Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter sky and snow

We got just under 2 inches. Horses and pony and donkeys were out all day today enjoying their
hay on the white stuff. Another cold night and then we start warming up again!

This evening's sunset was gorgeous. And I've gotten much writing done today. Happy to move through this and get on with the week. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

the warm before the storm

It was absolutely gorgeous today - sunshine and 62 degrees with a very nice wind blowing. Keil Bay and I had a ride, and he started out by stopping in every corner of the arena, then on the second circuit stopped between B and F and finally did what I think he was meaning to do the entire time - dropped manure. (for those wondering, yes it was quite normal, believe me, I checked!) He's never done that stopping thing before but maybe he decided that since I have become so obsessed with the mounting block being perfect he will create his own ritual!

We got on with the ride and did much more trotting today, which was nice. He was being quite alert to our surroundings and about halfway through the ride, 4 of the November Hill felines emerged from various spots along the woodline, which I think explained Keil's intense focus at times as we passed by. 

I am really enjoying the trot these days and also loving our new dismount routine. I think I wrote here previously that I am now dismounting onto the mounting block, which is a regular 2-step block that I put on top of two stacks of cinder blocks near the far corner of our arena. It puts me quite high up so that I can mount very easily without pulling on the saddle.

However, it is a little precarious - mostly steady but not completely balanced. When I dismount, Keil Bay has to get in the exact right spot and then stand like a stone so that I can take my right leg over and onto the block, then take my left foot out of the stirrup, which I do quickly so I have both feet on the top of the block.

At that point Keil Bay very kindly, in a move he made up himself, steps gently back so that I can use his neck as a "rail" to climb down to the ground. We have got this down pat at this point and as a thank you I immediately rub the sides of his face for him, then loosen the girth and run the stirrups up.

What for awhile was a sort of nightmare for me - mounting, then later dismounting - has become a very sweet routine again. Only now customized to my needs!

Today's high of 62 is dropping to 20 overnight with a high of 29 tomorrow and 2-5 inches of snow in the forecast. The wind is gusting outside, supposedly up to 35 mph, so hay is being served in the barn tonight and we will likely have a couple of days off from riding again. What a roller coaster this winter is being. The ice piles by the troughs just melted down today. It looks like with lows in the teens tomorrow night and single digits Wed. night we can make new ones. Thankfully Keil Bay does well with a 2-3 day on, 2-3 day off routine. I think at this point I'm the one who needs the daily ride!!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

warm and a nice ride

We finally warmed up from the very cold days and even colder nights we've had since Wednesday. I was determined to get in a ride and did so. Keil Bay had been looking so young and so athletic for the past few days I was dying to get in the saddle!

I am still riding him in halter and clip on reins, as there are aspects to his movement that I really like when he doesn't have the bit in his mouth. I can't say for sure it's connected, but if he goes well this way I'm going to keep riding him this way. It has to be easier on him and I love seeing his mouth free of the bit.

Today we did a fairly long warm-up. We walked at a slower pace for awhile, then at a nice big walk for awhile. He was going deep into every corner but the one by the hay tent (which was billowing) so we worked on not avoiding that corner and got things back to a full arena work-out.

His trot was really pretty lovely from the moment we transitioned into it, but it got even better as we warmed up. We did a fair amount of leg yield at the trot, shoulder-in/out (there is a wonderful exercise where you shoulder-in through the corner, straighten, the shoulder-out down the long side, then straighten, rinse and repeat. He really got into this and was doing it on his own without my anything but riding it. His shoulders became much freer and the trot was nicer after we finished this.

We trotted a pretty pitiful 20m circle and then cleaned it up quite a bit the next few times.

I did my backbone work-out before the ride today and felt again that it really freed ME up so that I could stay out of Keil's way as we rode.

We had Pixie-kit and both donkeys in with us today - they really seem to enjoy the rides as much as Keil and I do.

In other news, I am cranking along with writing routine each day. In the mornings I work on the new book; in the evenings I am revising/rewriting Never Not Broken. And finally, after several years without a writing group, a new one has started up. We're meeting two evenings a month and we started this past week. It's already energized me and I'm so happy it's back on my calendar again.

