Sunday, January 29, 2012

writing retreat week

I've been at one of my favorite and most productive places on the planet since last Monday. I'm happy to say that I've completed the first draft of my second middle grade novel, Fiona and the Water Horse, which is book two in my Magical Pony School series. Now it gets to sit for a couple of weeks at which point I'll return to it, weave any loose threads in, add anything I forgot or that comes to me between now and then, and after that I'll send it to three Good Readers, who will give me some feedback. Cover design, a final edit, and it will be published just in time for the spring equinox, which is when this book takes place. Meanwhile, everyone at November Hill has struggled on without me. Although they all sound quite fine when I check in by telephone! I'm sure there's a way to add images from my iPad but at the moment I can't figure it out. I've been adding them to Facebook all week, so come visit me there if you want to see some of the photos. Our writers' rooms have all been spruced up since we were here last, and we've had some ghost activity. Par for the course here at the Magic Mansion. Tomorrow I'll be heading home, with a stop by two feed stores for a couple of things we need. Can't wait to see the entire November Hill crew, human and animal alike. I suspect tomorrow night will find me watching however many Downton Abbey episodes there are by now in season 2, surrounded by cats, Corgis, equines (outside my window) and the human family. That's when I'll know I'm home again. And.. almost forgot! I will be publishing a "Billie Hinton short" just in time for Valentine's Day this year - a fun and whimsical celebration of love and celosia called PASSION FLOWERS AND ITALIANS. It will be free on Valentine's Day on Amazon.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

apropos of nothing, really, a reposting of my appeal for humane and connected horsemanship

an appeal for humane and connected horsemanship

Seventeen years ago I was given a book by William Sears, M.D., called The Baby Book, in which Dr. Sears talked about his theory of parenting, referred to as attachment parenting.

Dr. Sears' theory of attachment parenting (often called AP), calls for developing a secure bond with our children, the goal being a secure, connected child who grows into an empathetic, connected adult.

Attachment Parenting International offers the following guiding principles, which facilitate strong, nurturing connections between children and their parents:
  1. preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
  2. feeding with love and respect
  3. responding with sensitivity
  4. using nurturing touch
  5. ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally
  6. providing consistent and loving care
  7. practicing positive discipline
  8. striving for balance in personal and family life

With only a few tweaks of language, all of the above could easily be set forth as guiding principles for living humanely and in connection with horses (and donkeys, and all equines).

Last week it was Pat Parelli and Catwalk.

This week I have read an article about a miniature donkey strapped into a harness against her will and parasailed up and down a beach in the name of "publicity." The donkey was terrified, landed quite roughly, and apparently was in such distress while in the air, left many children crying in upset confusion. And yet, after a public outcry when the owner was finally located and the donkey examined by a veterinarian, there will apparently be no charges of abuse or cruelty because the donkey sustained no physical injuries.

In the smaller circle of equine community, I have read a post on a forum about the need to keep working our horses, despite the heat, because of the need to maintain a training schedule. Heat indexes where I live have ranged from 112-119 degrees for the past week. It's easy enough to see that extreme heat affects horses more quickly and more seriously than it does the average, healthy human. They have hair covering their entire bodies. Their digestive tracts rely on regular intake of forage and water to remain functional. When we ride them, they are not only working, but carrying our weight.

I received an email informing me of things to do to haul horses safely in heat, in advance of Pony Club National Championships coming up next weekend in Virginia. Nationals are held in Kentucky and Virginia on alternate years, always in late July/early August. Why schedule something that involves hauling horses and ponies from all over the US during the hottest time of year?

I read a Facebook entry referring to a pony as a "butthead" because he didn't want to go into the ring for a show class, tried to leave, and bucked. Has the pony been checked for physical pain? Bit fit, saddle fit, muscle soreness, feet checked, chiropractic issues? The pony's behavior is indicative of something being wrong, either physically or emotionally. How else can he express it? My guess is that if he didn't want to go into the ring to jump, and that was paid attention to, he wouldn't have then needed to buck to get his point across. And yet no one listened. He was a "butthead."

Is there no end to the narcissism, self-centeredness, and downright ignorance of human beings? I can't think of any reason save an emergency trip to the vet school that would call for loading any horse or donkey into a trailer at this time of year, in this heat, with the expectation that the horse/donkey stand in a strange stall, hot, stressed, and yet ready and willing to perform strenuous work in a competitive setting.

