Monday, April 30, 2018

When your heart horse turns 29...

You remember the day you typed in the details of your perfect dream horse on and only one horse popped up.

And he was in your price range.

And he was in your state.

And he was in a nearby town.

And his trainer said come on over and meet him and ride him. His owner is only selling to the exact right person so there’s no pressure on you to purchase.

And you get there and meet him and he is a dream come true before you even help tack him up.

And the trainer shows him off for you and you say you can’t ride him - you aren’t advanced enough.

And she talks you into it.

And you look better on him than you ever have in your entire riding life.

And his x-rays are so good the vet takes them to his vet school mentor to make sure he isn’t missing anything.

And somehow, this amazing horse comes to live with you.

And 15 years later he is still amazing, still sound, and the best horse in the whole world.

Happy birthday, Keil Bay. You are THE KING. Thanks for putting up with me all these wonderful years!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

When a pony turns 18...

You remember the little girl who saved her money from age 3 to age 7 and bought him. He was 4 and now he’s 18 and all you can think of is how in the world did all those years fly by?

You remember the pony and his girl cantering no hands over jumps, galloping around the fields with a video camera clasped in one hand, attending Pony Club ratings and events, traveling to cross-country trainings with Annie and her horse Johnny, bringing home ribbons from schooling shows where the other competitors were adult women and their giant warmbloods.

You remember the girl doing math in the pony’s stall, dressing up for Halloween, working out girl and pony issues under saddle.

Everything the girl and the pony did together was a first for both of them. They were a good team.

These days the girl is doing undergraduate research in neurobiology and shining like a star, and the pony took over being best friends with the donkeys after Salina died. He grooms with the Big Bay and plays tag over the fence with Cody.

Sometimes I think he misses the little girl but most days he leads a pretty happy life. Yesterday after the little party I threw for him, during which time I told stories about how all the equines came to live with us and recounted the names of their sires and dams, fun times, hard times, and ended with carrots, the pony headed out to check the fence line, which he does sometimes.

Here he is. Happy Birthday Little Man!!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 52

November Hill is never more precious to me than when I leave it and come back again. I was gone for five days on writing retreat in Hertford, where the cottage on the Perquimans River feels like a second home. Two dear writing friends and I wrote and read out loud and made good meals and told stories that made us all laugh so hard we cried. It was a wonderful retreat.

I pulled out a new novel to work on this trip. Never Not Broken is done, but for a final read-through, so it needs to sit a few more weeks before I do that. The new novel, Arrow of Time, is one I wrote several years ago and it’s a very different kind of story for me. I realized when I got there with the printed pages that I would need to start from scratch with the opening, as the sequence in the first draft is off, but I managed to write the opening two chapters and outline the third, and on my way home figured out how to dictate notes to Siri on my phone for a tweak that I think will make the opening work even better.

As it turned out I didn’t drive directly to November Hill. Elf (the Beetle) popped on his exhaust system light about an hour from Hertford so I had to stop and determine if it was safe to drive the remainder of the way. It was, but we decided I would go straight to our VW mechanic’s shop and leave it there, and husband met me, switched my luggage to the other car, and we drove home from Durham.

I can’t believe how much everything grew while I was gone. We’ve entered the time of year where we can see nothing but trees out our windows. With the exception of the neighbors to our right, but next spring we’ll be reaping the benefits of the row of American hollies going in along the fence over there. From April to November we have near total privacy thanks to the trees and I love this season so much.

The pollinator garden plants are going wild, doubling their size since I left last week. One of my button bushes has started to leaf out. I’m doing a bit of weeding every day and mostly keeping on top of it. There’s one area where I haven’t planted yet and some grasses and other things are popping up there - I have a Dutch hoe that works really well getting that kind of thing out, so tomorrow after the rain stops I’ll do that while the soil is soft.

Husband picked up the two flowering dogwoods and ten inkberry hollies from the nursery and those will be going in the ground later this week.

The damaged fence is nearly repaired. These posts were put much deeper into the ground, and cemented securely. The no-climb is attached and the boards will go back up later this week.

We have a bluebird nest in the mailbox. Miniature Keil Bay has been temporarily displaced (I found him kicked out of the “run in” out onto the lane!) into the barn side until the eggs hatch out. I guess we didn’t get that bluebird house out soon enough for the bluebirds!

The dogwoods were stunning this year and are already leafing out. Yesterday we had a little rain and then sunshine and wind, and the white petals were blowing all over the farm. It’s a lush and beautiful time of year.

After the sun came out yesterday I worked in the back yard a bit, clearing four vegetable beds and orange-oiling three fire ant mounds that had popped up. The strawberry bed has berries, and the blueberry bushes are coming out well too. The fig tree is putting up new leaves at the base. It needs to be pruned and I hope to get to that next week.

Finally the garage door installer came by to double-check measurements. The new doors will go in soon and the entry door is set to be installed the end of this month. Once that work is done, the soon to be blooming rose bush is going to be trained up onto an arbor that will go above the garage doors and across the entire side of the house. And I’ll order a new light for the entry door and call that project DONE.