Tomorrow looks like a gorgeous day to get another ride in, and then tomorrow night we dip down low again. Tuesday and Wednesday look cold and windy and possibly snowy, so we'll see how things go.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

snow day (sort of!)

Yesterday we were at close to 50 degrees at noon, with predictions of a huge catapult to temperatures in the teens overnight, and snow.

It almost defied belief that the bright, sunshiny morning was going to morph into anything having to do with wet, cold stuff, and I was determined that if the next few days were going to be bitterly cold, Keil Bay and I could get one more ride in before it hit.

I rode in a cotton turtleneck and no coat, no gloves, in halter and clip-on reins and his saddle. This was our third day in a row riding without his bridle. The first day I noticed that he was moving very well in 20m circle work, the second day I noticed that he was in near perfect bend through the very deep corners he was actively choosing to move into, and yesterday I realized that the funky little hind leg step he had been doing fairly reliably in warm-up was completely gone. 

Now, it could be that riding three days in a row and doing some lovely trot work each of those days worked out a kink. It could be that chiropractically his pelvis was slightly rotated and now it's not. It could also be something to do with the bit. It could be the spine-stretching work-out I did fixed a kink in ME and that has helped fix it in Keil Bay. But I was really happy to have that funky step worked out of our riding routine.

We had a great ride. At some point during our time, the sun disappeared and dark stormy clouds begin to move in. Black vultures were playing up in the sky, circling and spinning, and some cold rain fell. We finished our ride and I planned to help daughter get stalls set up for the horses and donkeys to come in. Then, just as quickly, the clouds moved on and the sun came back out. So the herd went out to pastures to clean up all the remaining scraps of hay. 

Daughter and I left mid-afternoon to run into town. We came back with a load of shavings and just as dark fell and the real precipation started, I got stalls set up with fresh new shavings, husband arrived and helped with water buckets and trough topping off, and we got hay into the barn for munching.

The herd was infinitely patient as all this was done, but as soon as he saw his stall was ready, Keil Bay started banging on his back door with a hoof - he is not a horse that likes to be out in the rain or the snow. He wants in. 

We got a dusting of snow which was mostly gone by sunrise. Today we won't get above freezing, so the offering of warm drinking water has begun and will continue on through the day and at least until our bedtime tonight. Looks like several nights of teen temps, then we move back up to the 20s.

I won't ride today, but maybe tomorrow.

Meanwhile, on the book front, I created a playlist for music for my new novel, claire-voyant. Once I get a playlist going you can be sure I'm getting pretty deep into the world of the new book, so this is a milestone. Ever since watching the final episode of Breaking Bad, I've been obsessed with the old Badfinger song Baby Blue - yesterday it was the first song in the new playlist and I've been playing it over and over again. Not WHILE I write, but almost as a conveyor belt into the story. 

Just FYI for any writers reading here - I have a book of essays on the writing process called Don't Miss the Magic. It's available here:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Long and lovely day

We had gorgeous weather today and I had another good ride with Keil Bay. Halter and clip-on reins again and today I noticed he had perfect bend in the corners. I'm going to continue these bridle-less rides and see where it leads. 

Now we're at daughter's lesson and I'm gazing at the winter sky waiting for her. As the sun set it got significantly chillier - we're on a cooler trend now with possible snow tomorrow and three nights of temps in the teens. Ugh!!

I am loving the work on the new book. And can't wait for the first meeting of my new writing group later this week. Busy, happy days!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

great day, great ride

This afternoon I ventured out in this lovely sunny and near-perfect day (54 degrees, a very slight breeze) with three peppermints I collected eating out in Asheville last weekend. I sometimes get peppermints when they have them and instead of eating them myself I bring them home to Keil.

I treated him to the first peppermint when he met me at the pasture gate and marched through, the second when he came back to the barn from the hay tent so I could groom him in the stall again, and the third after our very nice ride.