I can't imagine having hauled any of my horses to any event this week and being remotely capable of disparaging them because they resisted being ridden.

And I could no more strap Rafer Johnson or Redford in a harness and drag them through the air for the sake of making a little money than I could one of my human children.

What in the world are we thinking when we expect animals to serve as vehicles for our bank accounts, our egos, and our apparently desperate need for external validation?

Alice Miller wrote a number of books about parents who expect these things of their children. She describes in great psychological detail what this does to children, and how the effects ripple into adulthood.  It's time someone wrote a similar treatise on people and their horses. There is no ribbon on earth, no amount of money, and no genuine self-gratification worth the cost of treating animals like objects, with no feelings, no rights, and little effort on our parts toward creating, nurturing, and maintaining a deeper relationship.

When we ignore the deeper, unspoken needs of the equines we ride and use for our own purposes, there is a cost. Not dollars and cents, although certainly we may end up with broken down horses and big vet bills at some point down the road. The cost I refer to is a psychic, soul-deep cost that I'm not sure we even know the consequences of incurring. It's a cost to humanity and to growth as human beings.

 I know this sounds serious. I believe it to be true.

I'm not opposed to competitive horse sport, but the reward of competition should be based in the maturing of the rider's increasingly connected relationship with the horse, and in the making of sound, safe decisions based on the needs of the horse, who can't leave a voicemail saying "oh, by the way, I really don't feel like carrying you over jumps in 90+ degree heat - how about we do it another time?"

As much as our children rely on us to intuit and meet their needs when they're too young to do it for themselves, our horses and our donkeys (and our cats and dogs and birds and all the other wonderful animals we surround ourselves with) need us to be their biggest, most thoughtful advocates and partners.

And I can say with certainty borne of experience, when we say NO to "smack him harder," when we say NO to "that noseband needs to be TIGHT," when we say IT'S TOO HOT TO HAUL, WE WON'T BE THERE when we get the email asking about the upcoming horse show, and when we say "I'll do what it takes to find out why you bucked in that last class" - what we get in return is something far more valuable than a training schedule checked off, a thumbs up from an unenlightened trainer, a few new clients for our company, or a fistful of cheap show ribbons.

We get connection. We get devotion. We get to participate in the magical relationship that is the amazing and most genuine gift horses and donkeys offer humans.

And more than that, I think we elevate ourselves as humans. We raise the bar for our own species. Instead of expecting more of them, how about we expect more of ourselves?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

watch for some changes on camera-obscura

As part of my 2012 leap forward thinking (it occurred to me as I typed that my birthday - my real, leap day birthday - is happening this year and maybe that has prompted me into forward motion!) I am going to be playing around with the idea of simplifying my life.

In a lot of ways, but specifically, by pulling together all my online sites into one place. I'm not quite sure how I am going to do this yet, but I *think* the end result will be a "splash" page with a fun photo and links to all my social media sites and a link to ONE blog. Which will incorporate all my writing stuff, riding and horse stuff, professional stuff, and farm stuff.

While it's easier to have them separate at times, they are all inexplicably connected, and it has always felt slightly artificial to me to divide my life up into these categories.

I think if I organize it well, the simplicity of one place to write what I want to write will be easier and better.

Somehow I will link all the domain names together - not sure how but I think it can be done. And hope to see everyone who comes to the different sites all coming to one place to visit, read, comment, and keep me company in cyber-space.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

trim notes 2012

Yesterday we had a visit from our new trimmer. She came over in December to take a look at Rafer Johnson's front hooves, which were having some issues and had gotten sore. Turned out he had white line disease which started at the toes and went up quite high into the hoof walls.

She did a corrective trim to expose the tissue to air, lowered his heels so he was comfortable again, and gave us instructions on keeping those two little hoof works of art (one was cut out in a lovely c-curve, and the other was a nice v-shape) clean so they could begin to grow tight, healthy wall.

We watched Rafer go from ouchy to tentative in about an hour's time. Since then he is back to galloping the fields with his buddy Redford.

And because I wanted this trimmer to follow up with Rafer Johnson, we made the decision to go with her for all the equines. Based on yesterday's trims, I think we are going to be very happy with her work.

Everyone got terrific trims, but Keil Bay's and Salina's were the most notable.

