own and we tried to stop Bear, but he was in a frenzy and could not really hear his command to come.

I managed to get his attention and he left Rafer to come through the paddock to me, in the front field where I had gone hoping to get him completely out of the area of the horse hooves, but as he made a path to me he decided to take another pass through the herd. Salina went after him.

Bear went back and forth one last time and Salina whirled around like a reining horse, intent on getting this little monster away from her donkeys.

On the third "whirl" Salina went down. The momentum, soft footing (we'd had rain a day or so before), and her still not quite healed abscessing hoof gave way. She landed hard (albeit on soft earth) on her right hip, and she was flat out on the ground.

I got Bear and put him in the house, and ran back to check Salina while my daughter put the geldings in their stalls. I let the donkeys stay with Salina, knowing their presence would be good for her, and knowing too that they would likely refuse to leave her.

She was fortunately lying flat with her good eye up, which I suspect helped her stay calm. She didn't struggle at all. She just lay there flat out, both hind legs stiff and sticking out in a way that made me think she had done something bad to her hip or stifle joint. Blood was coming out of her mouth, but it appeared to be from her biting her tongue.

I called the vet. The office manager told me to administer Banamine immediately and that she would get someone over here as soon as she could. She told me not to try to get Salina up if she was calm.

Unfortunately there were two emergencies going on ahead of us and she had already pulled in one vet to help with that, but we were going to have to wait. The vet on call checked in by phone and told me to stay with Salina and call her if she began to panic or struggle.

Salina lay perfectly still for most of two hours. My husband came home from work, both my teenagers were with us, holding Salina's head and blocking her eye from the morning sun. The donkeys stood by her side and at one point laid down beside her. Rafer rolled nearby as if he were trying to show her how to get up. As you can imagine we were all in tears.

At one frightening point Salina closed her eye and I thought she was leaving us. I made the goodbye speech I had imagined briefly but never been able to get all the way through out loud before - thanking her for all her wisdom and help in keeping November Hill under control. I told her we would do everything we could if she wanted to stay, but that we would manage without her if it was time for her to go. I promised to take good care of the donkeys, and I swore I would teach Bear Corgi not to chase them again.

She seemed to be listening intently and I really thought that when the vet arrived we would be saying goodbye and dealing with burial.

Around that time the donkeys each went up to her and sniffed her face. Rafer then went down the paddock and into the front field to join the geldings. We'd fed breakfast tubs and put them in front. Redford went down the paddock and was considering going with Rafer but he ended up grazing near the gate. I didn't know if they had said goodbye and were going to join their herd or if they knew things were okay and were taking a grazing break. It was heartbreaking.

Five minutes before the vet arrived, nearly two hours since she first went down, Salina decided to get up. She tried two times without success and then the third time she made it. She was on all four feet but leaning precariously to the right. I was terrified she was going back down, that something was truly not working right in her hip and that this time she would panic. But she held herself upright, defying gravity, and in a few moments took one step, then two, getting her balance, getting her equilibrium back, and then she walked slowly but very steadily down to the gate to the front field.

I immediately got her breakfast tub (wet and mushy and I wanted to get some fluid into her) and she devoured almost all of it as we held it there. The donkeys came back, the vet arrived and did a full exam from head to hoof, and said that other than a slightly elevated heart rate, she was fine.

The vet on call stopped by as well, so she got a second check. By this time she was fussing at the vet, tracking her donkeys, and ready to move on with her day.

We decided to put her on Previcox and keep her on it to help with arthritic pain. I've doubled her Mov-Ease powder, stopped jiaogulan, and started ginseng. It seems amazing but she is looking good. She's back to regular turn-out, the abscess is healing up, and Bear Corgi has had several leash lessons in which he is learning (and doing well) at lying quietly with the horses and donkeys. I waited a week to take him out there, and when I did, at the end of the lesson, Salina and both donkeys came up to him and they licked and chewed while he lay quietly. They shared some breaths and we called that a successful end to that first meeting after such a difficult day.

