Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Finding Happiness


I got up earlier than usual this morning because I was worrying about the horses in this crazy cold weather. When I checked the temperature, it was 8 degrees in the barn with a wind chill that made it -4. I trudged out an hour sooner than normal to give them breakfast with extra hay. I’m mostly concerned about my dear old lady, Silk. When I took her blanket off on Sunday during our brief heat wave, she had obviously lost some weight. I researched cold weather and aging horses and have begun adjusting her diet, adding some beet pulp and extra hay.

While I was filling their buckets with warm water, I reflected on how this past year has consistently presented daily tests and difficulties beyond those I normally face. Then, I realized that this last decade has also been just one great challenge after another, not only for me but for everyone in this country. The actions of others, whether they are blowing up the World Trade Towers or offering bad mortgages that cause the banks to fail, impacted most of us in dramatic way s that we were unable to control or change. And it wasn’t our fault, so it made us angry and for some people, full of hate. I also thought about how sometimes over the past ten years, I’ve gotten involved in other family members’ life lessons and found myself wondering why the heck this is happening to me when it’s really their problem. I’ve come to understand that those moments are the ones that help build compassion and forgiveness, and I’ve learned that vulnerability can be a door to finding great strength. Those are pretty heavy thoughts for six o’clock in the morning.

Now that I’m back in the house, comforted by another cup of hot coffee, I’ve been thinking about an excerpt that I read from Linda Kohanov’s latest book that’s still a work in progress. She realized that her horses were “not so much tutoring as tuning me, helping me over time to hold a more balanced frequency. Like Zen masters, these exquisitely mindful creatures helped me navigate paradox with increasing facility. They even held the key to dealing with emotion effectively, and it didn’t involve suppression or expression.”

I owe so much to Silk for “tuning me to a more balanced frequency”, so it’s a small gesture of gratitude that I went out twice last night and got up extra early to give her more hay in an effort to keep her old bones warm. I do what I can do to keep my horses happy, and I am aware of how important happiness is to leading a healthy, balanced life.

In an increasingly important effort to create more happiness, I’ve just discovered Matthieu Ricard, a French cell geneticist who became a Buddhist monk. He lives in the Himalayas, takes beautiful photographs, cares for people who need help and writes about happiness. He believes that to understand what it takes to be happy, we must first look at why we’re not. “As influential as external conditions may be, suffering, like well-being, is essentially an interior state. Understanding that is the key prerequisite to a life worth living. What mental conditions will sap our joie de vivre, and which will nourish it?”

Ricard says, “The search for happiness is not about looking at life through rose-colored glasses or blinding oneself to the pain and imperfections of the world. Nor is happiness a state of exaltation to be perpetuated at all costs; it is the purging of mental toxins such as hatred and obsession that literally poison the mind. It is also about learning how to put things in perspective and reduce the gap between appearances and reality… In its deepest sense, suffering is intimately linked to a misapprehension of the nature of reality.”

This sharp cold spell is once again Mother Nature’s way of reminding me that I can’t control everything. In trying to control, we are closing our eyes to what is possible. Just as Silk and Siete accept and adapt to what is going on without worrying about what will happen tomorrow, I must learn to trust that I can handle what is placed before me . Following instinct and intuition the way my horses do, I will let my spirit guide me to a warmer, happier place.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Snow, Snow Go Away


Last Sunday, I was shoveling 10 inches of snow bundled up against freezing winds and temperatures in the teens. Now, only a week later, it is sunny and 50 degrees outside. And instead of shoveling snow, I spent the day shoveling poop soup because all the rain we got last night flooded Silk’s stall. What’s up, Mother Nature?

The horses didn’t know how to take it. Silk was most disturbed by the disgusting brown lake in her stall. Luckily, I was able to take off the girls’ blankets, so the warm sun helped cheer her up. Siete enjoyed exploring the pasture with grass not snow. I could tell she was a little confused about why there wasn’t any more cold white stuff, but there were a few tasty blades to be found out there.

I was too warm , wearing a t-shirt, lifting heavy buckets full of the above mentioned yuck, and dumping over 100 pounds of wood pellets into the barn. Standing back to admire the clean, dry stall, I couldn’t help but be amazed by Mother Nature’s gift of the Spring-like weather. Of course, they are predicting more snow tomorrow, with the temperature dropping back to 20 degrees during the day and 10 degrees at night on Tuesday.

It made me think about how we just can’t control everything. I could have been angry and upset when I looked at all the water in the corral and in Silk’s stall this morning, but I consciously chose not to be. Now, with aching arms and back, I’m looking at the forecast and it’s astonishing to think that we’re in for such an abrupt change yet again. I guess that 2009 is going to continue to be a wild ride right up to the end.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Silk, Siete and I wish you all the very Merriest of Holidays! We’re chowing down, enjoying the delights of family, friends and some of the nicest hay anyone has ever seen (a present from our hay man who knows how to win a horse’s heart).

Hope you have a wonderful time!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Winter Solstice!


Today was not only the shortest day of the year, but also one of the coldest we’ve had around here this winter. The wind blew in these big bitter gusts, sending snow whipping around. The horses didn’t let that stop them from spending some time playing in the drifts and getting some exercise after being stuck in the barn all day yesterday.

One thing that makes this solstice especially interesting to me is that there are two full moons this month. The second one is a rare blue moon coming up on Dec. 31st, which seems like it should have some significance since we’re beginning not just a new year but a new decade as it travels across the sky.

Hopefully, it will bring a more positive, generous spirit to the year ahead. My favorite quote from the essays in “What Matters Most” was this one:

“If we listen only to those who are like us, we will squander the great opportunity before us: To live peacefully in a world of unresolved differences.”
David Weinberger, Harvard Beekman Center for Internet and Society

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Matters Now


I got a great, free gift today, and I want to share it with you. There’s a new ebook that was created by Seth Godin called “What Matters Now”. It’s an amazing, generous effort that is 82 pages of provocative, inspiring short essays.

“Here are more than seventy big thinkers, each sharing an idea for you to think about as we head into the new year. From bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert to brilliant tech thinker Kevin Kelly, from publisher Tim O’Reilly to radio host Dave Ramsey, there are some important people riffing about important ideas here.”

“Now, more than ever, we need to shake things up. Now, more than ever, we need a different way of thinking, a useful way to focus and the energy to turn the game around.”

They talk about fear, dignity, meaning, ease, strengths, technology, enough, (dis)trust and sleep, among other thought stimulating topics. The goal is to spread ‘What Matters Now” to over 5 million people around the globe. So, check it out, enjoy and send it along as one of the best free gifts of the season. Thanks to Seth and everyone who contributed to this creative effort!

It may not be written with horse people in mind, but in my mind, everything connects back to my horses.

sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/12/what-matters-now-get-the-free-ebook.html

Monday, December 14, 2009

Who Ordered This Mess?

I just came in from the barn to give my aching arms a break. Siete was asking for more snow, fluffy this time, please. Silk wants to go back to California NOW. She’s wishing I knew how to teleport us there. Okay, it’s not as cold as it is in Wisconsin or Montana or Maine, but it’s only mid-December, and we’ve already hit the complaint department button several times this week.

First, there was snow topped with the inch of rain that created lakes in the corral and the pasture when it fell on the four inches of snow. Then, with temps in the teens for several nights, all that water turned everything into a skating rink. When it began to warm up yesterday, we had a disgusting flooding mess. In a moment of desperation, I dumped some bags of wood pellets into the corral so no one would break a leg. It worked well until we got more rain last night. Now, I’ve been trying to dig ditches to get the water out but there are chunks of ice blocking the drainage.

This is the first winter that we’ve had the gate between the barn and the pasture. Both horses were hovering around it after the first snow, eyeing the vast pristine white blanket on the other side. Since they have their snowshoes on, I decided to risk the icy patches out there and managed to pull it open. It’s your choice, ladies, I told them, but be careful. Siete charged right out and scampered around in a couple of big circles. Silk looked at me like I was out of my mind and headed back to her stall. Right away, Siete wanted to come back in, but the drainage ditch was full of frozen chunks. She stood there waiting to see if I was going to come to the rescue. When I didn’t, she remembered that even though she’s a western cow horse, she can jump. With one pretty little leap, she crossed the ditch and ran into the stall with her mother.