We have more rain today and everyone is enjoying their quiet barn time. By tomorrow they’ll be antsy but for now, it’s quiet and peaceful; the only sounds are the rain falling and a few hopeful birds singing. It was wonderful to be on retreat and it’s wonderful to be home again.

Monday, April 16, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 51

Last night we got 3.1 inches of rain in a matter of hours, and all that water rushing through the stream bed in the front pasture swept leaves from last fall against a section of the front fence and damaged it. The leaves used to simply go under the lowest strand of Horseguard tape but now that we have the no-climb with boards the leaves were trapped. Thankfully my farm helpers are both here tomorrow and they’ll get it fixed, but I was so upset this morning to see the mess and realize at least a day’s work will go to that instead of the steady progress we were making with the “list” items.

All the rain started the spring flowing again, too, and while it’s not enough to do serious damage, the water is flowing along a path that’s creating boggy areas along the driveway. I feel like we need to address that as well.

It’s been quite warm again but tonight we have a frost warning in effect. I’m past being ready for spring!

April is our birthday month - husband, daughter, Keil Bay, and the pony. 48, 21, 29, and 18. Of all those ages the most remarkable ones are daughter and pony. Best birthday wishes to them all!

I’ve ordered two flowering dogwoods and 10 inkberry hollies for planting. I’ll be picking up a few more pollinator plants for the beds, and if the weather ever settles down, need to get the vegetable garden going and also overseed the pastures. I have seed from the botanical garden, all native pollinators, and I have to get those started very soon.

Bee supplies are rolling in. I have to figure out exactly where the hives are going - have changed my mind three times already, but once you set them up, moving them can only be done in gradual increments so I have to find the best site and plan to leave them there if possible.

April is historically our busiest month but somehow I still feel like it should be March!

On Lying Fallow

A link to my essay just published on Streetlight Mag’s site:


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A sweet ride on the Big Bay

Yesterday afternoon I brought the horses in to relax in the barn with some hay and grooming, and with daughter’s help, got enough done to have time for a ride. Keil’s left hip felt tight to me, as did my own, and there’s nothing better than some walking to loosen things up.

It was nice to leisurely groom, tack up, note the horse hair literally covering the sleeves of my shirt, and get on with no fanfare. We have a new mounting block, one of the standard 3-step ones, in the barnyard. It’s taller of course than the 2-step blocks, but significantly shorter than my rigged up 2-step on two layers of concrete blocks that I have in the arena.

Most regular readers know I had a weak hip several years ago and became stressed about dismounting from the 16.2 Keil Bay straight to the ground. My nervousness transmitted to Keil and mounting was not always the most pleasant part of our ride. He’s sensible, so nothing bad was going on, but I felt my own confidence undermined our rides and I wanted to put a stop to it. The higher mounting block set-up made a huge difference in both mounting and dismounting. Keil quickly adjusted to my getting off at the mounting block and my only worry in the world was that the donkeys quickly formed a habit of waiting until I got on and then pushing the 2-step block off its concrete base. But for the most part the new arrangement saved the day and I no longer stood fidgeting with the mounting block getting it in the perfect position nor did I dread the end of the ride and the drop to the ground.

I’m not sure what prompted me in December to buy this 3-step block for the barnyard, but yesterday when it was time to hop on I had Keil line up to it and before I could second-guess myself, got on. I have this thing about not getting too dependent on having things one/the same way when it comes to riding or for that matter, horsekeeping in general. It’s good to be flexible and in my case it’s good to back down from needing to mount from the very high block. So I was very happy that I got on and off with this 3-step.

The ride was nice. Keil is very wide and it was definitely a stretch through the hips! My heels were not down when it felt like they were nearly perpendicular to the ground but by the end of the ride Keil was looser and so was I.

And in the barn aisle afterward I untacked him and he stood by the bench and I sat cleaning tack and we both had that sweet endorphin muscle release zen feeling going and I realized I hadn’t had even the slightest twinge in my right shoulder.

The Big Bay is good for the body, good for the soul. And he is now 29 years old! This is the year that I am exactly twice his age. But the joy he has brought and continues to bring is an infinite number. We’re a mathematical phenomenon.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 50

Pollen is floating everywhere now, even with the cold rain and in a few places locally, frost and snow.  So many leaves have come out on the trees in the past few days, and my pollinator garden plants are going crazy. Our dogwoods are in full bloom. We have a volunteer baby dogwood blooming near the front of our driveway and are so happy to have it there.

I found the first tick on the Big Bay and the second tick (two total so far) on ME, the carpenter bees are still busy, and I have a bird nest in the “shelter” side of my mailbox. The bird building the nest kicked my little Keil Bay Breyer horse right out of there and I found him lying on the ground about four feet away!

It’s definitely springtime but we continue to have odd weather - 80s for a few days, then back down to low 50s with lows at freezing in the evenings. Our usual temperatures this time of year are highs in the low 60s and lows in the mid-40s. As it is, we seem to fluctuate between early summer temps and winter temps.

