Monday, December 31, 2012

goodbye 2012, hello new year!

I went out this afternoon and had a ride with Keil Bay, who was in extremely good spirits because he got peppermints after each stage of the grooming/tacking up process, peppermints when we walked into the arena, peppermints at the mounting block, and one last peppermint after I mounted. I've never given him a treat from the saddle before and he was very impressed. A fun ringing out of 2012 for the Big Bay!

He was relaxed and happy and responsive, and although there are a lot of things I could say about the ride, those are the most important to me these days and so I'll leave it at that.

There's no better way to spend a day than with one's horse, and I'm glad I got to ride on this last day of the year.

Inside, we're making a special New Year's Eve meal, and I'm thinking about the year and all the scares we've had, as well as the two beloved family members we lost: Keats and Moomin.

Right now Salina is out in the back field with Keil Bay and the donkeys. She's moving well and enjoying being out with her boys. I'm letting her out some again with the big boys but not all at the same time, as they can get rowdy and she can't help herself - she joins in.

I'm grateful she feels good enough to boss the big boys, and grateful too that in the year we said goodbye to two special feline friends we are also saying hello and welcome to two new ones, Pixie and Pippin.

Happy New Year, all - I hope 2013 is good to all of us!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

newest November Hill Press project: Little Shoppe of Colors series!

My good friend and collaborator Dawn Wilson brilliantly illustrated the simple picture book idea I came up with a few years back and now, as of today, it's a book!

Go here if you'd like to see the product page - and hopefully you'll be intrigued enough to buy a copy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012

winter solstice 2012

The wind was literally howling this solstice morning and a dust devil was whirling in the back yard. Which seemed fitting given the year we've all had. More than the usual number of things to leave behind in the darkness, many bright and wonderful things to look toward in the growing light.

The day brought many gifts.

When I went out to the barn to feed breakfast, I found a black mare covered in dried mud, which means not only did she roll like every other horse on this property did last night, she got up again! 

On cold windy days I love bringing the horses into the barn, loading them up with hay, and heating up water with my electric kettle to warm their water buckets. There is almost nothing sweeter than standing in the barn aisle, wind blocked with whatever windows and doors need closing, hearing them munch on hay. I did this twice on the solstice day - at breakfast, and then again at dinnertime, when they were all tucked in until the last feed when got their blankets on for the cold windy night and turned out where they could see the stars. 

We had a very beautiful solstice meal together. My daughter made a green salad with walnuts and other tidbits and a home-made balsamic dressing.

My son made falafels which were delicious.

And I baked up some Scotch eggs, which have become a family favorite.

We listened to music, read some poems, and listened to Robert Frost read his poem Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.

There are also two gifts that need some photos of introduction!

Meet Pixie and her brother Pippin!

 As you can imagine, these two kittens have brought a huge amount of joy to November Hill. We went to pick up Pixie last Sunday and when we brought the cat carrier in, Pippin ran into it and would not come out. So it was clear he had chosen US and what is the only thing better than a new kitten?

Two new kittens!

They were in my bedroom/bathroom area for two days with a gate. The third day they climbed the gate and have done a very nice job integrating with the Corgis and the adult cats. 

We are back to a full house here and I'm so glad. I know that Keats and Moomintroll approve.

Hope everyone had a winter solstice that brought its own gifts to you and yours... 

With thanks to dear husband for photographing these kitten-meows! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

december days

Yesterday afternoon I was out at the barn just enjoying the day - upper 40s and gray, one of my favorite kinds of early December days. The horses were all happy to have cool weather again, and Salina, although a bit wary of the iPad, grew accustomed to it after a few clicks of the camera shutter and allowed me to take a nice picture.

A few minutes earlier when I tried to take one of Keil Bay, he snorted and left the vicinity!

Salina is doing pretty well. Her abscess is visible and slow to emerge, but it's drained enough that she's moving okay on that hoof. She's eating voraciously, wanting time with her herd, and generally seems to feel good. A couple of days ago I was cleaning and refilling water tubs and she walked up and clearly requested that I hose her hoof. She stood there for 15 minutes or so, licking and chewing when I aimed the water at the abscess site, and pawing if I took the hose away. Periodically she would lower her nose to the hoof and smell it, as if she were checking to see if the water was helping it burst out. I'm in awe of how attuned my horses are to their bodies and how much they know about getting themselves better. 

Last night they all had blankets on because it was below 40 and raining. We've had a long dry spell recently, so the rain is welcome, but I prefer it to rain during the daylight hours so it's not quite so cold. In any case, they all got blanketed and when I woke up and looked outside this morning there they all were, adding some bright colors to the winter landscape.

In a few days I should have some photos to share of a new family member coming to join us on November Hill. It's been a year with some stressful days, the loss of Keats and Moomin, and when a friend posted recently that several abandoned kittens needed homes, one of the pictures called out to me. It was such a clear call, I knew it was time. We'll wind down 2012 welcoming this litle kit-meow girl into the family.

My teens reminded me that I had said recently that I couldn't bring any new cats in because it was so hard to say goodbye when they leave us. And that was true when I said it. But thankfully that place of grief passes and we become able to let more love in. Which I think is because of how much love they give to us while they're here. And even after they're gone. I felt both Keats and Moomin yesterday, as the kitten in her photo called out to me. They said it was time. 

Heading out to feed breakfast tubs and take blankets off and enjoy this December day.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

a better day

Yesterday Salina didn't whinny for her breakfast tub. Keil Bay was singing an aria for his, and I noted out loud that I missed hearing Salina's response. About the time I said it, I came out of the feed room. She had come to her stall door, was craning her head way out and around so she could get her good eye on me, and she whinnied. That made me feel so much better!

Today she is back to whinnying for her meals and she was a bit brighter overall than yesterday. Although I'm not thrilled with the gnat population blooming with this warm weather, I'm glad it happened when it did because it seems to be good for Salina.

Cody went in with Salina this morning so the donkeys could take a break in the field. They took full advantage of their time and ran like mad up and down the front field while the pony grazed. Keil was annoyed that I let Cody over to the barnyard side of the barn - he refused to go out and kept hoping he would get his turn. Which he did, after lunch.

I groomed Keil Bay earlier today and cleaned up his sheepskin pad so that later in the afternoon I could go out and ride without getting too caught up in the preparation part.

He was a little bit difficult in between the warm-up and the more intensive riding part - daughter came in with Cody and Keil Bay was pulling toward them, not really listening. I gave him a fair warning and told him I was getting ready to get tough if he persisted. I had to get tough two times and then he woke up, really woke up, and was immediately responding to my thinking the aids. Very very nice ride with some powerhouse trotting. I don't like getting tough with Keil Bay (translated, that means I used the whip two times with more energy than simply tapping), and I try hard to listen if/when there is something wrong and he's telling me with his behavior. His immediate surge of energy and compliance tells me he was slugging and just not in high gear yet. Sometimes I do have to ask for that with enough energy that he takes the question seriously.

We rode right up to the sunset, which was beautiful, and he got his usual snack at the feed room door. A good day starts and ends with the muzzle of a horse in your hand, and I am lucky that most of mine start and end that way.