Keil's front heels have never been taken down quite far enough, in my very humble still-learning-every-day-about-hoof-trimming opinion. He has contracted heels. Not severely so, and much better than when he wore shoes, but I still struggle with frog development in his fronts. She took them down, and when she put the first front hoof down and he stood on it, he began to lick and chew. He licked and chewed his way through the entire trim!

He walked off with an even more exaggerated panther walk than usual - his big, reaching, gorgeous walk.

Salina has not had a proper trim in over a year. She has a tough time picking up her front hooves and although she can extend them forward, our previous trimmer (and I, to be sure) had gotten into a kind of rut of not even asking her to pick them up, in an effort to make things easier for her. Yesterday she picked up her hinds perfectly (which she usually does) but also was fully capable of putting them forward onto the hoof stand so they got a much more thorough trim than they have been getting.

With the fronts, she was fully capable, with some rest periods, to put both hooves forward onto the stand which allowed the trim to be done in a much more "normal" way - and for the first time in a long time, she got the full, complete trim done. She too walked off with some vigor.

It was a hard decision for all of us when we made this change. The professionals who work with our horses become like extended family in a way. The level of trust I need to have to place my horses and donkeys in the hands of someone is huge. But sometimes we go as far as we can with one person and then it's time to move on. It was hard to say goodbye, but we're happy to be starting a new chapter in hoof care with a gifted new trimmer.

Like every other issue that happens with horses and their health and well-being, I learned a huge amount as we went through the process of sorting out Rafer's front feet. As hard as it is to live through these things, every single time I do it I end up feeling like it was a lesson that needed to happen. Rafer Johnson taught me again how important it is to listen to the horse and to the donkey. Watch and stop and listen. If I had paid closer attention to him when he began to get fussy about having his hooves picked out, we would have discovered the problem much, much sooner. But seeing his hoof wall be cut away taught me something about the structure of the hoof that I suspect I might never have learned from a book or a picture.

And seeing him go from lame to sound, from fussy and upset to calm and appreciative, is just one more example of what these equines have to teach us.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

continuing with my January book blow-out

Leaping into 2012 with free book promo going on nearly every weekend!  This weekend it's claire-obscure. Free on Amazon.

And remember: if you like what you see on the product page, click the like button. If you enjoy the read, go back and leave a review. Those things do matter for authors and sales.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I am Bog Woman

The rain started in this morning, and we weren't quite dry from the last rain, so immediately the ground got saturated and everything has turned to mud. Except for the lovely shelter area and just outside it, where we completed our small gravel project. I'm looking forward to doing the next phase.

I dreaded going out this morning. If I were a person not living with horses I wouldn't have, but as many of you who visit me here know, the path to the barn is one walked many times a day whether it's sunny, wet, snowing, or frigid.

My Bogs muck boots that I got for my birthday last year have already cracked completely through. It's not been a year yet. The cracks started about 3 months ago, so although they have a wonderful, whimsical blue on brown paisley pattern, they didn't withstand the day in- day out wear that anyone with horses at home puts in.

As I went about my morning chores, each time I went out into the rain I stepped into mud and cold water, which began to seep into my boots and soaked into my socks. This happened a few days ago when I was wearing an old pair of socks and I didn't like it but for whatever reason it didn't send me into orbit.

This morning I was wearing a new pair of socks I got at our local co-op. Organic cotton, a lovely burgundy color, with hearts and the words "choose love" on the sides. That the wet muddy water was seeping into these brand new socks sent me right over the edge. Not to mention the fact that I had no waterproof head gear, and the fleece jacket I wore kept me warm but not dry. My thighs were damp from walking in the rain with the muck barrow.

After an hour of drying out inside I headed to the feed store. I needed to pick up our raw milk, needed to check on my special order oats, and by gosh, I intended to purchase some rain gear.

I wore the old standby Muck brand solid black muck boots out of the store. I've owned two pairs of these since we moved to November Hill and while they did eventually wear out, they lasted about 3 years each. I got my money's worth out of them. I wish they would make some colorful ones, but they all end up dirty anyway, so... black is fine.

I also came home with a chocolate brown Outback oilcloth rain poncho. It has a huge front pocket with a heavy duty zipper and snaps all the way up both sides. It has a very nice hood. It makes a satisfying swoop as I walk.

