Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!



Snowy Night

Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
tossed
an indeterminate number

of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.

I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –

it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,

so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more

than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried

over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out

my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,

whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Wishes


I hope you all are having a wonderful week of holiday fun! We spent a lovely day with my mom on Saturday, and friends came by our house in the evening to sit in front of a roaring fire and laugh and talk. Then, Mother Nature dropped a big present on us. The snow from the blizzard was well over my knees when I struggled out to the barn yesterday morning. I could hardly see where I was going with the wind blowing stinging white pins in my face. The horses were very happy to see me, and it took all my determination to leave the dry barn and furry warmth of Silk’s greeting to crawl back up to the house.

We spent about five hours shoveling once the snow stopped falling. Our tractor is broken, so we don’t have a plow this winter. Fortunately, one of the neighbors took mercy on us and lent his monster snow-blower once he had finished clearing his place out. That baby is a real tank, relentless and indestructible. We cleared all the paths to the barn and back to the poop bins, the front corral and a small landing pad in the pasture. Oh yeah, and the driveway and the walks around our house too, but as usual, my main focus was on the area around the barn. My neighbor grew up in a family that raised horses, so he had great sympathy for my concerns. I pointed out to him that it’s days like this that make me really glad I have horses, and he laughed so hard that he had to sit down on the back of his pickup truck.

Siete is a snow bunny, but her mama will always be a California princess. Silk is very disdainful of the white stuff and only tentatively ventured out to the small clearing in the pasture for a few minutes. Siete bounds around and buries her head in the snow joyfully. If a horse could laugh, she would be. I started to play with her, running back and forth and clapping my hands and she bounced in the drifts following me. I got tired of this game faster than she did. Finally, I had to lure her back to the barn with some treats because I was afraid her feet were getting too cold. First thing this morning, she was out there again, making huge looping patterns, running across the white blanket of the pasture.

From our winter wonderland, we ‘re sending you good wishes for a happy week!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Lesson of Love


I waited a little longer this year than I usually do to put the winter shoes with borium cleats on the horses. I confess I wasn’t looking forward to it. Last time, Siete had been very antsy, and it felt like it took forever for my old farrier to wield the borium onto the shoes and fit them. So, the other day, I bundled up with long underwear and an extra pair of wool socks and some cut up bits of carrots to keep the horses happy and prepared myself for a long ordeal in the frigid pasture.

Right on time, not just one, but two big pickup trucks with trailers full of the farrier’s equipment pulled through our gate. Four guys got out, and my new farrier sort of sheepishly explained that even though he was only in his 30’s and in really good shape, he had a heart attack a month ago. His doctor said it was really unusual, caused by a random blood clot, and this was the first week he was back at work. He introduced me to his dad, and two of his best friends who were also farriers that were there to help him.

His dad was an old cowboy, and kept joking about how his son was teaching him new tricks. He was learning to be a farrier so he could go out with Johnny and keep an eye on him. He told me with great detail exactly what had happened when his son had the heart attack. All the while, he was prepping Siete for her trim. My farrier was in his truck getting the shoes ready, and his friend stepped up to work on Siete’s feet. I was amazed that my little horse appeared to be completely calm and was enjoying all the attention that these new guys were bestowing on her. They knew the good spots to scratch. and took a moment to get to know her before they grabbed her feet. Almost before I knew it, they were done and I was bringing out Silk. She is always good as gold when anyone works on her feet, but they were also very aware of her age and her arthritis. They had a special low stand for older horses that meant they didn’t have to lift her leg and hoof so high. Again, we were finished in less than half the time it took with my old farrier.

As we all stood around, working and watching in the bitter cold, I found myself getting really emotional about the warm relationships between these men. Johnny’s dad was so proud of him and obviously worried about his boy. The affection and concern and respect that these four men had for each other was palpable. When I met Johnny a couple of months ago, I immediately felt he was an honest man who obviously cared deeply about horses. Now, I said a little prayer that this good guy would stay healthy and live to help his kids the way his own dad was. As they were leaving, he thanked me for letting him bring so many people to help him. He said that some of his clients didn’t like it. I can’t imagine why. It gave me an unexpected lesson about love.

With the holidays approaching, I’ve become particularly aware this year of how many of my friends seem obsessed with the stuff they are buying. It feels like there’s more of a frenzy of shopping than usual. Who would have thought that a visit from my farrier would have reminded me of the strength of the love of family and friends? Yet, after they left, the memory of Johnny’s dad and his friends being so protective and caring stays with me and reminds me of the real meaning of all this celebrating.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mud and Growing Up


Yesterday, my husband told me that I needed to improve my outlook because all I was doing was sending out bad energy. Easy for him to say, sitting in the sunshine in California with the rest of our family enjoying themselves on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I was engaged in a battle of the elements here on the East Coast. We were getting two inches of rain, which was flooding the corral and our basement. Tonight, it’s supposed to be followed by temperatures in the 20’s and lots and lots of ice. The horses don’t have their borium shoes yet, and the farrier can’t come for another four days.

Once again, I was feeling sorry for myself that we were having bad weather with all its drama when my capable, strong, hard-working partner was out of town. It seems to almost always happen this way. Over and over, every couple of hours all day, I bundled up and shoveled and drained the ditch and cleared the water out of the basement with some small assistance from my very grumpy fifteen year old daughter. We also put up the Christmas decorations and hung the ornaments on the tree by ourselves, missing my mom, our dog and our kitty. It took all my effort to keep going, dragging along a child who wished non-stop that we were with Daddy and everyone we love in that warm, sunny place where we used to live.

I could hear the rain all night long, waking up at 4 am with all of my worries to keep me company. I got up expecting the worst: a flooded barn, more water in the basement. Instead, my labor had paid off, and it was dry downstairs. The corral drained well, and the frozen moon craters were soft enough that I can smooth things down before the freeze tonight. Siete didn’t want me to pick out her hooves, but instead of forcing the issue, I left her alone to eat her hay. A few minutes later, I came in through the back door of her stall, and she very willingly let me take her hoof and clean it. At that moment, I had this interesting realization.

All of this challenging physical work helps me and my daughter hold onto an important part of who we are. I’ve never been very coordinated or strong, so small victories like I was experiencing this morning mean a great deal to me. It reminds me that I don’t need someone to help me make it be okay here. It keeps me from getting too attached and dependent on my husband, but at the same time, it helps me appreciate the things that he does for me when he is around. It teaches my daughter that she can make it through difficult situations on her own. Most important, as the rain stopped, so did my bad energy.

I listened to a conversation that poet David Whyte had with the founder of “Sounds True”, Tami Simon, on the Internet this morning. He was talking about creativity and originality. He said, “Start close in. Don’t take the second step or the third. Start with the first one, close in, the step that you don’t want to take. “ He believes that it is the only way to find the courage to “get into the fierce center of the conversation”. He encourages us to open up to vulnerability. “Once you actually turn toward vulnerability, not as a weakness but as a faculty for understanding what’s about to happen, you can transform your life in a way which is quite extraordinary.” I feel like I faced the deluge this weekend, in full awareness of my weaknesses, and it didn’t drag me under. Now, if I can extend that acceptance of my vulnerability to other areas of my life and do the best I can as the situation unfolds, I might actually be able to look back and learn from it. I guess I'm not done growing up yet.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My BK


When we moved into our house in Vista, California, in 1999, the lady who was selling it left two cats behind. One was black, and one was grey. We already had our orange and white cat named Velcro and our dog. Pepper, so we really didn’t want two more cats. I told this woman, “You can’t just leave them. It’s not like they’re plants. “ But she did. I was able to find someone who would give them a new home, but first I had to catch them. That wasn’t so easy since they lived wild in the backyard, existing on whatever they could catch. As the moving van was being unloaded, I put down some bowls of food to see if I could lure them. I had two cat carriers waiting in the wings.

My husband left on a business trip the day after we moved in, and I was a little nervous to be in this new house on the edge of the woods. That night, around 2 am, I woke up feeling like someone was staring at me. There were two small windows on either side of our bed. I sat up and looked over my shoulder. In the window, sitting on the fence post was the black cat, just watching over me. The next morning, I got up and found the grey cat stretched across the front door mat preventing anyone from coming in the house. I called my husband and told him that the cats were totems and they were staying. We named the black one BK, as in Black Kitty, and the grey one was known as Grey Man.

