Wednesday, February 22, 2012

more time in the herd mind

This morning I was busy scrubbing out a big water trough. The wind was gusting around me as I stood armed with the hose nozzle in one hand and a big scrub brush and a sharp knife in the other.

The horses were finishing their breakfast tubs in the barn, and as they finished, my daughter let them out their back doors so they could head out to the pasture and their hay.

As you might imagine I was suddenly the center of attention. Keil Bay came up, then the pony, and then Cody. I was literally surrounded by 3000+ lbs. of horse.

Keil Bay was standing with one hoof on either side of the hose I was holding. I was trying to keep the sharp knife out of the way of curious noses. I was hoping they would decide that nothing interesting was happening in the empty trough and move on out to the field.

Suddenly Keats our black cat jumped into a pile of leaves a few feet from the water trough. She came out of nowhere but made a loud noise doing it. Horses, pony, and human did one huge spook in place simultaneously. I mean, literally, all 14 feet went airborne and then landed with one loud smack on the ground.

"What?! Oh, it's Keats!" I exclaimed. And we all relaxed.

One by one the horses walked on to the field, leaving me to finish my chore and to marvel at what had just happened.

That they all spooked in place was pretty remarkable. Not one of them wheeled or bolted or even moved any part of their bodies except straight up in the air and down again. Had they moved even an inch, I would likely have been knocked down, cut with the knife I was holding, and maybe gotten kicked by a fleeing hoof.

That I spooked with them, without even thinking, was even more remarkable to me. I've written before about incidents when I have been in the midst of the herd and moved with them without thinking. I've never had it happen in such incredibly close quarters. I was brushing horse shoulders on each side and three heads were leaning in around me. I didn't even get a bump from any of them.

When these kinds of things happen, it's impossible not to think about the power of connection we can have with our horses. And if their presence is capable of pulling us into the herd mind, what does our presence do to them?

And what is possible if we give them our full attention and our focus, along with permission to them to be exactly what they are - exquisitely gifted with the ability to read and respond to the tiniest sound, gesture, or cue, even those that are silent to us?

When I think about this, I become even more convinced that a huge percentage of what gets done to horses is too loud, superfluous if not downright traumatic.

I want to say to everyone: take off all the excess gear. Loosen the too tight straps. Stop asking the horse to DO something. Stop talking. Just stand still, shoulder to shoulder, and see what happens.

My guess is you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

a good but thoughtful ride

After a bit of a spell of not riding, Keil Bay and I got back to the arena today. After so many wonderful rides in December and January, I was eager to get on, and really looking forward to riding in the sunshine this afternoon.

I got on a kick recently about stirrup leathers, namely wanting to eradicate the bulk of a regular stirrup leather (doubled) plus the buckle under the flap. I've ridden with these leathers ever since Keil Bay came to live with me and never really had an issue, but for some reason I suddenly decided to try the Bates Leather Webbers to see if losing the bulk made any difference.

A few differences right off the bat:

I ordered the longer leathers and even on the highest hole they are pretty long for me - not too long, but there is no room to shorten.

Keil Bay has also put on a little weight, and it seemed like the saddle was sitting up just a tad higher on his back than usual.

He's never been girthy but today he actually licked and chewed as I buckled his girth - which went a hole less than usual, also indicating some weight gain.

He walked out of the barn with a rhythmic stride, ears forward, clearly ready to go to work. We had no trouble at the mounting block. All to say that he seemed actually more eager than usual for a ride.

We did a long bit of walking while I adjusted to the new feel of the saddle. My upper thighs were definitely flatter and my legs longer with these new leathers. I expected things to feel different but I expected it to be a very clearly positive change. Instead, it felt - not bad at all, but just... different.

One thing I noticed immediately was that my leg aids were sharper and clearer, which makes sense. The legs were able to drape a bit more naturally without that bulk up top - but my seat felt different. I'm not sure I can describe how it felt - again, not bad in any way, but not like the last rides I've had.

