Friday, February 29, 2008

Calmness Prevails

Everything was back to normal today. Siete behaved like a perfect little horse. I would like to thank everyone for your kind notes of sympathy. We’ll never know if Siete was reacting to my friend’s spirit as she passed through and came to say goodbye to me. I guess I’ll always believe that was what happened.

At one point this morning, I walked past the window and looked out at the horses in the pasture. They were positioned with Siete facing east and Silk facing west right out in the middle of the snow blanket. Two Zen statues, welcoming the sun. I stopped to snap a photo and appreciate their stillness.

“It seems that we are humbled before the great events of life. Events over which we have no power, no influence. Events that do not play fair. To be humbled like this is not meant to be punishment, but rather Death grooming us to awaken.”
Stephanie Erickson, Companion Through the Darkness

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Temper Tantrum

I was going to put the horses in the pasture as usual. It got down to below 10F degrees last night, so the ground froze. Then, it snowed almost an inch. They were waiting in the front corral, staring at white blanket that covered yesterday’s little blades of grass.

I followed my usual routine. First, I told them to go to their stalls, and they raced right in to stand at attention. Then, I closed the stall doors. Silk always goes out first. Siete comes back in from the pasture ahead of her mother. I try to be fair. Today, as I put on Silk’s halter, Siete had a temper tantrum.

I couldn’t believe it. My little horse was rearing and bucking and squealing in her stall. I thought she was going to hurt herself. It was really scary. For a moment, I considered taking her out first to avoid possible injuries. I knew that Silk wouldn’t mind if she wen t second. However, that would be rewarding this outrageous behavior.

What I really wanted to do most was go back into the house, crawl into my bed and pull the covers over my head. Instead, I told Siete in my deepest, firmest voice to “QUIT”. I led Silk calmly to the pasture while Siete continued to buck, rear and charge around in her stall. My biggest fear was that she would try to blast through the closed door. Fortunately, she didn’t, but in the five minutes it took me to settle her mother behind the locked gate, the little horse caused a big uproar.

I decided to just approach her as I did every other day. She stuck her nose over the door and let me put on the halter. I had my clicker and my treats, so I stepped inside and began doing the lowering her head exercise. She immediately settled into it, doing what I asked. Lowering a horse’s head causes her adrenaline to slow down. I also know that a horse can’t rear with its head down. I completely focused on the task at hand. Once we were distracted by the clicker and the treats, I began to lead her out of her stall.

Other than prancing and snorting, Siete let me lead her to the gate. Suddenly, Silk charged at us, causing Siete to get excited again. I made her circle around me a couple of times and told Silk not to give me any trouble. I motioned to her to go away and she ran to the closed end of the gate. I didn’t know if I could open it without Silk trying to run out, but I took a deep breath. The worst thing would be if she charged again and I got caught between them. I always turn the horse so she faces me while I close the gate and then unclip the lead rope. Going along with the idea that I would just continue as if things were normal, I opened the gate and led Siete inside. I wished I could lunge her, but it was just too icy. Silk just stood and watched us.

Once I set her free and stepped outside, I expected mayhem. Instead, each horse found her own pile of hay and began eating.

I stood watching them and considered how it used to be when I boarded them at a stable. If I had been feeling the way I felt today, I probably wouldn’t have gone over to see the horses. I would have chosen the "going back to bed and hiding under the covers" option. Having them in my backyard means that no matter what, I am going to interact with Silk and Siete at least three or four times a day. I can’t avoid anything. And I have to admit, it makes me a stronger person.

(This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Pat H. We’ve been buddies for 32 years, and just as Siete was blowing up this morning, Pat passed away. I almost didn’t finish this post tonight, but I knew that she would have wanted me to because she wasn’t a quitter. I’m really going to miss her.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Countdown to Spring

It’s only 23 days until Spring officially arrives - March 20th. We did see a hint of it today. Silk and Siete were out in the pasture. I was filling water buckets in the barn when I heard this strange noise. “Schlush, schlush, schlush…”

There was Silk in the middle of the snow, digging with her hoof. Suddenly, her nose was down in the snow, and she was burrowing frantically, Siete stopped eating hay and ran over to investigate. The two of them were nose to nose in the snow. My curiosity got the better of me. I had to join them.

OMG! There were the tiniest little blades of new green grass coming up under the snow. The girls were gobbling them up, and who could blame them? What can I say, it made our day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Extinction Burst

As I learned about Clicker Training, I discovered something known as the “extinction response”. It’s a term used in “operant conditioning”, which is the behavioral method on which all this clicking and treating is based. Once a horse has learned to respond to a behavior in the desired manner, receiving a treat, the positive reinforcement is delayed or removed. The question then becomes whether the horse will try again, in hopes of getting the treat. Ideally, they will increase the desired behavior with what is known as an “extinction burst”, and their extra effort will bring about even more of the desired response. If they are rewarded at that point, it will teach them that there is an advantage to not giving up too easily.

For example, if a person is trapped in a room and can't open the door, one last push of effort might be enough to unstick the door. If a horse is cantering half-heartedly, waiting for the click and not getting it, the horse might speed up with extra energy to try to get rewarded with the treat.

So, today has just been one of those really grindingly difficult days. I was frustrated and rejected and didn’t get the golden ring on the merry-go-round. I am faced with a choice. I could give up and move on, or I could dig in my heels and push harder. It would be my version of the “extinction burst”.

