Wednesday, April 27, 2011

lessons in riding, 4

I went out late this afternoon thinking I would groom the Big Bay and we would have a ride. The sky was shifting from sunshine to dark clouds, and I was hoping we might find a chunk of cloudy sky time to ride in so it would be cooler and the insects might disappear.

Keil came into the barnyard for grooming and it became clear that he needed to be brushed, curried, scraped, brushed some more, and then all of the above yet again - his hair is shedding in huge packets right now. At one point the wind was blowing as I was brushing and his hair was swirling around me like a mini Keil Bay fur-nado.

Still though, I intended to ride, and kept working until he was shining and clean and I was dirty and sweating. I realized he was being besieged by black gnats on his belly, so out came the fly spray and a cloth to wipe it on. Just as I finished up, Rafer Johnson literally wedged himself between me and the Bay and asked for his own grooming, so I set the fly spray aside and got my brushes going on Rafer. He's shedding too, which is unusual so early in the season, but he enjoyed getting a nice groom and some neck scratches.

About that time, Salina came out of the barn and started switching her tail between her legs, over and over. I thought for a moment she wanted me to groom her, so I did, but she kept up the tail swishing. Then I thought she wanted me to STOP grooming, so I stood back. She looked at me and switched the tail about 15 times as hard as she could. Finally, I got the message. Look where her tail is pointing. And there was a hard knot of a tick bite with not one, but two ticks attached on the inside of her hind leg. I rubbed my fingers around and onto the bite area and she stretched out, curled her upper lip, and said, YES, that's IT.

I removed the ticks and then went in the feed room to get a cold cloth and the calendula tincture. She waited for me in the barnyard and stood while I held the cold cloth on the bite, then swabbed with the tincture. She sighed and walked on. No more tail swishing - relief.

When I went to put the calendula and cloth away I heard some tiny chirps. A Carolina wren built a nest in my tack cleaning bucket, which hangs on a hook in the feed room. The eggs hatched on Easter, and as I glanced into the nest today, I could, for the first time, see the neck markings on at least five baby birds, all tucked in a row, and then disappearing as they lifted their heads and opened their tiny mouths in unison.

I think it was then I realized this was just not a riding day. I let Cody and the pony through to the barnyard and watched while all of them milled about, grazing, enjoying the breeze, and simply being equines.

There is a little voice inside my head that tells me I need to get that ride in. I'm not sure where it comes from. Keil Bay and I are on the path to pleasure, with no plans for competition or getting to a certain level of dressage, or even to a specific level of fitness. I love when we make little leaps forward, and I especially love when we find harmony in motion, but it's a whimsical path we're on, not a driven one.

Periodically I get a bee in my bonnet about wanting to get on a schedule and ride a certain number of times a week, or ride daily, and I have to stop and remind myself that for me, there is a fine balance when it comes to routine and schedule - I like having both, but I hate when I allow myself to be ruled by the schedule to the exclusion of being in the moment and following my gut, and Keil's.

Today it was hot, the weather was funky, bugs were profuse, and everyone in the herd had things they needed me to do. The right thing for today was to listen, to offer my hands for holding brushes, giving scratches, and removing ticks. It was a day for watching Keil Bay sink knee deep in a compost border as he reached for the perfect bite of grass. And for watching the pony march around like he was playing I-spy for the best mouthful to be found in the barnyard. For taking time to stop and peek at the baby wrens, who had needs too - and to know that their mama bird would soon be there to feed them.

Today's lesson in riding: it's okay not to.

Monday, April 25, 2011

for those who use Adequan

A heads-up: I read on an equine list yesterday that due to a recent FDA inspection, production of Adequan will stop for about six months. I can't find any information on this with a quick Google search, so I'm not sure what the entire story is - but wanted to put this up so that anyone who uses Adequan for horses and/or canines can look further.

I don't think there's been a recall, but I'd want to know what happened, why, and whether the product will be available during this interim in production.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

two very special birthdays

This week and today, Keil Bay turned 22 and Apache Moon, aka The Little Man, turns 11. Magical numbers, magical equines!

Keil Bay is a handsome, regal, expressive, talented Hanoverian who makes me happy every single day. I've had 7 wonderful years with him. My only regret about the Big Bay is that I didn't know him from the day he was born! Sometimes I daydream about what he looked like as a foal, and as a young horse growing up. Happy birthday Big Bay - today you will get a lunch tub just like Salina does (ODTB cubes,  though, but with a sprinkling of oats).