By today, they were both ready to explore the far corners of the pasture to see if there was any grass worth eating under the snow. As soon as I walked out with feed buckets in my hand, they took off and Silk demonstrated the proper way to deal with the ditch. How many days until Spring?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Here It Comes Again


I’m feeling pretty smug today. We got our first snow, and unlike last year, the horses had their borium cleated snowshoes put on a full five days ahead of it. I waited until mid-December last winter and it snowed so hard that the farrier couldn’t make it out here. Then, each time we re-scheduled, it was like a guarantee that we’d get another blizzard. The girls didn’t get their shoes until the end of January and we had to slip slide down to the icy driveway because it was too socked in to drive up to the barn. I learned my lesson, yes sir.
After watching Siete run and fall one winter, I am a firm believer in this added protection.

I also planned ahead and bought myself a new pair of YakTrax. These stretchy rubber grippers fit over the bottoms of any boot and are my own equivalent of borium shoes. I wore out the first pair. They just disintegrated after four years of heavy use. So, it was a pleasure to pull on my new “pro” model Yaks which have an extra strap to secure across your toes for heavy trekking.

There’s a good layer of ice and some really disgusting soupy mud under this pristine cover of white, so don’t be fooled by the pretty picture.

By the way, my daughter and I ventured down to New York City despite the bad weather yesterday to a Director’s Guild screening of “The Princess and the Frog”, the latest Disney movie set in New Orleans. It’s delightful, so if you have kids, check it out. The projection and the sound were incredible, which highlighted how bad my local theatres are. The animation is hand drawn, and the colors are gorgeous. Great music too by Randy Newman. It’s a winner.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I am so fortunate to have all of you wonderful friends around the world, and on this Thanksgiving, I would like to send you an Irish blessing that we share in our house:

May you have
lucky stars above you,
sunshine on your way,
many friends to love you,
joy in work and play,
laughter to outweigh each care,
in your heart a song,
and gladness waiting everywhere,
all your whole life long.

Wishing you a relaxing, happy and peaceful day!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thoughts on the Day Before


I was late getting out to the barn this morning, distracted by my to-do list of remaining shopping for Thanksgiving dinner and by the muffins in the oven. My daughter made a request for them last night as she crawled into her bed. Since she doesn’t have school today, I decided to give her a treat and start the holiday baking early. I’m always double-parked these days, racing from one task to the next while my mind is full of all the things that I still need to do and won’t get to in these 24 hours.

So, I was expecting to find grumpy, hungry horses. Instead, two sweet faces eagerly greeted me as I dumped the feed in their buckets. It made me stop and realize that during the past month, when I’ve been too busy to give my girls the attention that they need, they’ve been so good. They don’t act bored or naughty. They haven’t injured themselves or gotten sick. They brighten my stressed-out, over burdened, weary brain every time I take a moment to be with them. Looking back on this challenging year, I am so grateful that we all are still here, doing what we did last November.

There are some differences. For the first time, we won’t be having any visiting family or friends at our table tomorrow. Some friends who have become like family and live around the corner will stop by after dinner. Part of me will miss the festivities of a larger crowd, but it’s also a relief not to have to deal with all the temperaments and quirks that often accompany Thanksgiving guests. We will still have the battles of will that accompany any holiday meal in my house since my mother, at age 95, grows more and more insistent that she must have her way. Her nickname is “the General”, and she’s used to being the one in charge. It’s interesting that this year, I have had so many people tell me that they re finding it hard to face the drama and the emotional turmoil that can make Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day a long, bumpy ride.

Who would think that arguments over how to make the cranberry sauce and snide remarks about how much weight someone has gained carry so much deeper meaning? One resolution I set this morning, as I drank my coffee while Silk and Siete munched their hay. was to curb any judgments I might be tempted to make tomorrow. I will remind myself that when someone says something to provoke or dig or pick, I will notice the frightened, lost soul who is hiding behind those remarks. I will make light of it or ignore their efforts to spoil a good time. Fortunately, I can always escape to the barn. Two good horses will be glad to see me.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Think Before You Eat


You haven’t heard from me for a while because I’ve been deeply immersed in the complicated world of food distribution and how to change the food system. Through making videos for a non-profit organization called Red Tomato that helps family farms get their produce to market, I've been spending a lot of time these days thinking about what we eat.

One of the impressive things that I’ve learned is that we have incredible power as consumers. I’ve heard produce supervisors at big grocery chains say that the reason they carry more local and organic food is because people like you and me prefer to buy it. They aren’t concerned with whether it’s healthier or better for the environment, they’re looking at their profits. In the last ten years, there’s been a growing awareness about the problems with what we eat and how we eat it. Filling ourselves with processed food, as well as whole foods that are full of pesticides and antibiotics, has any number of scary effects on our bodies. People are gradually beginning to wise up to what we're being sold and demand something better.

When I moved here five years ago, one of my neighbors used to make no bones about it that she thought that I was an elite food snob, being extravagant and downright crazy to buy organic whole foods. The other day, she stopped me to say that since her mom and nephew were put on a gluten-free diet to try to solve their health problems, they have felt great and stopped taking all the medication they had previously been given. She told me that she’s sorry she thought I was nuts for being so particular about what I fed my family and has really begun to buy different types of food when she shops.

As I started my shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner this year, I noticed a change in what was piled up at the ends of the aisles in the grocery store. I found cans of organic pumpkin on sale. I saw more free range turkeys next to the hormone and antibiotic filled ones. I began to really think about what some of the great, sentimental recipes that I cook each Thanksgiving contain that might be harmful. I realized that I could substitute other healthier ingredients and not lose the taste or the tradition that everyone at my table loves.

So, there is something that we can do every day to improve the food system and our own well-being. We can think before we eat. We can buy items in the store that aren’t shipped across the country or from overseas and eat food that is grown in season and locally. We can choose what is grown without chemicals and hormones and antibiotics. We can look on the labels to see if there is MSG hidden in our cans of soup or trans fats in our bakery goods. We can make healthier choices. It might taste different, but it also tastes better. There’s incredible flavor and real enjoyment in every bite.

“Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend. “
Wendell Berry

If you'd like to see the video that we just finished for Red Tomato, please go to blip.tv and enter The Red Tomato Story in the search box. It should get you there.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Early Dark



When I went out to the barn last night at 6 pm, it was pitch black. There’s something about feeding the horses in the dark that is always unsettling. Now that it’s light in the morning, the dread I feel has shifted with the time change to their dinner hour. Once I’ve turned on the lights and started bustling around in the barn, I don’t mind it. The fear is in that moment of leaving the warm glow of my house and heading out into the total darkness. I sometimes feel like a little kid who is afraid something is going to jump out and get me. I know that’s ridiculous, so recently I’ve been exploring what makes me react this way.

It was probably no coincidence that a friend of mine lent me one of her favorite books this week. It’s called “True Nature” by Barbara Bash, and it’s really a gem. Barbara records, in beautiful drawings and watercolors and handwritten pages, four retreats that she goes on alone at a cabin in the Adirondacks. She is there for one week during each season of the year. It is such an honest and thought-provoking book. One of the big issues that she confronts is her fear of going into the dark woods at night.

“Being here by myself feels like a pause, a break in a pattern. The habitual knitting together of schedules and demands is beginning to unravel. The tight secure knots of my life loosening, relaxing. And then, that raw aloneness rushes in, and with it, the impulse to turn away, run back home.”

I was thinking about the years that I spent living alone, and the nights I woke up, scared by who knows what. When I lived in Los Angeles, in the Hollywood Hills, sometimes the police helicopters would suddenly erupt through the black silence with the beams of their searchlights and the sharp noise of their blades. It was impossible to settle back into a relaxed sleep after that, and I’d sit up running through all the problems and worst-case scenarios in my life until the sun came up. When I got my big yellow dog, Cosmo, back in those lonely LA days, I re-discovered the great consolation I find in the presence of animals, and I continue to appreciate their ability to calm me.