Monday, December 03, 2012

we're hanging in there and PONY FUN!!

Salina appears to have an abscess - she's eating, moving, doing all the things she needs to do. We're hoping the abscess blows quickly and then we'll look at the pentosan injections Calm, Forward, Straight recommended as a possible treatment for the arthritic knees. It's worth a try!

Otherwise, it is 70+ degrees here right now and we're putting up the Christmas tree. Crazy!

But not as crazy fun as this girl and her pony are having. This made me laugh out loud and I hope it does you too. Pure joy of life here. We all need some of this!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

pony portrait and another difficult day

Apache Moon, aka the Little Man, heading up the hill to check out the photographer. I love seeing those pony ears pricked forward. :)

Yesterday we had another rough day on November Hill. Husband fed hay before he left for work around 8 a.m. Around 9:15 the Corgis started barking. I went to the front first and saw nothing, then went to the side and saw nothing. When I looked out the back door, the geldings were standing in a perfect circle, heads in, surrounding Salina, who was laying flat out on her side.

It looked like some kind of sacred tribal ritual in progress, and it was so sweet it just about made me cry. I went in the bedroom to throw on some clothes and when I glanced out the window Keil Bay and Cody came to the field right outside and began marching around in a big circle, as if they were trying to get my attention.

When I got out there, Salina was okay but not able to get up. Fortunately she was in a sunny spot, on fairly soft ground, and she wasn't struggling. I opened the front gate to let the geldings into the paddock - Keil and Little Man came running over and headed to the barn. Cody refused to leave Salina. He stood over her, right where she could see him, and kept guard. The donkeys were still forming the circle.

I coaxed Cody into the grass paddock and left the donkeys with Salina, then called my husband and he headed home. My daughter and I tried to get Salina to get up on her own. She tried a few times but her hind legs seemed very stiff and she couldn't get enough "oomph" to get up. I got breakfast tubs ready, hoping that might help, and she did try again, but still couldn't get up.

When my husband got home, my son came out too and all four of us tried various things to help. Nothing really worked. I gave her a dose of Banamine. As usual, I started asking the question no one wants to hear: is this the time when we need to make the call to let her go?

As usual, I promised Salina that I would take care of her donkeys if she was ready to go. 

We touched base with the vet, tried a bit more, and finally decided to have the vet come out and help us decide what to do. The vet on call was a new one to us, and I appreciated her compassion and her practical approach. After she checked vitals, all really good, and flexed the legs, she said this: let's see if all of us can pull together and get her upright, then see if she can get up from there. If not, we'll talk about what to do next.

It worked. It took a massive effort on the part of dear husband, but we got her upright and once we did she managed to get on her feet and walked off, not quite steady, but not injured. She was immediately ready for some breakfast. Rafer Johnson once again came up to me, put his head up to my chest, gazed into my eyes, and said, as clear as day, "She's OKAY."

Today she is moving slowly, I'm sure she's sore, but she's eating and doing all the things she needs to be doing. She was asking to go out with the big boys but I said NO. She and the donkeys stayed in the grass paddock and barnyards all day and she was out grazing most of the time - but in her stall looking at the kitchen window when her meal times rolled around.

They all had hoof trims this morning and she was able to get hers done - though we made a little "step" for her to prop her hooves on instead of asking her to put them up on the hoof stand. She's moving better with her toes trimmed back, and I'm hoping the stiffness is less tomorrow. We're having a little warming trend here which might help with that.

There's never a dull moment, it seems - I'm feeling grateful for the vet practice we use. They are so good at times like this, and we're lucky they rotate a dedicated on-call person 24/7 who does nothing but emergencies. Even though she's fairly new, she had Salina's history on the laptop when she drove up and walked in very informed. We needed someone to set out a short, to the point, plan of action. It was impressive.

Here's hoping we get some boring, slow as molasses, low-stress days as we move into December!

Friday, November 23, 2012

keil bay - new portraits

I love these two of Keil Bay - they look like paintings to me and really capture the king-liness of his personality. Thank you again to dear husband for taking such beautiful photos of the equines. So often these days I just can't be bothered with the camera, but he can, and I'm the lucky recipient.

glamour donks

Celebrating two of the most handsome donka boys in the whole wide world, Rafer Johnson and Redford. Photos courtesy of dear husband:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

giving thanks 2012, and a sad day

I got home from my writing retreat on Monday, unpacked, walked right out the back door to the barn, and tacked up the Big Bay for a ride. He was ready for some attention and it went really well. Tuesday I went out with the same idea but when I went into his front stall door with the halter, he walked right out the back door and kept going. Down the paddock, through the gate, down the hill in the front field.

I'm not sure if he was mad at me for leaving for a week or just wanted to hang out instead of ride, but I let him make his choice and I spent the time grooming Salina instead.

It was wonderful getting a week to write and relax, and it was wonderful to come home again. Going away always makes me thankful for my family and all they do when I leave, and for this farm, which is such a great place to come back to.

Today I'm thankful for all the good memories I have of our sweet polydactyl cat Moomintroll. He came to us around age 13 or so and the vet said a few months back that he suspected Moomin was 18 or 19 now. He had seizures when he arrived, but lived a good, mostly healthy life until this year when he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.

The past month has been hard and he's been in a state of decline. Yesterday was a good day for him and last night he snuggled in with me and husband the entire night. This morning around 4 a.m. something happened - he woke with a huge jerk and when he got off the bed he had lost the use of his hind legs. He became increasingly agitated, so at 5 my husband and I went to the emergency vet with him.

He had a severe arhythmia and most likely 'threw a clot' - which caused the paralysis. He came back to his full feisty self his last few hours of life after being somewhat docile these past few weeks. He ended up purring in our arms as we said goodbye. And now he has joined Keats and Chase in the back yard, under the butterfly bush.

Although I'm really sad, I'm also aware today, again, how much love and joy these animal family members bring to us, and no matter how hard it is on days like today, I would do it all over again.

Moomin was a complicated character but he was also the most loving cat I have ever known. I'm going to miss him.

Give your family members big hugs today and enjoy whatever way you celebrate this holiday. We are cooking up a storm and enjoying the doling out of home-baked horse cookies, Corgi biscuits (and the biggest turkey neck I have ever seen) - it makes me happy that Moomin got his special kit-meow Thanksgiving yesterday - I made chicken broth and he got all the niblets of chicken, one of his most favorite things.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Anja Beran, on training, from Eurodressage

I really really love what she has to say here:

Training horses with lightness and great feeling, Anja knows the importance of creating a relationship with our equine partners and says this is crucial if we are to really dance with our horse.
"Only a rider with emotions can show the brilliance of the horse. The rider should be completely in love with the horse! A rider who is “empty” and cold can never present the horse´s beauty with pride. This rider will show just boring, not touching work!"
Aside from helping to draw emotion from the audience a rider, who feels and is sensitive in training, will also give the horse self-confidence.
"A horse should not learn to adopt the emotions of the rider, but trust them and trust who they are," Beran explained. "It can help a great deal if a horse can learn to trust us, and trust in our relationship.However, this will only happen when we are riders with stable characters in the saddle!  If we are afraid of the horse, nervous, or insecure, it is better when the horse doesn´t listen too much to the rider. Through positive emotions, on the other hand, we can transmit all our positive feelings to the horse!"
Certain that horses have emotions of their own, Anja knows that each horse has a unique personality and the key to top training lies in getting to know each and every one.
"Some horses have more happy emotions, while others are always afraid of something and some feel always nervous," she admitted. "It is important however, that we recognize the horse's character, and understand that he does not use his emotions for or against us in training, it is just part of who he is. Horses are like they are! They don´t play games with the rider. We have to learn to handle them as they are."
Therefore, to be a rider of an elite level, we must learn to understand the horse emotionally and physically, so we can train with him as equals, not be all the time acting as his master.
"That is what makes the quality of the rider, the ability to go deep inside of the horse's personality and to listen to the horse. A rider of this ability will try to get influence in a positive way and it means they are a rider that is sensitive and understands his horse," Anja explained. "Only when a rider starts to understand, can he work with, and try to get the best out of, his horse."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

retreat and rain

I left November Hill yesterday to come to my week-long writing retreat, where overnight a cold front blew in and today, in front of a backdrop of beautiful autumn color, a steady rain falls. 

For the past two weekends we worked on clearing November Hill of maple leaves, and have taken several big trees down in an effort to reduce the number of potentially fatal leaves that fall and/or blow onto the pastures. It was hard work, and interesting because in recent years the act of raking has been hard on my back. This year I had an important reason to rake, and I managed to do the work without suffering much of the usual consequences.

I don't like taking trees down, but this felt necessary, so we did it. I realized as the trees fell behind the back fence, and the clear space where they had been opened up, that between the lightning and this cutting, the area for my writing studio is now clear. Suddenly my mixed feelings changed to pure relief and then joy. Once again circumstances worked magically to end up in something that feels right and good. The best possible outcome. 

I don't know when we'll be able to build the studio, but now the space to do so is there and waiting. Even the idea of a small, integrated into the woods' edge cottage with a front porch that opens right out into the pasture itself makes me happy. Can't you see Keil Bay coming to hang out with me while I write? And the donkeys walking right into the cottage itself? I already hear Salina calling to them to come back out to her. Maybe if I make the doorway large enough even the Big Bay can walk through. Just that thought fuels everything I'm doing down here on my writing retreat.

My husband overseeded the back field with winter rye yesterday, so today's rain is perfect. I don't know, but I hope the herd is in the barn right now, munching their hay, and trusting that the missing member in their herd will be back soon to help with their care.

I'm here with two good friends and writers and we're all working hard on writing projects that mean something to us. That kind of writing not only boosts the spirit but it creates its own wonderful collective energy that is truly a balm and a fuel for the creative self. We feel lucky and grateful to be here together in this November rain. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

what we're up to this fall

Kyra Corgi is getting older but she still loves her special hikes. We carried her about half the way so she wouldn't get tired or sore. The last stretch she rode in the front seat of the truck and let Bear get the rest of his boundless energy out. 

Rafer Johnson at dinner time, really wanting Salina's stall door open so he can go lick out her big red feed tub. He periodically uses those lips to work on the stall latch and we are in big trouble the day he manages to get it open!

The lovely senior mare Salina, who is in good spirits and seems to be getting a slightly naughty streak this year. She's been tipping buckets, knocking things down in the barn aisle, and then, just when you think maybe she needs to lose barn aisle privileges she does something charming like this. A few moments further on she probably came halfway in and started pulling things out of place, but you know, I love seeing her bold spirit and sense of humor coming out. She has earned the right to play a few jokes after so many days and nights tracking those silly geldings!

Bear is the youngest animal family member on November Hill and although he can wear out the patience of a saint with his boundless energy, he is a sweetie too. There is something to be said for having some "young'uns" in the family.

In other news we are trying hard to keep the red maple leaves out of the pastures. There are a number of trees coming down this weekend, and neighbors are working with us to help out with the maples along the fence line.

And Moomintroll is having a bad weekend with no appetite and some difficulty using the bathroom. He is getting on in years too and I'm worried about him. Vet trip in the morning and then we'll see.

Daughter rode in the annual hunter pace today and her team took second place in the long course. Son took the SAT on Saturday and is awaiting his results.

The theme of all the above: time races on. Puppies and children grow up in the blink of an eye. Horses and cats too. Stop and enjoy the moments along the way, and celebrate every single second of youth and good health. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

C. and Val are fine - but no internet!

C. and Val (Calm, Forward, Straight who blogs at Transition to Harmony) phoned this morning to let me know that she and Val are both fine. They made it through Sandy, never lost power, but are stuck on the island and have no internet. Aside from what sounded like a terrifying untying of a tarp in the night with 60 mph winds from the top of a ladder, I think they had very few issues on the farmette.

She reported that Val was sleeping in the sunshine today and loving it.

She especially wanted me to let folks know that she is thinking of everyone still dealing with the hurricane and its aftermath.

Sending good thoughts to everyone affected by this storm.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

goings-on on November Hill

Yesterday I had a nice relaxed day - a morning ride on Cody and then an evening ride on Keil Bay. Even though I had a chauffering gig (mom to two teenaged humans) in mid-afternoon, and it took longer than I thought it would, the day still felt expansive. I love those days.

Today was a bit different. Early in the day my daughter came in to tell me she'd just seen Dickens (cat) sitting in the clearing in our neighbor's back yard. One of the mama does walked out of the woods with her fawn and they walked up to Dickens and sniffed him. Leave it to Dickens - he's charmed the horses and donkeys, and now he's working on the deer.

We had to hurry through chores, as we had a lot of running around to do today. I was relieved when I ended up back home mid-afternoon. As soon as I walked in the house I went to the kitchen window and looked out to see if Salina was in her stall in the barn. Her window was empty, but the moment I thought of her she popped her head out and looked right at me. A little while later she, Keil Bay, and the two donkeys were out in the barnyard grazing side by side. Seeing the gleaming black mare, the bright red bay, and the silver and red donkeys was a reminder of why I love being here. I love looking out my windows and seeing the equines all day long.

I headed out and immediately the action started. Our neighbors are having a huge wedding on their farm this weekend and today the big white tent went up. The truck that delivered it rattled and banged as it drove out of their driveway and up our gravel lane. The pony was down at the front fence when it passed and he galloped up like a race horse, right to me, and stopped. He looked me right in the eyes as if he were saying, "Did you see THAT?"

Salina, Keil Bay, and the donkeys came through the barn to make sure everything was okay. Cody was his usual laid-back self. A few minutes later a huge noise started up - I think they were having their sewage tank pumped out. We waited out the noise together, mucking in the front field. When it stopped the quiet was huge and lovely.

I did some chores and fed Salina. Keil Bay insisted that he too, is a senior and needs, desperately, his own senior meal. I had some extra beet pulp so I gave him a serving of beep and oats with water.

Redford Donkey has had a hoof abscess brewing and finally, today, after several nights of wrapping and remedies, he is better. In spite of his hoof he's been as active as ever, but it's nice to see a normal gait returning.