The house had laundry room and attached office next to the garage, so the two cats lived in there, going outdoors when they chose. I fed them and took care of them, but they still enjoyed hunting in the woods. My husband, who doesn’t really like cats, developed a great affection for the little old curmudgeon, Grey Man. The cat drank out of his cereal bowl each morning and slept curled up next to his computer. When he got too old to hunt, his buddy, BK, would bring him presents of mice and other treats. Sadly, the coyotes caught Grey Man one night. The next night, I climbed up on our roof and coaxed BK to come in the house. He’s been with us ever since.

It was a big battle with Velcro, who always considers himself to be the King. But we learned that when you put two cats in a van with a dog and four people and drive them three thousand miles across the country, they will bond. So, Velcro has been like BK’s evil little brother for many years. BK comforted my mom as her dementia came on, sitting on her lap or sleeping with her in bed. This cat had such a big motor that when he purred, you could hear it all over the house, and he purred a lot. He was such a happy, forgiving, generous guy. He always perched just above my head while I slept, whether it was on the couch for a nap or in my bed above me in the pillows, guarding me. About two years ago, BK developed thyroid disease. As he grew older, he got thinner and lighter. There were more and more trips to the vet. This summer, I was sure he was ready to go, but he rallied again and again. I learned the true meaning of a cat having nine lives.

Four days ago, he suddenly stopped eating. I couldn’t tempt him with baby food or tuna soup, and the vet told me not to give him his medication anymore. For months, I had been asking BK to let me know when it was time. Remarkably, he did. He became very cuddly, spending literally hours sleeping on one lap after another for three days. Yesterday, when I woke up, he wasn’t sitting next to my bed as usual waiting for me to feed him breakfast. I found him curled up in his little cat bed, but he could hardly walk. I held him for over an hour waiting for the animal hospital to open and then, he snuggled in the armchair while I called the vet. Velcro climbed up and settled in next to him. They stayed together that way until my daughter came home from school. We all said our goodbyes, and I held him wrapped in a blanket like a baby, as my husband drove us to the vet. We love the vets at this animal hospital. Everyone in their office cried and hugged us like we were family. They knew BK well, and he passed away peacefully with grace.

We buried BK last night on the hill above the barn next to our grove of cedar trees. I always think of it as the sacred part of our yard. The horses stood with their heads peering out of the stalls. They knew what was going on. I could feel it. The night was clear, and there were a million stars. Our house is very empty. One of my guardian angels is gone but I know that his spirit is watching over me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving


There are times when I am in Silk’s stall that I feel some sort of mysterious vibes. As if my horse can read my thoughts, I find answers or insights to things that have been bothering me.

I was brushing Silk tonight and trying to fan the flames of hope. I confess that I was feeling pretty low. It’s been a challenging week, and tomorrow we’re going up to the nursing home to have Thanksgiving dinner there with my mom. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love to cook all the recipes that have been passed along to me from family and friends. I get very sentimental when I look back at all the good memories. This year, we considered making a second turkey dinner at home the day after, but it felt like that would only remind us more that we missed my mom. In the spirit of living with what is, we’re going to try to make this the most fun Thanksgiving that the nursing home has ever had.

I know that we’re not the only ones who have had our share of difficulties and disappointments this year. There are friends of mine who have lost loved ones or are financially flailing and are really struggling with the holidays. I look for little sparks of hope wherever I can find them.

While I was rubbing Silk’s soft, thick coat, a thought popped into my head, almost like she was having a conversation with me. I suddenly recalled that she had been beaten and abused before I bought her. People really hurt her and treated her like a machine. She spent the first ten years of her life in a box stall, never getting turned out in a pasture. Occasionally, she was allowed to kick up her heels in a round pen, but no one ever let her be anything but a showpiece. Yet, she managed to never lose her spirit, and life got better for her. For the last twelve years, Silk has been loved and pampered and free to run and eat grass and the best hay I can buy for her. Standing next to her in the darkness, I felt like she was reminding me that there are going to be rocky patches, and we just have to get through them. And fortunately, we have each other.

Hold on to what is good,
Even if it's a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it's a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it's a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
Even if it's easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
Even if someday I'll be gone away from you.

A Pueblo Indian Prayer

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Unblocked



I’ve been stuck. For the last month, I’ve been forcing myself to work on this book that I’ve been forever writing, and I have just felt so bogged down in it. The little evil critic that lives in my head has been very busy. Each page that I’ve managed to type is pure torture. So, for the last week, I just stopped trying to slog ahead. In fact, I seriously considered giving up on it. I was sure that I would never have another good idea in my life.

It was also my birthday last Tuesday, and everywhere I turned there were these unsettling reminders that I was getting old. Even my body, which is normally very resilient, felt so tired and stiff. I had a lovely, rather uneventful birthday. One of the best things was that a dear friend made me a piece of wearable art that she has strung on a braided cord. Just wearing this talisman of her love and friendship has made me feel better. I also went into New York City on Saturday to have lunch with another close friend and to be interviewed for the New York Women In Film and Television Archives about the early days of the organization and about my career. It forced me to look back over what I’ve done and to formulate some words of wisdom for young women who are trying to follow a trail in that tough business. Mostly, it gave me some much-needed perspective on where I am now.

I’m knee deep in old, crunchy leaves, which makes for a perfect metaphor. I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but this autumn. there seems to be at least double the number of fallen leaves as ever before. We are drowning in huge piles of brown, dead foliage. I’ve been avoiding the odious job of gathering them up and dragging them to the way back to the compost pile. We made two big heaps in the pasture, which are particularly heavy because there’s some old hay in them. Every day, I announce that I am going to get rid of those leaves no matter what. And no matter what, I don’t.

Siete has been like a little kid, running through the piles and throwing the leaves up in the air. She’s managed to completely dishevel all of the work that we had done. My husband pointed out to me that it’s going to rain heavily tonight, so I went out there this morning on a mission. As soon as I started to rake the leaves on to a tarp, my little horse rushed over and stood in the center of them. “My leaves!” she announced. I was sorry to have to take away her fun, but bundling them up when they are a soggy, weighted down mess is not easy.

In my head, I kept hearing the lyrics to this Van Morrison song, appropriately called “When the Leaves Come Falling Down”. “Follow me down, follow me down, to the space before the twilight and the dawn”. Before the twilight, is the magic hour, where the light is golden and full of promise. And recently, when I wake up at 5 am, I’ve been noticing how incredibly dark the sky is in the moments right before the sun comes up.

As I raked, I realized that I have been wandering around for the last month with the fallen leaves completely obscuring my path. I started thinking about how that dark time before dawn can be either scary or comforting. It can bring up all my fears, or it can soothe and offer me rest and renewal. Moving the leaves somehow released me, and I had the urge to run back into the house to the computer to start writing again. There’s a faint path, not well traveled, but I’m going to stumble along it and see where it goes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Off to See the Wizard


It was an unexpected delight to see everyone dressed in costume when I visited my mom at the nursing home last Thursday. These folks really take Halloween seriously, planning their costumes and the party from year to year. The nurses and doctors and almost all the people working there, including the therapy dog, were very imaginative and enthusiastic about it. I just missed a parade of children from a local pre-school who came to trick or treat. The residents were given candy to hand out, and also got to choose their own costumes from an impressive and huge selection. My mother was dressed as a Wizard when I walked in and having the time of her life. I haven’t seen her that happy in years. What a change from a couple of months ago, and what a relief for me to know that she’s enjoying her new life.

Silk is also doing better. It’s been just below freezing the last couple of nights, but I decided to hold off from blanketing the girls. Even though I dragged the rugs out to the barn, I changed my mind at the last minute. They are growing thick winter coats and there wasn’t any wind, so I opted to wait until it gets colder. This morning, they both seemed fine, although I wasn’t smart enough to blanket myself with a heavier coat and some gloves and it was pretty chilly. The water buckets iced up yesterday, so I replaced them with the heated ones. Both horses drank a lot last night, since they love their “tea”.