So, I should have guessed that Silk would be sending me a message about my anxiety. As I turned on the lights in the barn and opened her stall door last night, in my head, I heard this very clear voice telling me, “When you take care of your horses, you are taking care of yourself.” I realized that last winter, this same lack of being able to see clearly in the night had felt soft and mysteriously re-assuring to me. The silence, the stars and the moon and the sounds of the horses were all gifts that I looked forward to since my life back then was on more settled ground. Right now, in so many aspects of my day-to-day existence, I feel like I’m never sure what’s going to happen next.

In Barbara Bash’s book, she quotes Pema Chodron: “Exercise your willingness to rest in the uncertainty of the present moment over and over again.” Going into the dark each night is a concrete way for me to do that. The point at which I am able to welcome the uncertainty instead of fear it will be a big step towards taking better care of myself. I joke that feeding the horses is a sacred ritual for me, but in fact, it might also be the path that leads me through these un-nerving times.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

For the Sake of the Horse

I wonder if you’ve been following the excellent posts from Billie at Camera Obscura about the Rollkur issue and a video that was shot by Epona TV of dressage rider Patrik Kittel. If you haven’t, please check out Billie’s thorough, thoughtful coverage of this tragic situation that is occurring in the dressage world and follow the links to sign the petitions to the FEI to stop this inhumane treatment of horses. Thank you, Billie, for providing us with all the information we need to make an educated effort to try to help right a serious wrong.

Briefly, Rollkur is a training technique used by some dressage riders that creates hyper-flexion of the horse’s neck. It is supposed to teach the horse to lower its head and round its neck as it works. In some cases, the horse’s mouth touches the middle of its chest, and this state of hyper-flexion is held for over ten minutes. The video shows the horse that Kittel is riding sticking out its tongue, which has turned blue, an indication that the blood flow has been cut off. The Federation Equestre Internationale is the sole controlling authority for all international events governing Dressage, Driving, Endurance, Eventing, Jumping, Reining, and Vaulting. It establishes the rules for the Olympics, as well as Championships, Regional and Continental Games. In 2006, the FEI decided that it would allow the use of hyper-flexion by experienced riders. Now, they are reconsidering their position. Anything that we can do to convince them that Rollkur should be banned is needed at this critical moment.

I realized that I am quite sensitive to this issue because of the abuse Silk suffered before I bought her. This kind of extreme treatment exists in many disciplines of riding. As a Western Pleasure horse, Silk had the misfortune to be ridden by a man who was relentlessly aggressive in training her to bend her neck and put extreme pressure on her mouth with the bit. It is amazing to me that she forgave humans for what they did to her, and that she is my loving and willing partner today.

I went out to the barn after reading the links that Billie posted and watching the video. If the neighbors had heard me, they would have thought that I was crazy, but I told Silk the whole sad story. She just kept eating her hay, with one ear turned in my direction. I said that we would keep trying to make life better for horses, and that over 4000 people had already signed petitions protesting to the FEI. Years ago, I promised Silk that no one would ever hurt her again, and I am sorry that so many other horses continue to be abused by people under the guise of “training”. I know she listened to me.

Billie quoted Paul Belasik's “A Search for Collection - Science and Art in Riding”, and what he said had such an impact on me that I can’t stop thinking about it. I feel compelled to quote it again here:

"The reason why you can’t pull a horse’s head down to his knees and hold it there day after day, hour after hour, is the same reason why you can’t pull a man’s head down to his knees and hold it there. The reason is that it is demeaning to the ...dignity of the horse or man. It is an ethical, philosophical problem, as well as a scientific one. When you act this way toward a horse with this unprovoked, irrational and unrelenting constant aggression, you demean everything: the horse, nature, yourself, the art and the observer. In the wild, no horse would accept this demonic control. Leaders lead because they prove they have the capacity to lead, and they are good at it. The whole herd has a better life. If the leaders choose badly… they will be replaced."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Three Breaths


It rained and rained yesterday. Then, it rained some more. The horses chose to stay in the barn all day. Siete was like a kid who was bored and looking for trouble. I never bothered to put the halters on or open the gate to the pasture. I would wait until it stopped raining for a few minutes to run out to give the girls more hay. Each time I did, another deluge would begin just as I got to their stalls, and I would end up soaking wet by the time I got back to the house.

So, on the third time that the skies opened up on me, I decided to just hang out with the horses and pick their feet. Silk was glad for my company, as usual. She’s been really anxious the last couple of days, staring into the woods like there’s something out there that might try to get her. I can’t see anything, but she’s acted like this before. I know it will pass eventually, and for now, I just try to give her a little extra attention to reassure her that everything is okay.

Siete let me pick out her front left foot, but as I reached for the front right, she grabbed my jacket and tried to bite me. I threw my arms up over my head, said “Quit!” in my deepest most I-mean-it-no-kidding voice, and stepped into her space, making her back up. She put her head down, but she was still thinking about challenging me.

That’s the point at which I tried something I’d read about called “The Three Breaths Practice”. Ezra Bayda, a Buddhist meditation teacher from San Diego, writes about it in his book, “Zen Heart”. It’s very simple. When something goes wrong, you simply stop, and for three breaths, stay completely present in the moment. You feel what your body is doing, not changing anything, just bringing your awareness to the overall feeling of being in this place at this exact time.

He points out that often, the resistance we are feeling and trying to avoid is making our difficult experiences even more difficult. Sometimes, what we are resisting are only deeply entrenched thoughts and strong physical reactions."The more often we enter into and feel these moments of discomfort, the more we understand that it’s more painful to push away the experience than it is to actually feel it.” Bayda explains.

So, I took my three breaths, while Siete pinned her ears and stood braced for what I was going to do next. And by the end of the third breath, I felt different. My mind wasn’t racing through all the options of what I should do to punish her for trying to bite me, and freaking out about whether this was a big new behavior problem that was only going to get worse. I noticed that my body was way too tense, so before breath number three, I loosened everything up. Then, I just stepped over and picked up her hoof and cleaned it like I normally would. Everything inside me was calm and yet alert, observing what would happen next. Nothing happened. Siete stood watching me until I left the stall, and she started eating her hay. Walking away, I made sure I didn’t take the incident with me and chew on it. I just let it go.

This morning, I asked Siete to step back and wait while I put the flake of hay in her stall. When I told her it was okay to eat, she came forward with her head lowered, not the least bit aggressive. I thought about how we all have our grumpy moments where we lash out, only people usually use their words and tone of voice. I resolved to try this three breaths thing again next time one of my two-legged family members gets mad at me. If I snap back out of fear or frustration or a need to control, it only escalates. If I don’t instantly react, it creates a space that allows each of us an opportunity to consider the consequences. Even though she doesn’t actually live inside my house, Siete is doing a pretty good job of mirroring and leading me through some relevant life lessons.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lighting the Night With Hope

I have some new heroes. For two nights this week, my husband and I videotaped the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society’s “Light the Night” walk in Manhattan and Queens to raise money for a cure and treatment of blood cancer. At the South Street Seaport, in pouring rain, thousands of people turned out to walk on the Brooklyn Bridge and show their support. I was soaked to the bone, but it was worth it. What an inspiring sight! Saturday night, we were in Forest Park, Queens, with another huge group carrying balloons with little lights inside. Red balloons for supporters, white balloons for survivors and gold balloons in memory for those who have died. It’s very moving to look at these enormous rivers of people, holding their balloons high, carrying banners that honor their loved ones and tell their stories.

One man, whose daughter is in her 20’s and has leukemia, told me that despite the Recession, more people gave money this year than in all the eight years that his family have been participating in this walk. They say that every step saves lives. It also reminds me of the generosity and compassion we have for each other.

I’ve been watching the news these past few months, seeing large groups of disgruntled Americans protesting various things. It struck me that being in a crowd of people who were filled with love and courage and hope is a great antidote to all that negativity boiling around us. It puts everything in perspective.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Centering


I was just standing outside as the sun was rising, listening to the horses munch their breakfast and appreciating a V of geese that honked their way across the sky. This morning is the first truly cold frost that we’ve had. It’s so clear and quiet except for the sound of the rooster crowing, the geese calling to one another and the girls chewing contentedly. I felt very centered.