Everyone got their HA gel and some carrots, I finished chores, and by then it was near dark. They all go out with hay until the late feed around 9:30 p.m. Salina headed to the back field to find some acorns. Redford followed. Keil Bay sauntered out. Cody came up to me and looked right in my eyes - was I sure I didn't want to ride him again? Tomorrow, I assured him.

Tomorrow is a free day. Just horses and donkeys and cats and Corgis. And me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

post-chiro bliss

Today I rode Keil Bay after my adjustment yesterday - it's been close to 6 weeks since my last one - and now that he AND I are both clear, the big swinging walk was truly back. My legs were longer and my feet felt really loose and relaxed and flexible in the stirrups. No twinging anywhere in my body!

We did a lot of shoulder-in, shoulder-fore, and flexing the poll at the walk. At one point when we got to the free walk (my version, where Keil can do anything he wants as long as he keeps up a big swinging gait), he did his own spiral in and out on a 15m circle. I was impressed - it feels to me like he does what he needs to stretch things out. 

The relaxation was a good thing today, as the neighbors drove their truck into their far-back yard area while I was riding, and were unloading something on the other side of their sheds. Keil was a bit alarmed at the ruckus, but handled it well.
Things got a little sticky when they finished. Dickens headed back there to see what they'd done, Cody and the pony went to the back field and proceeded to spook and gallop and play, and Keil went from normal relaxed swinging walk to poll in the clouds - super alert mode. We had to do circles and I had to keep an eye on Cody and the pony, who ended up galloping to the back gate of the arena and tried to open it to get in with Keil and me!

As soon as we got settled down, Dickens trotted up from the woods with something in his mouth and between his tossing whatever it was in the air and then chasing it, the geldings still spooking in the back field, and Matthew appearing in the barn out of nowhere, I decided it was time to end the ride. Keil had already come to a halt that said clearly: I'm ready to be done.

And so we were. More tomorrow.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gentleman's Agreement

I've noticed the past month or so that suddenly the geldings' side of the barn has gotten tidier. Keil Bay has always been, at best, a slob in his stall. He was like that when he was stalled for portions of the day/night, and he has remained that way with back doors perpetually open to the great wild yonder.

To be fair, he's a big horse and if he turns in the stall he tends to stir up any manure, hay, whatever is lying in there, into one big swirl. Though if he would choose to drop the manure along the stall wall this swirl would be much less likely to happen.

Cody is the neatest of the geldings. He has selective areas for urine and manure and he doesn't get hay all over the place. His water bucket stays clean too. No hay dunking for him.

The pony is neater than Keil Bay, but to be fair, he IS smaller and so it's easier for him to move around without stirring things up. He tends to clean up every strand of hay and that too makes his stall a bit nicer.

We could speculate that the manner in which these guys keep their stalls is directly related to how they have been kept in their lives.

Keil Bay has always had people coming in and mucking up after him a number of times a day. To put it another way, he is extremely accustomed to maid service.

Cody was young when he came to us, but based on what I saw when we bought him, I suspect he spent much of his young life in a stall, with very specified turn-outs. If one stays in a stall more hours than not, keeping it tidy is a sort of self-protective mechanism.

The pony lived out for the most part. Being in a stall at all was relatively new to him, and he seems half-annoyed and half-intrigued with the notion of being in a "room." He definitely does NOT understand the concept of "room of one's own" and is constantly barging in and out of Keil Bay's room and Cody's room, which as you've read before, creates a problem sometimes.

I've noted before that the three of them tend to play musical stalls when the back doors are open. They often sneak out of their own stall and drop manure in each other's spaces.

But recently something different has been happening. Out of the blue, they seem to have come to a gentleman's agreement. Manure goes outside the stalls, underneath the shelter, to the right. Urine goes outside the stalls, underneath the shelter to the left.

Sometimes the agreement shifts. Today the manure went outside the stalls to the right, but urine went in the end stall along the back wall. As it happens, that stall is the pony's and it had more/deeper pine bedding than the other two.

I wonder what Cody and the pony had to do to get Keil Bay to concede to this agreement?

Did the pony agree to stay out of Keil's stall if Keil would knock off the slob behavior? Did Cody mediate and use his low-man-in-the-herd status to sneakily get the two squabblers to come to a truce?

Did Keil suddenly decide to have a slightly-past-midlife crisis and change his ways?

I have no idea, but I can tell you - maid service has gotten easier!

Friday, October 12, 2012

learning to leave well enough alone

I was absolutely intent on getting back in the arena with Keil Bay today, and instead of going out to the barn and riding this morning, which is what we'd been doing, I ended up getting caught up in my own silly desire to make everything better.

First, I took my iPad to the barn and after feeding them breakfast I sat with my tea by the arena and checked out the new dressage test app I bought. I hadn't really looked at the new tests and as I was reviewing them I decided that Intro A, B, and C would be really good ways to continue getting both of us back in shape. This is an example of me going over the top with goals - instead of picking one of them and learning it, I figured I could do ALL THREE. Today.

Fine. At that point, I was already in over my head as far as getting things done before actually riding, but it wasn't obvious to me yet. If I was going to be doing the tests, I wanted to put the dressage markers back out in the arena.

Again, fine. Except then I decided before I put the markers in place I would get the leaves up underneath the two oak trees at H and F. There were 4 wheelbarrow loads of leaves so that took a little while.

Then I started obsessing over Keil's wither adjustment. What if my newfound springing into the saddle had put it out of whack to begin with? My practical, sensible daughter said she doubted that was the case, and she's probably right, since I was springing into the saddle from the equivalent of a 3-step mounting block. But in my obsessing I decided to raise the mounting block another entire step, which required moving some cement blocks from the barnyard to the far end of the arena.

About the time I finished all of this I realized I was getting a sore throat. I've held off the mild flu bug everyone else in my family has, but it hit sometime mid-day. But I really really wanted to ride.

This evening I went out and got Keil Bay ready. I realized I was going to have to abandon tests B and C and just ride A. I jotted down the test on a piece of paper so I could check it if needed in the saddle.

Off we went to the mounting block. It was so high I was almost unable to climb up onto it. However, it worked.  The mounting block is so high now there is no hesitation on my part at all - I couldn't wait to get off that block and into the saddle! My sore throat went away and the arena looked nice. The sun was out of the arena for the most part and there were no bugs. Salina and the donkeys came from the front field to the back field to graze alongside the arena and keep us company.

We did a long warm-up and then our usual transition into trotting. Keil went from 0 to 60 in terms of alertness and responsiveness about halfway into the ride, which I wasn't expecting. Instead of enjoying his energy and his movement, I got very caught up in that stupid dressage test and wanting to be able to do it - well, not perfectly, but - better than respectably.

The crazy thing is that I switched gears suddenly.  He revved up energy-wise and I took that right into the test. We were doing our usual routine and then I turned down center line. Keil knows the dressage tests, or at least he did know them until they changed them - so he was trying to do what he thought I was asking him to do, but it wasn't right. Because I was going by my piece of paper.

In hindsight I should have just done the old test at least one time. That would have been a compromise on my part. But.