But... no twinges! Either I'm more stretched out now than I was in December/January or this new lack of bulk changed my hip angles in a good way. It might also be that what felt good/new about my seat in December and January now feels... normal.

Hands and reins were very much as they were the last wonderful rides. I feel like whatever notched into place with the contact is still happening.

Another interesting thing is that when we trotted, the contact was terrific, Keil was terrific, but something felt off in my posting - I could feel the pommel more than usual. Again - not a bad feeling, but just something I don't remember noticing before.

And then, two times coming around to the right in the exact same place (by the main arena gate), Keil did a little balk. He wanted to either stop or go across the diagonal but when I asked him to go straight down that long side he stopped and ... thought about backing up but neither time did he actually go backwards.

Each time he did this I circled him to the right in a small circle and then aimed straight down the arena at the trot. Trot was great, I could feel the pommel, but things were otherwise fine. There was no issue once we got on that straight line.

It was so unusual though for Keil to balk, I stopped after the second circle/trot correction and got off. Nothing seemed off about the saddle or bridle, hooves were clean, and he did his usual post-ride snort and happy face. He walked normally to the barn. Everything seemed normal.

This week looks like a good one to get a nice string of riding days in, so I can see how things go tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

hoof notes, update on the Big Bay

I've been meaning to write a little about Keil Bay's hooves and how they responded to his new trimmer and her willingness to take his heels down further. We both wanted to address the contraction in the front feet as well as his deep central sulci areas which can become breeding grounds for thrush.

A week after the trim I tried to pack a folded square of gauze soaked in Banixx into the two front hooves - in the crevices that he has had since he's been with me due to the contraction of his heels. Usually I can get the entire piece of gauze in that crevice. A week after his last trim I could only get it halfway in - the crevice is closing up from the inside out.

Yesterday, about halfway into the trim cycle, I brought Keil Bay into the barn aisle to clean his hooves and take a close look at them. His frogs are no longer ragged and jagged in front but nice and flat with almost no central sulci. The crevice, as I call it, is nearly gone.

But the really wonderful thing is that the moment I picked up the first hoof, Keil Bay started licking and chewing, loudly, and he repeated this behavior as I went all the way around from hoof to hoof.

Keil hasn't ever been difficult about his feet, but he's never seemed so happy about the process either.

I should add that we put #78 stone into the shelter behind the geldings' stalls - so that any time they go in or out of the barn (which is at least 4x a day) they are walking on the rocks. They also tend to gather under the shelter when waiting for meals or if they want the shelter for some weather-related reason, so they've been getting a fair amount of time with hooves on stone. And they seem to love it. The donkeys actually ROLL in it!

We extended the #78 to the area outside/beside the shelter, as that too is a favorite hang-out spot. And yesterday, we added #67, which is a nice smaller size gravel, to the strip in front of the shelter and around the edges of the outside square of #78.

Tomorrow I'll get another load of #67 and we'll extend that outside edge to the area beneath and on both sides of the gate that leads from the small barnyard into the dirt paddock.

In addition to helping with the muddy areas we tend to get when it rains, we're providing lots of different terrains for the equine hooves here, and I'm looking forward to seeing how their feet change as we make our way from the barn outward.

We still have the barn aisle doorways to do, the other side of the barn outside Salina and the donka boys' stalls, four gateways, and then squares around each water trough. I'm also going to do a dedicated hosing/bath area in the smaller stone.

With all this stone work, can anyone guess what I wish I could get for my birthday?

(That's right - a baby dump truck!)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

November Hill Press Loves Readers! A Long Weekend of Fun and Freebies

November Hill Press believes in the power of words, the importance of story, and the vision of the unique voice.

We also love readers, and in appreciation and celebration of St. Valentine's Day we've put together a weekend of fun.

Sometime on Friday February 10th, a light, whimsical, romance-filled short called Passion Flowers and Italians will go live on Amazon, and as soon as it does, it will go on free promo for 5 days.

On Saturday and Sunday, Signs That Might Be Omens will be free.

And on Sunday, claire-obscure will be free as well.