For some reason it occurred to me today that instead of the bitless bridle I might put the clip-on reins on Salina's old halter and ride Keil in that. I had also done some new spine-stretching exercises I found on Mark's Daily Apple a couple of days ago. I've been trying to do them each morning along with plank exercises, and I think today, riding just after doing these stretches, I felt a noticeable difference in the relaxation of my back. I don't tend to hunch over much but I sometimes arch my back without noticing or meaning to and I can see that in my shadow. Today my shadow back was very straight - who needs mirrors! - and I also felt like I had a much clearer feel for what Keil Bay needed to do to warm up, i.e. where his stiffness was.

We warmed up and then moved into walk/trot/walk transitions, then on to doing shoulder in/out at the trot on a huge arena-sized oval. This really freed up his shoulders and at that point he was more than ready to move into bigger trot work.

We had one big spook when Dickens the cowboy cat snuck up from the back forty and leaped out at us - but it was a very controlled spook, and the only issue I had with it was that somehow I sliced a  small chunk out of my ring finger with one of my other fingernails. It bled like crazy!

I felt Keil was moving well and feeling good so I asked for some very engaged trot on the 20m circle today after we had fully warmed up to it. We had the best trot work we've had in weeks. I suspect my back being nice and stretchy and straight helped.

Might I also add that I have been on the Doris Rapp elimination diet for almost a week now. I wanted to clear my system and see if I could identify any foods I'm possibly reacting negatively to.

I have not cut out my half and half in my morning coffee, and I am still having red wine most evenings, but other than that all I've eaten are fresh fruit, veggies, and local meat. (potato chips with no additives are okay - thank goodness for Trader Joe's olive oil potato chips and Cape Cod chips - I needed something salty and crunchy to get me through the week!) I am noticing that I am more flexible, have probably lost a bit of weight, and generally have more energy. On Tuesday I add dairy back in all the way (for me this means whole fat yogurt, kefir, and cheese) and I'll see how that goes. I suspect wheat is the source of some of my issues, but will test that later in this process.

I also had a chance to review the video of Keil Bay's walk and trot in the arena. I haven't yet figured out how to put that here - I am able to view it frame by frame on my iPhone so not a true slow motion, but in some ways better because I can see every single frame of the footfalls. He is landing heel first on his left front, both hinds, and is landing "level" on his right front. That's the hoof that he uses to splash in the water trough (not so much this time of year) and that's the frog that tends to get thrushy on and off. Right now it's okay (no thrush that I can see) but frog development not great - I think this might be why he's not landing heel first on that hoof. I can treat the sulcis and try to get it healthier - and then re-video. 

Next I want to video on a harder surface and see how that looks.

I've been allowing his hooves to self-trim for the most part. We have done minor trimming/touch-up but he is not needing much. They aren't perfectly round but they are balanced and the concavity looks great.

The only other thing I've noted is that he periodically does a funky step behind during warm-up. His pelvis was rotated out last time and the chiro felt this was contributing. After the adjustment it was much better (and still is better) so I'm hoping when she comes back in February and tweaks it again we'll be in good shape with that. I'm getting ready to put him back onto his full-blown joint supplement protocol - I had rotated him off chondroitin and glucosamine (kept him on Mov-Ease and HA gel) and we'll see if that makes any difference. For 25 years old he is moving beautifully, in my opinion. 

Our warm weather has come in and now it's going to go back toward cold again - highs in low 30s, lows in teens. I need to find my helmet cover that comes down over my ears - that makes it bearable to ride if there is any wind along with the cold. Now that I think of it, husband is at the barn right now and if I run out there I can get him to get the bins down for me!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

end of the week

I've gotten off my evening posting schedule so I'm writing this one Saturday morning. Yesterday was lovely and warm but gusty with wind. I put Keil Bay in a sunny stall to eat his feed tub, gave him some hay, and spent quite a long time brushing the newly-appointed mud trinkets out of his winter coat.

He was happy to be there with me; it was one of those times when we were perfectly in sync - we moved together to the back door of the stall so I could brush his face and let the dust blow away, so I could clean the brush in the wind while he checked on his herd in the front field. 

I had in mind to ride at the end of this but it was so lovely being there together I didn't want to end the time. I brushed out his tail, checked him from head to hoof for ticks (unbelievably he had one the day before!) and then, after nearly an hour, I opened the stall door to go get something and the Big Bay said "I'm ready to go out" and I didn't listen and he tried to push past me.


