Saturday, March 25, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 178

 Busy days on the farm right now, with some photos to share today. 

In Poplar Folly this pale purple deadnettle found itself a nice spot to root into, the base of one of the tulip poplars that was cut years back. It’s so pretty with the pattern of the wood. 

In other news, we are in the early stages of building a guest house where our daughter will live, and the design will be based on this, with some changes. 

A shot this past week of Keil Bay and Cody, the very best of friends, sharing hay as they often do. 

The first of this spring’s chipping sparrow nests, this one sporting many pony tail hairs for the lighter look. 

Hegemone hive bearding on the 84-degree day this week, making me very nervous that they might also be thinking of swarming (which honey bees do as their way of reproducing - casting a swarm means the queen leaves with half the population, the other half remain behind and raise a new queen). I want them to halve but I’d like to keep the half.

Here, a day later, with temps up to 84 again, after we added a deep hive box with half drawn comb frames and half empty frames, Hegemone bees are very busy working in their new space. They didn’t need to beard to cool the hive thanks to the additional space inside. A runaway split is done by adding a deep hive box on top of a booming springtime colony, who will then move up and expand their nest. Once that is done, you move that deep hive box to another hive stand and whichever box does NOT have a queen will then raise a new one. The hive has now reproduced but the beekeeper gets to keep all the bees. Since we lost two colonies over the winter, we’d love to replace them with the genetics of this extremely healthy and prolific colony. 

I’m enjoying this busy season and as usual juggling a lot of projects. Happy spring equinox a few days late!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Rehabbing the EPM Horse, 3 years later


A recent photo of the Big Handsome Bay, still the peppermint king, still happy and engaged with his herd and his people. 

I noticed the posts I wrote about Keil Bay’s rehab after he contracted EPM at age 31 are getting viewed lately, so here’s an update three years later, as he nears age 34. 

Keil is for the most part back to his pre-EPM self. He is generally the first to walk all the way down the front pasture hill in the mornings, he is still very eager for his meals and whinnies for them, he will walk/trot/canter/gallop up the hill and in the arena on occasion, and some days, like New Year’s Day of this year, he defies his age completely. On the first day of 2023 he put on a dressage exhibition in the arena with his best pal Cody. I saw this out the window and watched; honestly I couldn’t tell he was a day over his 15-year old self, nor did I see a single misstep as he walked, trotted with suspension and extension, did shoulder in, cantered, and passaged. He looked amazing. 

Every now and then I’ll notice a hind leg sticking out a bit, but that comes and goes and his chiropractic vet thinks it’s as likely to be related to age/arthritic changes as it is to any residual from EPM. 

I have continued him on colostrum + mushroom extracts and he is on every other day Equioxx at the moment. This January I decided to stop the monthly acupuncture and Legend injections to see if he declined in any way, and I have not seen that. He remains on a number of joint supplements and this winter I replaced the GMO-free Naturals pellets I supplemented his tubs with for the Triple Crown Senior Gold. The Naturals pellets had most of the ingredients used in a complete senior diet mix I used to feed Salina, including beet pulp, but they changed the ingredients last fall and removed the beet pulp. The Senior Gold has it, and it also has molasses, which I’ve avoided generally but decided in what will be Keil’s final years that unless I see issues, I’ll give him the feed with the molasses. He had dropped a little weight this winter and I don’t want him skinny, so this did the trick. He adores this feed. Note: this is served in a few scoops added to his larger meal of wet Ontario Dehy Timothy Balance cubes twice a day, and he gets 2-3 scoops of the Senior Gold by itself (wet) at lunchtime, so overall he’s not getting a large amount of this. It has leveled his weight out though, and he does love his meals. He continues to eat timothy-orchard hay and he grazes with great pleasure when we have good grass in the pastures. 

I do feel the EPM aged him; prior to contracting it he was still sound under saddle at all gaits. I haven’t tested this since the EPM as it felt risky and with his actual age being 30+ I figure he deserves retirement. Though there are days when he comes to me and it’s clear he’s thinking about a ride. He will join me in the arena ground work on occasion and it’s clear he enjoys that. His silvery gray mane and tail hair was minimal pre-EPM but definitely increased through that year. There’s no way to know what age-related changes were coming anyway, though, so I can’t say what was EPM and what was the passage of time for his body. 

I remain unnaturally obsessed with his stance, his movement, and his demeanor, and any tiny thing sets off my alarm bells and anxiety. I have noticed a shift this year in my own demeanor, which is a slightly calmer and deeper feeling of peace: that he has lived a good and long life thus far, that he is happy in his daily routine, that he is incredibly healthy and active for his age, and that when his time comes it will be hard but it will also be … what is the word … a normal part of life, not unexpected. Though it still does feel to me and to my family that Keil Bay will somehow live forever. He’s got so much character and presence it’s difficult to imagine him not being here. 

When the EPM was at its worst I feared that was the end for him, but there were always clues that he wasn’t ready to go and that the arc of improvement pointed to recovery. I fretted that he would be impaired even if he lived, and the quality of his life would be less. That has not been the case, but it’s true that I did everything I could find that had any chance at helping him recover and rehab, and I’m sure that approach made a difference. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 177

 I went out yesterday afternoon with the express notion to photograph some of the blooming things this week here on November Hill. I got exactly two photographs before I succumbed to the lure of gardening tasks and abandoned my plan to take photos!

Both these came from a brief check in with the potager. These are blackberries, which seem to me to be blooming quite early in their season, and with some cold nights returning this week, they may freeze. Nonetheless, here they are, so very delicate and beautiful.