I was reflecting on how fast the time has gone as I gave Silk and Siete some extra hay to get their furnaces going. It seems like I was just doing this last winter, and here I am back at it again. We lit our first fire in the fireplace on Sunday night, which made me really miss not having my mother at home with us. She loves sitting in front of the fire. Old rituals will be replaced this year with new ones, as the holidays approach. I’ve been trying hard not to miss what has passed, whether it’s warm summer days in the garden or little things that my mom and I liked to do together around here that we can't do anymore. Each time I do them by myself, I try to find a way to honor her without sadness. The Halloween party at the nursing home helped remind me that they also have their traditions up there, which are fun and joyful. It will be up to our family to expand ourselves to join in and create new rituals that we can share together this year.

In the early darkness this morning, Silk was so soft, and rubbing my cold hands on her furry neck, I vowed to accept whatever happens next with a spirit of openness and thanks. Things are different around here, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t getting better.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Something's Not Right


There’s something bothering Silk, but I can’t quite figure out what it is. Earlier in the week, I sensed that she was not a happy girl. There was some tail swishing at night when I came into her stall to say goodnight. She’s been edgy, looking into the woods as if she sees the same imaginary people that my mom used to see back there when she was having her delusions last year. I found myself tensing up whenever I was around my sweet horse, worrying that she might do something weird.

On Wednesday, I had to go to New York City for a meeting, and it concerned me to be leaving Silk all day. She wasn’t waiting at the gate for me the way she usually is when I pulled into the driveway I went immediately to the barn, and when she saw me, she turned her back to me in her stall and stood in the far corner. My first panicked thought was colic. Then, I wondered if she’d been bit by a Lyme tick. She ate her dinner and was drinking water and pooping, so I reassured myself that it probably wasn’t her stomach that was bothering her.

When I started to pick out her feet, she glued them to the ground and refused to lift them. Silk never does that. In fact, one of the things that I marvel at is that she will normally let me do anything I want to her without complaining or balking. It’s such a change from when I first got her that it always reminds me of how much she trusts me. So when she refused to lift her back right hoof, I began to think “abscess”. Frankly, I was hoping that’s all it was.

She finally let me clean all her hooves and soak and poultice both her back feet. She didn’t really want to balance on either when I lifted the opposite leg, so I decided to treat both to be safe. Then, the battle of the boots began. Silk lets me put the Soft Ride boots on her hooves with the Animalintex pad in them. As soon as I walk away, she starts trying to pull them off. We’ve struggled with this annoying game for three days. I gave her a 500 pound dose of Banamine morning and night for two days. Her mood began to improve, but forget about wearing those boots! I finally duct taped the poultice pad on her back right foot since it appears that’s the one that is most sore.

What’s hard to determine is whether there’s actually an abscess or if she’s just bruised her sole or maybe even feels stiff in her hock. I wish she could talk. She’s not like Siete, who lets me know loud and clear what’s bothering her. Silk is very stoic and from past experience, I know she’ll hold it in until she keels over. And I certainly don’t want that again. Several years ago, we had a mystery illness where she just fell down on me one horrible morning and couldn’t get up. After rushing to the equine hospital, all they could come up with was perhaps an electrolyte imbalance. Thank god, it’s never happened again. Even after all this time, I am relieved each morning when I approach the barn and see Silk stick her head over the Dutch door to greet me.

This morning, she seems better. Her body language is softer and more like it usually is. We’ll leave the boots and poultice off today and see how it goes. It’s always something, isn’t it?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In the Moment


I’m recovering from a really intense experience that I had on Thursday night. For the second year, I am producing the video that the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society uses to help fundraise for their “Light the Night” Walk. One of the walks takes place in Manhattan, starting at the South Street Seaport and following a route across the Brooklyn Bridge and back. Last year, it rained like crazy, and I got soaked to the bone. Despite the weather, a couple thousand people turned out.

This week, I started watching the weather forecast early, and it didn’t look good. I warned my video crew that they were predicting a Nor’ Easter so they should be ready for big rain. The weather channels were calling for one to two inches, and I really had to batten down the hatches at home and in the barn since we would be gone. Fortunately, I was able to get one of my neighbors who is an experienced horsewoman to come feed the horses for me and secure them safely in their stalls. My daughter was spending the night with some other good friends, so I didn’t have to worry about her. Knowing that everyone was okay on the home front gave me the ability to really focus on my job at the Walk.

True to the predictions, it began to rain around 5 pm. The crowd was even bigger than last year, probably around four thousand people. What was so remarkable was that no one was complaining, even though the rain was coming down in a solid sheet. I think that initially my cameramen thought that I had been exaggerating with all my dire warnings, but they soon realized that this was like shooting in a monsoon. I had five layers of clothing on, and they were all wet. During the entire time, I kept myself totally in the moment, never thinking about how good it would be to get home to my warm bed or how long the walk back from the Bridge to the Seaport would be or how tired my feet were.

Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge watching a solid mass of drenched people with the LED lighted balloons they carried valiantly bobbing in the sky against the downpour, it was truly a memorablet scene -- a visual metaphor for the bravery of facing a deadly disease. I just kept marveling at all these people, many of them diagnosed with Leukemia or other blood cancers, walking along with such great spirit and love, regardless of how difficult it was.

It was only looking back on it this weekend, as I took some time to rest, that I realized how much my ability to focus had grown in a year. Recently, I’ve been re-reading Mark Rashid’s wonderful book, “Horsemanship Through Life”, and a phrase he uses came into my head. He talks about how as a young boy, he was riding on the trail with his mentor, “the old man”, and his mind was wandering. Suddenly, his horse spooked and did some crazy moves, and Rashid fell off. The old man said, “You shouldn’t have stopped riding… She didn’t buck you off. You fell off ‘cuz you quit riding… You were sitting. You quit riding over an hour ago.” Then, Rashid explains how many of us only keep our intent and awareness for short periods of time when we ride, letting the horse do all the work as we become passengers who are thinking about what we are making for supper or something that happened at work or being distracted by a million small things. Then, he points out that the only way to really hone the skills of attentiveness and communication with your horse is to live your whole life with that kind of intent and awareness in everything that you do.

Now, I know that I’ve been really working hard on being in the moment when I’m with my horses. I also have felt that my ability to stay aware and focused has increased in my daily activities away from the barn. It wasn’t until Thursday night that I really appreciated how much better it can make a painful situation. Last year, standing on the Bridge, my mind was worrying about how my mom and the horses were doing at home and distracted by how long the walk back to the car would be and a flood of other concerns that I couldn’t do anything about right then and there anyway. This year, I had a more meaningful and rewarding experience because I “never quit riding”.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Time for a Change


We had our first date with our new farrier, and it was great. For five years, the same man has been taking care of Silk and Siete's feet, but he’s followed his dream out West and bought a small ranch. I was fortunate to find a young man who has recently gone into business after working for many years with one of the most respected farriers around here. All signs point to it being a good match. I consider my farrier to be one of my most important relationships, so you have no idea how relieved I am that we’ve all hit it off to a good start.

First of all, this guy loves horses and shows it. He was really gentle and able to help Siete keep her balance better than our old farrier. She is going through another one of those stages where she’s getting these little abscesses, probably due to the abrupt change in the weather. It’s been so dry all summer, and suddenly, we were deluged by rain last week. The corral is still mushy, and this seems to be the “perfect storm” for abscesses. If anyone has any suggestions about ways to pump up Siete’s immune system, I’d love to hear them. We’ve gone through two years without any of these problems, but this is the time of year where she seems to be most prone to this problem. I’m slathering Venice turpentine on her feet to harden them and she gets Triple Crown 12% Supplement instead of grain. She’s also on a diet, after a summer of freedom in the pasture and all this beautiful second cut hay we’ve been getting. I call her a little “Hoover” since she vacuums up every bit of both her own and her mother’s hay if I don’t stop her.