The only way I could make this kind of decision was to go to the barn. I discussed it with Silk and Siete, as the rain poured down on the snow, and we all hoped it wouldn’t flood the stalls. I remembered my motto, “Persistence always pays off.” I went back in the house to lick my wounds and gather my “windhorse energy”. Tomorrow, I’ll muster up my “extinction burst”. It is February, after all, and this is the coldest and darkest before we can begin to grow again.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Measure of Spirit

It’s a brilliantly blue day, with snow and ice melting in the warm sun. Silk is being Zen horse again, but Siete bounces back and forth along the pasture fence looking for somewhere to put all her pent-up energy. My arms still ache from shoveling the heavy snow. My brain is a bit fuzzy and lazy, ready to hibernate for a few more weeks until Spring arrives. I stood in Silk’s stall and watched Siete prancing in the snow. She’s frustrated that it’s too deep and icy stiff to really run across to the pine trees on the other side of the smooth, shimmering white carpet.

Siete’s got a stronger spirit than I do. It’s not the first time that I’ve felt this way. When she was only a few weeks old, I was in her corral, and she spun around and kicked me on my thumb. I was shocked that my loving, adorable filly would turn on me. Cowboy Joe, her godfather and trainer, warned me, “She’s going to test you every day. Watch how her mom handles her. Remember, every little thing you do teaches her something new.” For a while, I wondered if I was ready to take on that big an assignment. Once I realized that there were no deadlines, I decided I was up for the challenge. I believe that I can guide her without having to damage her strength.

Today, Siete reminds me of the impatience and ambition I had when I was young. My own daughter, at age 12, mirrors our little horse with that slightly reckless and optimistic attitude. Siete wanted to run free, even though her good sense prevailed. Mama Silk stood in the sun, contented and wise enough to know that you simply enjoy each moment as you can without wishing for what it’s not. After all, tomorrow, it’s going to snow and rain again.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Zen Horse

Silk is a Zen horse. She finds a spot in the sun and just goes into a trance. I was wondering if horses can sleep with their eyes open. After doing some research, I learned that they can not. Knowing Silk, I believe that she is meditating.

Horses have a system called “the stay apparatus” which allows them to lock their legs in a position that lets them relax their muscles without falling over. When I meditate, I find the greatest challenge is to sit still for long periods of time. Silk is my role model. Today, she stood in the corral, facing the wildlife preserve behind our property. With the warm sun on her back, she meditated for much of the afternoon. At one point, her daughter came and stood next to her, back hoof cocked just like mom’s. Siete didn’t last long, but Silk continued her “practice”, never even glancing at her.

Lama Surya Das believes that meditation in itself is a wakening up. “The Bodhisattva is the Awakener who, while coming into fuller consciousness, has begun the process of awakening others as well from the deep sleep of separateness, delusion and confusion.” Maybe I have a four-legged Bodhisattva living in my backyard.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Less Is So Much More

My friend, Grey Horse Matters sent me a beautiful video of trainer Stacey Westfall riding her horse bareback without a bridle or reins at the Quarter Horse Congress. You can go to Stacey’s website, to see a video of her performing. It is awe-inspiring to watch communication between a human and a horse at that level. There was so much love that it overflowed into the whole stadium full of people.

The horse is unbelieveably relaxed and calm,so completely absorbed in Stacey that thousands of screaming fans don’t distract it in any way. I thought about Tom Dorrance , one of my favorite cowboy trainers. He talked about how important it is to calm the inward part of the horse. Many trainers only work on the surface, at the mental and physical levels, not getting right down to what’s really going on inside the horse. “No one is going to get this without it coming right out of the inside of themselves. The rest of it has to come from inside the horse.” We’re talking about Spirit and self-preservation. “A person’s approach can assure the horse that he can have self-preservation and still respond to what the person is asking him to do.” Dorrance said.

Billie, over at camera-obscura wisely mentioned to me that people have a tendency to be too loud around their horses. Take it down a few notches and they listen better. It’s the same idea of “less is more” that I strive for in my Feldenkrais exercises. If we live our whole life with the same intentions that we bring to training our horses, it’s going to improve our own Spirit too.

This morning, Silk and Siete were dying to go out in the pasture after staying inside for yesterday’s snowstorm. Almost as soon as they stepped deep in over a foot of freezing, crunchy white stuff, they were ready to come inside again. I mucked quickly, spread shavings, filled water buckets and threw down a couple of flakes of hay. In less than a half hour, I asked Silk if she wanted to go home. Leading her into the barn, I could feel her Spirit singing.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Clicking Along

Here’s what is so cool about Clicker Training: It’s snowing like crazy but I can still work with Siete. I took a break from shoveling and brought my clicker and some tiny bits of chopped up carrots into her stall. We’re working on lowering her head when I say “down” and on backing up and coming forward soft and easy.

The hardest thing for me is to cue, click and treat. I keep wishing I had an extra hand. Siete is fairly patient with me. She gets it faster than I can respond. I’m always groping in my pocket for the treat. She bends her nose down to the pocket like she’s trying to say, “Mom! It’s right there!” What’s interesting is that she never bumps me or tries to go into my pocket. She just positions her nose as close as she can get and waits.

I continue to enjoy reading Alexandra Kurland’s book, “Clicker Training for Your Horse”. She has a very good website: Anyone who is thinking about trying it should stop by there and check it out.

Silk is absolutely not interested in the clicker. She is a bit jealous and definitely wants to get her share of the treats. Of course, she already does all the things that I’m teaching Siete to do. Silk is such a lady, so polite and patient. I know it comes with the wisdom of age and her relationship with me. More and more, my dear old horse mirrors me.

Her daughter is an eager student who could spend all day at Clicker School if I had the time.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Habit of Not

We are all creatures of habit. It’s always interesting to me to notice that certain human reactions are actually connected to our animal instinct and will always be something that we share with our animals. Jealousy is an obvious example. I think the reassurance and security that we find in our habits is another.

My horses have the same habits in their lives, day after day. I am in the habit of feeding and opening up their stalls exactly the same way each morning. Siete is in the habit of checking out her hay and then, immediately stepping outside to see her mother and determine if her hay tastes better. The dictionary defines habit as: “An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. In our barn, when we can flow along in these habitual motions, there is a sense of calm and harmony in our lives. Everything seems “normal”.