Late last night, I spoke to an old friend who lives in Los Angeles. We had lost touch for about ten years, and I’m so happy that she tracked me down again. We immediately fell into a comfortable conversation catching up so that it seemed like it was only ten days ago that we spoke, not ten years. It gave me cause to reflect on how many changes I’ve been through since those days when we would walk our dogs together in the Hollywood Hills every evening. I had only one animal and one man in my life at that time. Now, my world is full of family and creatures that sometimes seem to all need my attention every waking minute. It makes it harder to stay balanced and remember what it takes to be true to myself.

I thought about a moment of chaos that happened yesterday as the sun was setting. My daughter was having a teenage meltdown in the house because the computer wasn’t printing out her science project correctly. My husband was thousands of miles away in an airport, having missed a very important connecting flight, so the airline was sending him in the completely opposite direction to a different city in hopes of connecting there to a new flight that could get him to where he needs to be today. My mother was stressing out because she was hungry, and I wasn’t even close to making dinner for us. And the horses’ stalls had never been mucked because I’d been too busy all day to get to it.

To get some space and fresh air, I left the humans to fend for themselves and headed to the barn. Instead of feeding the horses and tucking them in for the night, I turned them out. Silk stood by the pasture gate, patiently waiting for me to let her back inside. Siete freaked out and exploded, bucking and squealing and giving voice and motion to all the frustrated, chaotic energy that was swirling around me. It was such a perfect visual for what I’d been feeling that I had to stop and laugh.

In that moment, I remembered something I read from author Lynn Andrews: “All of the distractions and pandemonium of your life are of your own choosing.”

Then, I also thought of a quote I saw earlier from Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer. He was talking about dogs, but it could have been horses: “They accept you as who you are - one leg, two legs, no eyes, no problem,” he says, “But they won’t accept unstable energy. That’s how much integrity they have.”

Thanks, Siete, for once again, bringing me back down to earth.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Game of the Week


We’ve got a new team sport going on in our yard. It’s the Wild Turkeys vs. the Chickens. The front lawn is the playing field.

You may recall from an earlier post this summer that a white rooster, known around here as the Chief, is the Quarterback for the chickens who live across the road. Our yard is their “free range”, and my mother feeds them liberally with all our leftover chips and bagels and grain products. Starting last fall, the wild turkeys discovered our property, and the mother birds enjoy trooping around like Girl Scout leaders with babies of all sizes. They teach them to sit on the fence rails and find goodies in our garden and sleep in the hidden island of our forsythia bushes. This year, they’ve got a new leader, Big Mama, and she is going to give those chickens a run for their chips and bagels.

The wild turkeys are very bold. They come right next to me when I weed the garden without any fear. When the horses are in the pasture, all the turkeys, including the smallest babies, march right around them like they own the place. On sunny days, the ladies like to roost on our fences and work on their tans.

The chickens are not pleased. Since Big Mama and her band are much larger than even the Chief, the skirmishes are few and quick. The turkeys chase them across the front yard, return to their position by the big pine tree and then, the chickens gradually peck their way back to the center of the field. As soon as the turkeys realize that their opponents have gained ground, they race towards them, pushing the chickens back towards the road. Silk and Siete are the official umpires, but if there’s a new flake of hay dropped in the pasture, they let the game run wild while they chow down. Our two cats provide play-by-play coverage, running back and forth between the windows inside the house with their teeth positively chattering with excitement. It keeps my mother entertained endlessly, which is such a good thing.

I’m wondering if ESPN would be interested.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Intention Instead of Outcome


Today is the Fall Equinox, a time when we harvest what we’ve raised and yet experience the death of green all around us. I’m having mixed emotions, so I turned to some of my spirit guides for advice.

First, I checked in with one of my favorite wise women, Sandra Ingerman. She suggests:
“This time of year is a great time to let drop from you what is no longer needed to return to the earth to be composted creating new life. For with all types of death – the little deaths we experience through life as well as physical death – something new is reborn from what dies. The cycle of life and death is one unbroken circle…”

She recommends creating a ceremony to release expectations.” I find for some of us letting go of expectations feels like giving up. But what if it is giving up to something better? What if we hold an intention of what we want to experience while at the same time we trust that the way our desires and intentions manifest is greater than what we allowed ourselves to imagine? The key is don’t let go of your intentions and focus. But sometimes we have to let go of the outcome. Try working with this in the time of fall where the plants and trees are giving back to the earth the old so that the new can be born.”

I’ve been expending a lot of energy worrying about the outcome of several things in my life recently, so this idea really hit home for me. While I cleaned the barn today, I took some time to really think about what my expectations were and how they cause pain and self-doubt when I don’t get what I want. If the outcome isn’t something I can control, than there’s no point in trying to hold on to it. It’s kind of like the maple tree that I was standing under. Even though the weather is still warm, its leaves are turning brown and falling faster and sooner than usual this year. Maybe Sandra Ingerman is right: My soul and the soul of the world is working to give me greater gifts than I can imagine.

It reminded me of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Song For Autumn”:
“In the deep fall
don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think
of the birds that will come - six, a dozen - to sleep
inside their bodies?”

And thinking of that eloquent wisdom stirred up my sense of anticipation of all the enjoyable activities that will come with colder weather and shorter days. After all, with each ending comes a new beginning.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Much Needed Break


I’ve been working too hard. This past month, I’ve been juggling three projects, getting my daughter settled into her routine at school and trying to adjust to the shifting realities of my mother’s deteriorating mental state. It’s meant there’s less time to blog, no time to stare into space and do nothing, and even when I did try to relax and read a book, the worries of my work wouldn’t step back and give me a break. One thing that brings me back to myself, no matter how busy I get is that there are two horses in the barn who need my attention every morning and every night.

Yesterday, everything paused and I was able to go through my day with an astonishing sense of leisure. Don’t ask me why. Maybe the planets and my schedules just aligned for a brief bit of breathing room. At first, as I turned out the horses, taking time to let each of them graze on the last bits of soft green grass between the barn and the pasture, I felt like I was forgetting to do something. Then, as I mucked Silk’s stall, I realized that I was actually giving my full attention to what I was doing. My mind wasn’t racing around trying to solve problems for several projects and family dramas at the same time. It was like falling free form in space. At first, I was on edge and jumpy, but then I found a gentle floating feeling and relaxed.

I stopped to watch the horses for about five minutes. I gathered up some firewood since it’s gotten cold at night. This morning, there’s nowhere to go and no deadlines to meet. I’m not behind on anything, and it’s a beautiful sunny Saturday. I’m going to groom the horses and fool around and hopefully this afternoon, I can hop on Silk for a while.

Someone called me and asked if we wanted to go to the Big E, a lively state fair in Massachusetts. As much as I enjoy those kind of things, there’s no way anyone is going to get me in a car and on a highway. My idea of the perfect weekend is one that requires as little effort and movement as possible. You’ll find me here --Staying home, hanging with a couple of four-legged girlfriends and chilling out.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Toasters and Horses

This is a post that has to do with toasters, not horses. Several years ago, we got struck by lightening, and it fried many of the appliances in our house. One of the dearly departed was a reliable old toaster oven that I’d owned for about 20 years. When I went to Target to purchase another one, a shiny red Oster model captured my fancy. It was kind of retro-styled and quite elegant, with a convection oven as well as a regular toaster oven.

I think it was only a couple of slices of bread later that the trouble began. My husband turned on the timer and when it went off, the pieces weren’t toasted yet. So, he twisted the knob and tried to give it a few more minutes. He made the mistake of walking away. When the bell dinged, he came back to his charred bread and began to howl. I should have just returned it then and there. But life was busy, the receipt got misplaced, the toaster looked so good in our kitchen, etc., etc. Now, over four years later, we’re still wrestling with this stupid appliance.

It has a will of its own. I can put in a piece of bread and stand watching it for ten minutes. Yes, it takes FOREVER to toast. Then, the phone rings, my daughter wants me to help her with her hair, I have some momentary distraction. As soon as I turn my back, this toaster seizes the opportunity and blackens the toast. It happens almost every third time, since it takes me about two painfully long sessions of watching bread brown to make me forget and walk away long enough to burn something again.

