Friday, December 27, 2013

postcards from the holidays

The week of winter solstice I was grooming Keil Bay in the barnyard, so the caked-on mud dust would fly off into the air instead of swirling around us in the barn aisle. He was happy to graze a bit as I worked. He tends to move around, slowly, while we do this barnyard free grooming, which is fine with me. We have our routine down to a fine art. 

Keil made his way toward Salina's gravesite. When we got to the mound itself, he walked up between the mound and a tree, carefully fitting his huge body in that fairly narrow space. I worried momentarily that he was going to step onto her grave, but that's not what he was doing. He got himself into position and then he craned his neck toward where her head rests and lowered his muzzle to hers. He was sharing breath with Salina, if not literally, then figuratively. It was absolutely amazing. I stood there and watched, and smiled, and got teary-eyed, even more so when he lifted his head high and stood looking out over the cleared field behind her, gazing intently at something, that I think was Salina doing a perimeter gallop back to spirit land, back to where she lives now, a happy place and a safe place. If we're lucky it's a waiting place, where all of us might meet up in years to come.

Our ride that day was special too. Nothing spectacular, but fueled by Salina's presence. I'm aware with each ride that Keil Bay is nearing 25 years of age. I don't know why 25 seems so much more important than 24 was. It feels very much like he has been 19 for a long time and suddenly skipped up to 25. He joined me at 15, and in this decade it feels like the time with Keil Bay has been forever. With Salina here, always older than he is, I focused on her aging. Now he's the oldest here. And I am so intensely aware of it.

My daughter's riding teacher has lost 4 horses this year. One got loose on a trail ride and simply disappeared. Many many people searched high and low for her for months and it appears that someone probably caught her in the half-hour after she bolted and loaded her onto a trailer and took her away. The other 3 lived long, happy lives and their deaths were hard but not totally unexpected. Between losing Salina and witnessing the loss of these 4 horses, I've become hyper-sensitive to the possibility. But this is not only a sad feeling - it makes me know that even more so than usual I have to focus on the present, enjoy each day, and hope that Keil Bay is one of those horses who defies the average and lives a long, long life. This makes every ride more precious. It has forced me to look at the rides differently. Suddenly I do not care how good our circles are, if we're on the bit or off it, whether we are first level or fourth, nor do I care much about the quality of the gaits. I want healthy movement, good positions that keep us sound. I want the rides to stretch our muscles, to gently work our joints, to keep us healthy, and to make both of us feel satisfied by the end. We're on a different kind of riding journey now.


On Christmas Eve we went for a hike on some land nearby that quietly went from private to state-owned in the last year or so. It's apparently now state park land, as there are signs at entrances and indications that someone is keeping the old roads, now trails, cleared, and we've seen a couple of benches appear hither and yonder. But no one goes there, and it feels like it's our own property. 

We recently discovered that at least one trail leads to the river, and this is the trail we took on Christmas Eve, late in the day, where we stood and listened to the river rushing, high and fast after all the rain we'd had. The sun was setting almost directly across the water, and just as it dipped below the horizon we turned to head back home.

We walked faster going back, racing with dusk, and it was perfectly quiet, as if we were in the middle of nowhere, outside time. As we walked past a small pond that sits in the middle of the forest, two gaggles of geese circled and honked as they came in to roost for the night. I've never been so close to geese coming in that way, and it was magical, like an image from an old Christmas card that I somehow stepped inside. 

The only way it would have been more perfect is if we had been on horseback and snow had started falling.


On a lighter note, we have gone through two horse blankets thus far this winter. The pony's is old but had stood up well - it finally just ripped into shreds across the rump; the outer fabric just wore out.  Cody has been getting out of his blanket between bedtime and morning, mysteriously, and this morning it was found in a heap, belly strap ripped completely out of the blanket. Fortunately both have extras. I'm looking at getting Schneider's for each of them - Keil Bay got a Schneider about 5 years ago and it has fit the best and held up the best of any horse blanket I've ever bought. The blanket repair person told me not to buy Rambo or Rhinos new, as the quality has fallen off severely, and that she sees the Schneiders holding up quite well. It's a bit of a shock to go to bed with horses in blankets and wake up to one without. What is he doing to get that thing off? It must be quite a show.


It's also the time of year when a glimpse out my window falls on sleeping horses and pony and donkeys. Often all but one will lie down and it always takes my breath away to see them resting in the sun. One day Cody was standing guard and when the pony got up, Cody went directly to the spot he'd been sleeping and peed on it. That's about the only way to get one over on the pony! The dynamics of this herd full of personalities makes me laugh on a regular basis.


As you can see I have finally gotten Fiona and the Water Horse published, so if you like reading about horses and ponies and magic, it's a fun story and I think appeals to all ages. If you like Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, and look at stories as fables and windows into self, it offers a lot for women looking at the girl-maiden-mother-crone process.

Happy New Year to all - for many of us it has been a rough year and my wish is that we all get to relax and rest and thrive and grow in 2014. With perhaps some lighter lessons than those we faced this year! 

Monday, December 09, 2013

Happy Holidays From All of Us On November Hill

Happiest of holiday wishes to everyone from all of us. It's rainy and cold outside but the big boys were doing airs above the ground this morning, the pony gave two hooves up, and these two are as cute as always. Here's to good rides, great health, and happy equines as we move toward winter solstice and a new year.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

floating in December with the Big Bay

Keil had his chiro last week and got 3 full days off, then Thanksgiving arrived and I got busy with cooking and eating and going to see movies and helping husband do hoof trims and did not get in a ride until yesterday.