He's too big and too broad to put that in his repertoire of okay behaviors so I got his halter and lead rope and we went into the arena to do some ground work. He was contrite and very willing and we worked for about 20 minutes.

I don't know what happened - as we worked together I got very sad, imagining a day when he won't be here, and tears started falling from my eyes as we walked. I stopped and told him what I was thinking about and he lowered his head so his eye was right next to mine. It's okay, he said, let's keep going. I'm here right now.

And so we did.

At the end, daughter came out to the barn and I had the idea to video Keil Bay's hoof landings a la Rockley Farm, so she used the iPhone down at ground level to get him at the walk and then at the trot. In one video the donkeys come in and do a huge spook in the background as Keil starts his trot so there's good footage of donkey movement on the fly too!  I haven't put it into iMovie yet to get the slow motion view but so far it looks good.

This morning someone posted this on my Facebook feed and I wanted to share it here since it speaks to so much of what I think a lot of us experience with our horses. I'm not sure who wrote it so can't attribute, but here it is:

"Recent studies conducted by the Institute of HeartMath provide a clue to explain the bidirectional "healing" that happens when we are near horses. According to researchers, the heart has a larger electromagnetic field and higher level of intelligence than the brain: A magnetometer can measure the heart's energy field radiating up to 8 to 10 feet around the human body. While this is certainly significant it is perhaps more impressive that the electromagnetic field projected by the horse's heart is five times larger than the human one (imagine a sphere-shaped field that completely surrounds you). The horse's electromagnetic field is also stronger than ours and can actually directly influence our own heart rhythm! Horses are also likely to have what science has identified as a "coherent" heart rhythm (heart rate pattern) which explains why we may "feel better" when we are around them. . . .studies have found that a coherent heart pattern or HRV is a robust measure of well-being and consistent with emotional states of calm and joy--that is, we exhibit such patterns when we feel positive emotions. A coherent heart pattern is indicative of a system that can recover and adjust to stressful situations very efficiently. Often times, we only need to be in a horses presence to feel a sense of wellness and peace. In fact, research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain surppressors), decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning; and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-efficacy."

Thursday, January 16, 2014


This morning the horses were shiny and clean as they grazed their hay. This afternoon: mud-caked again. So ready for the ground to dry out!

Great meeting today with old friend and former writing group member who is now going to host the new writing group - we will meet twice a month. So happy. A good writing group is a real treasure. Starts in one week!

We're back in highs in the 40s, lows in the 20s, which feels right for January and if it will just dry out, I will not complain. Tomorrow, write/ride/muck/gym. I can't wait!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

mid-week and back to the good routine

This morning I had a very good writing session - one of those where synchronicity played a part and I got lost in the process. I was later than usual getting out to the barn, but we have gradually adopted a new routine since Salina died where the herd gets hay when husband gets up to go to work, and I go out later (close to noon) and they get feed tubs then. I try to ride in that next hour or so - following the "feed the work" philosophy and also making sure they have good stuff in their bellies for the ride.

So, today I got out to the barn and realized wow - it is not 40 like I expected but close to 60! - so Keil Bay got a much-needed sheath cleaning and everyone got huge grooming and hoof cleaning. There was a lot of dust flying out there!

The donkeys had a little work-out with me on halter/lead line and then Keil and I had a very nice ride. He was so very sweet and cooperative in all ways. A little stiff and then he dragged his hind feet a bit but when I asked him to move out more, he did and was very alert and happy to do so.

The pony and Cody both had some work with their girl. It was one of those long, lovely barn days that felt like early spring. Alas, it is not. But we worked it anyway.

Local pork shank in the oven, sweet potatoes, and a glass of red wine. Perfect.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

home again, home again

Daughter and I had a fun little getaway taking my son back to college this weekend past - we left on Saturday and got home last night around 8:30. We did some moving in, some hiking, ate lots of great food, enjoyed a room where we didn't have to clean anything, did absolutely zero mucking, and were reminded that even when you have endless TV channels there is never really anything good on.