Now that I describe it, maybe there is a connection here to horses. How many of us have experienced annoying behavior from our horses and just learned to ignore it, get around it or put up with it? I’ve tried over the years not to fall into this trap of not wanting an argument or not admitting there’s a problem. In the beginning, with Silk, I made excuses for her and for myself. It was only when I accepted what was wrong and worked it out with my horse that I was able to lose that nagging feeling of dread and anxiety. The only time I feel that way now is when I’m about to brown a piece of bread.

So, maybe my horses do have something to teach me about dealing with toasters.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Beginning


For me, the week after Labor Day always marks the true beginning of a new year. As a student, it brought the start of a new school year. When I lived in New York City, everything seemed exciting and electrified in September. There were new ideas and new films and new projects flying around. It always amazes me that even the weather comes alive overnight, with a crispness and a welcome cooling that allows you to try out the new sweater or jacket you just bought.

This morning, I can see that the horses feel the difference too. They are frisky in the corral, jockeying at the gate for first position as they go into the pasture. When they are set free, they race around in circles, chasing each other and kicking up their heels. I know we’re in for more hot weather and Indian summer, but it’s the beginning of my favorite season.

This year, somehow, it’s strange that autumn doesn’t have the joy that it usually does for me. There’s relief for having made it through August, which was a difficult month. But I’m also waiting for news on several important, anxiety-making projects, and it’s hard to be patient. I’ve turned my attention to the horses while I wait. Even there, I’m monitoring Siete’s back hooves for signs of an abscess. Her soreness comes and goes, so I’m worrying that we might be starting our traditional bout with Lyme Disease. It’s happened at this time of year ever since we’ve moved here. So, September is arriving with uncertainty, not its usual exuberance.

It's led me to think about how carefully one must fan the flames of hope or they will just disappear. I also realize that I rarely focus on the decaying that comes with the end of summer. I’ve been noticing more recently the flowers that are dying and the leaves that already have begun to fall. The tomato season was a bust here this year, with a blight taking most of the bounty from my neighbors’ gardens. So, it feels like special attention must be given to finding the bright side of things.

I’ve been telling Silk and Siete all the good stuff we have to look forward to in the coming weeks. There will be lots of delicious apples. The trails become more accessible as the foliage disappears. We won’t need fly spray, and Silk’s itchiness will be gone. There will be pumpkins and hayrides, and my daughter and her friends are making a big scarecrow for a charity auction. The prediction is that the leaves will put on an extra special burst of color with all the rain we’ve had. So, for now, I’m going to let go of what I can’t control and just try to enjoy the sight of two beautiful red horses playing in the cool morning mist.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pick Those Feet


I have a confession to make. I hate to pick out my horses’ feet. It’s messy and my hands always get filthy and it’s how I threw my back out last week. So, it became a real test of self-discipline when I decided this summer that I will pick out their feet every morning and every evening. I want to do everything I can to insure that we don’t have any hoof abscesses after last summer’s drama. I’ve put shoes on their front feet now, which was a really good idea since it gives them more support. I think it takes the weight off their back feet. It also holds the muck in more than bare feet do.

To my surprise, the hoof picking has become a little spiritual practice for me and my girls. At first, Siete wasn’t thrilled about it. Some days, she tolerated it, but others, she pinned her ears - “Oh no, not again with the hoof pick!” And once, she even tried to nip my butt. I let her know right away that this is a reaction that would not be tolerated. Eventually, she started to realize that it feels better not to have all that muddy gunk stuck in her frogs. It amazes me how much gets packed in.

So, while I don’t really feel like doing it most nights, I am always glad that I did once I’ve finished. I sleep better knowing that my horses’ feet aren’t filled up with sticky, muddy goop when I close their stall doors and go to bed. There’s something honorable about sticking to the discipline and not letting it slide, even when my back was aching. Both of the girls welcome the last touch of attention that I give them each night. I find myself lingering to scratch an itchy spot or touch up the fly spray. It’s the four-legged equivalent of tucking my daughter into bed with a goodnight hug.

Monday, August 17, 2009

95 and Still Frisky!


Today has been a whirlwind around here. It’s my mom’s 95th birthday, and even though she insisted on keeping it low-key, we didn’t pay no mind to that silly notion. Neighbors came by with flowers and candy just after breakfast. I took Nana to get her hair cut in the afternoon. More flowers kept arriving. And for dinner, her favorite Chinese food and a fabulous cake from our local dairy that makes their own sinfully rich ice cream. Not to mention she got lots of presents.

I am fortunate to come from a long line of strong willed, outspoken women. At 95, some of the parts are wearing out, but my mother still thinks that she can do what she could do 50 years ago. In fact, she still does more than a lot of people half her age. Opinionated, frisky and fearless. That’s my mom, and we love her.

PS - I also had the pleasure of eating breakfast with one of my West Coast blogger friends, M.C. Valada from Out of the Darkroom. It’s always fun to meet my buddies face-to-face after all these years of sharing our lives in the blogosphere. A great way to start this busy day!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Benefits of Deep Listening


I had to go into New York City for a meeting yesterday. I followed my usual routine of greeting the horses and feeding them on a gorgeous summer day. Then, I took the train down to the city and arrived mid-morning. I walked down Park Avenue, took care of business and walked back to Grand Central Station.

The weather was perfect. New York City was enjoying summer in all its glory. I was grateful to live so close to one of my favorite places on earth. But I was even more grateful to get back on the train, leave the city and return to the country and my horses. I don’t think that I could find what I need to cope with all of life’s challenges living in an apartment with only Central Park as a green escape. For 16 years, it was more than enough. Now, it couldn’t begin to satisfy my soul.

What I appreciate so much about being able to just walk out my back door and be in nature is the ability to instantly find a way to go into a state of “deep listening”. I love this expression that I learned from a very wise woman named Sandra Ingerman. She writes a newsletter each month, and this is what she said in her most recent one:

“There is so much we must attend to in our spiritual evolution during such a time of great change. I am sure you can see that changes keep increasing and getting more dramatic. And it is so important to follow your inner wisdom and guidance right now. It is essential in order to thrive to watch omens, trust your deep inner feelings, keep listening to the inner messages you are getting.”

“Working with the elements in nature is a great way to move into what indigenous people call “deep listening”. Nature can move us into a trance state where our rational mind quiets down and we can listen to the deep guidance rising from within... Sitting in the breezes or winds of summer – just listening – allowing your ordinary thoughts to fly away and be replaced by your inner voice can provide guidance for you right now.”

The first thing I did when I got back from the city last night was to go to the barn and pick out the horses’ hooves. They were happy I was home, and so was I. It always is a marvel to me that I can be transported so quickly from one world to the other. The big news while I was gone was that a large coyote strolled by the barn in the middle of the afternoon and that my husband got poison ivy in his eye while he was clearing a bridle trail for me in the woods behind our property. Both events were cause for alarm, but they also reminded me of the differences in my existence between city dwelling and country living. As a refreshingly cool breeze blew through the window over my bed, I fell asleep with big plans for a weekend of “deep listening”.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jewels of Summer


They’re here! The wild raspberries are ripe for picking. The jewels of summer are ready to be eaten. They only come in season for a couple of ridiculously short weeks each year. Raspberries and peaches are my favorite fruits. Lucky for me, we have six raspberry patches on our property. I cultivate them, while some of my neighbors foolishly call them “weeds”.

These raspberries taste nothing like the bland, wimpy ones that I occasionally resort to purchasing at the grocery store. They must be picked at exactly the right moment to get the ideal combination of tart and sweet. I monitor the patches twice a day to pluck the ripe berries before the birds get them. They have to be just the perfect shade of dark red. There’s something so satisfying about touching the cluster of raspberries and having the ones that are ready just drop into your hand. It’s almost a religious experience.

And what do I do with these divine delicacies? First, I fight off the family members who try to gobble them up while they are still in my hand or in the bowl. Then, I make raspberry pancakes, raspberry muffins. This year, I have a recipe for English raspberry pudding and a raspberry cake that I’m dying to try. And I will freeze a small container so that on my birthday, in November, I can have raspberry pancakes even though the bushes have lost their leaves and are packed in compost, preparing for next year’s bounty.