Friday through Wednesday, book one in the middle grade Magical Pony School series, Jane's Transformation, is going on sale for 99 cents. And remember: although this was aimed at middle grade readers, it has appeal for horse lovers of all ages.

There's something for everyone!

I think Passion Flowers and Italians would make a nice valentine. In fact, it's OUR valentine to everyone who has supported November Hill Press over the past year. We appreciate it, and we thank you!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

in which the black mare reminds me to breathe

Today we had the chiropractor here for 4 out of our 6 equines. I have been sick with a mild flu, and today was the first day after several that I've been out to the barn. I was late with breakfast tubs, it was time for the chiro to arrive, and I made the call that we would get adjustments first and breakfast after.

I thought I was making a wise decision to leave all the horses in the paddock instead of allowing them into stalls. I knew bringing them in would trigger the salivation for tubs, and figured they'd do better walking and waiting than standing behind stall doors waiting.

This was a good decision for 5 out of 6 equines.

But we started off well. Keil Bay went first and I had a few minutes to curry the dried mud off him. He was clearly thinking it was breakfast time but I told him, out loud and in English, that his most favorite thing in the world was on its way and that he would get breakfast after everyone got their turn.

Keil Bay is an absolute foodie. He adores his meal tubs. He adores treats of all kinds. And he can get pretty demanding if he thinks you're holding out on him. But this morning he stood quietly while I curried. He managed to release himself from the straight tie I'd done and even then he stood quietly, lead rope hanging to the ground. When the chiro drove up, he began to lick and chew.

Keil's adjustment went quickly because he is so incredibly cooperative and helpful as she does her work. He turns to her gently between each adjustment and says thank you. He licks and chews. He bobs his head when she is at a place that in fact doesn't need adjusting. He stands perfectly still when she reaches a place that does.

As soon as she finished the tail stretch and began to write down and explain what she'd just done, Keil inched very politely to the feed room door. But when I reminded him that 3 others still had turns, he walked nicely out to the gate and went through without a fuss.

Apache Moon, the pony, went next. He is always suspicious about these "treatments" but he stood quietly and allowed her to get to work. About halfway through he went into a trance and relaxed completely. By the time she was done, he was licking my hands.

Rafer Johnson was next. He was mightily wary and took his time entering the barn aisle. Redford came through the fence and between both donkeys being away from her, and Rafer's obvious reluctance, Salina began to ramp up into a mild mare frenzy.

She whinnied. She paced. She trotted up and down the fence in the paddock. After a few minutes Rafer met us halfway and we proceeded with his adjustments. He was absolutely fine with each one.

When I brought Salina in, I knew she was going to put up a fuss. She had worked herself up, and she had no desire to stand in the barn aisle and get her own adjustments done, even though she normally relaxes into this kind of thing and feels better as a result.

She went up and down the barn aisle a number of times. She bobbed her head, lipped at me, fussed at me, and marched out of the barn with me every time the chiro got ready to put her hands on Salina's hips.

I started out calmly, but I had not had breakfast, had lost my hair band so my hair was flying all over my face, I wasn't feeling all that great to begin with, and it was annoying me that Salina was acting like a diva. I ramped up a little bit. I fussed back at her. I got a little bossy. And she continued to refuse to stand still.

After about 3 more trips down the barn aisle and out into the barnyard, we came in to the aisle again and I stopped. "I just need to breathe," I said to the chiropractor. "I'm feeding into this whole thing."

I planted my feet, let the lead line go slack, and took a deep breath. I breathed in deep and slow and let it go all the way down my legs, through my feet, and into the earth itself. When I breathed all that breath back out, Salina dropped her head and allowed the adjustments. She didn't move an inch. She didn't lip at me. She relaxed her eye. She did what she does best - mirrored my centeredness, once I was smart enough to pay attention and do what needed to be done. Which was address MY frenzy and not hers.

I got quiet and she did too.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

lessons in riding: a tribute to a friend

Our good friend and massage therapist said goodbye to a grand old mare yesterday. Go well, Polly!!  Your herd will miss you but we know you're running fast and free.