It was such a nice time.

However, it was also really wonderful to get home last night and see the menagerie and dear husband. Today it was rainy, the sun finally came out around 3, and although it looks like we are in for some lovely sunny days, it's getting colder again and for now it is a huge muddy mess out there.

The horses look like ragamuffins!

I briefly thought RIDE! when the sun popped out this afternoon but today has been filled with laundry, getting things back in gear with the housekeeping, grocery store, etc. 

Tomorrow I am going to have to bundle up and just get out there no matter how chilly it feels. Because no matter how chilly it actually IS, it is not going to be ELEVEN DEGREES. Glad we got that under our belt so that 40 seems downright tropical. :)

I'm writing like mad every day and loving it.

And, on a not as great note, I am not going to be riding with Mark Rashid next Tuesday, at least not this trip. He is in NC this weekend and I learned that he would be more than happy to come right here to November Hill to do private lessons - I had hoped to rein in some of my horsey neighbors and get a block of privates for him but no one wanted to do it. Not even my daughter. So... next year I'll get more lead time and will start earlier with my recruitment. 

Hope all are having a good week! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

ugh weather and a little getaway

It started raining early today and we're now completely over-saturated again. Goodbye, cold temps, hello wet ground. 

The rainy day gift I received this morning was from the Little Man. I stepped out on the deck to get the beet pulp bucket this morning and he was standing in the grass paddock, so handsome in his cobalt blue blanket, staring a hole in the back door. When he saw me he whinnied two times. Keil Bay does this every day, Salina did it, but Cody is nearly silent, and the pony too. But not today! The donkeys, of course, bray like mad on a near-daily basis.

Tomorrow it's going up near 70 degrees and the forecast is warning of possible high winds, huge amounts of rain, and tornadoes.

I am leaving everything here in the capable hands of dear husband so I can take son back to college for his spring semester. Daughter is going along to visit the biology department. 

I'm looking at being back to regular routine here on Tuesday morning and I seriously hope there is dry weather so I can get back on the Big Bay.

The writing routine is intact - that is one of those things that can be done anytime and anywhere, thankfully!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

thawing out

We had another very cold night and morning but by 11 a.m. we were up to 20 degrees and then on up to 38 or so by mid-afternoon. It was so nice to feel the ground starting to thaw and to finally get every single bit of ice out of the water troughs.

I had another dental cleaning to chauffer to so this was not a riding day, but I think the horses were just happy to go out with hay and warm up in the sunshine. 

The great thing today was how much work I got done with writing - very happy with how that is going. I'm doing pre-writing, which is mostly answering lots and lots of questions in the voice of my main characters, and today starting looking at the story arc more specifically with the characters motivations and stakes in mind. In some ways it's like warming up in the arena. More precisely, like laying the groundwork for more complex riding by building the basics.

Which makes me want to get back to riding!

I hope to do that tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

coldest day of the year (we hope)

It was frigid today - I could feel the cold on my cheeks and it didn't feel good, so I came back in and got a balaclava to wear. It about drove me crazy but it took care of the cold face.

Most of my barn time was spent managing water - clearing ice out of troughs, carrying buckets of warm water out so they had the choice. Keil Bay and Little Man prefer the icy water in the troughs. Cody and the donkeys prefer the warm buckets. 

I didn't ride, even though the wind was almost totally gone. Mainly because the ground was frozen hard - in those mud clump formations that just plain hurt to step on. I pulled horse blankets off mid-day when we got up near 20 degrees. They'll get them back on in a bit, for the night.

Most of my writing was done in the waiting room at our dentist's office while my son had his teeth cleaned. We stopped on the way home and got peppermint ice cream from the local dairy. Once home it was time to start getting horses in for their pre-dinner tub hay, and of course, more warm buckets.

Woodstove is going strong, we just had Italian wedding soup with local sausage meatballs and cornbread, and I think the cats and Corgis are finally settling in for the night. One more cold one and then tomorrow we're up near 40. It will feel like springtime after these single digit temps!

cold, cold night

I've decided I like writing at the end of the day about that day versus writing the morning after the day, if that makes sense... so tonight I'm adjusting the blog to reflect this.