Once in a while, I vary the routine, which interrupts the habit. I have always made Siete wait in her stall until I lead Silk into the pasture first. It teaches the younger horse to be patient. Occasionally, my husband and I lead them out at the same time. Siete will sometimes get very excited and squeal and prance so that everyone has to wait and calm down before the horses are given their freedom. For the last couple of days, I’ve broken the habits, and Siete is allowed to come out before Silk.

I wanted to have a few minutes alone with her to work on some training issues like stopping quietly and backing up softly. She’s been very cooperative and good with me. I turn her loose and go back to lead out her mother. As soon as I approach the gate with Silk, Siete pins her ears and prepares to defend her hay. Since I usually separate the hay into three different piles in the pasture, she can’t figure out which pile to protect. She charges back and forth while Silk and I wait patiently for Siete to choose her favorite hay. Then, I lead Silk in and unclip her lead. As soon as I leave the pasture and close the gate, Siete charges at her mother. Silk doesn’t tolerate such nonsense. She takes a nip at her daughter or bumps her aside. Sometimes, Silk herds Siete away and chases her in circles for a few minutes to show her who is in charge of this pasture.

I was mucking the stalls, watching Mama teach her daughter a lesson when it occurred to me that there’s also the “habit of not”. Silk was teaching Siete the habit of not being aggressive. I considered all the “habits of not” that I have. There’s the habit of not listening and the habit of not giving someone my full attention. I can rarely be accused of the habit of not seeing, but I live with several people who might be guilty of that one.

What it all comes down to is the habit of respect. If one is respectful of others, all those “habits of not” disappear. So, I’m going to try to make that the number one habit for both me and my horses and see if it makes life better not just around the barn, but inside the house too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Flap About Tarps

Last week, I wrote a post about how we draped a big black plastic tarp next to Silk’s stall to keep it from flooding. While both horses tolerated the loud rustling noises and the “scary black monster” without spooking or freaking out, it obviously caused stress for them. I was especially concerned about Silk, who was locked up at night right next to it. When the rain stopped, I made my husband help me remove the tarp.

I’ve had some interesting reactions from horsepeople about the episode. Some people whom I respect felt that I should have left the plastic tarp to condition the horses to get used to having it rattling next to the corral and the barn. They thought I had “given in” to my horses by removing it. I admit that I did, and I don’t regret it.

I understand that my horses need to become comfortable with the noisy, flapping tarp. I also know that at this point in the winter, Silk’s health and well-being are more important than anything. If she is distressed, she’ll stop drinking water and eating. At exactly this time of year, for the past two years, Silk has had really serious life-threatening emergencies. There’s something about these last gasps of East Coast winter that really affect my twenty-year old horse, who spent most of her life in balmy Southern California. Right now, we’re having crazy shifts in temperature. One day, it’s 60F degrees and almost overnight, it drops to below 20F degrees. Then, it rockets back up again. My vet tells me that she is treating so many horses for colic these days.

After more than ten years, Silk trusts me to take care of her. I had to ask myself what I would really gain by forcing her to live with the tarp, feeling stressed out for several days until she became immune to its presence. I actually agreed with the horses that the never-ending rattling noise caused by even small gusts of wind was very irritating. There’s no deadline by which my horses have to learn to ignore noisy tarps. They’re generally willing to do what I ask them without fussing or spooking. If we wait a few months until some nice sunny day to do the exercises with them walking on plastic and having it flap in their faces, the world won’t end. More important is whether Silk is able to really feel safe at night in her stall. I'd really like to get through the transition of seasons this year without another gigantic vet bill.

There are still going to be people who disagree with me. At this point, I feel it’s a real milestone for me to be rock-solid confident that I did what was best for Silk. I trusted my gut reaction, weighed the advice of others and in the end, stuck to my guns. Perhaps, that’s why Silk trusts me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Clearer View

I woke up this morning with a sense of urgency. There’s too much that I need to prepare and accomplish today. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit it all in. Then, I remembered something that I learned from poet Mark Nepo. A sense of urgency is an illusion.

The only way to get though is to slow down, not speed up. The more you feel like you can’t sit still, the more you need to do it. What we need most might just be the thing that’s making us feel that sense of urgency. When we refuse to accept it, that might be because it’s the hardest thing we can face.

“Now, more than ever, you need to breathe until your ounce of breath becomes the sky, again and again.” Nepo tells me. As I look out at the clear darkness studded with stars this morning before the sun rises, I know he’s right. I hear the sound of the horses munching their breakfast. I force myself to take a moment to just be here with the girls. Silk bumps my arm with her nose to include me in her world.

“The doorway to our next step of growth is always behind the urgency of now…Now, more than ever when the weights you carry seem tied to your wrists, you must not run or flail…. Love yourself the way you love your children or your dog or your dearest friend, without reservation. In this way, today with all it’s hardships will spill into tomorrow, and decisions will become as clear as streams thawing.” Thanks, Mark Nepo. Thanks, Silk, I needed that.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Two Dead Mice

It’s always a bad omen when I find a dead mouse in Silk’s heated water bucket. This morning at 6 am, I found two. They must have made a date to meet in the Jacuzzi. Who knew it would end that way. The good news is that her stall didn’t flood again, even though we got two inches of rain last night.

All night, I lay in my bed listening to the wind and the rain, expecting to find my poor girl cowering in the back of her stall with a lake near the door. Instead, she was snorting at her water bucket. I have a net that I got at the tropical fish store which I used to scoop them out. It makes me so sad that I have to close my eyes when I dispose of them.