I got a little agitated. Partly it was me not feeling well, but ignoring that, and part of it was wanting to do a good test. We did it once passably, but there was not much relaxation going on on MY part. Keil was confused at first, then he got annoyed, then he went into high gear.

We went into a second try and about halfway through I realized how ridiculous I was being. We've had a number of days off, a big chiro adjustment for Keil, NO chiro adjustment for me, and I know I need one (it's scheduled, my last one had to be canceled so I'm about 5 weeks now without one), and today I probably had a low grade fever by the time I got in the saddle.

Thankfully I just stopped riding the test, put my cheat sheet away, and finished the ride we should have had from the beginning - a low-key, let's get back to work but from a place of relaxation, this is for FUN kinda ride.

Instead what we got was like using the big Kitchen Aid mixer and accidentally turning it on high without locking it down. Neither of us were quite ready for the energy today but it's good to know it's there when we ARE ready.

Of course, even though I was pushing both of us to do something on a piece of paper, which is actually less than what we have been doing on our own in terms of complexity and actual work, I got agitated in the process and made it much harder. Still, when we finished and I got off, Keil Bay googled his eyes at me, licked and chewed, rubbed his head on my shoulder, and when I put both hands in between the side pieces of his bridle he wiggled his head up and down giving himself a nice scratch.

I thanked him for putting up with my nonsense. He was pretty gracious about it.

And then he sauntered into the barn aisle and stood at the feed room door, waiting patiently for his snack while I untacked him.

After he finished and went out with the herd,  I should have come inside and taken a hot bath. But my crazy obsessive mood today kicked back in and I cleaned my boots, his bridle, and the saddle before coming in! And now my sore throat is back and I have the whole nasal thing kicking in as well.

Possibly this is what I get for going 90 miles an hour into October. When I don't slow myself down, my body does it for me. :)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Singing Hanoverians, part three, and fall is HERE!

Here's the third segment of the Singing Hanoverians.

Otherwise, we are all enjoying a huge dip in temperatures, but would be enjoying it more if it were not accompanied by RAIN. Oh, well.

The chiropractor was here today and Keil Bay had a weird sort of hip rotation but the main out of whackness was in his lower wither - he absolutely wanted it adjusted but it was sore, so he would bob his head (do it! do it!) and then step away when she did. After a couple of tries, he stopped and let her really fix it, and I let him stay in the barnyard and near side of the barn alone all morning while the rest of the herd went out. Around here, staying"in" like that is actually a treat, so he was happy as could be.

He's moving with his panther swing again and we'll see how the next ride goes in a couple of days.

Salina got her adjustment as well - she had a minor hip rotation, a couple of neck things, one lumbar thing, but all were minor and she is in fine form today - she has dapples all over her coat, which is nice and fluffed with the chilly weather, and she was really perky and moving fast. The donkeys had themselves a rodeo, and in general, the entire herd was really up and silly.

It's nice to see some frisk after the long hot summer of 2012!

We have hoof trims tomorrow and Thursday is our busy day, so by week's end we should be back to riding around here. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

the Singing Hanoverians, part two

We've had a short warm spell here this week, and yesterday my time got used up as I gave Salina a nice shampoo bath in advance of the cold front that is moving in tomorrow. It was warm enough that I opted not to ride, and I think Keil Bay was relieved that we were taking the day off.

There are very tiny gnats plaguing all of us, but hopefully the cooler temps rolling in will take care of them.

Meanwhile, I'm uploading part two of the Singing Hanoverians. In this one you get a taste of what they sound like, and also a sense of how patient they are with their Very Slow Woman who often gets caught up in the minutiae of preparing the tubs and loses sight of the end result: breakfast for hungry horses and donkeys!

Here you go, part the second.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

the Hanoverian Chorus, part one, with the Squeaking Hinges

This week I decided to try and capture a bit of our morning routine here on November Hill. It was a gray and soggy day, and when I announced to the equines that I planned to document their performance for the blog they went uncharacteristically quiet.

The percussion section, as you will see, never even started up. But they eventually warmed up and I think you can get a small sense of what the regular chorus sounds like. Although the Hanoverian Chorus is the big act, you'll also see that the back-up act sort of steals the show. Alas, that is just how things go sometimes!

It was fun to see what goes on behind my back while I'm mixing up the feed tubs. :)

So without further ado, the Hanoverian Chorus, part one:  (click link to go to my YouTube channel! The rest of this series is still to come!)

Riding update:

We've had a few days off due to schedule craziness and rainy days, but this morning the Big Bay and I got back in the arena together and worked through a bit of stiffness to end up with a really nice bit of trot work. 

His chiropractor was set to be here on Wednesday but had a flat tire, and I think he needs her. I can feel one hip sitting slightly higher than the other at the beginning of our rides, though it feels like it works through to a more normal placement by the end of our walking warm-up. 

Today I was set to just do walking, but the sitting trot/walk intervals seemed to really feel good to Keil - he did them beautifully and then clearly wanted to go into big trot work, which we did.

We were joined by two donkeys who followed single line into the arena - after the rainy days, they too wanted to get a work-out. Theirs was a bit more rigorous than ours - involving flat out running, bucking, snorting, playing donkey-go-round, and they went in and out of the arena at times to run the entire front field and the dirt paddock. 

Must be nice to be young and flexible. :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

on moonlight bay (the Big Bay, that is)

Decided to ride this evening instead of during the day and ended up riding into dusk as the moon rose over A in the arena. It was so lovely.

We had one horsefly divebomb us, but it was a half-hearted attempt and one swat sent him packing.

We added in some 20m circles at the trot tonight and did a decent job with them. I was especially proud of the Big Bay because everyone else was getting fed in the barn while we rode and he handled it really well. :)

Couldn't resist the song - we had some really nice trotting with that lovely moon coming up, and some of the lyrics are pretty on target!

kairos, dreamtime, and a black mare day

I've been reminded lately of how much time simply stops when I am at the barn. On Saturday I was scheduled to go to a writer friend's book launch party and help out with coordinating book sales. I went out earlier to ride Keil Bay and got completely lost in the process. I was giving him a bath when husband came out to the deck and called to me that I had 20 minutes until I was supposed to be where I was going. Fortunately she lives about 3 minutes away, but I had to finish up with Keil, get myself dressed, and get there.

Years back when we first moved to November Hill I had a clock run by battery that I kept at the barn. The time had always been perfect on that clock, but once it moved into the barn, it often simply stopped. Usually the battery was fine when it did this but the hands would just stop and time would stand still. The hands would eventually move again, stop again, and I finally gave up and removed the clock.

Our trainer when we first moved here broke her watch one day (the band) and left it in the barn. By the time I found it she'd already gotten a new one so she gave it to us so we could keep track of time. (ha)

That watch did the same thing. It had an alarm function that started going off randomly, the time was always either an hour off or not working at all, and at some point the watch ended up falling into a crack or getting buried somehow and periodically I would hear the beep beep beep of its alarm. We never found it. Eventually it died altogether.

I think we've figured out that there's no point in trying to keep track of time out there. It's kairos. And that is just fine.