I also came home with a bright sunshine yellow Outback scrunchy rain hat. I would have chosen a more understated color, but they only had my size in yellow. And the yellow one has a nifty velcro pouch where one could put a key, or a credit card, or something small and lightweight. I figured if I conk out in the back field I will be easier to spot with that yellow hat on.

When it was time to go out and do more barn chores, I suited up in my new rain gear. My son informed me I looked like a Bog Woman. Well, okay. I guess that's where I am in my life right now. I wasn't even offended. In some ways, being a Bog Woman has a certain nice ring to it. A certain status. I am a woman who can walk through bogs. Or at least muddy paddocks.

When I got to the barn the donkey boys ran, snorting and spinning. They did eventually come back to sniff my outstretched hands, ensuring that in fact it was ME underneath the gear, but they were not pleased with my swooping poncho. Salina seemed slightly alarmed by the yellow hat, not fearful, but slightly incredulous that I would choose that color.

Cody and Apache Moon were in the back field and they galloped in to see me at closer range. They weren't afraid, but it was clear they were not impressed. Only the Big Handsome Bay walked up to me normally, sniffing the new gear, interested but unconcerned as I led him over to the other side of the barn for a change of venue on a long rainy day.

And then I went on with my chores. Fixing a piece of fencing, mucking, checking troughs, closing gates, dumping, etc.

More rain fell. But I was DRY from head to toe.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

instructions for living a life

Yesterday on Facebook this came across my wall, and I shared it there and wanted to share it here as well:

"Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it."
-Mary Oliver

There is nothing else to say!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

and meant to say: new year's gift!

I meant to add that The Meaning of Isolated Objects is free through January 4th on Amazon. GO HERE to read and pick up your copy.

Happy New Year!

first ride of 2012

Today was gorgeous but as it turned out by the time I got into the arena it was overcast and gray again, and then dark, and an hour or so after our ride it started raining! Which I wasn't expecting at all. I was even more glad we'd ridden when we did after the rain started.

Keil Bay was very alert again and moving well. Tonight I felt two very distinct things that may be contributing to our good rides. My legs feel very secure. And by that I mean secure in terms of balance and evenness, but even more than that, they feel like they are an inseparable part of the motion. As we were trotting, I let my focus land on my legs - and I experimented. I could easily go from a loosely draped leg to a gentle hugging leg to a completely open leg without changing any other part of my body. I had the ability to shift very subtle things without anything else going askew. I'm not sure exactly how to describe it, but the closest word I can come up with is effortless. In a way it felt like my legs were not there, except if I chose to think about them and note what they were doing.

I've put the saddle a touch further back lately and I wonder if this is making a difference.

After warming up and doing a fair amount of trotting, we finished with some 20m circles at the trot, and happened into a routine of rising trot around the circle, then changed direction through the circle at the sitting trot, then picked up the new trot diagonal going the new direction. We did this for a number of rotations and it was the rhythm of the change from rising to sitting to rising that best illustrated this effortless leg thing for me.

It may well be that my body and Keil Bay's body are in better shape and in sync physically more than we have been for awhile. It definitely feels that way.

The other big thing that feels different and good is my hands and the contact I have with the reins and the bit. It feels like my arms and hands finally caught up with the rest of my body, and something that seemed elusive to me previously (specifically the amount of weight to have in the hands, and contact without pressure, not throwing the reins away, etc.) has suddenly just happened without me paying much attention to it at all. One thing I have done is ride with different bits (basic eggbutt snaffle, loose ring double-jointed snaffle, bitless) as well as different reins (very soft web reins; thicker, stiffer web reins, very soft curb reins) to see what works best. Interestingly enough, my least favorite reins, Keil's very nice but slightly too big for my hands web reins are the ones that now feel the best to me. What changed? I don't think the size of my hands changed but maybe the way I use my hands and arms is making a difference in how the reins feel in my hands. Everything just feels softer, easier, and better.

We're also riding with the Thinline Ultra sheepskin dressage pad, and I am riding with my sheepskin seat saver pad too - and although if you measure the thickness of all these "things' between my seat and Keil's back, it's thicker than ever, it feels like less. I can feel his back and I can feel my own seat bones much more clearly than I have ever been able to feel them.

It's an interesting exercise to try and sort out what is making things work well, as opposed to why something isn't working. But it was wonderful to roll into the new year with a good ride, on the very best horse in the whole world, feeling truly thankful that all these pieces are, for the moment, in sync.