It was cool and cloudy, with a very little bit of a breeze blowing off and on. Keil was a bit feisty when I went to put his halter on - he had been eating hay and when I walked toward him with the halter he headed out of the barn to the water trough for a long drink. I stood with him, expecting him to put his head in the halter when he was finished. He didn't - he headed back to the barn, and as I went after him, he picked up some speed. I chased him through the barn aisle and he lifted his tail and trotted a few steps. By the time I got to him he was at the hay tent, getting another snack. And at that point he cooperated with haltering. :)

He licked and chewed his way through grooming and tacking up, and did big releasing yawns before I put his bridle on, then shook his head and did a long soft snort. I think he was having a flashback to his chiro adjustment - which was a good thing. He was very relaxed and interested in having a ride. I stuck the bridle out and he put his mouth onto the bit.

When I got on he was calm and we set off at a nice easy walk.

About 15 seconds later he shed 20 years and suddenly I was riding his 5-year old self. He seemed extremely interested in one section of woods beside and behind our back field, but the fun thing was that he was up not only in his attention to the woods, his entire body went into a lovely up and round frame. He lifted his head, neck, back, and hooves - it was like we were floating on air. I got such a clear sense of how he must have been as a very young horse - it was wonderful. If only I could have shed enough years to get back to my adolescent self!

Suddenly it became clear to me why upper level riders often have hot horses. You don't have to do anything except keep them focused enough to stay with you.  (okay, I'm oversimplifying - but you know what I mean) Keil was forward, fluid, and lovely. It was a very nice ride.

Daughter had been planning to hop on him for a bit, so when I dismounted I took him for a walk through the back field and let him stand and look more closely at the area he'd seemed so interested in. There was nothing there that I could see or hear, but the neighbors have created what looks like a compost pile between their two sheds with a piece of white plastic on top and two pieces of fencing that create almost a checkerboard effect - he took a good look at that. While we were there, his entire herd came in from the front field to back him up. We actually have the back field closed off right now so none of them have been back there for over a week - the donkeys climbed through the fence and came to Keil Bay's side - here we are! we'll protect you!! - it was hilarious.

A few minutes later daughter hopped on, I stood in the center of the arena, Rafer and Redford joined me, and Rafer held the dressage whip while Cody clamored at the gate to come in and Little Man stuck his head through the fence and watched.

He had relaxed totally by this time - I'd say maybe 10 of the 20 years returned. Did he summon them all? Did they pick up on his intensity about the new compost pile and what might have been in the forest? I don't know. Daughter rode the pony and Cody on through the day and the intensity was not repeated.

This morning I looked out my window and Keil Bay was walking up the long fence line to the barn, doing shoulder-in the entire way. Cody was right behind him, copying the movement. Who knows what will happen under saddle today?

We're in another wild and crazy weather swing here - it's getting really warm today and tomorrow with a little rain and a lot of cloudy sky and then on the weekend a sudden and huge drop in the temperature. I really dislike these crazy swings - but we'll try to ride through them and keep up our routine.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

thanks giving

I am thankful this year for cold weather, sweet kit-meows, plenty of firewood, two amazing teens, a wonderful husband, November Hill, happy Corgis, and the best herd of equines in the world. 

The first thing I heard this morning were three in a row donkey brays, and if the saying is true, I could have made a wish and have it come true - but in this case it already has, in the form of November Hill and my very large November Hill family. I am thankful for every single one of them. 

I hope everyone has a lovely day!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's really November on November Hill

The leaves are falling daily, and those left on trees are either deep crimson or tobacco brown, very muted from peak color but still some of my favorite colors, especially set against a cloudy landscape like we have today.

My chores now include a bit of raking, which feels futile but I know from experience that if I keep going, little by little I'll get these leaves in areas where they can mulch down. I focus on the places I've planted winter rye, which surprisingly thrives even beneath a layer of leaves.

This week Keil Bay and I have had 3 nice rides. One of the days he seemed a bit stiff at the walk, but quite lovely at the trot, and I fretted, saying to daughter, he is almost 25! She said "that horse is not in pain," and I took great comfort in hearing that. Yesterday he was normal at the walk and even lovelier at the trot, so I feel better. My legs were so soft yesterday, long and relaxed even when I posted, and the posting was coming from Keil Bay's movement so it all circled and got better and better as we went.

Each of the days we've ridden this week I felt Salina near. As we passed her grave, I called out "Salina-bina" and Keil Bay turned his neck completely as we passed, as if she had nickered in response. It was a good decision to place her there, where she is with us when we ride. Even the clear-cut field beside us is transformed by her presence. I see it as her field now. Even though still covered in left-behind sweetgums and littered with stumps, it is perfect for a spirit horse, who can gallop just above the ground, never touching the earth.

Twice this week I have given myself the treat of playing with the painted pony, who is as furry as a teddy bear and so very responsive once I connect with him. After a bit of time together he allows some affection.

Cody is going well for my daughter and the donkeys are in high spirits, spending multiple times each day running and chasing one another and acting like younglings.

Cats cluster around the woodstove and Corgis trail dried leaves all over the house and into the bed.

I am doing a second big edit on (the girl who was) Never Not Broken, grateful that I made it to the end of writing another novel and that the timing worked out so that I can edit it through the winter season - there is something about seeing the bones of trees while studying the bones of a novel that is intensely satisfying.

My son is coming home for Thanksgiving and my daughter is tackling math with a vengeance, and my husband is renewing his love for photographing the landscape. It is a season of finding what you love and what you want to learn and doing it, held to that path by the leaves falling and the trees baring themselves, by the temperatures falling (and here in the south, rising again and diving, in crazy ways that will never quite make sense) and the angle of the sun shifting.