Wish you were here to share them with us!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Those Little Cat Feet


With all this rainy weather, and one very bored teenager, I took some time to do one of our favorite things. We went next door to visit our friend who runs an animal rescue organization and helped socialize some feral kittens. It’s not hard. You just play with them until they get used to being around big human creatures, and then you cuddle them. We love this job.

This time, there were seven babies from three different litters. This fluffy black and white fellow was the most outgoing. He’s a real prince, adorable but hissing at the other kitties if they got to close. It’s all about him. Still, he was more than happy to be picked up and petted. There will be no trouble finding him a good home.

The two orange darlings in the photo below were part of a litter of 13 kittens who were in bad shape when they were rescued. Last week, there was only the scared little girl on the right, but now her brother is feeling well enough that he was able to get out of quarantine to join her. The sister was snuggling on top of her brother while I tried to lure them out of the cat cave by wiggling a strip of fuzzy material. It was incredibly touching how happy these cats were to see each other. I am always so moved by the tenderness that animals show to each other.


I have made one serious rule here: No kitties come home with us. We’re just doing our job like cat cuddling professionals. That’s because our house already has a King. His name is Velcro and he rules (despite my husband’s efforts to regain the crown).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yes, There is No More Abscess!



When I fed Silk on Monday morning, she was holding up her back left leg and wouldn’t put any weight on it. Abscess season has begun, I thought, as I filled the medicine boot with warm water and Epsom salts while she ate her breakfast. She soaked the foot and happily ate her hay. Then, I switched the rubber boot for the boot that JME gave me with an Animalintex poultice in it. All day, Silk limped around wearing the boot without any complaint. What a great horse!

At dinner, we did the whole drill again, and Silk was, of course, the perfect patient. Siete, are you watching? I noticed a big, yucky glob of something came out in the boot. It was a good sign to me that the abscess had drained. For three days, we’ve soaked and poulticed twice a day. By Tuesday night, she was standing firmly on all four feet. No more limping today. I am so pleased to report that tonight she seems sound again. I’ll keep the hoof really clean, but I think we dodged the bullet.

I decided that I’m going to put shoes on Silk’s front feet next week. Siete is doing so much better this summer since she has that extra support. We’re into this difficult weather pattern of lots of rain and then drying up and then more deluge. It reeks havoc on horses’ feet, not to mention the rocks that spring up overnight in the pasture, the stalls, the corral. My husband swears that the rock is the state flower here.

So, it’s pouring again today and no end in sight for tomorrow. The girls were glad to be together in Siete’s stall all day. Every couple of hours, I took a sponge with cold water and dribbled it on their necks and chest. They stand in front of the fan and it cools them.

I’m picking their feet twice a day. Yesterday, I was cleaning Silk’s back hoof and as I bent over, I heard a scary cracking sound from my back. I froze, realizing that I couldn’t really stand up straight. Leaning on my good sweet horse, I concentrated on breathing until my back relaxed enough that I was able to loosen the spasm. I hobbled back to the house and got one of my flexible blue 3M ice packs out of the freezer. I can’t live without them. After lying on the cold pack for ten minutes, I was able to move around a bit better. Let’s just say that my 95 year old mother walks normally, and I look like I’m the old lady.

This too shall pass, but I need to get back to my yoga exercises. Who knew that picking hooves could be so dangerous?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

When the Chickens Cross the Road


I need to go on record first by stating that I am not a fan of chickens. Our neighbors across the street have tried to raise them off and on since we moved in here. There have been some tragedies. As the Animal Control officer told me, “Raising chickens in this town is like opening up a deli for foxes and coyotes.” Still, our neighbors have persevered, building an enclosure around their henhouse that looks like something out of Swiss Family Robinson.

We have a sweet deal going. We give them compost, and they supply us with all the organic, free range eggs that we can eat. As part of the free range claim, they let the chickens out to roam for a few hours each day. It turns out that the chickens like to eat the ticks. So, when they started crossing the road to visit our yard, we weren’t going to chase them away.

Little did I know that I was going to be charmed by the rooster. I admit that I’ve fallen in love. We call him “The Chief”, and he really knows how to keep his girls safe and in line. If one of the hens strays to our driveway or the backyard, the Chief runs right over and pushes her back where he can keep an eye on her. He always waits to be the last one to cross the road, making sure that there are no stragglers. If the girls start to argue over a tasty morsel, he steps in and breaks it up. And did I mention what a handsome guy he is?

So, now I know why the chickens cross the road, and I’m very glad that they do. All hail the Chief!

Friday, July 17, 2009

More Honest Scrap


It’s that time again. Arlene at Grey Horse Matters and Karen at Karen's Musings & Endurance Ride Stuff have honored me with the Honest Scrap Award. A while back, I was given this award and revealed 10 little known facets of my life. Now, I’m going to try to come up with 10 more. Let’s see…

1. I don’t like thunderstorms. When we first moved here, our fence in the pasture was struck by lightening and it blew out many electronic treasures in the house like my computer, the coffee pot, the microwave and the ceiling fan. The fence caught on fire. When the volunteer firemen came, they informed me that we live on a street prone to lightening strikes. Luckily, I had just put the horses in the barn, but they were afraid to go near that part of the pasture for months after it happened. Summer is the season for big boomers, and even as I write, we’re having a severe thunderstorm warning.

2. I’m addicted to the radar page at weather.com. I check it first thing every morning and often throughout the day. I don’t know how I lived without it. We’re extremely weather-conscious around here.

3. I am religious about picking out my horses’ hooves twice a day. We will see if it really helps keep the abscesses away this year. Silk doesn’t even notice when I do it. Siete used to resist, but now she seems to enjoy the attention. It’s become a bit of a bonding ritual between us.

4. Arlene revealed in her Honest Scrap confessions that she can swear like a trooper. Okay, I can swear like a Teamster, which is the same thing, but I learned how to do it on movie sets not highway patrol. My daughter always reminds me that I’m not setting a good example when I let loose.

5. Every morning, after I feed the horses, I say. “ Hello Mr. Goldberg! Hello Aunt Park.” These are two spirits that I feel who live in our backyard. Mr. Goldberg built our house and lovingly grew and cared for the trees and vegetation on our land even when he no longer owned it. He has been long dead and gone but my 95 year old mother says she sees “the old man” by the barn all the time these days. I believe it must be him. Aunt Park was a free black woman who lived here in the 1700’s and was the midwife, healer and medicine woman in our town. She’s still wandering around in the cedar trees on the hill. Most people who come here can sense her presence.

6. I’m turning off the computer because the thunderstorm is upon us. I’ll be back in a few minutes.

7. I don’t have a good voice, but I sing to Silk all the time. She’s the only one who enjoys it, and that’s why I know she really loves me. Sometimes, I make up the songs, but I’m partial to Van Morrison and Silk seems to be too.

8. I can’t wait for the tomatoes to ripen so I can eat them with mozzarella, basil and balsamic vinegar several times a day for the next month or so.

9. I can’t fall asleep at night unless I read in bed. Often, I don’t get through more than a couple of pages, but I love books and the day doesn’t end properly unless I fall asleep with my head buried in one.

10. Everyone in our house is addicted to a new TV show called “The Penguins of Madagascar”. It’s an animated show that takes place in the Central Park Zoo and although it’s supposed to be for kids, the writers are crazy, urbane lunatics. Here’s a sample of the dialogue:

Marlene the Otter: “Skipper, these aren’t the kind of creatures you can reason with!”
Skipper the Penguin: “Neither are we, Marlene, neither are we.”

Tonight, King Juilian, who is a lemur, was lounging on his “super comfy pamper-time floatie throne”. I want one of those, and I’ll bet you do too.

The Honest Scrap Award has been making the rounds, so I’m not going to official bestow it on anyone. You all deserve it, so please feel free to pick it up and tell us some secrets about yourself.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

PLEASE CALL TODAY TO HELP SAVE HORSES

I got this letter today. I called. I hope you do too.