It is very cold outside. About 17 degrees right now, with wind blowing. Husband brought all the water buckets in and we filled them with warm water, then took them out to the barn - I figure at least they'll have the choice - the colder water in the big troughs or warm bucket water, at least to start the night with. They got their usual warm wet beet pulp tubs too.

There was no riding today. The rain cleared up by noon but the cold wind came hand-in-hand with the sunshine - the hay tent was blowing like the sail on a ship. The crazy equines were clustering around it, then galloping away when it blew up. I put them all in the arena and let them play that game for awhile, then put their hay in the back field and left them to it. They cantered to their hay piles and the donkeys went at full gallop with a few bucks thrown in for good measure.

I did my writing in the truck today while daughter had her riding lesson in the colder-by-the minute wind. It was good to get home tonight and settle in for the evening.

The wood stove is hot, I have laundry going which I'm hoping keeps the well pump going, there are two cats in bed with us, and the rest of the cats (and the Corgis) have warm spots. I'm finally starting to yawn so maybe it's time to say goodnight. :)

Monday, January 06, 2014

very lazy day

Yesterday, Sunday, was a lazy day - I was inside for almost all of it writing, editing, and trying to get some tidying done around the house. The equines were all lucky to be out grazing hay - there was rain on both sides of us that never managed to close in. Today is a different story - it's 51 and raining and later this afternoon when things clear, the cold will descend. Down to 7 tonight and high of 22 tomorrow, then 13 tomorrow night. Once we get to Wednesday things will be a bit more normal for us in terms of January temps!

If the sun comes out soon enough today I will get a ride in - but with 22 and winds tomorrow I will likely let Keil Bay have another day off. I'm going to use the time to catch up cleaning, get ahead in my writing, and be ready to roll back into the arena on Wednesday.

Last night we met my husband's parents for dinner in our favorite restaurant and had a lovely time. The owners of the restaurant are horse people, as are many of the staff, and many of the customers dining there. They have a sign at the very elegant front door that says: boots and breeches welcome. The food is locally sourced as much as possible and we love it. This time of year we tend to visit more often - all of our birthdays fall between the end of December and the end of April. We were there last week for a birthday celebration and last night to treat husband's parents. Now we have to wait until the end of February for the next birthday!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

party and working on the books

Yesterday was cold and cloudy and we had a party to go to during the afternoon, so we rushed to get chores done and I managed to keep my writing time intact before it was time for us to leave.

Our local feed store, the first place I went to check out after we made the offer on November Hill, is one of the best parts of living with horses in our area. The owner bought the store 20 years ago when he bought farmland here and realized the need for a feed store that served people who live with horses, cows, goats, sheep, dogs, cats, and all the maintenance and repair that comes with keeping these animals happy and healthy.

The day I went in to check out the store, I asked about a certain feed that I was using for Keil Bay, which they didn't carry. But they ordered it for me and had it ready and waiting when we moved in, and that was the first of many such experiences I've had there.

The feed store immediately became part of our extended family. D. and his staff (3 of the friendliest, most helpful people imaginable) were always ready to help with products, recommendations, advice on seeding fields, fencing, anything related to farm maintenance - and just standing there chatting about life in general. They have the kind of store where when asked "how are you?" they want the real answer, and vice versa. They sell good products, they respond to customers' needs, and they're also friends and neighbors.

Several years ago D's daughter started working in the store. She brought a ton of new ideas and created a huge organic/sustainable farming section. She took special ordering to a whole new level - bringing in specialty oats, organic whole flax seed and alfalfa pellets, and specialty pet food. If I need something, I ask D. and I ask M. If they don't have it they figure out how to get it. D. had her first child while working at the store, and then her second. A whole new subject to chat about was born.

I can buy horse feed products there, riding breeches and boots, gloves, clothing, locally raised beef, chicken, and pork, grass seed, hoses, buckets, shavings, stall mats, fence posts, fencing, wheelbarrows, mowers, hay,  and they have a fridge where I pick up my raw milk each week. (they don't sell it - they allow the farmer who does to put it there so I can pick it up) I've joked before that if they put in a coffee shop I could just go there and not have to go anywhere else in town. 