The rest of the day was grindingly difficult. I put the horses out in the pasture, dumped a bag of wood pellet bedding into Silk’s stall since water was beginning to bubble up and ooze around my boots as I mucked. Just moments after I led the horses inside, the heavens opened up, and it poured again. Once the horses were safe and dry in their stalls, I drove around town like a possessed woman, taking care of business, kids and husband.

Late afternoon, fog moved in, making the “way back” behind the barn very dreamy. I scrubbed out the heated water bucket and refilled it in Silk’s stall. She made a very funny face, lifting her lip and “flemming” at it. Since it was 60F degrees outdoors, I really wanted her to keep drinking. The mice carry the Lyme ticks and give them to the deer around here. Fortunately, the horses refuse to drink the water if they find a “floater” in it. Both of them will slurp from a bucket if I hold it under their noses. Silk drank some, but nowhere near what she needed to drink each day.

I used to be very superstitious. Working in film and theatre can do that to you. Today, finding not just one but two dead mice, I forced myself not to believe it put a negative curse on my head. It wasn’t a terrific day, but it was just fine.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Click! She Got it

Siete’s bored. I’m sick. We’ve got at least six to eight week before there’s decent weather here. Click! I tried something new with my little horse. Today, we began “Clicker Training”.

Clicker training is a technology based on a behavioral science known as operative conditioning. It has been used successfully for many years to train dolphins, whales, zoo animals, and last but far from least, dogs and horses. You use a little noisemaker that clicks to indicate behavior that is reinforced while it is occurring, followed by a reward.

In our first lesson, I held a plastic lid from a feed supplement jar and motioned to Siete to touch it with her nose. She did, so I clicked and gave her a bit of carrot. I lowered the lid and motioned for her to touch it again. She did, I clicked, and she got another carrot bit. Then, she tried to stick her nose in my pocket for more carrot. I didn’t let her and instead lowered the lid. She touched it with her nose before I even motioned. Click, you got it, little horse, so here’s another piece of carrot. The goal of the lesson was to reach the point where the lid was on the ground, and she would touch it with her nose. No problem. She got it. Click and treat. Good job, Siete.

I’m following the lessons outlined in Alexandra Kurland’s book, “Clicker Training for Horses”. It’s enjoyable reading, and I really like her point of view. She’s not a “my way or the highway” type of person. Kurland wants you to try incorporating the clicker into your current training program. “Training is a creative process in which flexibility and creativity are the keys to success.” She says, “ Horses tell us what they need to learn. It’s up to us to notice and give them the lessons they are asking for.”

Siete has been practically begging for something to do. We’re going to see if we can have some fun with this and some groundwork exercises until the weather cooperates. Last night, I felt so down and miserable. I remembered that misery breeds from a loss of perspective. Siete and I opened our world to something new today. It only took about fifteen minutes, but it gave us a bigger view of what we could achieve.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Strange Day But Excellent

There must be a ghost opening and closing the barn doors. I woke up this morning to see Siete standing in the middle of the front corral with her stall door wide open. Yesterday, as you read, she was stuck in the back corral with the stall door closed. Go figure!

I’m still fogged in by a terrible cold, but I did get a pleasant surprise that calls for a response. I’m delighted to receive an award from Diane at Alberta Postcards Her blog, with its gorgeous photos really brightens my day. I’m honored that she appreciates mine. This award originated at Mind Sieve Diane asks that I pass it along to 10 other blogs. Please pick up the award by clicking on it, and pass it along to your favorites.

So let me take this opportunity to recommend some of the wonderful folks who visit me regularly. You are all so interesting and generous that I hope everyone can expand their horizons even further by getting to know you:

1. Ewa, my lovely Polish friend who gardens at
2. Bill Evertson, a very talented and thoughtful artist at Under Construction/Art Contemplations
3. Tree, who creates incredible pictures and words at Decadent Tranquility
4. Gecko who is all the way over in Australia at Gecko Musings
5. Meg, my dear young friend in England with her kitties and beautiful needlework at the Kittens Mother
6. Farm Girl, who opens her heart at “My Life as I See It”
7. Detroit Dog, who loves greyhounds and other pups at “The Dog House”
8. Out of the Darkroom is a new California friend and horse owner
9. with her wonderful stories of long rides
10. Callie at who loves cowboy boots as much as I do

Please check out their blogs and see for yourself that they are EXCELLENT!

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Baby Blanket Caper

What happened today was really my fault. When I put the horses out this morning, I led Silk out through the back door of her stall. I forgot to fasten the door back against the wall, the way I usually do. I had some good excuses. I’m sick with a wicked cold and flu. I was rushing because my mom had a small operation today, and I was trying to get everything done early so I could take care of her.

I hung the horses’ blankets on the fence of the back corral so they could air out in the sun. My husband offered to help me out. While I was with my mother at the doctor’s office, he put the horses back in the barn and fed them lunch. When I returned, I noticed the blankets were still on the fence but I was too busy to go out and pull them off.

Many hours later, I glanced out the window and saw Siete in the back corral, dancing all over her blanket. Cursing myself, I ran out and discovered that the back door of the stall had blown closed. Poor little horse had been trapped out there for hours without anything to do. No wonder she decided to play with the blankets. She had her nose caught in the leg strap of Silk’s when I reached her. I managed to extricate her and open the door so she could run through her mother’s stall to freedom and hay and all those wonderful things in her own stall that she had been missing.

I was left with a filthy, wet blanket. Siete has outgrown all her other clothes, and Silk’s are still too big for her. So, tonight, when it goes down to 18F degrees, she’ll have to eat some extra hay to keep warm. The blanket is drying in the basement. Luckily, it’s strong as iron, and she didn’t rip it. Sneezing and coughing, I cleaned it with a stiff brush. Tomorrow, it will most likely be too cold to dry it outdoors if I washed it. It will still be dirty, but at least she’ll be able to wear it.