On another note, I dreamed last night that someone built a house with a tennis court at the end of our arena. The tennis court was situated so that balls regularly came flying over the fence. I had some chairs sitting between our arena and the tennis court and went out there to "prove" to the new owner that we were pretty constantly being bombarded with tennis balls. He felt I was being unreasonable to ask that he install a net to keep the balls on his side of the fence.

This was one of those dreams that could have gotten stressful at about that point. But somehow I think after the day we had yesterday (more on that later) I needed a better outcome.

A visiting friend of the new neighbor walked over and sat down in my line of chairs. He agreed that I had reason to be upset, and asked about my horses and my riding. Suddenly I realized he was Paul Belasik. I ran to the house to get my copies of his books and had him sign them. We talked for a long time and I was able to get a sort of mini-workshop about my work with Keil Bay. As if that weren't good enough, he said at the end of the dream that he'd read MY books and loved them, and he actually quoted one of them. LOL! That was a quite fine transition from nightmare to waking up from a dream with a smile on my face.

And now for yesterday's action here on November Hill. I was grooming Salina and rubbing an itchy spot on her belly in the barn aisle. She was loving it. Suddenly the pony came over, put his head over the door of the stall he'd eaten breakfast in, and bit her square on the barrel. It was her blind side, and she wasn't expecting it, so it was particularly upsetting.

Her squeals rang through the neighborhood.

She waited a couple of hours before getting revenge. Around lunchtime, still in the barn aisle, she waited. I'd moved Keil Bay to the end stall on Salina's side of the barn, giving him some private time with the grass paddock. Salina and her donkey boys had the middle stall, the barn aisle, and the entire barnyard. The pony and Cody were on the gelding side of the barn, with access to all three stalls, the dirt paddock, and the back field.

Salina waited patiently until the pony made the critical mistake of going into Keil Bay's middle stall. The squealing resumed. I warned the pony to stay back. Daughter went out and warned him again. And then he stuck his head over the door and Salina turned around the kicked the stall door in.

I heard the squeals, the huge bang of hoof meeting wood, and went out there to find the stall door in pieces and the pony standing a few feet back in the stall with a huge splinter of wood fragment IN HIS MOUTH. He was chewing on it!

I put him out of Keil's stall and closed it off to all of them.

Later in the day Salina went after Keil Bay.

On the one hand, whew. What a day. On the other hand, hooray! I'm glad Salina is feeling good enough to be so feisty. And relieved that when she kicked the stall door in, all she got was a tiny bit of scrape on her hind hoof.

When we got to daughter's lesson yesterday evening, I learned from her trainer that all the mares down there were being feisty too. Must be the time of year.

Today I'm aiming for a nice ride and a quiet afternoon.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

another good ride and a day off

Keil Bay and I had a very good ride today. We did our warm-up and I realized that I was holding my abdominal muscles very tight - which seems to happen when I focus on making sure my lower back isn't arched. It took some thought and attention to practice straightening my lower back without engaging the muscles, but the moment I did it Keil Bay's walk became big and rhythmic with his characteristic panther swing.

Once I realized how much better we were going I abandoned all thoughts of anything but making sure I stayed relaxed. We finished the walking and then did our sitting trot/walk/sitting trot exercise. Oddly enough in the sitting trot I'm not tightening the abs so that might be part of why Keil Bay is so on the aids when I do it.

So many things improved with this simple observation and effort to release the tension.

We broke the trot sets up today - 3 circuits of the arena in one direction, then a walk break, then a sitting trot circuit, then a walk break, then 3 in the other direction, etc.

The walk after this first set was phenomenal - we had both really relaxed and loosened up, and everything felt so good. Although sunny and warm, there was a stiff breeze that felt good and kept the bugs away.

Another 3 circuits using the same sequence was equally nice. And we did more big walking before doing a final trot set each way.

The half halts and transitions were really nice too - another week or so of this, adding in the canter, and we'll be ready to put 20m circles into the mix. 

Today, although the temps were higher, Keil Bay's sweat pattern was completely between the hind legs, and since it was warmer, he got a full bath instead of a hosing after. He was completely happy and relaxed, standing beneath the oak tree, on the small stone wash area we created. No mud! And Salina and the donkeys came out to visit while he got his bath.

Tomorrow I'm taking daughter to her first foxhunting event of the season - an all-day clinic where she'll be riding the new Thoroughbred mare she's going to hunt with this season. It should be a fun day - two mounted sessions and two unmounted sessions plus breakfast and lunch provided. I'm auditing rider first aid and yoga for riders. :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

we went into power mode again today

Keil Bay and I had two days off due to rain, then got back to work yesterday. Our ride was good but much more laid back than previous days had been, and I wondered if something was off.

Today he had the characteristic Keil Bay spring and as I wondered how we got from yesterday to today with such a difference, I reminded myself of my own tendency when it comes to riding. I will ride through almost any tight muscle or stiffness in my own body but if I feel anything "off" with Keil Bay I tend to notch things way down and stop sooner than I would otherwise have.
The reason behind it is good-intentioned. I respect Keil Bay and I especially respect how good a sport he has been in bringing me back to riding over the past 8 years. I never want to ask more of him than he can give, or ask him to work when something hurts. I listen to him and he is honest with me.

BUT. Sometimes, especially as we get older,  there isn't specific pain or injury, but we have to work through a bit of stiffness to get to the better work. If I am too cautious, we stop too soon for no good reason and never get to that good work. Keil Bay has always been the kind of horse who likes to warm up for a longer time and do some big work first to loosen things up. Particularly when we're coming back to work after a chunk of time off, I go very slowly. For both our sakes.

I realized today when I got on that he was moving well, much better than yesterday, and that I needed to add even more time to our warm-up at the walk, but then add some stretchy trot work before moving into the trot sets we've been doing.

One of our favorite exercises (which breaks the rules a lot of folks have about sitting trot and warm-up) is to start the trot work in small spurts. I ask for the trot at a random dressage marker and we trot to the next marker, then walk, then trot again. This works really well with sitting trot because Keil Bay has big strides and if I am sitting I can half-halt, ask for trot, sit, half-halt, ask for walk, pretty perfectly between each marker, without getting discombobulated.

I decided to try this today after we'd done a nice long warm-up at the walk. He was completely on the aids and required only the slightest touch of my leg. It gave me a chance to practice half halts and offered both of us the chance to work on our timing. It was amazing, right off the bat. He lifted his back and really moved. We did several sets of this going both directions and then added some serpentine work going across the short length of the arena, using the same idea. Walk one line, turn, trot the next one, etc. etc.

It was clear to me that Keil Bay was feeling good and moving well as we did this work - when we finished this part of the ride we went out the back gate and took a short walk in the back field. Keil was willing but very "up" - and as I asked him to go to the very back of the field he started to balk. I quickly turned him in a smaller circle, same direction, and then did that one more time before going back to the arena. No power struggles over this - I just need to get him out there a little each day and take things a few steps further each time.

When we got back in the arena we finished our trot sets which by now were really feeling good. My hips had loosened up, Keil definitely found his schwung, and I noted when I dismounted that he had a wonderful sweat pattern - along the girth, between his hind legs, and equal on the saddle pad. Plus a nice small line of foam along his lips.