Looking back, I wonder if Salina felt I needed a trial run of what it might be like when she or any of our equines go. I've never dealt with losing a horse and have barely been able to think what it might be like. Now I know, and although it was terribly upsetting and difficult, I was able to be there and do what had to be done. We all had the chance to say what we wanted to say, and were able to do it without falling apart.

As usual, the black mare who will be 29 years old this spring has much to teach.


Yesterday I went out to feed breakfast and noticed immediately that Keil Bay had a swollen knee. Keil is 22 years old but he is remarkably sound for his age and as most of you know, he's my dream horse, so if I even think anything is going on with him I get extremely anxious.

He ate his breakfast as ravenously as always, and I watched him walk out to the pasture to see how he looked. There was nothing off at all, but the knee was definitely big. No heat, nothing else of note.

I came inside to research some possible remedies and then went back out to watch him some more before making a decision. While I was watching I got the muck-barrow and began to do some mucking in the field where he was.

As I mucked I got more and more anxious. I started thinking what if this is it for Keil, what if his knee is going and he can't be ridden any more. I reminded myself that I can ride Cody, but the idea of Keil Bay in retirement made me so sad I could hardly think about it.

About that time he walked up the hill and went to the water trough I'd just emptied to clean it out. "Hang on," I told him. "I'll fill it for you." I got the hose and added water and kneeled down to check his knee again. I kept feeling around his knee and he kept moving so that his chest was right in my face, almost like he was trying to use his chest to push me over. For a minute I thought he was just being affectionate but then I looked - LOOKED - at the area he was presenting to me. He had gouged himself right at the top of the leg, it had already scabbed over, and his winter coat had covered it up so it was barely noticeable. But it was directly above the swollen knee and suddenly I knew why the swelling was there, why he was so sound even with the swelling, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

At that point Keil Bay put his knee against my hand holding the hose and I thought DUH!  Cold hosing! He stood there for about 15 minutes while the cold water flowed down his leg, then nuzzled me and walked back down the hill.

I gave him 3 doses of Arnica for good measure.

Later in the day as I was working with Bear Corgi in the arena, Keil Bay galloped up the hill, notched back to his power trot down the paddock, and came to a full halt right by the gate to the arena. Cody galloped all the way to the fence and stopped on a dime.

Keil Bay hung his head over the gate and looked me right in the eye. "See," he said. "I'm definitely not ready for retirement yet."

I thanked the universe that I have these two incredible seniors to teach me what they know. I might be completely silver-headed before I read the mid-50s but I will have stories to tell and a huge amount of knowledge to take care of those other 4 equines we live with!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

CALL TO ACTION: AQHA and the Reichert Celebration 2011

I have a huge amount of information and a call to action to pass on from a friend and true advocate of the horse, Lee Earnshaw, on the Blue Tongue Alumni Facebook page, who is working hard to address the issues our Quarter Horses face in their breeding, early training, and the distortion of gaits and frame they are forced to endure in the name of the "Western Pleasure" discipline:
"Please watch this, watch the poor horses, pick out the lame one, count all the draw reins attached to curbs and used as a primary rein...notice no active AQHA stewards there to ensure that rules 104, 401, and 441 were not violated. All you need to do to speak for the horses is send one email to and let her know what you think. Please include your country of origin."

Billie adds:
If you find this video and the riding you see in it offensive, inhumane, and/or cruel to the horses involved, below is a link to all sponsors of the Reichert Celebration. Although it takes time to email them to let them know your thoughts on their sponsorship of this kind of event and the treatment of these horses, it DOES make a difference. There is actually a remake of this video being done with an updated list of sponsors who have already responded to concerns of viewers - and those sponsors who haven't responded at all.