I’m working on getting ready for my three honeybee nucs, which are said to arrive the second week of May assuming the weather hasn’t slowed the bees down. I am very excited but need to review all my beekeeping school notes and literature, and plan to do the online “Beekeeping Like A Girl” sessions as well before the ladies arrive.

Yesterday we slept in a little (truly, just a little) and when I looked out the upstairs window this is what I saw:

What would they do if they could come all the way in? 

Monday, April 02, 2018

A day with the Big Bay and a Monday morning hahaha

Yesterday after Cody’s ride with daughter I groomed the Big Bay from head to hoof, brushing out his tail completely, and his mane, and trying to get some of the shedding hair off him. He enjoyed the attention, and I suspect thought we were going to ride. He had come in from the field when he saw me in riding boots and toting my helmet. I took them out in case I had time, but he also needed a hoof trim, so that took precedence.

He was enjoying solo time in the barnyard when husband came out with the rasp, and stood nicely while all four hooves were trimmed. No halter, no holding. I went in and brought out not one but four peppermints, one for each hoof, and gave them to him as the final hoof was being trimmed. He Being the Big Bay, he immediately wanted MORE. But seemed happy enough to lick my hands and shirt for the next 10 minutes.

A couple of weeks ago he and Cody (not sure who, or in what combination) broke the very heavy strip of metal that allows us to use oak boards as stall walls and lower/remove them when needed. The entire piece of metal was bent off the wall and three or four of the boards cascaded down like dominoes on top of each other at that end. I’m grateful no horse was injured! When husband made the repair we decided to take the boards out and let Keil Bay have a double stall. I’m still fretting about him lying down to sleep, though I haven’t seen him doing the nodding off thing in the field at all since the chiropractor was here.

I think he likes the double stall. He’s a large horse and although he always slept in a 12x12 stall with no problems, this double one gives him plenty of room to stretch out. He’s never closed in, but I’m now wondering if maybe he would feel more secure BEING closed in for a couple hours a day. With warmer weather coming I can bring him in during the peak heat time and see if that works.

At the end of the day I was sitting with him in the barnyard and when I finally got my things and headed in the backyard gate, I turned back to see this:

I have no doubts he would follow me right into the house if it were possible. It is always in the back of my mind that it SHOULD be possible. A living room with horses. Wouldn’t it be grand?

I’ve written here before about our issues with neighbors’ dogs running loose and coming in the pastures. We’ve also had issues with coyotes. Once the new fencing was in and the farm became fairly secure against dogs, at least those not able or willing to jump a four or five-foot fence, I’ve been able to relax a little, but I let all the neighbors know several months back after hearing a dog barking in the field one night that I would be calling the sheriff if I found any dogs on my property and if any equine injuries occurred as a result of dogs that don’t belong here would be utilizing NC’s livestock law to recover any medical damages.

All but a couple got angry with me and the neighbors directly adjacent determined their dogs deserve to run free and are so well-trained they don’t need to be on leashes. My response to that was to copy the county dog law and send it to them and to reiterate that I would be suing for damages if I or any of my animals are injured as a result of their dogs running free on our property. So they begrudgingly put their adult kids’ dogs on leashes when they visit and parade up and down our fence line (they have more acres than we do, and plenty of other space to walk the dogs, but our fence line has always been the place they come to, for whatever reason). This morning the adult daughter had her dog out there with a long lunge-line length leash on the dog but wasn’t holding it at all. The dog was trotting along our fence line and the daughter was looking over here watching the donkeys alert, flaunting the fact that she had a leash on but refused to hold it.

I was annoyed (our fence is well inside our actual property line so if the dog is at the fence, they’re trespassing) but not stressed since I doubt this dog would jump in. Cody was on guard and the pony would go after the dog in a split second but really, do my horses and donkeys have to put up with this kind of ridiculous behavior? But I refrained from doing anything other than standing on the front porch keeping an eye on things. Suddenly the dog took off down their long driveway and wouldn’t come back when his owner called. Off he went, running down the lane toward another neighbors’ duck pond, more horses in fields, and I had to laugh at the notion that their dogs are so well-trained they don’t need leashes. The daughter ran to get him and 15 minutes later came back holding the dog’s leash.

Interested to see how the rest of the day goes and if they bring the dog back out to “run free.”

And very happy to have the Corgi run in back so mine can run free without leaving the property. Which begs the update: Baloo allowed me to slip his harness on yesterday! So he’s only a few days away from exploring the new space.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 49

This week the dogwood blossoms opened and my loud exclamation of joy turned some heads:

Friday I went to the feed store to get Timothy Balance cubes and two new water buckets and came home with a flat of snapdragons as well. Which used up a couple of hours and resulted in this:

Finally got a shot of the completed dog-proofed front gate:

And daughter gave Cody a ride today. He was a perfect gentleman and oh, how relaxed and happy he was after the ride was over. I love seeing him so comfortable in his body. With his PSSM that is the goal for riding and it was achieved plus some. I hope I can get rolling with him and keep up her good start.

Otherwise, the carpenter bees are out hovering all over the farm. It’s a gorgeous day and still hours to go before the sun sets. More to do, more fun to have. Happy Easter!