It was warm enough today that we went out and hosed.

An interesting tidbit: after I got Keil Bay hosed, scraped, fed, settled in with hay, etc. I was standing in the tack room door holding his bridle. Salina walked up and lifted her head to the bit. I acted like I was going to put it on her, and she was perfectly ready and willing to be bridled up and presumably ridden! I told her how much I wished I could ride her - I just don't think it's a good idea to ask her to bear weight with her arthritic knees. One hard thing about having a senior here who didn't live here always is that I am constantly wishing I had known her when she was young in body and spirit. What a ride that would be!

Keil and I will have another ride tomorrow and then probably a break on Sunday as daughter has an all-day foxhunting clinic. I'm hoping by next week's end we can add in some cantering. :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

this is how smart donkeys can be

Yesterday I was grooming Keil Bay in the barn aisle, getting him ready for our ride after two days off due to rain and storms.

He'd rolled in the mud, so full grooming was necessary, and it was taking awhile to get him clean. (plus I'm slow, plus I really don't like to rush the grooming time)

I'd fed breakfast to all the equines in their stalls. Donkeys had already eaten theirs in the barn aisle and were lined up in front of Salina's stall waiting for the door to be opened so they could both barge in and lick her red feed tub, a favorite thing for both of them.

But I was letting Salina hang out in her stall until I finished grooming so the barn aisle wouldn't get too crowded.

I groomed, and then brushed mane and tail, then decided on the spur of the moment to do a sheath cleaning, and was heating up water.

The donkeys, Rafer and Redford, waited patiently.

I cleaned hooves, then realized I'd forgotten to turn on the water kettle, so had to start the water again.

Once the grooming was complete I put Keil Bay's pad on and then got sidetracked doing yet another grooming task.

By this time the donkeys had waited for at least twenty minutes. They'd tapped their hooves on Salina's door, made the rusty hinge squeaking sound, and Rafer had come over and planted himself right in front of my body, nudging gently.

None of this worked, and I think they thought I had simply forgotten that Salina was in her stall, and her big red feed tub was in there too, just waiting to be cleaned.

I was adjusting Keil Bay's girth when the lights started going on and off. What? An electrical glitch in the barn?


It was Rafer Johnson, standing by Salina's door, using his muzzle to switch the lights on and off, on and off, signalling me.


Kind of like when the students in a class aren't listening to the teacher and she flicks the lights on and off.

And guess what? It worked. :)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

keil bay notches things up and I spring both into, and out of, the saddle

So this morning I went out and tacked up the Big Bay in advance of a rainy afternoon, determined to keep up our rides so that we can both get back in the groove before autumn proper.

I sprang into the saddle for the third day in a row, oh so proud of myself and very happy with life in general.

I'm not timing our trot sets because I don't wear a watch normally and in fact don't own one at this point in my life - so I'm increasing our work each day based on how many times we trot around the perimeter of the arena (which is bigger than 20x40m but not as long as 60m). Each day I'm increasing by one rotation in each direction.

Today we were up to 5 each way. After a lengthy warm up at the walk, some of which was directed by me and some directed by Keil Bay, we started into our trot work. Trotting to the right is generally the easier direction for both of us, and it happened that we started that way today. We had a nice, rhythmic, very passable trot set to the right. I told Keil Bay that we were making good progress and I was happy with our work together.

Then we took a walk break again and after a little while I organized myself and we headed left and picked up the trot.

One rotation, same as we just did to the right.  I think I was telling Keil Bay that we just had four more to go, as if he needed to hear that the end of the work was near.

Second rotation, a little hop skip and attempt to leap into the canter. I'm not sure if Keil wanted to canter, or if he simply preferred cantering to the left over trotting to the left, but I asked him to stay at the trot, so he said, Fine, M'aam, and proceeded to turn on his huge, gigantic power mode trot.

Well. I really had to up my game to stay with this huge trot. I have been really careful bringing us both back into work as I didn't want to make either of us sore or push too hard. Today, Keil Bay said ENOUGH with the senior citizen mode, we are going directly to power mode and Yes, You Can Do This!

By the third rotation I had sort of settled in with the feeling that we were going to motor right through the arena fence and end up two farms down the lane, and was enjoying the ride. I think it was during the fourth that I began to employ many half halts and made some effort to bring things back down a notch. We finished the fifth rotation on a nice, even keel, and went down to walk from there.

I was so jazzed by Keil Bay's coaching me forward with such vigor that when it came time to dismount, I attempted to spring OUT of the saddle with the same youthful bounce I have suddenly regained getting into it.

This did not work quite the same way. I sprang out but didn't remove my foot from the stirrup quite fast enough to keep up with my body. I did a sort of rolling dismount down to the ground and onto my back. Keil Bay looked mortified and did two skittering steps away from me as if trying to get away from a loose cannon. Then he stopped and just looked at me.

There was no actual hitting the ground - it really did feel like I just rolled gently backwards like one of those Weeble toys except I didn't actually roll back up onto my feet. I had to stand up. No harm done except to my pride.

Although Keil Bay obviously feels we're ready to move on with some big movement and forward motion, I think I need a couple more rides to get back in the groove all the way. But by coaching me to Just Do It, he reminded me that sometimes slow and steady needs to yield to simply leaping forward - not only in riding but in life itself.

As usual, he shows me something in the arena that ripples out through the other areas of my life - writing, living, being.

Thanks, Keil Bay. You're the very best coach a woman could have.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

in which the Big Bay and I get back to work

The weather finally cooled down last week and looked like it might stay that way, so the Big Bay and I decided we would get back to work now so that we'll be back in shape when the really nice autumn weather hits.

We started on Monday morning. Just walking, but it was nice walking, and I think we both enjoyed being back to work together in the arena.

Tuesday we did more walking but added some time and energy to the mix.

Wednesday my daughter rode Cody and we opened the arena gate to the back field and did some riding in back, up to the paddock, on through to the front field, back to the arena, etc. Keil woke up fast and then decided he didn't want to go further down the front field than the top half. He did a little balking and we worked through that, circling around and adding a few feet further down the hill a couple of times and then ended on that cooperative note. I realized later that what I might have done was just hop off, hand walk him down to the log jump at the bottom of the hill, mount up down there, and then ride up and down again. I might just do that to begin with one day and see if we can just forego the power struggle altogether a few times.

Thursday was a day off.

Friday I took the clippers with me when I mounted up and we warmed up and then did some trimming of tree limbs. It's a job Keil Bay seems to love doing - and it's the perfect way to ensure that I don't get smacked in the face when riding him. For much of the trim time, I was standing in the stirrups with both arms above my head, cutting branches and letting them fall to the side and behind us. Keil Bay stood like a soldier and took one step forward, back, sideways, etc. as I asked. There aren't a lot of horses I would trust to do that on at this point in my life, but Keil is definitely one of them!

We had a lot of assistance getting the oak branches studded with young acorns up - two donkey lads were quite happy to drag the branches around and nibble on leaves.