There are probably some clever Zen thoughts about awareness and acceptance, but right now, my head hurts too much to think of them. I’m just going to crawl under my blanket and try to get some rest.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Big Black Monster

It’s not easy to be married to someone who is horse crazy. Yesterday, in the pouring rain, Silk’s stall flooded. She was cowering in the one dry corner in the back, so my husband attempted to divert the water. I was in the house when I saw him with a huge roll of black plastic over by the side of the barn. I ran out because that black plastic set alarm bells off in my head. If I were a horse……

Silk was very glad to see me, and let me lead her to safety in Siete’s stall. My husband began mounting the huge sheet of plastic to the side of the barn with boards and a screw gun. The horses were quiet, but concerned. I started bailing the “poop soup” from the stall. I filled four big muck buckets with stinky brown liquid. I could hear the rain thundering on the plastic, which unnerved me since it was on the wall next to Silk’s feed bucket. As a final solution, my husband mounted another piece of the plastic to create a run-off funnel for the water that was pouring off the roof. More loud noises were added, but the water stopped coming into the stall. I insisted he put lots of big rocks on the plastic so it couldn’t blow and rustle too much.

I bought three bags of wood pellet horse bedding at the feed store and threw them down on the wet spots in Silk’s stall. So, now it was dry, but Siete was acting like someone had attacked her. She refused to come see me for hugs and kisses, so I knew she was really freaked out. Mother and daughter huddled together. At dinner time, I coaxed Silk back into her stall for the night. The rain had slowed down, but it was still making a rat-tat-tat on the plastic, especially in the funnel attachment. Around 8:30, I went out to check on the girls. Silk was cowering in the back of the stall and hadn’t eaten any of her hay or even touched her water. Last thing I needed was for someone to colic. I dismantled the funnel and rolled it up under a big rock so that at least part of the noise stopped. It was quiet with only an occasional rustle of plastic. I reassured Silk and Siete with lots of comforting words and neck scratchies. It was the best I could do for the moment.

This is the part where I reveal to you how insane I am. At 3 am, I woke up because the wind was whipping around outside my window. I began worrying about the Big Black Monster rattling next to Silk’s stall. I went downstairs and stuck my head out the back door. The wind roared and a tarp over our firewood blew wildly. I grabbed the flashlight and headed for the barn. Silk is my four-legged sister, and even though it was only 15F degrees, I had to see if she was okay. Both horses were sticking their heads out over the top of the Dutch doors. Silk was obviously relieved to see me. Her eyes were soft and grateful, not frightened. The wind wasn’t that bad, and the black plastic had so many rocks on it that it only made a slight noise. There was nothing I could do except be there to tell the horses that I wasn’t scared and they were okay. I kept thinking about the Mary Oliver quote. This was my one wild and precious life.

In the morning, I opened up the front doors so they could come out into the corral. Siete rushed over to the fence by the Black Monster and stood guard, protecting her mother. I could sense Silk was still uneasy, and I made my DH (Disgruntled Hubby) pull out the screws in the wall of the barn and roll up the plastic. He warned me that it would flood again with the next rain. We can’t really fix the problem until the ground thaws. The horses went out in the pasture. I cleaned both stalls and added fresh shavings. All is right in the world again. After lunch, Silk took a siesta and so did I.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Positive Vibes

I was going to show you what the weather looks like today. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the camera. I’ve already been out to the barn twice to clear ice from the drainage ditch and give the horses food and water. We had snow and then freezing rain last night. Now, we’re getting a couple of inches of torrential downpour. Tonight, it’s all supposed to freeze again. The path from the house to the barn is already a skating rink. The horses are hiding in Siete’s stall. The corral and arena are lakes on top of layers of snow and ice. I’m just praying the barn doesn’t flood.

So, I dug out some pictures of my hollyhocks and Echinacea in bloom and a lovely sunny afternoon with the horses happily grazing. Let’s enjoy them and send out the good warm vibes instead of getting depressed.

I’m thinking about the last line of a poem by Mary Oliver called “The Summer Day”:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Trailer of My Dreams

Hey, Honey, if you’re reading this, skip the heart-shaped diamond necklace for Valentine’s Day and get me a horse trailer. And by the way, it’s snowing again, and I’m in front of the fireplace doing some dreaming.

We don’t have a horse trailer. When we moved our horses to our place, I thought it was the most important item that we needed to buy. Of course, there’s always a long list of “the most important” when you own a horse. Depending on what day it is, the order of importance changes. When faced with our first emergency, I discovered that I have really great neighbors with horse trailers who came to the rescue.

Without any prompting from me, my dear husband did research horse trailers. He likes the ones made by EquiSpirit. It’s a company owned by Tom and Neva Scheve. They have a website ( with excellent articles about trailering horses, and even a book that they’ve written on the subject. I used to think the trailer of choice would be a two-horse, slant-load goose-neck. Now, I’m leaning towards a bumper-pull two horse because it can be hitched up more easily to a greater variety of vehicles. That could prove to be a real advantage in an emergency situation.

I went to Equine Affaire and spent a while window-shopping the horse trailers. There are some that have this special flooring which is not wood. It can be hosed out easily, and it won’t rot. Others have windows in the back doors with sliders and screens to give the horses better ventilation. There could be a safety issue if you were rear-ended, but it is good for air-flow especially on hot summer roadtrips.