A huge effort is underway with regards to this. Please consider adding your voice in every way you can to help the American Quarter Horse. If you've ever known and loved a Quarter Horse, you know how incredible they are.

Our QH Cody came to us as a 2-year old fully trained under saddle. It took years (he's 8 now) to teach him to move like a normal horse. He is a teddy bear and even under our care and encouragement, he still tenses up sometimes and reverts to the tight, constricted gaits and frame he was taught as a baby.

When I look at the horses in the video above, and look out my window and see Cody gallop up the hill with his herd, I see a completely different breed of horse. He moves beautifully, has gorgeous muscling, and he has a regal air to him that is simply not present in the movements of the horses above. How has this come to pass? Go tell these sponsors what the Quarter Horse can be, and should be, and used to be. Tell them you don't like what you see at the Reichert Celebration, and ask them to stop sponsoring that kind of event - which in my opinion is no celebration at all.  and you can CLICK HERE to go directly to the list.

And read on - here are two articles Lee Earnshaw wrote sharing her research into this issue:


   My curiosity was piqued. I thought most Quarter Horse folks were going to be upset because of my nosing around into what was happening at 'their' shows, in 'their' warm-ups, and fully expected a mail box full of the typical response "You don't understand," and the all encompassing, "Mind your own business." 

     But, I was getting emailed cheers of encouragement from those folks that I thought would like to rip me to shreds, and many of them were telling the same tale as me. "I quit showing WP because of the peanut rolling and four beat lope." And here, I thought I was the only one.

     Being nosy, I just had to find out some statistics. So here we go...about the time the peanut rolling & four beat lope became really fashionable in the early 90's there were 207,286 members like me, renewing their annual membership.

     By the year 2000, annual membership was down to 179, 639. By 2010, it was down to 89,413.

     Total membership (Annual, 3-Year, Life, Youth, and Amateur classifications) dropped about 16% from from 2007 to 2010. Total 345,905 in 2007, and in 2010, down to 300054. Yes, okay, we can blame that on the economy...until we compare the stats from USEF membership decrease in the same length of time to be only about 9.6%

     There are 115,390 owners of registered QH's in Texas in 2010...only 41,186 of them are members of AQHA. That is a measley 36% of all Texan owned Quarter Horses are eligible to compete at AQHA shows or race at the tracks.

     No wonder one of the AQHA goals for the upcoming year is to entice more people into competing. Problem is, a lot of those people used to, but were driven away from it by the whims of judges forgetting what the American Quarter Horse was supposed to do...move like a horse that was a pleasure to ride. Or heck, even just move like a horse was intended to. And a lot of us will not be caught dead in custom-made sequin outfits costing $1000 and up. No way. If I've got a grand to waste, it won't be on clothing that I wouldn't ordinarily be caught dead in except on Hallowe'en.

     And another problem is, now, the expose' of what the horses are actually subjected to, despite AQHA's assurance that their shows are "regulated by some of the most strict rules within the equine industry, designed to ensure the safety and welfare of American Quarter Horses compete,in approved events, are not jeopardized." We know that's not true. We've seen video proof.

     Add on to that, the fact that the judges are still rewarding the non-level toplines, the uncadenced jogs, the staggering slow walks, and the extreme head-nodding at the lope, which is sometimes three-beat, sometimes four, depending on the judge. All against the rules, still. The rules have chnaged and been updated over the past few years, but the judges seem incapable of comprehension or change.

     AQHA likes to impress people with the fact that, in the last 31 years, they have actually reprimanded 52 members for cruelty. Sounds pretty good, right? Until you look at how many hundred thousand members they have now...and through the years, it must be well over a couple of million. Let's be generous, underestimate, and say, 1 million. 52 reprimands? Not even a drop in the bucket.

     The statistics I would really like to hear about are: how many complaints were received, how many were actually even investigated, and how many were reprimanded.  Every year.  Bragging about a vague total from a three decade span just doesn't do it for me.