Our birthday boy of the day is Apache Moon. Apache came to live with us when he was 4 years old and my daughter was 7. At 11 and nearly 14, they are still a wonderful team. With the pony, we have an amazing book of photos that his breeder gave us, showing him from birth all the way up to when he came to us. We leased his mother, Black-Eyed Sioux, for about six months, and got to know one of his brothers. He's a very special pony, who has done many special things with my daughter.

To see some of the firsts they shared, GO HERE.

Happy birthday, Little Man!!  You get a lunch tub too!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

trim notes april 2011

We had our trimmer out yesterday and enjoyed a couple hours of conversation about horses' hooves as well as some equine entertainment provided by the November Hill crew.

First up were two young donkeys who lined up in perfect formation, ears at full alertness, in front of B. I have written before how much they love him, and yesterday they stood gazing up at him like two soldiers in front of their general. They love going first.

Rafer lined up in the middle of the barn aisle and presented each hoof one by one. Redford went next and presented each hoof until the last one, which he seemed to think had already been done and he wanted the next part in the process: the alfalfa cookie. A few words and a pat and he was soon back in trim mode.

Salina, who has some trouble with getting her fronts trimmed, had a great day of trimming. She's been moving more and enjoying spring and I think this helps when it comes time for her trim. She was of course kept company by the donkeys, who always want to make sure she's covered on all sides when she's getting any kind of "treatment." Her trim is always a family affair, which she loves.

Keil Bay lined up to go next. He can be fussy - he knows all too well what comes at the end - but yesterday he was very patient and lifted each hoof before being asked for it. He wanted more after the cookie - trim more, treat more!

But it was Cody's turn. Cody was calm and easy to trim. Of all the hooves today only Cody's needed comments. He had a solar "plug" that looked to be the place where his abscess a few months back came through. It came through up at the heel AND the sole, which I guess is good because hopefully whatever needed to be cleared out, got cleared. We spent a few minutes looking at the plug spot and talking about how the hoof works to get healthy. This kind of conversation is good for me, as I tend to catastrophize anything relating to the feet. Knowledge is power, and I love learning more about hooves. Over time I'm not so reactive when I see something happening!

Cody has lost some concavity and his soles seem thinner right now. With his PSSM issues, I always try to keep a close eye on what's happening with him. We'll see what happens as we move forward into spring/summer. He's moving well in the field and under saddle, so whatever is going on is subtle.

Apache Moon walked out of his stall with a bit of circus pony flair - doing a one-sided Spanish Walk. I have no idea what that was about, but he was definitely expressing himself. I wondered if something might be amiss in that particular front hoof, but it wasn't, not that was apparent, and he's been moving wonderfully with daughter, so... I think he was just showing off. He too was extremely good while getting his trim.

Everyone was happy and mostly healthy today. The one thread that ran through the entire hoof trimming session was that one November Hill resident kept trying to steal horse cookies! If you're like my husband you guess:

Redford!! - no

Rafer! - no

Apache Moon... - no

Cody? no

Keil Bay - said with "oh, that Bay" tone - no

Salina??  - said with confusion - she is just not that kind of horse! - NO

So, WHO?

Dickens E. Wickens, feline cowboy extraordaire!  He spent the entire time jumping up to the ledge and cramming his head into the bag. Finally, at the end, B. offered him a cookie and he licked it and then tried to sink his teeth in!

I don't know if he wanted one for himself or wanted to squirrel it away to use as a training tool in his work with his herd.

Great trim day on the Hill.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

home on the hill

I'm playing catch up this week after a wonderful, restorative, energizing conference/retreat this past weekend where I studied sandplay therapy, a Jungian-based way of working with clients developed by Dora Kalff. I've utilized this method in my work for about 17 years now, and like classical horsemanship, it is a lifelong journey of learning, experiencing, and learning more.

On Saturday while I was at the conference we had a large number of tornadoes and "super cells" roll through our state, and while November Hill remained safe, a horse farm not 20 minutes away was devastated: indoor arena, barns, home, equipment shed, all destroyed. Tragically, as of yesterday, 20 horses died as a result of injuries sustained during the tornado.

Right now, my herd are grazing happily in the front pasture, meandering from sunshine to shade, allowing the cool breeze that's blowing to help with black gnat control. I feel incredibly fortunate that we are not picking up the pieces of a fragmented farm, and of our hearts, today.