The bottom line is that we can’t afford anything right now. We were looking at used stock trailers last Fall. If I’m lucky, I might be able to find one pretty cheap. We’d also like to have a beefy pick-up truck to go along with the trailer. I buy lottery tickets occasionally because I know that if you don’t buy them, you can’t win. At least, I have two great horses, whose nicknames are “Money” and “Pit”, living in my backyard. Honey, that’s a good enough Valentine’s Day present for me.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Things that Go Bump In the Night

Last night, around 9 pm, everyone was getting ready for bed inside our house. The wind was whistling and squealing around the windows in huge snowy gusts. I heard a crashing noise outside that sounded like it was coming from the barn. Now, I am normally a big wimp about going out in the dark alone at night. Fortunately, one of the wonderful things about where we live is that I am also much more secure here than I have ever been anywhere else. So, I knew that in order for me to sleep soundly, I had to go to the barn and check on the horses. It was also only 7F degrees outside, and I thought that it would help keep them warm if they had some more hay during the night. My husband and my daughter were already in their pajamas. I had to go it on my own.

I took a lantern and opened the back door into the darkness. A cold gust almost ripped it out of my hand. I was practically blown to the garage where I store the hay. The wind was roaring, and tree branches were creaking loudly like they were going to come crashing down any second.

I didn’t allow myself to think of anything except the task at hand. I grabbed the hay and clutching it to me, I doubled over and pushed against the wind to the barn. As soon as the lantern illuminated the area, I saw that the loud crash had been made when the pipe gate on the front corral blew open. I don’t know how the metal clip I use to secure the chain came undone. Anyone, animal or human, could come right into the corral and up to the front doors of the stalls. And either horse could conceivably break down the door and get loose in the entire yard. Needless to say, I was glad I came out to check on what was going on.

More important, the horses were very happy to see me. They were nervously sticking their heads out as I approached. I was very calm and cheerful, talking to them and petting them as I offered the hay. I could feel them settle down instantly. I secured the gate so it couldn’t blow open again and checked all the other doors and gates. With an enormous sense of relief, I headed back to the house.

Once inside, by the glow of my fireplace, I marveled at what I had just done. Not once had I been afraid that something scary would jump out and “get me”. All I thought about was how it’s my duty to help Silk and Siete feel safe. In doing so, I had conquered a lifelong fear of my own.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Silk Is Waiting At the Gate

One good thing I noticed this morning was that the sun was already rising as I came out the back door to feed the horses. I hate going out in the blackness with a flashlight when I get up. Another good thing was that I was able to score one last load of really gorgeous hay today. I almost didn’t drive up there, but I had a feeling in my gut that there might not be any more of this quality for a while. I was right. I bought the last of the load. To my surprise, I drove into a full blown snowstorm to get it. There was about six or eight inches on the road and covering the fields just north of us.

Back at my little rancho, the sun was shining, and the ground was clear. Silk was waiting for me at the gate. It’s only about a half hour away, but we’re at a lower elevation. The horses got to run around. I cleaned my car, trying to brush out hay from absolutely everywhere.

It reminded me of a quote by Helen Thompson:“You can tell a horse owner by the interior of their car. Boots, mud, pony nuts, straw, items of tack , and a screwed up waxed jacket of incredible antiquity. There is normally a top layer of children and dogs.” Welcome to my world. I've always got hay in all my pockets.

Fortunately, I read the weather forecast and noted that the temperature was going to drop down into the teens tonight. As the wind began to whip up. I blanketed the horses. Now, less than an hour later, just as I tucked them into their stalls and gave them some dinner, the snow started to fall. In only twenty minutes, the ground was completely covered with about an inch and a half of wet white stuff. But Spring is just around the corner, I swear it is.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Good Bag of Shavings

All shavings are not created equal. I am very fussy about what kind of bedding I put in my horses’ stalls. It needs to be soft and fluffy, but not too fine. There are some inferior bags of shavings that melt away in the stall moments after I throw them down. If I talk to other people with horses, they always have very definite opinions about which shavings are best.

So, my personal favorites are U.S. pine, made by a company called Hancock Lumber. They are just the right consistency, contain a little more per bag than most others, and last about 3 days. I can split a bag between the two stalls, so I get away with between two and three bags a week.

The problem is that my local feed store often runs out. At first, the boys in the back acted like I was crazy to insist on this particular brand. I will make them schlep all the way back to the tractor trailer where they store the shavings to get them if they run out in the main barn. Last week, when I told the young man that I prefer the Hancock shavings, he replied, “What’s with them? Everyone always wants that kind.” I felt better. Unfortunately, they had run out.

If the weather is bad, the horses really appreciate a fresh layer of shavings in their stalls. At bedtime, they lie down and roll around in them. Siete greets me with little pieces of “confetti” in her mane and her forelock in the morning. I always joke that she’s had a party in her stall last night.

I wish I had the space to have big loads of shavings delivered to me, but I don’t. I like to put a few bags of wood pellet horse bedding down first and then top it with shavings. In California, I was able to get pellets from a company called “ABM” (Advanced Bedding Management) that were terrific. I could also buy cedar shavings, which smell great. On the East Coast, I can’t find either so I use the pine ones.

Who cares? My horses do. I do. The King of Compost, my good husband, does because it matters how the shavings break down. I’ll bet that anyone who reads this who owns a horse knows exactly what I’m talking about and also has an opinion about it.

For those of you who don’t have a horse, please think of this: Awareness and care about each and every little thing that you do on a regular basis brings greater harmony and an appreciation of the art of living a meaningful life. Now, excuse me while I go fluff some shavings.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Roller Coaster

We’re riding the weather roller coaster this winter. The ice and rain prevent the horses from being able to get any exercise. Then, it melts and feels like Spring just to torture us. They are able to run around like crazy and get their “ya-ya’s” out. As soon as they are done, the rain and freezing pellets deluge us again. The horses get “cabin fever”, and Siete is bored out of her mind. By the time we can turn her out again, she’s ready to explode.