     AQHA is probably regretting now that in their endeavor to have the most silver and sequins, the grassroots membership faded away. I'm pretty sure they knew all along that was happening--if I can tell, just by reading their published statistics, surely they could tell--yet did nothing about it. It might be time for AQHA to take a good hard look at the ground--they are diving for it, anyway.



Since the video was found and posted on our group wall, we have been following multiple leads...who, on Earth, is responsible for allowing inhumane treatment of horses in warm-up? Draw reins on so many horses, and attached to curbs? What organization failed the American horses so badly? Well, after looking into it for over two one seems to know anything. Definitely, they "ain't sayin' nuthin'"...I feel like we might have stumbled on the Mafia of the Western Pleasure world.

Reichert Celebration offers 1.5 million USD in prize money. The Reichert family raise Quarter Horses.

AQHA rules are to be followed, or maybe NSBA's unless they conflict with AQHA's, then those take precedence. The other breed organizations (PHBA, APHA, POA, ApHC) have their own rules, but AQHA's, again, would take precedence if in conflict; or at least, they think so. They allow show points to be accrued, but the ones who have responded stress that, beyond that, they have nothing to with the Reichert Celebration. It is ''altogether different," apparently.

Horses are supposed to be treated with dignity and humanely at all times, though...that's pretty much the standard rule for horse welfare with all the involved organizations. The video proves that everyone left it up to someone else to figure out what to do and how to do it, and it appears that no one did, and no one could figure out the difference between humane and inhumane. Sadly, there were even vets on site. Vets that yes, will profit from this kind of inhumane treatment. Money talks, and money even shuts one up.

USEF and FEI are not affiliated with any of the national organizations invited into the hodgepodge of Reichert Celebration show and sale.

The NSBA, AQHA, and the organizers themselves have not responded to the obvious rule violations. When they do, the questions I will be asking is:
-exactly how many of the horses were tested for drugs, and is fluphenazine on their list of drugs to be tested for;
-how many actual disqualifications were there in the Western Pleasure classes that state horses to have level topline (AQHA) and no head-nodding at lope (NSBA)
-who provided/paid for stewards and was each ring, including warm-ups, monitored by at least one, at all times;
-how did they not notice draw reins attached to curbs, or draw reins in use, when training devices are banned in warm-up
-why were none of the horses marked with identifiable numbers in warm-up, and do they feel this impairs the safety of the horses by overlooking this basic requirement at events with more than a handful of horses (let alone 2500). How are they going to identify all the riders caught on film violating their own rules?
-do they feel it is ethical to hire their major sponsors (like vets) and have other sponsors also be competitors? This is like bribing the boss to hire you, or buying your placings before you ever saddle up, imo.

AHC and HSUS and the majority of sponsors and involved breed associations have all avoided reponding to concerned thus far...

Update: October 15: NSBA has responded and do agree that their were violations of their rules in that video. They state they had a monitor, a steward, and a drug tester available at the show. They are launcing their own investigation and review. They also state it is not the norm for numbers to be displayed when outside the stall, but they feel that this is a valid point and will be suggested at their next meeting. I think they realized they could see violations but can't correctly identify the violaters since they were all anonymous without any identification.

October 25: RC responded last week and don't see anything wrong with draw reins, and they thought their stewards did a great job pf reprimanding people for using draw reins. Yep. I kid you not. We have a problem here. I think the media man who wrote this has difficulty keeping a train of thought, maybe adult onset ADHD or something can be blamed.
Sponsors who have now responded after me telling them we were going to remake the video for national TV to ensure their names were included if they didn't respond: Western Haulers and Show Girl Show Clothes.
APHA and AQHA sent me their usual generic "we will get back to you" crap email.
USEF has formally denied having anything to do with Recihert Celebration at all/whatsoever/no way, uh-uh.
One guy said he didn't want to be involved when I asked him to pass on a ''heads up'' to his client who also happens to be a major sponsor of the show.