I took photos of three figures I bought at the conference. The wonderful archetypal artist, Georgia Mann, graciously agreed to send me a box of miniatures that I could sell during our sandplay weekend. I think you'll enjoy seeing the three I chose. (or who chose me)

Until my camera is fixed or recharged (something weird happened to it yesterday and it's currently unusable!) I'll send you over to our sandplay association website where you can see the figures that are left. There are also 11 beautiful necklaces remaining and I feel lucky to have the energy of these pieces in my sandplay room until they find permanent homes.

I'll be back to the usual routine soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

the craze for the green has begun

Every spring we hit the day when the day/night temps get close enough together that I deem we can open up the front yard to the equines. We usually wait until the sun is down and then turn out in groups of 2.

At least two weeks ago the equines were asking for this to happen - lining up by the fence outside my bedroom window, hoping someone would come take down the tape so they could go through.

Finally, yesterday, it happened. Salina knew it before anyone even took the tape down. She started walking and then trotting and then PIAFFING in the paddock, whinnying so loudly she signaled the mare across the lane, who began to whinny back.

Rafer Johnson got so excited he let himself into the front field (currently off limits), and Redford began to pace along with Salina.

When my husband opened the tape up, Salina went into her biggest, most ground-covering walk down the hill, followed by two trotting donkeys. Keil Bay, who had originally been slated to be one of the first pairs, was allowed to go ahead and make it a foursome. He started into the barn aisle at a big walk, but emerged out the other end in his floating trot.

At one point he had so much grass crammed in his mouth he gave himself a coughing fit.

They got 25 minutes on the very thick, lush grass.

Meanwhile, Cody and Apache Moon were absolutely certain there had been a huge, devastating mistake. Somehow they had been forgotten! They proceeded to gallop at full speed up and down the paddock, then incorporated the back field into their circuit. They galloped, bucked, spun, trotted, and generally did everything they could think of to get our attention. Just about the time they ran out of steam, it was their turn to go graze.

Last night, around 9 p.m., the moon was shining down on a painted pony and his handsome chestnut friend, and from our front porch the only sound was the tearing of grass and the lovely, satisfied chewing sounds of two equines in heaven.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

the senior horse, 2: shedding out, and the first tick

I'm actually not sure this is a senior horse issue, but ever since Salina (now 28 years old) came to live with us at 23 her spring shedding has been unique compared to that of the other horses and the pony.

Salina is black, and most of the year she is a "true" black color. But as the winter begins to wind down,  her coat along the back and belly takes on a brown color. If I didn't balance our hay carefully and feed minerals specific to what each horse needs, I'd think her copper and zinc weren't in the appropriate ratio to iron.

I suppose it's possible that at this point of the year she's getting a little sunbleached, but otoh, if that is true, why isn't it on the other parts of her body that also get the same amount of sunlight?

It all seems to be part of a somewhat unique pattern of shedding that happens for Salina. Whether it's a senior horse issue or not might be made more clear as Keil Bay ages and I can compare the two.

In any case, Salina's coat color shifts in the late winter, she begins to shed, generally almost a full month before the geldings do, and as she sheds, the new coat grows in shiny and black, with gorgeous dapples.

Before we get to gorgeous though, we live through a very scurfy stage - during which it seems like she is shedding not only fur but dry skin. The more you groom her, the more you see it - almost a dandruff, but finer, and she ends up looking gray.

When she first came to us, this scurf ended up looking a little like rain rot. Once I got her onto the balanced diet, which includes freshly ground flax and vitamin E gelcaps, that part resolved. Now it's just the fine shedding of dead skin.

The only thing that "cures" this is her first spring bath. We don't bathe horses in the winter, and don't have an indoor wash area, so the first bath comes usually on the first day when both daytime and nighttime temps are warm enough that I know the horses won't get a chill.

Salina's first bath came this past Friday, when I walked her out to our bathing area beneath the big oak tree and started a slow, gentle, soapy scrub-down with a soft rubber curry I have. She always loves this first bath, and stands untied, with only a lead rope laying over her neck so she knows I want her to stay with me.

As you can imagine, this bath takes care of the scurfiness, but it also helps get lots of loose hair out, and it takes a good amount of time to scrub every inch of her body (except her face, which she prefers I do with a cloth) and then rinse and rinse until there's no soap left.

Usually at some point in the process she needs a break to go check on her donkeys, so I let her take a walk, nibble some grass or hay, and then I bring her back to finish up.

After this first bath, I keep her groomed from day to day and marvel that she is suddenly transformed - back to the black mare she is most of the year.

It just so happened that on the day of her first bath this year we also found the first tick. She was happy to have it removed. A little calendula tincture and water helps the tick bite stop itching and heal quickly. Banixx also works but is more expensive to use.