I also just joined a group on LinkedIn called “Horses and Leadership” which has some interesting discussions going. It led me to think about leadership styles in business and in horse training. Sad to say, we are taught by most trainers to be rigid with our horses. “If you let her get away with that, you’ll spoil her.” My first trainer used to yell at me. What I realize now is that if my horse is just learning the rules, she isn’t really paying attention to me. Often, she was just doing it by rote so she wouldn’t get punished. Over the last few months, I have discovered, thanks to Carolyn Resnick, that the key is to keep the horse’s attention on you and create a trust that makes the horse want to listen to you. That’s how the lead horse in a herd does it. I think the same thing applies to people who are working for you. No one likes to just take orders. It’s so much better to make a request and have a willing response.

Siete was very relaxed with the new farrier today. She’s been anxious and irritable over the last six months when she got her feet trimmed, and I have found myself dreading the old farrier’s visits. This morning, I think that it was a combination of Siete’s developing trust in me and the good vibe of our new friend that made my little horse take it easy, despite the draining of abscesses and hammering of nails. I’ve resigned myself to front shoes for both horses since our pasture seems to grow rocks as fast as it grows grass or weeds. Happily, everyone around here is doing better today, now that hooves are feeling good and the sun is shining.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Gift of Time


I’ve been treating Siete for an abscess in her back left foot this week. Over the years that we’ve lived here, we’ve been particularly plagued by this problem as we transition from summer into autumn. It’s a combination of dry weather followed by wet, and the emergence of lots of small rocks in the pasture. So, I know the drill. When I came out to the barn, Siete was standing with her back left foot cocked, and the look she gave me clearly was her way of saying, “Oww!” At first, I felt a small moment of panic since our farrier, John, has moved to Montana. The new farrier isn’t scheduled to come until early October.

I decided to just soak Siete’s foot in Epsom salts and then apply a piece of Animalintex inside one of the Soft Ride boots. Moments after I started to treat her, she instantly relaxed and was obviously no longer in pain. I remembered the days when just getting Siete to stand still with her foot in a warm bucket of water was a real challenge. I thanked her for her good behavior. I thought about how caring for my horses, year in and year out, has taught me not to over-react when something goes wrong. I knew I could handle this, and if I couldn’t, well, we’d be meeting the new farrier a few weeks earlier than planned.

I’ve been reading pro’s and con’s about soaking the foot to pull out an abscess. This time, I didn’t soak it again the way I had for all those previous abscesses. The hoof was clean, so I just moistened and changed the Animalintex in the boot twice a day for three days. Siete was moving around just fine, and I was tempted to stop the treatment. For good measure, I kept the boot on an extra day. Yesterday, I took it off and so far, so good. It’s a big relief for me as well as Siete. I’ve been really busy, not spending enough time with the horses. Each day, I start out promising myself and the girls that I’ll be back later to do this or that. Then, my schedule gets crazy, and next thing I know, I’m tucking the horses in for the night, feeling bad that I never got back there like I said I would and apologizing to Silk and Siete.

When I read Carolyn Resnick’s most recent blog post last night, she asked us what we thought our special gift was with horses. There were some great responses, especially her own. What resonated most for me was when she said: “ I like horses as they are, without them having to do something for me. Even while sharing space with a horse, they do not need to show me affection while in my presence. I am nourished by being in the same area as a horse, and that is reward enough.”

I had a hard time trying to express what I think my gift is with horses. Then, I realized perhaps it is that I am always there for them, reliably on time, anticipating what will make them feel good, and never minimizing or forgetting about their needs. No matter what else is going on in my life, I must care for my horses. And the reason that I do comes from that core belief which Carolyn expressed. I’ve loved being around horses from the first time that my mother wheeled me to a neighbor’s pasture while I was in a baby stroller. Horses don’t have to do anything for me. I just feel better when I am with them.

So, if I can make Siete’s foot stop hurting or share one of my favorite Honey Crisp apples with Silk or do anything to make my horses happier, it also feeds my soul.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Shifting Gears


I opened the gate to the pasture this morning, and a gust of cool wind wafted across my arms and face. It was a welcome relief from the incredibly oppressive heat and pressure that was in the air as Hurricane Earl came and went this week. My energy level quickened. I expected that Siete would rush from her stall the minute I pulled on the door, happy to be able to run in the cool breeze. Instead, she lumbered out slowly to investigate whether the small pile of hay that I dropped in the pasture was more delectable than the one in the barn.

It made me think about expectations. For me, the fall is always a time of great expectations. I feel this urge to race against the clock and accomplish something before the days get too short and the ground gets too hard. I want to create something new, meet the goals that I slacked off on all summer.

This week, I’ve been especially hard on myself, since I realized that I now have the gift of spending time alone for at least half of the day. My daughter started high school, and she gets on the bus at 6:30 each morning. My mom is no longer here in the house with me, and my husband was away on a business trip. So, I was all by myself, with many precious hours to do anything that I wanted and no one to tell me what to do. It paralyzed me. Of course, the heat was part of what was slowing me down, but also there was the demanding voice in my head that kept reminding me that I should be doing this or that. And the other little nagging doubter in me that kept questioning whether I could do it good enough to make it work.

I spent a lot of my day sprawled on the couch with my orange cat draped across my lap, staring at all the piles of things that I planned to do. Maybe I needed this gestation period to summon up my “windhorse energy”. This morning, I was concerned that Siete wasn’t prancing around, full of pent-up pleasure in the delightful breeze. Then, I reminded myself that neither was I. So I made myself relax and just be okay with the way things are now. It was such a relief to stop having these expectations. A weight was lifted. I decided to just go with the flow of what would make me happy, so I picked up a brush and while Siete munched on her hay I cleaned the shavings and dirt off her back and untangled her mane and tail. We’ll run around when we’re ready, but not today.

Friday, August 27, 2010

And Now for a Little Kindness

I’ve stopped reading and watching the news this week. The dire stories about the economy are making me too depressed and angry. Normally, I look forward to autumn as a time of new beginnings and hope, but this year, I think a lot of people just want to crawl under the covers and pull the blankets over their heads until things get better out there.

Last night, after dinner, I took a few minutes to watch a video showing Robin Gates, one of Carolyn Resnick’s exceptional students, working with “Pony”, an off the track horse who had some severe problems. It lifted my heart and filled me with hope that even the most dark and damaged situations can be mended with kindness and patient communication.

I hope you’ll take a look at it. It makes me want to go out and hug my horses and thank them for being in my life. To learn more about Robin and her amazing work, check out libertyhorsetraining.com

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ouick, Before I Miss It!


Suddenly, summer is ending. I’ve been so pre-occupied with the drama of my life that I’ve almost missed the whole season. So, today, I slowed down to a crawl and forced myself to forget about everything else except enjoying the delights of August.

I wandered around the yard to see what was still blooming and ran into so many butterflies. Then, I ate three peaches in a row. This is a good year for peaches, so sweet and full of flavor.

I tried to coax the horses out of the barn to sit with me in the pasture, but they were too hot. After hosing them off, I left them in the cool shade of Siete’s stall. My next-door neighbor called to me from over the fence. She wanted to give me some vegetables from her garden. Green beans, summer squash and fabulous tomatoes are now overflowing on the table in my kitchen as I conjure up some recipes. There’s a loaf of Italian bread and lots of basil in my window garden, so bruschetta comes to mind. I’ve got this wonderful balsamic vinegar and some olive oil that a friend sent me from her own olive grove in California, which I’ve saved for a special occasion. And here it is.

Ah, summer!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thoughts on a Summer Morning


Early this morning, before anyone else was awake, I began my usual routine. Feed the cats, make coffee, open the curtains so the sunlight can come into the kitchen. It made me very aware that my mom was not living here anymore.

For many years, there were little tasks that my mother did around the house that she considered her exclusive domain. She was in charge of the dishwasher, running and unloading it, and treating it like a major crime if we left any dirty dishes in the sink. She pulled all the curtains open each morning on all the windows and shut them when it got dark at night. As the dementia demons grew, she wanted to draw them closed in the afternoon while the sun was still shining. I would follow her around and pull them open again. The garbage can in the kitchen was also under her supervision. She was the trash general, ordering us to empty all the other cans in the house and reminding me a thousand times each Tuesday that we had to take the big can down to the end of the driveway so the trash collector would pick it up in the middle of the night while we were sleeping.

I knew that she needed to feel that she was in charge of something, and the number of things she was capable of doing grew smaller and smaller over time. So even though it drove me crazy, I allowed myself to be bossed and nagged, knowing that it gave her a sense of purpose to her day.