D. retired at the end of December, and 200 of the store's regular customers got invitations to a surprise retirement party. We also got news that J., the employee who takes care of the machine side of the store, bought that from D. J. was hired when he was 14 years old as part-time help and he now owns his own shop - and repairs everything from weed-eaters to top of the line mowers. If we need a part, he gets it for us. We also learned that D's daughter M. has bought out the feed store - so the family tradition continues. 

It was a great party. They fed us and served great beer and wine, and D. made his way around to talk to every single person there. Which was easy - because he knew every single person there and we all had stories to tell and things to say.

My story had to do with the latest feed store "save" - my haybarrow's axles had rusted through and I had asked M. if they had them - she said she could get them but I'd need to measure and make sure what I needed b/c different brands had slightly different sizes. It turned out that what can be ordered are full "kits" that include axles, wheels, and other parts that we didn't really need. The next time I was in, I mentioned this to the "guys" - A. and R. - and they asked which wheelbarrow it was - I showed them the one in the store - and they disappeared.  A few minutes later they reappeared from the attic with the exact part in hand. $10. 

D. was thrilled to hear that story because that's the kind of store he's created. It's a family business, a community business, and a real treasure for those of us who shop there.

We got to catch up with our across-the-lane neighbors, and, as I was leaving, one of the store employees brought a woman over to introduce - she'd seen my name in the sign-in book and wanted to meet me - we'd just exchanged emails about my auditing a Mark Rashid clinic coming up later this month. More on that later! 

It wasn't a day of riding, but it was a great way to celebrate the passing on of a store to the next generation. We're so glad it will stay in the family!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

cold day, huge equine work-out

Yesterday the high was around 32 degrees here, and with winds gusting up to 35 mph it felt colder. I pulled out my trusty 18-year old Lands End knee-length squall parka and wore it over my pajamas to do morning chores. I was warm as toast.

I only need this level of warmth a few times a year if at all, but when needed, it is perfect. A couple of years ago the zipper broke and I contacted Lands End, who offered me either a new parka or paid shipping for the existing one so they could send it out to be repaired. I opted to send in my old trusty coat. A couple of weeks later it came back nicely repaired with November Hill hay remnants still in the pockets. 

Before I went out yesterday morning, I glimpsed flashes of color through the kitchen window. A closer look revealed Keil Bay and Cody in the arena, walking, trotting, and cantering, then galloping around. In emerald green and purple plaid. The Little Man was in the open gate watching, and the donkeys were right behind him.

Cody tends to go a bit wild in his arena work-outs, but Keil Bay, trained in dressage his entire life, offers circles of the usual size, shoulder-in, flying changes, and generally seems to be doing a shuffle of all the dressage tests he's ever learned. Cody arches his neck and tosses his head and Keil is perfectly "on the bit" - just in front of the vertical.

I had already determined it was going to be a day I did not ride, but this cemented that decision. They took care of their stretching and opening all by themselves!

Last night the predicted temp was 13 degrees. My barn thermometer said 0 just before sunrise this morning. Husband put out 3x the usual amount of hay and they had cleaned it up. They had also broken through the ice on the water trough and drank enough that the water level was visibly lower this morning. Every year when ice forms (usually less times than the fingers on both my hands during winter season) I consider whether to get water heaters for the troughs. And every year they keep drinking the cold water and I figure it's probably best to keep things as they are. They get salt in their feed tubs both morning and night, and if we have several of these extremely low temp nights in a row I warm up the troughs with hot water. 

Today we're entering a warm-up that will last until Monday, when the night's temp is predicted to be 11 degrees. We're on that crazy weather rollercoaster again.

Writing-wise: I continued working on exploring the minds of two characters, did some research on an old hotel in Paris - which reminds me - has anyone stayed in one you'd recommend? I am looking for something old and expensive, but most of all distinctive. I'll be traveling there via the internet only, so cost is no object. :)

I also returned to my chapter by chapter editing of Never Not Broken. The chapter I'm on right now is getting almost a total rewrite, so I'll be working on it again today.