The longer I live with horses, the more reassuring it is that these behaviors are normal. Siete’s not being a “bad” girl. She’s young, and she’s expressing her frustration about not being able to do what a horse likes to do best. Running, bucking, rearing and teasing her mother are at the top of her list, closely followed by grazing on green grass or soft hay. I know that by the time we are able to go back to work, she’s going to be a real handful.

This morning, I woke to a light layer of snow on the ground. Fortunately, the farrier came yesterday and trimmed the girls. Silk was an absolute angel, which tells me how good my farrier, John, is with my horses. When we lived in California, Silk really liked the farrier. In Virginia, she suddenly hated to have her feet trimmed. I was always there with her, and I could see that neither of the men I hired paid any attention to the horses. They were totally preoccupied with themselves and their schedule. Get in and get out as fast as possible was their motto. The horses’ feet were done correctly, but the farriers had no patience for any of us.

Now, when John comes every six weeks, he takes his time. He really likes my horses, and we always have good, interesting conversation. He’s a team penner and plans his vacation in Montana where he can work cows. “I love to get up every day and go to work,” he told me yesterday. How many people can say that about their jobs? Silk always gets a warm greeting from him before he gets started. She stands quietly and never complains.

Siete was a bit of a powder-keg yesterday. She didn’t blow up, but when he was trimming her front right hoof, she pulled it forward unexpectedly, and he cut her frog. My husband held the horse so I could see what had happened. I was surprised by how bloody it was. I trust John, so when he assured me that it would stop and that it would be okay, I stayed calm. He was very apologetic and offered to come back right away if she started limping on it. Today, she’s walking normally. There are pads and borium shoes on her front feet, so I can’t really see how her frog looks. I’ll just be aware of the situation and try not to worry about it.

That’s a big step forward for me, since I am a born worrier. I’ve been trying to let it go and not bring bad “juju” onto things by thinking of the worst. Still with horses, I always like to anticipate what might occur. If I think things through and plan ahead, I am much more successful than just barreling forward to get it done.

As I held Siete’s lead rope while John took care of her feet, I kept thinking about a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, “Love in Action”: “Without doing anything, things can sometimes go more smoothly just because of our peaceful presence. In a small boat when a storm comes, if one person remains solid and calm, others will not panic and the boat is more likely to stay afloat.”

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sharing the Love

I am delighted to have received an award from my friend, Jodi, at! It was designed and created by Mica at who wanted to show her affection and appreciation for all the cool, talented people she met through her blog. The idea is to "Spread the Love", and pass it along to those you love.

So, I am wondering how can I pass it along to only a few people when there are so many wonderful women and men visiting me and engaging me every day in the blogosphere. Several of you do make me especially tuned into my horses, myself and our bigger connection to the rest of the world. While I'm sharing the love with everyone who reads this, I will give an extra hug to:
Arlene at GreyHorseMatters
Billie at
MiKael at
Marvel at
Julian at

If you click on the beautiful award, you can add it to your post and pass it along to those you love. And my heart also goes out to all of you great new friends who take the time to comment and visit with me every day. I am so lucky to know all of you!

When I told Silk and Siete that we had been presented with an Award, they kicked up their heels with joy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fixing Me, Not the Horse

In the past, I’ve worked with trainers who are quick to call a horse “bad” or “spoiled”. When I first bought Silk, she was very high-strung. The trainers who were at the barn where I boarded her always blamed my horse for things she did “wrong”.

There was a list of problems that they tried to correct. She would refuse to do a flying lead change, even though we knew that she could do them beautifully. She would sometimes buck when they asked her to lope. She hated to be lunged on a line, but she was well behaved without one in the round pen. They would warn me that I had to be tough with my horse and “fix” these problems before they escalated.

It took a couple of years of feeling frustrated and worrying that I had bought more of a horse than I could handle. Then, one day, I started thinking about how amazing Silk was. For the first ten years of her life, she never was allowed to run or graze in a pasture. She had been abused by one owner. The next owner admitted to me that she “lunged the crap out of that horse” before she had the nerve to get on Silk. I realized that it was remarkable that Silk was still as well-mannered and good to me as she was. If I were her, I would be really mad and not even let any of those crazy two-legged creatures on my back.

I stopped trying to “fix” her. I began to appreciate all the things that she did well and tell her how wonderful she was. In fact, I told anyone who would listen. I got rid of the trainers who had those “bad” attitudes. I found ways to allow Silk to do what she enjoyed, including eating grass and running around with other horses. Instead, I worked on “fixing” myself. I learned to ride better. I became less fearful and trusted Silk more. I didn’t get mad at her, no matter what she did. I questioned what happened to cause her to react as she did, not blaming my horse for anything. Was there something I could do to help her feel better or understand what I wanted more clearly? Silk calmed down. People who knew her couldn’t believe it was the same horse.

So now, I’m trying to take a similar approach with Siete. I’ve never trained a young horse. I want her to enjoy learning. She is very trusting, but also tries to challenge people. I need to help her be respectful and not do anything dangerous. As I work with her, I find that I often compare my reactions to what Siete does to the way I relate to my 12 year old daughter. They both should learn to be kind to others and to know how to be safe. They are beautiful blank pages, and I must remember to “fix” myself before I make any marks on them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Horse Quirks

I’ve been tagged again by my friend, MiKael, at for a game of “Horse Quirks” Meme. Since I’m always happy to talk about my girls, I’ll share six strange traits with you. I’m going to open up this game to anyone who wants to blog about their favorite horse’s habits, tagging only those who want to participate. I felt too much pressure last time around, and I don’t want to impose on anyone. We’ve all got enough pressure in our lives so let’s keep the blogosphere as a world of free will.

Okay, here are some little known facts about Silk and Siete:

1. Siete loves rain and snow, but doesn’t enjoy being sprayed with a hose. She tolerates it, but her mother, Silk, adores being bathed. On the other hand, Silk hates to stand outside in rain or snow.