Now, every time I unload the dishwasher or open the curtains, I think of her and miss her. I’m getting ready to go visit her at the nursing home this afternoon, and I’m trying to think of new routines and rituals that we can do together up there. I know that she wishes more than anything that she could turn the clock back ten or twenty years. I would be happy just to be able to go back to the way things were ten months ago. It’s a major lesson for me, to realize that we need to appreciate what we’ve got and who we are right here, right now, because in an instant, it could all be changed or gone.

When I was doing my barn chores this morning, I was wishing I could move things along more quickly and that I was further along with Siete in our Waterhole Rituals adventure. If things had been different this summer, we might have been dancing around the pasture together by now. Carolyn Resnick reminds us that we can’t rush this experience, and that most often, our progress has more to do with us and our learning abilities than it does with the horse’s. I sense a profound difference in my relationship with Siete. She is so tuned into me now, and when she challenges me, I no longer worry that I will “make a mistake” and ruin my relationship with her. I understand that it only takes a simple communication, like asking her to move her feet and step away from me, to remind her that I’m the leader. It doesn’t need to be a big correction, and I understand that it is normal and desirable for her to continue to challenge me.

One of the things that I find really interesting is that Carolyn thinks it’s harder to work with foals that were imprinted like Siete was. By teaching my little horse that she can trust humans, I also apparently took away her gas pedal. She isn’t in a hurry when I ask her to trot away from me. In fact, some days, she doesn’t want to go at all. So, while I have a horse that is safe to be around and who has never ever spooked, I also inadvertently seem to have dulled her spirit. I don’t regret this, but it changes the way that I have to communicate with her. It’s a balancing of trust and energy.

Silk, who does spook and is fearful of most people except for me, responds much more quickly and locks into me emotionally when we do the Waterhole Rituals. She likes to “companion walk” with me and clearly enjoys it when I just hang out and act like a horse. Sitting with her in the pasture is as close as I can get to pulling up a mouthful of grass myself and grazing with her, and she lets me know in delightfully expressive ways that she really wants to be with me. One thing I love is when she rests her head on my shoulder while I’m reading. Silk is never pushy, just comfortable to be with me. She responds to me instantly, usually in sync with what I’m doing.

I was wondering -- and you may be too -- if these thoughts about my mom and the horses have a common thread. I guess it really is all about acceptance. In order for any of us to be comfortable in our own skin, we have to accept life the way it is. We can’t wish for what used to be or long for what will come. We just have to be present right now and be open to what is happening in front of us.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hello, Here I Am


What a journey I’ve been taking these past six weeks! It feels like it’s been six months and I am so glad that I have reached a point where I can feel my life getting somewhat back to normal. My horses were really good, despite the serious lack of time and attention that I gave them.

A little background --My mother, who lived with us for the last ten years, began her scary trip into the nightmare of dementia about a year ago. I had been coping with the hallucinations and delusions that she experienced, but it was growing more and more difficult. She is turning 96 in August and her hearing and eyesight are terrible. It’s been like watching someone become trapped in a dark closet. In early June, she had a small stroke and was in the hospital for about three weeks. The doctors insisted that I wouldn’t be able to handle caring for her at home anymore. I raced into an eye-opening, depressing search for a place that she could live where I felt she would be treated well and kindly. It’s shocking how we warehouse old people in these expensive storage units known as nursing homes.

I was able to eventually finally find a great place where the people really care and are like a big family. There is even a dog and three cats who live there. My mom likes the place, but desperately wants to come home. The unfortunate part for me and my family is that it is about an hour and a half from our house, so each visit takes up a five or six hour portion of the day. I come home exhausted emotionally and don’t have much left to give to anyone.

Luckily, the horses can go in and out of the barn and pasture as they like. My neighbor checks on them and gives them hay and water , especially when the temperatures get up in the 90’s. Increasingly, I could sense the annoyance and the disconnection radiating from Silk and Siete. After coming so far with my exploration of the Waterhole Rituals, I felt that I had lost everything that we had gained.

I knew that I had to somehow regain the equilibrium in my daily routine. My entire focus had been on my mother, and I was losing all sense of who I was. I forced myself to take care of me, and of course, that included paying attention to Silk and Siete. This week, I began sitting in the pasture with them, sharing territory again. At first, they stayed in the barn and didn’t want to come out to be with me. I was so sad and wished I could turn back the clock. On the second day, Siete came out and eventually Silk joined us. I didn’t allow myself to have any expectations or judgments or an agenda. I just sat and tried to find the feeling that I remember I had before all this chaos began. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I found it.

I had an understanding that what I’ve wanted for my mother came from what I had learned about what my horses needed. I know that my mother must feel that she is loved and respected. I want her to have as much freedom as it is safe for her to have. Wherever she is, she has to have some sense that she is still in control and has some choice about what happens. These are all elements of what I am doing with Silk and Siete when we practice the Waterhole Rituals. Everyone - no matter if you have two legs or four - deserves to have those three basic qualities of life as a foundation for how they exist in this world.

When that thought came to me, Silk was eating from a small pile of hay next to where I was sitting. She suddenly stopped, looked at me and extended her nose so she touched my hands. In that moment, I realized that the horses had accepted me back and that we are going to move forward together.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Life Update


I have a moment to give you a brief update on what’s going on in our lives right now. My mom, who will be 96 in August, had a stroke. She’s in the hospital and we don’t know if she will be able to come back here to continue living with us. It’s difficult and scary and we’re looking for the blessings where we can find them.

So, the good things are that her doctors and the nurses are excellent. She’s in a quiet safe place. The horses are fine. And my family and friends have been wonderful. I think that’s plenty to be grateful for. I’ll get back to you when things settle down. Your prayers and good energy are much appreciated.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Little Horse!


This is a photo of my little horse when she was a baby. It’s hard to believe that Siete is eight years old today. It seems not that long ago that I was standing in the foaling shed watching her take her first few steps. She is an amazing gift, and each year, she gets better and better. In the past few weeks, my relationship with her has deepened and grown so much by spending time with her sharing territory and playing games that communicate with Siete in her own language. It’s been a real eye-opener for me.

One of the things I’ve always felt about Siete is that she has a very strong spirit. As you know from reading my blog all these years, I occasionally find that her spirit is stronger than mine. I’m beginning to better understand and appreciate the times that she challenges me now that I’m learning more about herd behavior and the rituals of wild horses. I’ve known that Siete gets frustrated when she tries to tell me something and I don’t get what she’s saying. There are days when she just doesn’t want to take one more minute of being the low horse in the pecking order around here. She can also sense when I’m in a weak or vulnerable frame of mind and will take advantage of it. Unlike Silk, who gets very protective of me when I’m upset, Siete seems to seize the opportunity with glee and turns up the spunk.

During the last few weeks, after I sit in the pasture with the horses each day, we do some games that involve controlling food and movement to teach the horses to keep an eye on me and follow my lead. Silk doesn’t really need it. For years, she has had an uncanny ability to always know where I am. There are times when I think that Silk can see through the walls of our house and knows everything that goes on with me. Siete hasn’t really cared about me much unless I’m feeding her or trying to do something with her. Now, I’ve noticed that she has developed that same watchful awareness of me, and with it, comes a closeness and more affection towards me.

Call it growing up or just getting more trusting and comfortable with each other, but my relationship with Siete is certainly closer on this birthday than it’s ever been. We’re having fun together, and it’s made my little red horse very happy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Silk Shows Me How It's Done


I put out five small piles of hay in the pasture so I could play the Circle Game with Siete this afternoon. Both horses were grazing, so I sat down in my chair and read for about twenty minutes. Siete finally got interested in one of the piles of hay. After she ate for a little while, I came over with my reed and moved her onto the next pile. Then, I sat down again with my book. Her mother, Silk, went over to the same pile and began eating the hay with Siete. Just as I was about to get up and move Siete again, Silk poked her nose at Siete's side and shoved her off to the next pile of hay.