July 14, 2009
Make the Call Today to Help Save Horses

With 144 U.S. Representatives and 17 U.S. Senators co-sponsoring the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2009 (H.R. 503/S. 727), this critical legislation is moving full steam ahead. However, until this bill is signed into law, tens of thousands of American horses will continue to be shipped over the border to Mexico and Canada where they are inhumanely shot and stabbed to death for their meat.

Dedicated advocates like you have brought us so close to the finish line in stopping this cruelty once and for all, and I am so grateful for your unwavering support. But we are not there yet, and we can't stop until our horses are finally protected from slaughter through passage of H.R. 503/S. 727.

Can you help us reach out to your federal legislators and secure more support for this critical bill?

TAKE ACTION
Please make a brief, polite phone call to your U.S. Representative and your two U.S. Senators and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 503/S. 727, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act. Click here to look up your federal legislators and the phone number.

When you call, remember to leave your name and address so it is clear that you are a constituent. You can say:

"Hello, my name is [your name] and I'm calling from [your town] to urge [legislator's name] to co-sponsor H.R. 503/S. 727, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, to end the slaughter of American horses for human consumption. We must end this cruel practice once and for all. Thank you."


We are tracking the impact of your calls, so please click here to let us know you spoke out for horses.

Thank you for your tireless efforts to protect horses from slaughter.

Sincerely,

Wayne Pacelle
President & CEO
The Humane Society of the United States

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Life Lessons from a Video Shoot


I just returned from Massachusetts where I was working with a very good old friend of mine to make a video for a great organization called Red Tomato. They help family farms get their produce to market, but that is really only a surface explanation of what they do. I believe it is the way that they do it that make them so unique and valuable. Spending time with them gave me new incentive to live my life in the spirit that they embody, and naturally, some of what I felt can be related to my horses.

First, I was reminded that respect is essential in any successful, meaningful relationship. I saw genuine respect for everyone, from the farmer to the Jamaican tomato pickers to the camera crew to the people working in the office behind the scenes. It made everyone feel like they were doing something important together. Everything counts and each individual feels important and proud of what they are doing. This morning, in my barn, I was thinking about how easy it is to confuse respect with just doing something in order to get what we need out of someone, two or four legged. It comes down to putting yourself in the other person’s shoes (or horse’s hooves as it were) and sincerely considering what they need to make things better for them. It doesn’t have anything to do with manipulating what will happen to our advantage or trying to make someone like you so your ego will feel good.

I thought about all my years with Silk. We began with me trying to do things to get her to do what I wanted and to get her to bond with me. It was only when I forgot about all that and just considered what I would want if I were her and helped her feel as good as she could that she began to trust me. It starts with the small, daily gestures of respect and grows over the years. Even now, a friend called me and wanted to know if I was going to ride this weekend. I know that Silk’s belly is still pretty itchy, so the girth will rub on the bug bites and make them feel worse. I said no, since I wouldn’t want to have to endure that and be uncomfortable if I were Silk.

The other positive attitude that the people at Red Tomato have is to not get upset when they make mistakes. They look at what goes wrong as an opportunity to make things better and try different approaches. They don’t blame or look back and regret and paralyze themselves with feelings of failure. They just move on and figure out what to do next. Mark Rashid talks about that approach with working with horses, and I am trying so hard to reach the point where I can truly be that way without having any little nagging doubts and inner voices trying to sabotage me.

The third thing that I saw and heard from both the farmers and the people at Red Tomato is that they wake up every morning happy to go to work. They don’t lie there in bed, wishing they didn’t have to do what they are going to do today. I told them that they are really lucky. Today, as I was having a cup of coffee with my horses while they ate their breakfast, I realized that this peace of mind comes with acceptance. Like Silk and Siete do instinctively, I am trying to just live with what is, not wish for something to be better or different or easier or more secure or less scary or more fun. My husband pointed out to me that this sense of meaning and personal satisfaction comes from following your dream. For some of us, with the economic challenges that we face right now, it’s not hard to get off track and lose sight of the dream. This trip to Massachusetts was a way for me to pull out the compass and get my bearings again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thoughts about Attachment


I’ve been thinking about how people say that animals can only live in the moment, and that they don’t miss the past or worry about their future. Yet, I know that some of my animals do miss me when I’m not here and appear to be upset if things change. So, in that sense, they do miss their past experiences or they miss their past routines if I am not present to continue to do what they have come to expect me to do with them. And they also miss my presence and the attention I have given to them.

I could clearly tell that Pepper, our dear departed dog, was always extremely sad when my husband would take out his suitcase and when I would leave with him to drive him to the airport. She was visibly relieved to see me return, but still pined for him until he came home. When I go off to work on a video production, Silk usually spends a lot of her day when I am gone standing at the gate, watching for me to pull into the driveway. When my husband feeds the horses and does the evening chores, putting them in their stalls and locking up the barn, Silk is anxious because I’m not there. Is she worrying about the future and whether she will see me again?

I know that there are a lot of people who think it’s wrong to compare animals to children or give them human attributes. But how can someone not believe that we share similar emotions with animals? My animals and I both feel jealousy and sadness and loneliness and grief, and of course, happiness and love. It makes me realize how difficult it is to not become too attached to another being -- human or animal -- since many of the things that hurt when they are gone are the things that you love when you are with them. What’s different is that people are able to rationalize about how you need to let go and trust that the one you love will return, but an animal can’t. Silk will learn from the repetition of my coming and going that I will eventually be back, but she has no way of knowing when that will be and that causes her anxiety.

So, as I go off to shoot a video for the next couple of days, I will carry with me a touch of sadness. I will know that my horse is spending a lot of her time waiting for me at the gate, no matter how many times my husband reassures her that I will be back by Saturday morning. And I don’t know which one of us will be happier when I come home and see her eager face light up as my car pulls in the driveway.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chillin' on a Sunday Afternoon


We had a big party yesterday so I didn’t have time to wish you all a Happy 4th of July. Here I am, doing it a day late. I hope you had a wonderful time. The weather was glorious, the company was excellent. We are lucky to have some great neighbors and friends of ours from India brought some delightful visitors who were here from Delhi. Today, I am one tired hostess.

The horses enjoyed all the attention. Right before the fireworks were going to start, I went to the barn and gave each horse a flake of hay. As I was standing with them, the first explosions began. I jumped a mile, but neither horse even looked up from their late night treat. Later, I checked on them again and Silk was lying down, asleep, even though things were still popping. Siete stuck her nose out to see if I had any more hay, of course.

So, this morning, when I came out to feed them, I was worried that I didn’t see Silk’s head sticking out to greet me. I found her in the back of her stall and had to coax her to her bucket. First, I thought colic, but then I looked at her tail and realized that she was really itching. While she ate, I slathered Deogel on her bottom and her belly. Before I could do her face and ears, she left her stall, which is again very unusual, and stood at Siete’s door, conferring nose to nose with her daughter. As soon as I opened the door, Silk began nibbling on Siete’s neck at the base of her mane. Siete started nibbling her mother along the base of her neck up and down like she was chewing on an ear of corn. Silk was weak at the knees from how good it felt to be itched in just the right spots.

The love and attention the horses gave each other was really touching. I felt like I was witnessing this really private moment, and I was grateful to be accepted by them as I stood at Silk’s side. When they were done, Silk gently touched her nose to my chest as if to be sure to include me in their circle.

Okay, I thought, it’s time. I called the vet to tell her that we needed to start the prednisolone. When she pulled up the records, we realized that it was exactly the same day as last year when we began the dosage. Because of Silk’s age, I try to not have to use steroids but we decided that the least amount of pills for the least amount of time was necessary. Once the itch cycle gets to a certain point, no amount of washing and salving will calm it. The Deogel is great though. I use it in both the gel and the lotion. I mix the lotion concentrate four parts to one part witch hazel, one part vinegar and six parts water. It works really well and is very economical.