After the tree trimming Keil and I added in the first bit of trot work we've done since the end of June. It was not great, but we had to get the kinks out, and at least we made a start on it.

This morning I went out thinking we would walk and add some time to the trot work. Keil had a funky strip of frog tissue that I had wondered about yesterday - so I had husband take a look and we decided it needed to be trimmed off. I don't think I've mentioned that husband is now trimming the donkey hooves under the supervision of our trimmer, and is also working on the pony. So between the two of us we're learning a lot more and getting more confident about these little hoof care decisions.

I think it was a good one - the warm up and walk were much better today than yesterday, and I let Keil Bay do his "loose rein lead" - he could go anywhere he wanted but the walk had to be big and rhythmic. He again chose a huge figure 8 across the entire arena, but then, interestingly, chose to do a number of 10-15 meter circles to the left, which is at the moment his stiffer side. I wondered out loud if he was working something out in his shoulder. Sure enough, when we hit the trot time, Keil Bay turned on the power mode immediately. Right rein was still better in terms of bend but left was pretty good too!

And in some strange stroke of who knows what, I suddenly seem to have gotten back the ability to do that little "spring" thing when mounting that I did when young and haven't been able to do since I started back riding as an adult. It might disappear tomorrow, but for two days in a row I have done it, and loved the feeling of springing into the saddle. (I should be clear - this is still from the mounting block, not from the ground!)

Anyway, we're having good rides this week, loving the weather, courageously battling dive-bombing horseflies together, and really hoping that by the time we get a real fall day we are in shape enough to do some cantering.

Hope everyone is getting some relief from the long, hot summer of 2012!

Monday, September 10, 2012

the Big Bay's many colored days

Last week Keil Bay had a rare bad day, and as it was happening I kept thinking about Dr. Seuss' book called My Many Colored Days. There's a page that reads like this:

On Bright Red Days how good it feels
to be a horse and kick my heels!

It was hot, Keil Bay had a yeasty frog, and I made the big mistake of taking him out for a bath but choosing to do a hoof scrub first. It is true. Horseflies were dive-bombing, Keil Bay was sweaty and itchy, and I had the hose and the bucket of soapy water all set up. But I picked up his feet and did a hoof scrub first. He handled the first one, but by the second hoof, right hind, he was not amused. He allowed me to finish that hind hoof, and when I let go, he slammed it down, lifted the other hind, and kicked out in anger. How like Keil Bay to express his anger but in a way that clearly did not endanger me. Nevertheless, I smacked his rump with the flat of my hand.

We finished up with no more outbursts, not from me, not from Keil Bay.

We're both ready for cooler weather, clearly.

Today we got it, and I did a quick grooming, fed him half his breakfast tub, tacked up, and we had the first ride we've had in about 6 weeks. It was glorious. Everything felt perfect. We walked, did a little shoulder-in, turns on forehand and haunches, and a little backing. I had the same feeling I had last winter when it felt like we had made a leap forward. The aids were quiet and soft and so was the ride.

As we got started, the doe and her twin fawns showed up in the forest near A. Keil let me know they were there, and we tracked them as we rode and they made their way down the fence line to the back field. We stopped and watched the fawns scampering, and then continued on our ride.

When we were done, Keil licked and chewed, happy to get the other half of his breakfast. I had a good ride and did not break a sweat! I am SO happy to be entering this time of year. The horses are happy too, with nights in the 50s and at least the promise of the demise of the dive-bombing horseflies. Salina cantered up the front field hill a few days ago, and even though it was probably to escape a horsefly, I am relieved she is feeling so good.

This afternoon I went back to the barn and took a little bottle of bubbles with me. I blew and blew and the donkeys and Keil Bay and Cody were all completely enchanted with the fact that suddenly the woman was shooting magical disappearing balls out of her mouth. Keil leaned his head over the stall door and put his nose out to me, wanting the bubbles to land on him. Eyes wide with curiosity. For a few minutes I turned into some kind of fairy princess and he was completely absorbed. It was easy to see the yearling Keil Bay in his eyes.

In our many colored days, this one had a brilliant blue sky, dark purple muscadines, and the brightest red bay in the big wide world, all here on November Hill.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

the November Hill twins

My amazing nature photographer daughter captured these wonderful photographs of the twin fawns that were born on November Hill this year. They have made many appearances with their mom all over the property, and they seem extremely interested in not only us but the equines. The donkeys are equally intrigued and if they see the twins in the forest, will walk up to the fence and gaze at them.

If you've read my essay about how November Hill Press got started, you know already that my decision to start the press came after two really amazing experiences I had with the deer herd that lives here. If you've been reading here for awhile you might also know the story of the first day we came to look at the farm - we saw twin fawns in the back field, and I knew this was our home.

The deer gave me the November Hill Press logo, which I love because it perfectly captures the spirit of November Hill farm and press, and the way I feel about my writing. 

2012 has been a tough year in a lot of different ways, so seeing this new generation of twins has been especially meaningful for me this spring and summer. Sometimes when we need a sign, we get one. 

It tickles me that the fawns love the wild muscadines as much as I do - and we're all fortunate because this year's grape harvest is bountiful and within easy reach for both deer and humans.

Thanks to my daughter for her quiet demeanor and photographic skill. She always gets the best shots!

Friday, August 24, 2012

quiet in heart, and in eye clear, take 2

This was one of my first posts on camera-obscura, and I was thinking about it today and decided to repost:

the wise eye of zen-master Keil Bay, with quiet-hearted Salina in the background.. a horseback ride in our back field, picking wild grapes from vines hung low, the persimmon tree down the lane, geese honking overhead, and this poem, which came to reside on my little altar last autumn when we moved here, and has this year come true:

The Wild Geese

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

Wendell Berry

I do so love this poem. This year, right now, I see signs that this long, hot, difficult summer are coming to an end. Salina is shedding, some leaves are changing color while others turn brown and fall, squirrels are starting to gather the first acorns. This week the wild muscadines are coming to ripeness and although in many ways this summer season has been bleak and hard, we have had much rain and the garden has been bountiful. Now we are having the finest crop of wild muscadines I've ever seen since living here on November Hill. I can stand beneath the vines and eat until I'm full. I'm finding them everywhere, even in the arena, lying on the ground.

We have twin fawns living with us this year, a gray fox, a hoot owl close by, and it occurs to me that things do seem to find a balance. When one part of life feels chaotic and out of control, other parts exhibit abundance.

Today I look at that wise eye of the Big Bay and feel very lucky that I still have the chance to look into it. I rejoice that the quiet-hearted Salina is still here, whinnying and grazing and keeping her wise eye on everything.

Tonight as dusk fell I was in the back field, looking up toward the barn, which was fully lit and shining with golden light. Cody was by the hay tent with Rafer Johnson, Salina and Redford were in the front field, Keil Bay was in the grass paddock, and the pony, whose Apache Moon was in fact hanging low in the sky overhead, was taking advantage of all the open gates to meander between all the members of his herd.

Behind the barn the windows of our house shone gold as well. I stopped mucking to look and soak all this treasure in, seeing it all at once because I had stepped back far enough to take it all in.

Quiet in heart, and in eye clear.

What we need is here.