I decided to stay in my chair and see what happened next. Silk proceeded to move Siete from pile to pile around the circle just like I was going to do. I got up and companion walked next to Silk for a while and then invited her to come over to my own little special pile of hay next to my chair. As I stood next to Silk while she ate, Siete looked up at me in surprise. I held the eye contact and walked up to say hello to her. Then, I invited her to join us at my special extra good hay pile. We walked next to each other over to where Silk was already eating. I sat in my chair again and began reading, happily listening to my girls munching contentedly. While I appreciate that Silk wanted to show me that she knew her place in the pecking order and that it appeared I had been trying to do her job herding Siete, I also decided that tomorrow, mama will stay in the barn while Siete and I are in the pasture.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In Their Own Language


This morning, when I fed the horses, I also opened the stall doors, and Siete rudely shoved her way past me out into the corral to eat the flake of hay that I had left out there. That's not okay, so I immediately told her that it was mine, not hers, and chased her to the far end of the corral. It was a little early for me to think clearly, but I heard Carolyn Resnick’s voice in my head telling me to keep strong but flexible boundaries. Siete was sulking. Head down, she came around to Silk's stall and joined her mother, eating from that pile. Then, as soon as I turned away, she charged back to the hay I had claimed as mine. Again, I waved her away and told her that she couldn't have it, and she retreated to her own stall to eat the hay in there.

So, when we began our Waterhole Ritual of sharing territory later in the day, I wasn't sure how Siete was going to act towards me. I had a feeling that she was still annoyed. There had been a huge commotion next door that I am proud to say my horses totally ignored. Our neighbors’ enormous tree had fallen across their driveway in the windstorm Sunday night. With chain saws and wood chippers and lots of loud, violent sounding noise, a crew of tree-trimmers cleaned it up for a couple of hours. After they were finished, I opened the big gate between the corral and the pasture so Silk and Siete could come and go into their stalls as they chose. I placed my chair in the pasture and began to read. Both horses joined me and grazed happily for a while.

Then, following Carolyn’s suggestion, I took a small bowl of carrots and put it under my chair. She wants Siete to become rude because she thinks it indicates that Siete trusts me more and knows she can speak out about how she feels. This exercise is supposed to develop the horse’s ability to listen and pay attention to me. I returned to reading. (I should add here that the horses aren’t wearing halters, and the only thing that I have to guide them is a “reed”, literally a long, very flexible grass reed from a water plant.) Neither horse came near me. After about 20 minutes, I stood up and brought a piece of carrot to Siete and thanked her for her good manners. When I sat down again and began reading, she approached me. I stood up and calmly waved the reed lightly, asking Siete to back away. She knows that when I wave the reed, I’m telling her that I want more space, and she left me alone. Slowly, I walked over to her and gave her another piece of carrot, praising her for listening to me. She turned and walked back to her stall and stood in the doorway, looking at me expectantly.

Silk came to me as soon I sat down again, ready for her piece of carrot. I stopped her by gently waving the reed and told her that she would have to go away to be able to get the treat. She looked really indignant and reluctantly stepped back. Miffed, she walked away. Then, I stood up and brought her a piece of carrot. I told her that I knew that she was a good horse, and I thanked her. She took it and began grazing again. I sat down, picking up my book again. Siete made her way back out into the pasture, so after awhile, I decided to try another exercise called the "Hello Ritual". I looked her in the eye and walked up to her, and she extended her nose to greet me. I touched her forehead, said hello and walked away. Over the next ten minutes, I did this again with Siete several times and she responded with interest and was glad to see me. This exercise gives the horse control of the situation and also shows her that she can trust me. When I approach her, I must follow her lead. If she greets me, I reply and then, take the pressure off by leaving her. These reciprocal movements are the beginning of the dance. Sometimes, you need to lead and sometimes you follow.

Each time I sat down in my chair, I felt a rising sensation of happiness begin to bubble up. I couldn't stop smiling. After about the fourth time that Siete looked me in the eye and lifted her nose towards my hand, I positively floated back to my seat. It seemed to me that my little horse was thinking, "Oh good, after all these years, she's finally speaking my language!"

Even though I've watched the "Waterhole Rituals" DVD over and over and read Carolyn's book, “Naked Liberty” twice, this time, everything seems to be clicking for me. I think that having the opportunity in long phone calls every two weeks to listen to Carolyn explain what she would like us to do and why we are doing it and having other students in the group ask questions helps make the pieces fit together better and become more clear for me. Today, I really believed in my heart for the first time that Siete would be interested in playing with me and eventually dancing with me, and it filled me with joy.

Carolyn was saying that we’ve been taught to be rigid with horses. That means the horse learns the rules, but stops paying attention to you. With the Waterhole Rituals, we’re beginning a new dialogue. To be able to learn this way of communication that is instinctive, basic and based on herd dynamics found in groups of wild horses while using the sophistication of the Internet and video and distance-learning technology is really remarkable.

I’m so grateful to Carolyn for her adventurous, open-minded and generous spirit. She is inspiring me to take a leap of faith and giving me more confidence and a greater comfort level when I communicate with Siete and Silk. For the last year, I’ve been lamenting that if I still lived in San Diego, I would have been able to work with Carolyn Resnick. I’ve looked and looked for a horse trainer near me here on the East Coast that seemed like a good fit and haven’t found anyone. It is amazing to think that I can learn to train my horse long distance like this with the very person that I most wanted as our teacher. Imagine all the other things that we can learn now that we have these resources available to us. It boggles my mind and thrills me.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Two Smart Horses


Today was so beautiful and sunny, and it just felt like the right time to try the circle game with Siete. I placed the five piles of hay in a big circle about 20 feet apart. Then, I left some hay in the barn for Silk to eat and opened the gate between the corral and the barn so the horses could choose where they wanted to go. I sat down on my chair in the shade in the pasture and began reading a book.

Siete soon wandered out, curious, as always, about what was going on. She stopped to eat at the first pile of hay. After she had been munching for a little while, I approached her and asked her to move to the next pile. She did without any hesitation. We followed the same action around the circle. I would ask her to move on to the next pile. She did and stopped to eat. After a few bites, I’d ask her to go to the next one and she would walk calmly to our next stop. We went around the circle twice. Then, when we got to the last pile, after she took a bite, she shook her head at me and ran back into the barn. She stood in the doorway of her stall and looked at me, as if to say, “See? Wasn’t I a good kid? But that’s enough of that game.” I went outside the pasture, found a piece of carrot and gave her a treat, thanking her for her cooperation.

Then, I put a flake of hay in the pasture next to my chair and sat down . As soon as I started to read, Silk ambled out of the barn to join me. She put her nose on my hand to greet me and then began to eat the hay next to me. Siete came out again too and grazed on the grass about 40 feet away, not looking at us. It was so relaxing, and the weather was perfect. We stayed like this for about twenty minutes.

Siete finally came over and stood next to her mother. Silk immediately took half of the hay that was left and pushed it firmly under my chair with her nose. I started to laugh and thanked her and kept on reading. Siete took a big mouthful of hay and walked up behind me. I couldn’t figure out what she was going to do but I ignored her. She dropped the hay on me all over my head and my book. I laughed so hard and reached up to rub her face. Satisfied, she moved away and began grazing again.

I’ve noticed that Silk stays away from us when Siete and I are interacting. I explained to Mama Silk before I began practicing the Waterhole Rituals what I was going to do and why I thought it would be good for me and Siete. She gets it, like any good mother would.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Pause In Between


Siete and I are going to move on to a new exercise as part of the Waterhole Rituals. I am supposed to place five small piles of hay in a circle that is 20 feet in diameter. After Siete begins eating at one pile of hay, I will ask her to move on to the next one, the intention being that I will be able to eventually direct her calmly and easily to go around the circle from pile to pile at my request. It is the beginning of what Carolyn Resnick calls “leading from behind”.