Silk took her first dose of twenty pills at lunch. I just checked on the girls, and they are chillin’ in front of the fan in Siete’s stall. Mama Silk looks so much happier, even though the skin on her face is raw in some spots. It will take a week or two for her to return to normal, but the Pred really did the trick last summer. You know how I fear that stuff, yet at the same time, I’m glad that I can give my horse something to help her stop the itching. I got some mosquito bites on my legs last night, and they’ve been driving me crazy. It’s nothing compared to the bumps on Silk’s belly, under her tail, along the base of her neck and under her chin. I don’t think “sweet itch” is the right name. It’s “crazy itch”, and it’s time for the heavy duty ammunition.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Turtle Time

I had the feed buckets in my hand as I approached the corral this evening. Silk and Siete were both conferring in Siete’s stall. Suddenly, something moved in the mud outside Silk’s open door. It was a turtle. I quickly closed Siete’s stall door and threw in a flake of hay to occupy the girls. If I hadn’t, Silk would have charged out of the barn as soon as she saw the feed buckets and run over the turtle. Of course, curious Miss Siete was craning her neck over the top of the door to see what kind of creature this was.

By the time I managed to reach the turtle, it had already crawled into Silk’s stall, in direct line to be trampled by a horse who was ready for her dinner. I grabbed a small shovel and hoisted my new little friend out of the shavings. The turtle looked pretty startled to be sitting in the grass a few seconds later. I gave it some bits of carrot and a little bowl of water and went back to the horses.

Once dinner was served in the barn, and the horses were settled for the night, I went back to check on my little buddy. The carrots and water were gone and so was the turtle. I felt so relieved. I had redeemed my good turtle karma. Several weeks ago, our neighborhood was the scene of a terrible tragedy. There was a famous, very big, very old snapping turtle who would appear every June, making her rounds from yard to yard to find the perfect spot to lay her eggs. Last year, she picked our pasture. My neighbor and I had to use two snow shovels to lift the snapper who was as big as a dinner plate and carry her to safety. It took some doing since she kept grabbing the shovel and knocking it out of my neighbor’s hands. This was a strong turtle with a neck as big as a soda can. My neighbor remembered her from his childhood and estimated the turtle was about 40 years old.

This year, as usual, we had all been waiting for the turtle to show up. I drove home one morning in a torrential thunderstorm and saw the big snapping mama in the middle of the road just past my driveway. My neighbor was waiting for the school bus with his kids at the end of his drive sitting in his car. I pulled in and ran into the house to grab a raincoat and the snow shovels so we could move the turtle. The school bus came barreling down the road and hit it before I got there. It was horrible. All the neighbors came out and some were weeping. I’ve been haunted by the turtle’s death, feeling guilty that I didn’t stop my car, forget about the raincoat and just block the road. Tonight, saving the my little friend from more turtle carnage, I could actually feel that the big snapper mama’s spirit was pleased.

Friday, June 19, 2009

So It Begins


With the rain and the beginning of summer, so comes the Sweet Itch. Silk is rubbing her belly in her special dirt patch, despite all my efforts. It’s not as bad as last year, thanks to the Deo Gel. Of course, it’s only June, so we’ve got a lot more itching to do before the no-see-‘ums are gone.

It’s more cloudy than sunny today, but we’re celebrating that the rain has given us a brief respite. There was more rain in this last week than we’ve had all Spring. Yesterday, the corral flooded, the basement flooded but miraculously the barn didn’t. Neither horse left her stall all day, which was a first. Siete didn’t want to move even four feet into her mother's stall since the mud had this peculiar quicksand-like consistency. She lost a shoe the day before, and it was raining too hard for the farrier to come. We’re waiting for him today. Just before dinner, my muck boot got stuck, and I ended up with a very wet, gooey sock before I was able to pull it out. Not wanting to stick my disgustingly soaked foot into the boot, I squished all the way back to the house with one boot on and one off. It was that kind of day.

We’ve settled into a slow routine around here. Silk and Siete are so consistent in their behavior that you could set your watch by what they do. Breakfast comes at 6:30, even if it’s pouring rain. I make a point of being prompt since I know it’s been a long time from last night’s dinner. They wander back and forth in the corral from stall to stall. At 9 am , I groom them, clean their feet and turn them out in the pasture. After they graze for two and a half hours, it’s so weird but they head back to the barn on their own accord. They wander right though that wonderful open gate (thank you, honey!) between the corral and the pasture.

At 12:30, when I come outside with their feed buckets, each horse is waiting for me in her own stall, sticking her nose out and staring at the back door. After lunch, they switch stalls for exactly a half an hour, and then, Silk goes back to her side of the barn to join Siete. It’s siesta time. I don’t know why but they always sleep together in Silk’s stall. When my daughter gets home from school at 2:!5, each horse gets another flake of hay to last until 5:30, at which point dinner is served. Shavings are fluffed, lights out and they’re both sound asleep by seven. They don’t object to any unexpected changes, like a little groundwork or a short ride, but they certainly aren’t looking for any excitement.

It’s a big change from last year, when Siete was six and rambunctious. I felt like she was never satisfied to be where she was, always at the gate looking for some action. Seven seems to have given her peace of mind. JME predicted it, and I’m so glad that she was right. I’m wondering if anyone else has seen a change in your horse between age six and seven?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Moment for Peonies


The peonies have opened. It might be grey and raining here in New England, but that didn’t stop them. I remember growing up in the Midwest and being given the important job of watering the peonies every night after the sun set. We had a huge, thick display of them, running across about 100 feet of the backyard. Even as an eight year old, I loved their lush petals and intense perfume. I would carefully aim the hose near the ground so I didn’t damage any of the delicate flowers. The wet grass was cool on my bare toes.

Deep red to almost white, they were my mother's pride and joy. The light pink petals glowed in the dark green, some of them stroked with thin stripes of magenta. Now, in her 95th year, my mother is still delighting in this summer's peonies. She is very protective of them, cutting the stems and arranging them in vases that belonged to both of my grandmothers. We don’t have as many peonies here in our yard as there were in hers, but I hope to add more over the years to come.

I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s wonderful poem, “Peonies”. Here’s the part I like the best:

“the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again ---
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?”

I love Mary Oliver almost as much as I love peonies.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Glorious Days to be Sick


I staggered out to the barn this morning after being sick with a miserable flu for the past six days. The minute the horses saw me, they came racing across the pasture. It did my heart good. I’m still not ready to leap into blogging - give me a couple more days. But I did want to tell you all that I miss you and look forward to visiting you as soon as I can focus on a computer screen. This has been a whopper!

I missed so many days of gorgeous weather. The irises are in full bloom. Peonies are ready to dazzle next. Silk is moping. It’s always amazing to me how fresh and remarkable the world looks after emerging from a darkened bedroom. I’m still coughing and wobbling but it sure felt good to get some horsey kisses.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Siete!


Siete is 7, and I can tell it’s going to be a great year for her. I decided to list seven characteristics that make her the irresistible little girl that she is:

1. Loving - can’t get enough hugs and kisses
2. Fearless - never spooks, can stand next to a noisy chain saw and ignore it
3. Sensitive - responds to anything instantly
4. Challenging -ready to stand on her own two feet - notice I said two not four
5. Devoted - to her mother, to my husband, to my daughter, but not to me yet
6. Hungry - an equine vacuum
7. Joyful - a happy bright spirit

Happy Birthday, sweet horse, you are our spunky shining star!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Here I Am


I’m sorry I haven’t been spending any time in the blogosphere this past week. Losing Pepper brought up for me the realities of our impermanence on this earth, and it has been a difficult but important time for me. Both our cats got sick this week. Our old black kitty has hyper-thyroid disease. Velcro,our orange cat who was raised by our dog, is so stressed out from missing Pepper that he developed a block in his urinary tract. So, I’ve been back to the vet much more than I’ve wanted to go. They’ve been really great to us though, so I’m grateful for that.

The horses are missing my attention. Silk developed a few sores from the Cashel fly mask she’s been wearing. I don’t recommend them and I am going to buy her one of the Farnam double-closure masks with ears that I have for Siete. With the long weekend, I intend to spend a lot of time in the barn, and hopefully, on horseback. I think I need a good dose of loving from my girls.

And some time tomorrow morning visiting all of you at your blogs to catch up. I’ve missed you!