Oct 27:Another sponsor forwarded my email to AQHA and APHA, and guess what? Both organizations responded yesterday. APHA said they have pro-welfare rules.(I asked if they were aware those rules were violated when I emailed her back.)
AQHA rep emailed me like I was a retard and said she'd ensure my concerns about gaits of QHs and use of draw reins would be addressed in 2012. (Obviously, I let her know I am not waiting that long, and surely someone there knows how to call an urgent board meeting.) She also said USEF decides when to drug test, not them...very interesting...since USEF claims they have nothing to do with AQHA drug testing...I will bet money that no horses at this Reichert Celebration were tested, since no one knew who should decide when and who to test...which is why they all looked doped up on fluphenazine in the classes I saw before they made their videos private...


a link to a speech given by Dr. Jim Heird, an AQHA judge, in 2009, advocating for change in their system:
There is more information forthcoming. Stay tuned here and feel free to join the Blue Tongue Alumni group on Facebook if you want to be part of the ongoing conversation there.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

lessons in riding, 11

I went out intending to ride, and Keil Bay came right in when he heard me come through the gate, so it felt like he wanted to ride too. But after I fed Salina, checked her in the midst of abscessing hoof, and let Keil Bay into a stall so I could tack him up I saw that he, and all the geldings, had been out rolling and all three were covered in dried mud.

Salina left a bit of her meal, so I added some to it and fed it to Keil Bay. He wishes he needed an extra wet tub a day. He doesn't really, but every now and then I give him one just to show him that I will if in fact he ever DOES need it to keep his weight and nutrition balanced.

He was thrilled with his midday "senior" meal, and I started working on his mud while he ate.

It was cool and windy today and I decided to let the other geldings come into stalls and have some hay out of the wind. They all seemed happy to have some quiet and some individual hay. I realized as I got busy grooming Keil that it was probably one of those days when it felt right to spend a long grooming session than to try and squeeze in a ride. He was enjoying the brushing, and the barn was peaceful with the late afternoon sun coming in the windows, the horses all munching, and the rhythm of the brush felt good to me as well as Keil.

Keil started banging his feed tub around in the manger so I stepped up to take it and let him lick it out. This is a favorite ritual he and I have, and as I lifted Salina's red tub I realized Keil's blue tub had been left in the manger at breakfast and he was banging because some of the midday meal had managed to spill between the red tub and the blue tub but they were stuck together and he couldn't get to the "trapped" portion. I separated the tubs and held them both up side by side so he could lick.

I suspect Keil Bay has never had two feed tubs both with feed in them in front of him inside his stall before. He seemed surprised but not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, and he set forth to lick both, taking turns between one and the other. I could literally feel his pleasure. If horses purred like cats, Keil Bay was purring.

I've been doing ground work with him most of this week, and since I'd decided not to ride, I took him out in halter and lead rope to do a repeat of our work. The first day he needed a little urging to keep up with me but the past two days he has been sharp and perfectly focused. Today he was even more focused - clearly trying to anticipate my requests by watching my body. We were walking, trotting, halting, turning, backing w/o any cue passing between us. Keil is big and has a big stride, but he matched me step for step in every transition. It was impressive.

While we were working, Salina came out of the barn and began to graze in the big barnyard. She's moving, but still carefully, and this is the first day she's wanted to graze in about 4. The donkeys both asked to come into the arena, so, as it tends to go around here, my work with Keil Bay ended and some similar work with the donkeys began. Even the pony, who was in his stall with hay, came to his door to watch.

Everyone got groomed and worked and they're back in stalls with hay until dinner time, when they'll eat, get their blankets for the first freeze of the year, and head out to enjoy the cold, clear night.

Might I add that we noticed the sure sign of fall and winter on its way: flies sitting motionless, as if they were frozen in place. It's about time!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

mare magic, part 3

This morning I wrote that Salina had gone up to the barn. When I got out there I realized she had done it b/c the abscess has burst - so no need to stand outside my window where I can see her!

