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.


Grey Horse Matters said...

I think sometimes I feel guilty for not riding enough and not being in the best shape. Then again I know there is plenty of time for that when I have the time. Sometimes things come up that require my attention and I don't get in a ride as often as I'd like.

My favorite part of your day was Salina swishing her tail until you got the message. What a smart girl she is. And of course taking your time and doing what the herd needed done by you.

Michelle said...

I love how in tune you are with your animals. It's funny for me, who has grown up in a show environment ruled by schedule and training and fitness - it's been hard for me to shift into the ease that you've described here. Every day I have to consciously remind myself that I don't HAVE to ride, just being with her is enough. I actually had a post planned on something to that effect! Anyway, that's a big part of the reason (besides your amazing writing) that I love to come visit you here. You keep me grounded and remind me that the horses are the most important thing - NOT the riding.

billie said...

Arlene, that little voice telling me I need to get the ride in is fueled by some kind of crazy guilt, I'm sure.

Salina tries her best to get the message across but sometimes her humans take awhile to get it!

billie said...

Michelle, it's odd - the riding is in some ways still the goal for me, because it feels so good and actually, physically, stabilizes my back. But if I get into a mode (easy for me to do) that makes riding a "should" or a "have to" it really does give it a different flavor and I end up missing things I experience if I take a more relaxed approach.

I'm sure if my daughter is reading this she is thinking, WHAT? Because I frequently tell her she needs to ride every day. It's true, I do that! Because Cody needs the daily work due to PSSM issues, and the pony needs daily work so he doesn't have to wear a grazing muzzle.

I'm lucky that Keil Bay goes with the flow and thrives on that. What I want is to get a ride in daily in a way that flows for both of us - a routine that retains the magic. That's what I'm ultimately striving for.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

I can really relate to this post billie.

As I was grooming Val a few days ago - he kept swishing his tail and raising a hind leg as if to cow kick, but not ever really kicking.

Continuing to groom, I asked him to quit it, in a sterner than usual voice, but he persisted. Eventually I thought to inspect his belly and sheath area, and sure enough, there were terrible bites with dried blood all over his sheath. Overnight the flies and gnats have appeared.

Cool compresses, Veterycin and bug spray applications followed. No more kicks and swishes. Thought bubble above Val's head - "Thanks. It sure took you long enough!"

billie said...

I think sometimes people think I'm slightly bonkers when I am holding one of the horses, or standing near them, and they do something that in most barns would get a smack or a harsh word - and my response is "what is it?"

Usually there IS something, and the horse language we pay attention to is often the big gesture, the slightly cheeky one that will absolutely get our attention.

Of course I erupt with harsh words on occasion but the more I live with this herd the more I realize that they are always trying to tell me things - if I listen and use my heart and my head, I can figure out what they're saying.

jme said...

i love the 'fur-nado'! the other day i did the same thing - i brought my grooming kit out into the paddock while they all lined up (and sometimes fought) to be groomed. the whole area looked like it was carpeted by the time i was done ;-)

i sometimes feel guilty about not being more disciplined in getting them worked, but there's nothing pressing in my riding schedule that demands i force myself or the horses into it. right now it seems to work best if i coordinate with my gut, the weather, the moods of the horses, vet and farrier visits, etc..

it seems like whenever i place the schedule above my better instincts, our sessions are unproductive and none of us benefit. like the other day when we had a windy rain storm and i took grady in the indoor anyway, knowing he'd be nervous, and spent the entire ride trying to quiet him enough to just walk. that was time i could have spent with him doing something more positive for both of us. i need to remind myself from time to time that it is ok not to ;-)

ponymaid said...

billie, that sounds like a perfectly balanced and happy day. I picture your well-groomed self journeying to the barn, set to ride. Then the grooming of equines begins and the dirt gradually transfers to you and the equines begin to shine to a fine lustre. You return to the house coated in layers of grime - grubby but strangely content. The shiny equines go off to roll. One of nature's perfect cycles is complete...

billie said...

j, I agree - the tuning in to gut, weather, horses, various visitors coming, etc. is the best way to "schedule" the riding time.

billie said...

Sheaffer, as usual you have tuned in to the pure essence of the human/equine relationship and pinpointed it exactly.

The part you don't see is what we humans do when we go inside the mysterious "stall" we live in - carefully bathe all the grime OFF and wash the clothing, all so we might go out and get it all dirty again the next day.

Equines get cleaned in order to get dirty again - humans get dirty in order to get clean. We balance one another out perfectly!!

Victoria Cummings said...

I love Sheaffer's comment and your answer to her. And I hear you about the fur shedding and the black gnats. I think because of all the rain and wet weather, the bugs are extra hyped up this year. I dread mosquito season. What are you using on the black gnats? I started with DeoGel and then I switched to Mosquito Halt - which also works for gnats and ticks. The Lyme ticks are everyrwhere this Spring. I like to alternate between sprays, so I'm always looking for things that work well. And by the way, no guilt on the not riding - You know you did the right thing. There's always tomorrow. That's the gift that our horses give us.

billie said...

Victoria, I don't remember ever having black gnats like this before - a few, but nothing that really merited doing anything about. This year they are terrible, already. I can only hope they die out quickly.

I am using our regular fly spray that we make from concentrate - called Nature's Defense. It's a mix of oils and no chemicals. I usually make a bucket of calendula tincture and water and swipe down the bellies and sheath areas with that and a wet cloth, to clean/soothe. Then I spray the Nature's Defense on my hand and just wipe it in one big swath down bellies and onto the sides of the sheath and inner thighs.

Because they still have some of their winter coat left the gnats are not doing much damage so far.

The other thing I am doing this year was sort of coincidental. Keil Bay and Salina have been on pharmaceutical grade/human grade glucosamine and chondroitin powders for awhile now - and I put Cody and the pony on both this month - for joint health. But Eleanor Kellon also recommends chondroitin and spirulina as a deterrent to insect sensitivity as well, so I added in the spirulina and I think it's doing its job. Salina has had several tick bites since I plugged in the spirulina and none have turned into the big cyst-like things she has gotten in the past.

I think the main thing that works for my herd with insects and bites is doing night-time turn-out. They come in about 11 a.m., eat breakfast, and then stay in the barn (with stalls open to their paddocks) for the heat of the day and just past the main "bug" time, which seems to be between 5:45 and 7:30 p.m. They love having the fans on and just relaxing in the barn with hay. Then around 7:30 they go out, come back in to eat around 9:30, and then go out for the night.

By the time they go out the insects have mostly retired.

Máire said...

I like your whimsical path. Sounds good to me. I also love Salina's reaction to your finding of her bite.

billie said...

Maire, sometimes I call it accidental dressage. :)