2. Silk loves to have her tummy scratched. She sticks her neck way out when I do it and makes a funny face. Siete’s favorite spot is on her butt, along her tail, and she also makes that “oooh, it feels so good” face.

3. Out on the trail, Silk will stand absolutely still even if all the horses around her are freaking out and bolting away. I know because it’s happened several times. That’s one of the many reasons that I love her.

4. Siete is very neat. She only poops in one corner in her stall. She loves to have her mane and tail nicely brushed and her coat clean. If a few little girls want to fuss over her and play “horsey spa day”, she is always ready. Silk prefers to roll in mud and not only poops everywhere in her stall, but also buries it under the shavings.

5. Silk has a very bouncy lope (or canter), which makes it difficult to sit without banging around on her back. Banging around on her back hurts her, and she gets very grumpy. So, we don’t lope anymore. It’s fine with me, especially since she is a dream to ride in every other way.

6. Siete loves to drink hot water if you hold a bucket of it in front of her. She’s a “tea” drinker. If I think that she’s not getting her fill during the day, after her dinner, I always offer her “tea” and dessert (an apple). I’m obsessed with my horses having enough water since my deepest fear is colic.

They have many more lovable traits, so don’t get me started. And please, let me know if you decide to play too.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Lazy Sunday

I learned that my ancestors came from the Steppes. They were nomads whose greatest treasure was their horses. The word for horse was “janibar”, which meant “one with soul”. I was looking at my orchid plant blooming in my kitchen window today and couldn’t help but notice that my “one with soul” was watching me.

Her mother was more interested in what was for lunch.

Siete thought that Silk’s serving of hay tasted better than hers. It reminded me of when my daughter sticks her fork in my food and says, “How come everything always looks better on your plate?”

Saturday, February 2, 2008

It's Almost Over, Isn't It?

I really thought the horses would run around like crazy today. Yesterday, we had an ice storm that turned the pastures, the corrals, the paths to the house and the driveway into an enormous skating rink. Then, it rained almost two inches in two hours last night. I know because I was driving alone in the car during the worst of it. So, when I woke up to 40 degree weather with clear skies, I figured that the horses would love to come out and play.

We still had these ice floes and frozen moon craters in the pasture. Smart horses that they are, they took note and there was not even any trotting. They ventured out slowly to the middle of one of the iciest parts, looked at each other and headed back to munch the hay that I dropped next to the fence.

I was in Silk’s stall trying to deal with the brown ooze that was bubbling up out of the ground. It took a trip to the feed store and three bags of wood pellet horse bedding to get things under control. At least it wasn’t as bad as last winter’s flooded stall drama. When the ground is frozen, there’s no place for the water to drain in these intense downpours.

Last February, we had a storm, and Silk’s stall filled with poop soup up to her knees. Since it was still coming down like crazy, I had to put both horses in Siete’s stall and bail Silk’s with a bucket. The sump pump kept clogging, and the water kept rising. Using a smaller bucket as a scoop, I filled one of those big water buckets over a dozen times, dragging it out to dump it in the bushes. Then, I emptied 12 bags of wood pellets, which soaked up the stinky water and immediately had to be shoveled out. It took eight more bags of pellets to achieve a dry stall. I couldn’t move my arms for about a week.

I didn’t have to do that today. The horses behaved and didn’t break their legs. The ice melted in the warm sun. Phil the Groundhog told us that we’d have 6 more weeks of winter. Despite that, I’ll call it a good day.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Women and Horses

“What is it about women and horses?” I am often asked. I certainly don’t intend to speak for all women who love these amazing four-legged creatures, but I can tell you why they have captivated me. It started when I was just a baby. My mother pushed me in a stroller every day to the farm down the road so I could squeal and laugh with delight as the horses poked their noses through the fence rails.

When I was a little kid, sitting up high on a horse’s back, surveying the world made me feel like I was really in charge of something. It gave me confidence in myself that this huge powerful animal listened to me and did what I asked. In fact, it still does.

As a grown-up, after fifteen years of not riding a horse, I visited friends in New Mexico and went for a trail ride. Just smelling and touching a horse again made me deliriously happy. We rode down into the arroyos, dried up river beds that run for miles in the desert. The flat sandy soil was perfectly smooth. “Okay, let’s go!” the guide called, and my horse took off. Even though I had cantered and galloped my way through childhood, it was the first time that I had ever ridden as fast as the horse could go without any destination or need to stop. We were flying. There were no motors, no noise of a machine, only the wind and the sound of the horse’s hooves on the soft ground. Mostly, I heard the two of us breathing in rhythm. When the horse got tired, we stopped. I wanted more.

Years later, when I was boarding Silk and Siete near my house while I worked day and night in a pressure-cooker job, the scent of my horses saved my sanity. I’d race to the barn to see the girls in the morning before going to the office. After rubbing their favorite itchy spots, my hands would be covered with the sweet smell of horse. For the rest of the day, I’d hold my fingers up to my nose when I’d get aggravated or stressed out. The scent of Silk and Siete would ground me and remind me of “the real me”.

I believe that as a woman, I identify with horses because I too have that “prey instinct”. Granted I’ve never been attacked by a mountain lion. Still, after years of living in New York City, I know I’ve experienced the same feelings of caution and fear of predators while riding in an elevator alone with a strange man or walking through a parking garage by myself to get to my car. I aspire to build my intuition and my gut instincts to be as finely tuned as Silk’s.

Shambhala Buddhists’ use the phrase “windhorse energy”. “Wind” is the strength, power and exuberance to carry yourself beyond self-concern. “Horse” is the courage to ride over obstacles and achieve what you intend. The first time I heard about “windhorse energy”, I recognized it was the gift that my horses offer to me. They help me to be more than I ever believe I can be. So that’s why this woman loves horses.