Friday, January 03, 2014

fun on a rainy day

Yesterday we had a huge rain front moving in so daughter and I decided to do ground work with all instead of riding two. 

Keil Bay did walk, trot, canter free lunge work, Cody went on the lunge line for his walk/trot/canter and then some focused ground work, and the pony and donka boys went into the arena together and had a bit of a wild time when the discarded lunge whip got picked up by two playful kit-meows and dragged all over the arena.

This finished up just as the rain moved in, so the horses and donkeys went into the barn for the afternoon with fresh shavings, good hay, and full water buckets. As the rain moved through the temperatures began to drop - from mid-forties down to 25 last night. Today's high is 32 with 35 mph wind and I doubt I'll be riding - the arena is likely frozen due to all the rain we got yesterday.

Tonight's low is predicted for 13 - I'm not fond of the teen temperatures but compared to those who have teens and snow and loss of power on top of that, I won't complain.

Writing-wise yesterday I did a lot of foundation writing and exploration (thinking about it now, it's actually sort of like free lunging vs riding) of character and place and motivation. I'm working this month on a short for the Claire Quartet, which is going to end up being a free bonus for readers. While doing this early work on that, I'm re-reading the first two novels in my Quartet, claire-obscure and Signs That Might Be Omens, as a way to get solidly back into Claire's world. When I'm done with the short I'll be working on the new Claire novel, claire-voyant, and am excited to be getting into that one this new year.

Everyone stay safe, stay warm, and keep your horses hydrated!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2013 - the year in review

Like so many folks are doing this week, I'm looking at the year gone by as I create some plans for the year ahead.

In 2013 I was intent on finishing the novel-in-progress, (the girl who was) Never Not Broken. I finished the first draft during my November writing retreat at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, and am now working on a second draft edit.

I published the second book in my Magical Pony School series, Fiona and the Water Horse, right at the year's end. Although I had so much more on my list "to do" with regards to November Hill Press and publishing, I'm happy with this year's work and looking forward to new goals in the coming year.

2013 will always be remembered in my mind as the year Salina left us. She was a grand old mare and letting her go was one of the hardest things I've lived through in my life. She came through last winter and enjoyed the spring, leaving before the heat of summer hit, and the worst insect year I remember since we moved to November Hill. That she is buried behind the A in our arena, and keeps me company in spirit every single day, is such a gift.

I had possibly the least number of rides in 2013 than I have had since returning to the riding life in 2003. There were weather issues, aching hip issues, the loss of Salina and a period of grief, and what has been a slow but steady return to the saddle since fall. Riding the Big Bay these months since September has been a revelation of sorts. He will be 25 years old in April, and although he is sound and still capable of gorgeous movement, I realized that neither of us are on the path to GP dressage. I knew that already, but sometimes rode like we were in training.  I have tossed the idea of levels altogether and we are simply enjoying the rides we have. Our dressage tests are aimed at stretching our muscles and opening our joints, and we make them up as we go along.

It's wonderful to finish the year with a long string of lovely rides on such a dear and beloved horse. I am treasuring every single one.

Last night I was working on my plans for 2014, sketching out the books I want to write and the way I want to spend my days. The daily schedule that has fallen into place this fall is one I want to keep:  write, ride, muck, and gym. That keeps it simple but doesn't include the pleasures of spending time with my daughter and husband, sending messages to my son at college, and being surrounded pretty much all the time by loving horses, a painted pony, the donkey boys, six cats, and the Corgis. It's a good life and I'm grateful to have it.

I got an email from Janet Roper, who many of you may know as the creator of the radio show Talk To The Animals. She's expanding that work this year and has invited me to write a monthly column about my interactions with the menagerie I live with - equine, feline, canine, and the wild animals that visit us regularly. I'm so excited and will share more about this in a week or two.

I plan to use this blog to post daily or near-daily entries - a sort of running commentary on my days and what I'm doing. As usual, I love comments and getting a conversation going in that part of the blog - so feel free to share your own days and your routines, successes, frustrations, etc. I hope we all have a great and productive year - productive in that we make the time to do the things we love, because in the end, as Annie Dillard wrote so eloquently, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.
 -Annie Dillard