The coral honeysuckle is also blooming and I’m less worried about it. This is a very hardy native and should be fine with whatever the weather brings. 

I went into the potager thinking I would do a quick watering of the beds I’d sown seeds in on Sunday, and did that. I planted a number of early spring vegetable seeds as well as a potato mound. We’ll see how it goes! I got caught up in filling the bird bath, poking around in some other areas of the space, and looking at the space as a whole to see what I might do with the native persimmon tree that has sprung up in the middle of my central pollinator plot. I considered letting it grow there but it’s going to block the sun for both these plants I’ve photographed, so I need to move it. We have a number of persimmon trees on the farm, on the path to Poplar Folly and in Poplar Folly, and since they’ll likely attract wildlife, Poplar Folly is the best area for them. I may move it to the strip that goes along our gravel lane, behind our fencing. We’ll see. This was a task best done in the fall but I did not do it!

I also used my little electric weedeater to take out some nonnative and slightly toxic flowering plants that have come up near the barn. I can’t remember the name of them at this moment, but they popped up a couple of springs ago and were pretty and seemed innocent enough, but turned out to be not native and not great for little hands to get into, so I went on a search and took them down to the ground before they could flower. While doing that I was careful to leave the dandelions. 

When I put the weedeater away I found two packets of native flower seeds I’d bought last spring but never planted, one being lemon bergamot and the other Mexican sunhat coneflowers. I planted and watered these yesterday in a couple of empty spots along the walkway to our front door, which led me to sweep the  flagstone walkway and recall my plan to take up all the flagstone and use as a landscaping feature in several of the beds. This flagstone is in many sizes that have never been perfectly flat, which makes them trip-worthy. I’d much prefer large rectangular stone there and the way to push that project is to remove what’s there, repurpose it, and then have the eyesore of no stone at all to get me focused on replacing what I removed. It would be a good time to do it going into spring/summer. 

Along the front pollinator beds I *meant* to photograph the golden alexander that’s coming starting to bloom, and the columbine that are already blooming. It’s the first spring I get the effect of having moving volunteer columbine across the walkway for a double impact of early flowers, and it’s quite lovely! I’ve been clearing winter foliage in small work sessions over the past week and a half or so, and the beds are looking tidier already, though I’m not completely done. The holly bushes along the walkway were literally buzzing with bee activity yesterday. They’re flowering and are quite attractive to both honey and native bees. 

Most of the plants in the front beds are coming in now, and once I get the winter stems and stalks trimmed back I’ll work on removing unwanted weeds, anything not native, and a few volunteer invasive shrubs that have sprung up since last year. One big decision I have to face is whether or not I will finally remove the giant butterfly bush in the larger bed. It’s the last remaining of the many that were here when we bought the house, and while it’s a great attractor of insects, it offers blooms but no food for caterpillars that desperately need it as they transform into butterflies. I have a short list of things to replace it with, including clethra, another button bush, New Jersey tea, and arrowwood viburnum. I’m just not sure what I want there, and the plan was to remove and replace at the same time in the fall, but it bloomed late and I couldn’t bring myself to remove it when it was full of insect life. Now’s the time if I’m going to do this in 2023. 

Our redbud are blooming fully now, and the dogwoods are just starting. I have two of the three oakleaf hydrangeas I planted now coming back after their winter dormancy, and the shade bed as a whole could use protection from the deer. It’s going to be an eyesore to do that, which is why I haven’t yet, but for the plants I put in to get truly established they will need time to grow without being eaten down. 

Another area that I need to consider protecting is my bird haven space. The deer are coming into that corner and eating back some of the plantings. Ideally that corner would have privacy panels installed on the exterior fencing that not only prevent deer jumping in but offer a private corner from the traffic on our lane, and I just haven’t figured it out yet. Ideally something rustic and naturalized enough that once the bushes I’ve planted get up to full size I won’t need anymore. If I use fallen branches to make this, it could naturally deteriorate and maybe the timing would work out. 

For now, keeping up with the removal of winter foliage as new growth comes in will be my primary task in all the garden areas. 

Another big plan we are considering in the near future: finally building the small cottage I’ve had in mind for most of the years we’ve lived here. I envisioned it for some of that time as a writing retreat for me, then as a guest house, and now it’s morphed into a small home for our daughter. There are a couple of  good spots for this structure, and we have an amazing and personable contractor who could do it well, so I’m pondering designs and need to get estimates on cost. The dilemma is how to do something like this quickly but with minimal disruption to the horses and our lives. 

Today we have some rain and it’s a gray day overall, so a good time to do some researching. 

Sunday, March 05, 2023

REPOSTED: An Appeal For Humane and Connected Horsemanship

 I was looking at stats for the blog this weekend and noticed a number of posts in this general topic are being read a lot over the past week, especially this one. I’m so glad! And it’s been awhile since I wrote this but it still expresses my thoughts on the subject so I’m reposting to boost it a bit. 

All these years later my horses and pony and donkeys want to be with me. When I go out they come and gather and hang out. When I’m in the potager they come see what I’m doing. If I leave the gate open they come in. They cooperate when I ask them to do things. They are generally amazing companions who have relationships with one another and with me. 

These behaviors aren’t the result of my training them - they are the result of my respecting them, being with them without expectations, and showing them care and consideration. I’ve never had any aspiration to be a horse trainer. But the wisest of the horse trainers I’ve known used to say that what we do when we’re with our horses is training them. I have basic boundaries, not that different from the boundaries I have with other humans. They’re pretty amazing communicators and it’s my job to listen when they have something to say. 

an appeal for humane and connected horsemanship

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

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

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

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

Last week it was Pat Parelli and Catwalk. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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