I feel like my horse and I are both ready to try it, but I’ve been stuck for the last couple of days unable to move forward. My mind is full of “what if’s”, and I worry that I will do the wrong thing and give Siete the wrong message. I am going to need to respond spontaneously and confidently to what ever my horse offers me. I keep reminding myself of what I learned from one of my friends last year. Don’t think of what happens as a mistake, just learn from it and do the next thing you think you need to do. It should be a process for both me and Siete, without any right or wrong or blame or guilt.
My hesitation reminded me of an article that I read recently called “Open Stillness”, written by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel. She talks about rock climbing in Colorado and reaching a place suspended on the rock where she can’t see any possibilities for moving up or down:

“Hanging off a rock is an exaggerated experience of facing the unknown. It is exhilarating, scary, and completely vibrant. When we can’t find a foothold, the mind falls into an open stillness— the same brief pause we encounter in any situation where we lose our familiar reference points. If we have the wherewithal to relax, we find our way. If we don’t, we sometimes panic. When reactive mind responds to situations where we lose our reference points, our body tightens, our breath shortens, our vision narrows.

After a while, muscle strain stirs our sensibilities: “I can’t stay like this forever!” We don’t have the luxury of avoidance, so we start to work with our mind and slowly it softens. Now, this is the fascinating part: as everything softens, all kinds of new patterns and shapes begin to emerge from the rock. We see places to balance we didn’t see before. We’re not doomed after all! As we soften and open, we access a special intelligence, unimpeded by habitual, reactive mind.”

It reminded me of an experience I had in college where I was climbing up a steep hill and got stuck exactly as she describes, afraid and unable to move in either direction. In that instance, I started laughing so hard at myself that I began crying, and eventually, one of my friends crawled below me and pushed my bottom and my feet until I could move to the next foothold. This time, the only friends I have out here in the pasture are my two horses. I’ve decided to include Silk in this exercise since I trust her and I think she might be able to help me find my balance with her daughter. In the end, though, it’s up to me to be the leader here.

I’m going to allow myself to be peaceful now in this pause before I begin climbing again and take some time to reflect on what I’m afraid might happen and why I would feel that way. Since Siete was born, I’ve always worried that I will do something that would ruin her and cause her to distrust humans. And despite my good intentions and best efforts, we’ve had some tough times with thoughtless, ego-driven trainers, vets and farriers. I know that what we are doing together now will heal us and lead to a mutual trust. It will take as long as it will take, no predicting when it will happen. So for right now, I’m not going to get impatient or annoyed with myself or even call it “being stuck”. I’d rather see it as a time to gather my “windhorse energy”, as the Buddhists call it. Siete has no agenda, and I have to be careful to listen to her and not try to create or force one of my own. I know I will be able to feel when we are ready to move forward from hay pile to hay pile.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Soooo Cute!


When we picked up hay this morning, we discovered that our favorite farmer has 11 new baby cows in his field. They were incredibly sweet and my daughter was dying to bring one home. Fortunately, there was no room with all the hay. With temperatures in the mid-80's, these little guys have the right idea -- naptime.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sharing Territory


I almost didn’t sit in the paddock with the horses today. Even though it was sunny and warmer than it’s been, the wind was really strong. It was the kind of wind that really swirls up your mane and makes you kind of spooky. I decided to try sitting and reading a book and if it was too much, I could always stop.

The horses ignored me at first, as they usually do, and just ate some hay near the water bucket. I moved my chair up near the fence so I wouldn’t blow over. The wind was gusting around 25 to 30 mph and the sound of the trees blowing was like waves in the ocean. It was pretty intense. Siete ambled over to visit me and sniff my knees. I ignored her, as I’m supposed to, since part of what this first Waterhole Ritual does is set personal boundaries for the horse and re-inforce a core code of conduct that the herd follows. I’m sitting, without expectations or an agenda, but there’s a surprising amount going on in my interactions with the horses.

Anyway, I turned my attention to my book, "The Exquisite Risk", by poet Mark Nepo. I almost fell off my chair when I read this: “So what does it mean to be real? I would suggest that it involves both an outer commitment and an inner commitment: an outer commitment to live as close to our experience as possible, and an inner commitment to keep our individual spirit aligned with the soul of the world, an outer commitment to stay transparent until what we experience is what we feel, and an inner commitment to stay transparent until who we are is joined to the source of life, the way a drop of rainwater joins the ocean. As well, to be real involves an acceptance of being cleansed of everything false and extraneous… So where are you in this endless journey? Where are you in your struggle between isolation and relatedness, between nothing and everything? Where are you in your struggle to align your spirit with the soul of the world? Are you strengthening your will or your connections? Are you thickening your walls or making yourself transparent? Are you holding your breath or breathing your way through?”

Carolyn Resnick says that “every day with a horse is a new deal.” I’m really glad that I made the choice this afternoon to sit with Silk and Siete and let the wind blow me awake.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Slow Adventure


I’ve embarked on a new journey that is taking place in my backyard. For the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling disconnected from Silk and Siete. As you know, taking care of them during all the rain and flooding was not fun. Often, I was so exhausted and cold and wet that all I wanted to do was run back to my warm house. I could feel the two horses bonding closer to each other and growing more distant from me. I was blaming myself for not spending more time with them and feeling guilty that I didn’t have more time to give.

Once again, in the amazing way that it can revitalize me, some of my favorite blogs brought me around to a new way of looking at my world. It began with Kate at A Year With Horses, posting a thoughtful and caring piece about whether she was ready to take a break from her horses. Although I totally understood how she was feeling, when I looked at my own relationship with Silk and Siete, I realized that right now, I really needed them to help me hold onto myself and remind me of who I am. Doing what I do for them to make the barn safe and comfortable, to keep them fed and happy is really a way of taking care of my soul and honoring what’s important to me.

Then, I watched a video that Carolyn Resnick posted on her blog that lifted my heart. It was one of her students, Robin Gates, dancing with her horse, Fresco. I couldn’t stop looking at it over and over. I knew that right now, I don’t want to ride my horses, I want to dance with them. I was, however, a bit intimidated at the prospect of getting out there and actually trying it. Like a perfectly timed answer from the blogosphere, I got the nudge I needed when Carolyn decided to offer her Waterhole Rituals course again this Spring. I signed up and received all kinds of help and encouragement instantly as I was able to listen and download an insightful interview with her and phone conversations teaching me how to start this adventure of better communication with my horses. It’s just what Siete and I need to do together right now, and it begins with doing nothing.

The first ritual is to share space with your horse. I sit in a chair in the paddock for an hour each day reading a book while Siete is there with me. “Spending time doing nothing leads to something that would otherwise never have happened.” Carolyn says. On her blog, there are comments from other people all over the world who are doing this same course and having incredible experiences with their horses. It lifted me up to find so many other horse lovers out there making these same deep connections with their own animals. I’m not alone in my feelings about my horses, and through the Internet and Carolyn’s efforts, something really remarkable is happening. I’m so glad to be part of this community, and it reaches beyond just the horse world.

I often read Jon Katz’s blog, Bedlam Farm Journal, and I’ve been very interested in his plans for a new book about grieving over animals who have died. He quoted from a book called “Twins” by Dorothy Burlingham, about how a child’s love for animals can come out of loneliness and solitude: “The two share everything, good and bad experiences, and complete understanding of each other; either speech is not necessary, or they have a secret language. The understanding between them goes beyond the realm of consciousness.” That’s what I’ve been feeling with Siete. It’s the relationship that I already have with her mother, and I’ve been longing for it with my little horse.

Spending an hour sitting in a chair with my horse isn’t easy for me. Time is a precious gift, and I never have enough of it. My mother and my husband look out the window at me and shake their heads. I’m glad that I’m in the solitude of my own backyard so I can avoid anyone’s judgment or ridicule. To force myself to slow down to a total halt and do nothing brings me to the same level of awareness that Siete has as she’s grazing next to me. I feel one with her. It’s a huge commitment to slow down.

I just learned the term “slow blogging”, coined by Todd Sieling a few years ago. “Slow blogging is a rejection of immediacy. It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly.” he says. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m blogging a lot less than I used to and find that many of my friends in the blogosphere are too. I was feeling a bit guilty about it, worrying that everyone would forget about me. Now, I see that there’s an ebb and flow we all follow. I’ll be mentioning my new slow adventure with Siete here on my blog as we make our way along. One of the things that I love is that Carolyn insists that there should be no agenda. Every day is simply taken as it comes, and that’s what makes it so wonderful. I was in New York for two days last week and by the time I came home, I was dying to be with my horses. I missed them so much. My love for them is being renewed, just like the lilacs, tulips and the other flowers are beginning to bloom again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RIP Chief


I don’t mean to bum everyone out with a sad story. I even thought about just not mentioning it, but it’s kind of amazing that one white rooster would have such an impact on so many people. I’m not usually fond of chickens, as I’ve told you before, but our neighbor, the Chief, really captured my heart. And now, he’s gone.

