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!