It is draining - but my guess is that the inner "seal" that formed when it healed over 3 weeks ago has not yet cleared. I tried to get her to take a walk in the arena as that always helps loosen things up and get the gunk to clear out once it's open, but she's not quite ready for that yet. I washed with warm water and have put some epsom salt poultice on top with a very light gauze wrap to keep flies away and see if we can draw out the gunk. Need the remedy NOW - but will do an Animalintex wrap later today and see if we can move this along now that it's open.

She feels better but is determined not to walk too much yet. She knows best.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

more mare magic

I wrote recently about Salina's abscessed hoof and how scary it was for me until it burst. After three weeks or so of being completely sound and feeling better than she has in a year, Salina is now suddenly in round two of the left hind hoof abscess.

Interesting though that this time she is not resting in her stall where I commented that not seeing her head in that window was alarming for me.

This time she is resting right by my bedroom window so that I can see her constantly. I have finally put hay and water right there with her since it seems she really wants to be there. She moves around and goes up and down to the barn when she wants to, but she is returning to my window at all times of the day and night.

I was worried yesterday because she didn't eat normally, but this morning she ate her full breakfast and just got a nice shampoo bath of all her legs and hooves so they are clean and less likely to attract the last bastion of flies that have set in here.

I find it amazing that after I wrote the blog post about her window, she has placed herself literally a few feet away from me so that I can check on her with one simple glance.

Send some good energy for abscesses bursting and clearing completely. This one seemed like a doozy in its first incarnation - on both ends of the process. How lame she was and then how completely sound she got when it burst out. I am hoping this is a clearing out of something in response to putting her on jiaogulan and that once her hoof clears itself we'll see her bounce back with some renewed vigor.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

last night on the mountain retreat

On Thursday morning my two teenagers and I packed up, said goodbye to all the November Hill animal crew and husband/dad/solo farmhand, and headed up to one of my new favorite places on the earth. A good friend shared her mountain home for the second time - the first was the writing workshop back in June, and this weekend it's been a wonderful getaway and 3/4 of a family retreat.

We enjoyed the fall color on the drive here, and were absolutely thrilled when we got a few miles from the cabin and spotted what looked like a dusting of snow on neighboring mountaintops. The cabin is as wonderful as it was the first time, and I have loved seeing the rushing creek in its autumn outfit. We've done a little bit of walking, a little bit of riding on the Polaris up the mountain (daughter would not ride with me through sticky places - she got out and walked!), lots of creek watching, and some movie watching on the HUGE screen TV.

It's cold enough we've had the fire burning all weekend.

I've written a chapter in Fiona and the Water Horse, another chapter in Ava Lee's book, and been thrilled to sit here with Cold Mountain in my hands for a re-read. I had forgotten that a 17-hand Hanoverian gelding is in the book. Made me miss the Big Bay and also made me wonder - were there Hanoverians in the U.S. during the Civil War?

Daughter has finished her first research paper, done long exposure shots of waterfalls, and did a model shoot for my son in his ancient Greek garb.

Son has identified trees, gathered some wood samples, taken many photographs, and cooked some meals for us.

Tomorrow we're heading back to November Hill, but on the way we'll take a different route, stop by a favorite place for lunch, and see what else presents itself!

I had a terrible time uprooting from November Hill. It's always hard to leave. We've checked in daily and everyone there is doing fine so far.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Come chat with me and Janet Roper Tuesday night!

Janet Roper, of Talk to the Animals, will be chatting with me about horses, books, life, and who knows what else Tuesday night on her BlogTalk radio show:

GO HERE for the details.

And if you can't join us live, you can always listen to the recorded chat at your leisure!

Knowing me and knowing Janet and knowing the animals on November Hill, I expect this will be a blast in every single way!