It was very weird. I saw the rooster and his girls coming over to our yard from across the road yesterday. I was on my way next door to my other neighbor’s house to use her fax machine, but I ran back to the kitchen and grabbed the bag of bread scraps and corn chips that we save for them. The little band of birds had already crossed over and were gathered in the bushes between our house and the one next door. They like to root around in the dirt and take naps over there. Two of the hens saw me sprinkle the goodies next to my forsythia bushes. I thought it was odd that the Chief didn’t come running with his funny hop-along, wait- wait- I’m-in-charge-here gait like he normally did. I went into my neighbor’s house and didn’t really think about it again.

Ten minutes later, she and I walked outside, and I could see that all the hens were eating in my yard, but the Chief was still in the bushes. I had a bad feeling. My neighbor went to check it out, but I couldn’t go look. “He’s a goner,” she announced. He didn’t appear to have suffered, just fallen asleep and passed away. I started to cry. Of course, the people who own him and their three little kids were even more upset than I was. We had a little funeral by the henhouse. My daughter, my 95 year old mom, several neighbors, and the immediate family attended. We were all very sad.

Why do I need to tell you this and why am I so touched by a gimpy white rooster? I’ve been seriously considering what made him so special. He was loved, and he knew it. Everyone treated him with kindness and respect. The children played with him like they would with a dog. He watched after his harem and if one of the hens wandered off, he’d run right over and push her back with the others so she didn’t get hurt. He would eat corn chips, his favorite treat, out of my hand and let me stroke his smooth feathers. On Monday afternoon, I was down by the barn when he came over to spend some quality time with his ladies under my forsythia bushes. He crowed to me, and I waved my arm to welcome them. What he did in response made me laugh with delight. He lifted himself up and flapped both his big wings at me, as if he was waving back. Who would have thought that a simple chicken could touch and connect so many people? Each one of us had our own favorite stories and routines that we shared with this personable fellow.

A good rooster is hard to find. They’re going out today to hopefully find a new one, but he’s got some big clawprints to fill. We’ll all miss you, Chief.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dry Ground


We might finally be drying out around here. When I went out to feed the girls this morning, I was happy to feel solid ground under my feet in both stalls and the corral. Siete’s side was the worst, and she’s been a very unhappy little horse. All the wood pellet bedding that I dumped into her stall to absorb the ground water that was coming up from underneath the barn has made the footing very deep. For a while, when the horses walked, their hoofprints would be filled with water oozing up. It was driving me crazy because I couldn’t compact the material enough to soak up the moisture.

Siete was getting really surly about it. One evening last week, she absolutely refused to go back into her stall for dinner. I was rushing and her resistance to leave her mother’s side of the barn really aggravated me. I tried to force her to go, but she wouldn’t budge. In frustration, I walked back to the house, leaving her dinner in her stall and both doors open, in case she changed her mind. Then, I realized that if I were Siete, I wouldn’t want to go in there either.

I felt bad for her, but the problem was that with both horses in the same stall all night, Silk wouldn’t have room to lie down. She needs to get off her feet at night with her arthritis. Siete didn’t want to lie down either, and as a result, off and on these past two weeks, I’ve been treating a hoof abscess in her back right foot. I couldn’t, in good conscience, force Siete to stay in her stall that night. When I went back after it got dark to check on her, she was still with her mom. As soon as they saw me, both horses ran into Siete’s stall and stood there together in solidarity. Nope, we’re not going to let you lock her in this place. I looked at their hoofprints in front of me, by the door, filling up with the ground water, and wanted to cry. There seemed to be no way to fix this problem. It was also starting to rain again. We had over 14 inches of rain in less than a week. As I left them, the girls headed back to Silk’s drier bedding on the other side of the barn.

The next night, Siete ran right into her stall as soon as I approached with the dinner buckets. I was glad I hadn’t forced the issue, and she seemed to accept that things were what they were. Even though I was doing the best that I could do, I felt so stressed out that I couldn’t fix the problem. I really believe that my horses are as calm and happy as they are because they have safe, comfortable stalls where they can get off their feet at night. Fortunately, the situation has been steadily improving now that we’ve had sunny warm weather for almost a week. Now, I know that we shouldn't anthropomorphisize our animals but... The strange thing was that every day, I’ve been telling Siete that she needs to lie down again to rest her feet. To my astonishment, when I fed her last night, she actually dropped down on her side and rolled around in her stall while I was standing there, as if to show me that it was okay again. That’s my girl.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Tale of 3 Babkas

My mother is Polish, and as she approaches her 96th birthday, she is increasingly drawn to things that remind her of her heritage. A few weeks ago, she told me a story about how the women in her home baked a sweet bread called babka around Easter time. The children weren’t allowed in the kitchen for several days as the babka was rising and in the ovens because it couldn’t be disturbed. She loves these high-topped loaves, even though no one else in our family likes to eat them.

I found a Polish grocery store about forty-five minutes drive from our house and took her there. She was unimpressed. They had babka, but she insisted, speaking Polish to the woman behind the counter, that it wasn’t REAl babka. It wasn’t round, and there were no raisins, and it had cheese and strawberries. The woman replied that there are many types of babka. My mother sniffed contemptuously, but I bought some anyway. It wasn’t eaten by anyone in our house, and when I tore up the remains and fed it to the birds, only the crows would touch it. I told my friend who owns the UPS store about the search for real babka. She’s Polish and said that her mother makes it at this time of year. Yes, it had raisins in it and was tall and round. She offered to ask her mother to bake some for us. I came home and told my mother, thinking that the search for babka was over. No such luck. Every day for over a week, my mom would ask me again and again when that woman was going to bring the babka. Finally, I was at the Stop ‘n Shop buying groceries, and lo and behold, they had babka for sale! It looked like what my mother had described, so I bought it. Unfortunately, our resident babka expert proclaimed it was too dry and not sweet. Again, I sprinkled the remains for our neighbor’s chickens and other birds, but this time, only the squirrels ate it.

My mother grew more and more disappointed that the lady who promised to bake the babka didn’t deliver. Another friend suggested that I look on-line at Martha Stewart’s recipes because her mother was Polish and they were deliciously authentic. Sure enough, there was a video of Martha’s mom making babka. I decided to try it, even though the recipe called for yeast and I have a fear of anything that calls for yeast and rising and punching dough. My daughter offered to help, and together we toiled in the kitchen for several hours the night before Easter. Just as we were finally ready to bake the three loaves of babka, my oven broke. It was now about ten o’clock at night.

Luckily, I have a neighbor who plays backgammon on-line until the wee hours. We schlepped the three babkas to her house and put them in the oven. They were supposed to bake for a half hour, but it was obvious that they weren’t done and we were awkwardly sitting in her living room when she clearly didn’t want to be entertaining anyone. Martha Stewart’s mom said that you know that the babka is ready if it makes a hollow sound when you knock on it. My neighbor offered to call me when she had knocked and heard the babka’s appropriate reply. About twenty minutes later, the phone rang and we went back to retrieve our bread so she could go to bed.

The babka looked golden brown and very pretty, plus at this point, I’d been involved in this baking experiment for over six hours. I glazed the loaves with a sugary frosting and called it a night. After taking my mom to a Polish church to hear mass on Easter Sunday, we came home to eat the babka. As soon as I cut into the first one, I knew there was trouble. It wasn’t cooked all the way through. I tried the other two but they were also not baked enough. I promised my mother that I would try again once the oven was fixed. She said that enough was enough and this was a good babka recipe that we could make again next Easter.

I have to admit I was relieved to have a whole year to rest up before I tried it again. As I stood looking at a table full of chopped up half-baked babka, my neighbor’s rooster, the Chief, crowed outside my window. He’s a special guy. I confess he’s won my heart, so I crumbled up a whole babka and presented it to him. He wolfed it down, chasing away the hens when they tried to join in the feast.

At least someone loves my babka.