Yesterday I looked out the window and saw a gleaming black mare walk across the barnyard. It's nice to see her shining again!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

my most anticipated book this year: Rebecca Rasmussen's The Bird Sisters

You can read about it HERE.

This is one of those books I have been longing to read ever since I saw the gorgeous cover and read an excerpt.

It's all the better when one of those special books was written by a generous, fun author. Who just tweeted that the book, just launched today, has already gone into a second printing!

Congratulations, Rebecca!!  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

more horses die in Grand National 2011

I haven't yet gotten around to telling about the recent 3-day event locally in which a horse died and several riders were injured. I had been asked to volunteer but declined. On that one day, three horses in the US and UK died in eventing competition.

Now this.

There are many upsetting photographs so don't look if you're very squeamish. On the other hand, if you're not convinced that these kinds of sports are dangerous, definitely go take a look. Sometimes pictures are worth millions of words, and that's the case here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

the senior horse, 1: teeth and diet

We had the dentist here this week so it's a good time to write about living with a senior horse's ability to do what horses do most and best - forage, chew, and digest/absorb nutrients.

Salina, at 28, technically has all her teeth. A number of her molars are almost down to the gum line, but none of her teeth are mobile. This visit the dentist said that unless something changes, or we have a dental issue crop up, she feels it's best to leave Salina's teeth alone. Her weight is good, she eats grass, free choice hay, and I feed her (actually, all the equines) wet meals balanced to our analyzed hay, so she's getting good nutrition and is happy with her feed. She still nickers for each of her three tubs a day, goes where the good grass is, and follows the hay barrow just like the rest of the herd.

She does end up sometimes with small packets of hay that accumulate where the teeth are down to the gum line. Being the very sensible mare she is, Salina knows to take breaks at the water troughs where she stands and actually rinses the small hay packets out of her mouth. I find them occasionally floating in the water, by the side of the troughs, and I suspect that at least part of the time she re-chews and swallows them. Sometimes weeks go by and I don't see any, and then I'll find one again.

I keep an eye on her manure - she's still digesting things well, which is good. 

In 2008 Salina came out of the winter season thinner than I liked, and at that point I put her on a complete senior diet developed by Dr. Eleanor Kellon. It's a wonderful, nutritionally balanced diet, served in four wet meals a day, and Salina looked and felt fabulous on it. Last summer though she actually got a little chunky (we had the most pasture I think we've ever had since moving here), and because of her arthritic knees I didn't want the extra weight to put more stress on those joints. So  I transitioned her back to the same diet the geldings are on, feeding three meals a day, and watched her closely. She's come out of this winter a little thinner than she went into it, but still looks good, and I think as the grass comes in she'll pick up weight.

If not we'll transition back to the senior diet but cut back on the amount. It requires having two extra ingredients plus a customized mineral supplement on hand, and it's obviously easier having them all on the same basic diet - but if she needs the senior meals again, we'll do it.

I think with the senior horses, especially if they have any special issues, it becomes second nature to keep a close eye on everything they do, as well as things they stop doing. Which is one reason I love having them all here, right outside my windows - it's easy to monitor very subtle things, as well as bigger changes.

For several years, our entire schedule revolved around Salina's four tubs a day, and now it revolves around three. But the day has to revolve around *something* and Salina deserves it. You can set the clock by her coming to the barn for her meals.

And by Keil Bay's coming in, always hoping that he's reached that magic age when he too, gets the extra tubs!


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

eight cuts recommends claire-obscure!

A quick post to say that Eight Cuts recommends claire-obscure!

Go check it out, and make sure you browse Dan Holloway's entire site. He's doing a very interesting thing with his gallery, and those of us writing literary, edgy novels as well as those of us who love reading unique voices will find lots to explore there.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

lessons in riding, 3, segues with senior horse

Late today I went out to get in another ride with Keil Bay. He came in as usual but got it in his head that we were going to open the fence to the front yard and let them graze down there. Cody joined him, and the donkeys, and they lined up at the fence line, waiting.

Suddenly Salina came out of the barn, doing the biggest, most beautiful walk you've ever seen. This was her 'I'm 10 years old if I'm a day' walk, and I haven't seen it lately. She too was focused in on that fence and she crowded in right behind the geldings and the donkeys.

Unfortunately our nights and days are still going up and down in terms of temperature. We had frost last night and tomorrow a high of 88 - not quite time to start the front yard grazing we usually do for an hour or two each evening as they work up to it.

I brought Keil Bay in to the barn and closed the barn doors on that end so Salina, Cody, and the donkeys could graze the grass paddock. My daughter was riding the pony.

A few minutes later Salina trotted by - looking quite elegant and happy with Cody and the donkeys not far behind. They were all very alert and happy and I took a minute to go watch them.

A little later, Keil Bay and I ended up in the arena with my daughter and Cody. Since Keil mostly gets ridden by himself, I decided that today we would follow. So we went pretty much everywhere Cody did and we increased the trotting to a full lap around the arena in each direction after a nice warm up. We did some circles and turns on the haunches. Today's improvement for Keil was being very responsive to my leg and needing almost no rein aids. Some of it was following Cody, but some was me getting more balanced - a result of my hip joints loosening up.

The third day is always the charm for me when I'm coming back into riding after some time off. Last ride my stirrups felt about a notch too long when I posted, but today, my legs had stretched out and everything felt just right. Keil had a nice rhythm in the walk and trot and although it got dark enough that the arena light came on, he remained perfectly behaved and rode easily into the spooky dark corner by the woods.

When I got off, my legs had that nice, stretched out, strong feeling they get when I've been riding regularly and in balance.

Just like Salina, I felt like I'd lost a few years.

It's nice when all these good things coincide. 

Saturday, April 02, 2011

lessons in riding, 2

Yesterday I had a fair number of things to get done and ended up walking out to the barn to ride in the late afternoon. Keil Bay came in and stood at the gate, waiting to be let in to the barnyard and barn aisle. I groomed him in the barnyard, as he was covered in dried mud - between dust and horse hair and wind it was quite an undertaking. About the time I brought him in to the barn to tack up, one little thing got in my way and I felt my frustration level skyrocket. It's not really important what it was, but had nothing to do with the horses. Let's just say it was a middle-aged mother- teen-aged daughter moment.

I didn't want to ride in that mode, so I unhaltered the Big Bay (who seemed confused that I was leaving) and quietly came inside.

As I sat here doing some work on the computer, my body began to tighten up. From ankle to neck, I could feel each set of muscles progressively contracting. It was the exact opposite of progressive relaxation. I was still agitated internally - I had wanted to ride, had gotten all my chores and errands done, and although it was windy out and the hay tent was blowing up like a blowfish with each gust, I felt Keil Bay and I could handle it.

But I allowed one small thing to get in my way.

At that point I decided I was too tense to ride anyway. Time passed. It was going on six p.m. And I thought, well now it's too late to ride. But then something hit my mind, like an actual little missile of thought that came from someplace else, and it was: it gets dark later now. go ride.

So I got up and walked right out to the barn. Every bit of tightness in my muscles left. And when I glanced around to see where the Big Bay was, I saw him standing right by my bedroom window. I hadn't even glanced outside when I'd been at my desk, I'd been so drawn up in my body tightness and agitation. He'd come down there and, I think, summoned me out of my mood.

I finished grooming him and picked his hooves and tacked up. I'd decided to use his old eggbutt snaffle - I have three bridles for him now, one with his loose ring double-jointed snaffle, one with the old eggbutt single joint, and his Rambo Micklem bitless. He didn't want the old eggbutt. He raised his head away from it, and then when I asked him to put his head down, he did, but closed his teeth. So I got the bitless and he stuck his head right into it.

The ride was good. We did a lot of big walking. He was forward but not spooky (there was a lot of flapping going on around us) and he spontaneously went into trot several times. We did a lot of walking and then did trot work in both directions. I probably go overboard building so slowly back into work with him, but don't ever want him to be sore, so I am careful when we haven't ridden in awhile.

Back in the barn, I untacked and gave him his handful of alfalfa pellets. But he wouldn't leave the tack room. He kept standing there, nuzzling me, just being with me. Even when a load of hay wheeled by, heading out to the back field, Keil Bay took a bite and then stayed put. I went and opened the gate to the paddock, inviting him to go out, but he looked at me and then stayed where he was.

I stood rubbing him and then yes, gave him another handful of pellets. And still he stood there. We visited, I put a few things away, rubbed him some more, and all the while he stood looking at me, totally focused. So of course I gave him another handful. "But this is the last one, really," I said, and then rubbed him all over his face and head.

I walked to the arena gate, thinking I'd see if he wanted to go that way to get to the back field, and he came right with me, and stood with me in the arena even when I opened the gate to the back. I'm not sure what he was saying with this lengthy visit, but I think it was this:

Don't let the little things keep you from riding. I'm here.