Friday, January 29, 2010

Dreaming of California and Other Exotic Places

My fingers were numb when I came in from the barn this evening. The wind chill makes the temperature about five below right now, and we got several inches of snow yesterday. I had a harrowing adventure driving my husband to the airport while this unexpected little blizzard created a snow and ice nightmare Thursday morning. Cars without 4-wheel drive were spinning wildly around the highways. I witnessed at least eight huge accidents, with many cars and trucks, several of which almost hit our sturdy old tank. These are the days that I really love our old Landcruiser, or the Landcrusher, as my husband likes to call it.

I locked the horses inside early today because the wind was howling. I’ll go out later tonight and give them more hay to stoke their furnaces again. The cold is supposed to drag on all weekend, I’m sad to say. So, when I was yanking off my wool socks and my daughter complained that she was hungry, I decided to create a mini-vacation.

I pulled out the avocados and whipped up some guacamole. All those years living in California have made us addicted to Mexican food. I always have tortillas, salsa, cilantro, black beans, avocados and queso in the kitchen, not to mention fresh limes. My friends and neighbors in New England tease me about it, but my husband especially appreciates it. Munching on just one little blue corn chip with some guacamole was enough to boost my spirits and start me California dreaming. I realized that I even had margarita fixings. Things were definitely looking up.

It reminded me of being in my 20’s, living in New York City, working at NBC as a lowly page. Nobody had money for vacations. My friends and I used to go to Trader Vic’s restaurant in the Plaza Hotel and order silly rum drinks with names like “the fog-cutter” or “Maui wowie”. We’d share a platter of Polynesian appetizers and pretend that we were somewhere warm and exotic. Then, we’d tramp outside into the snow and head back to our dumpy tiny apartments. It was all we could afford, but it always did the trick to cheer us up in February.

One bonus for me in all this frigid weather is that the moon is full and every star in the sky is out tonight. And for Silk and Siete, there’s the bonus of carrots before bedtime. It could be worse.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Way to Connect

We’re in the middle of the winter doldrums around here. I was realizing that I was just taking care of my horses on auto pilot. The girls have also been bored and follow a routine like old school horses traveling the well worn path. We’ve still got many weeks to go before we can revive our spirits with Spring. I remembered how much fun we had with clicker training several winters ago, so I started poking around for a new project.

Leave it to Carolyn Resnick, a wise and generous horsewoman, to share something really special with everyone during this slow season. She has been teaching her “Uberstreichen Exercises” on her blog. These simple activities can be done in the barn or in a small area and offer new ways to connect with your horse. As simple as they appear to be, they are actually a great way to test how well you are able to communicate with your horse. Ultimately, she believes that they will give you a more positive response and encourage willingness from your horse when you ride.

I decided to give them a try. The first exercise can be done with the horse wearing a halter and standing in a stall. The horse must first be comfortable with you being there and stand quietly on its own. You put your hands on either side of the horse’s head, touching the halter straps, but not grabbing on so your fingers don’t get caught. Carolyn tells us: “Hold the horse’s head straight, breathe deeply, and relax. If the horse turns his head one way or the other gently bring it back to where the horse will tolerate it, then let go slowly and walk away and disconnect. The disconnect is very important to practice. The horse is learning to give and to stay put. He is learning to be responsible without you having to police him. This teaches your horse to stay focused in a hold as well as in a disconnect. Self-carriage of the horse’s gaits can only occur when the horse is free from the rider’s active influence. This exercise starts the journey. Self-carriage creates proper carriage and natural collection.”

It took a while for me to reach the point where Silk and Siete understood what I was asking them to do. They were both attempting to look around just in case they were missing anything else, but finally I could see them decide to humor me and stay focused on what I was asking them to do. So, now I’m going to do this again for a few more days and then attempt to move on to the next exercise. It’s always amazing to me how the simplest action can often be deceptively difficult and can reveal so much about how you approach things in the world. To be quietly determined, without losing my patience and to stay cheerful is a lesson that will serve me well in other aspects of my life.

The other thought that Carolyn shares with everyone is an idea she learned from her father when she was a little girl. Reading what she wrote had a profound effect on me. When she began to train an unruly horse, her dad asked her, “Where would you start that you are not afraid to do with that horse?” From then on, she has always begun training a horse with “what I can do that is safe and that the horse will allow”. Again, it’s a very basic notion, but how often do we try to rush ahead and ask our horses to do too much too soon?

I urge you to visit Carolyn's blog and read the exercises carefully before you try them. They are a real gift and I thank her for her generosity and willingness to share.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's in the Air

On Wednesday, a funny thing happened with Silk. I was rushing to take my daughter somewhere after school. It would be dark and later than usual when we returned, so I decided to get the horses into their stalls and feed them before I left. Siete was good as gold, but Silk absolutely refused to go back into the barn.

This is totally the opposite of what normally occurs. Silk stood in the pasture like a statue, defiant. I asked nicely. I fed Siete and walked away. She never moved, although her nostrils flared when she heard dinner dropping into Siete’s bucket. I was exasperated because I was running late, but I stayed calm. The worst case scenario was that I left her there with the stall door open and no dinner until I got back. I really didn’t want to do that since it was icy already, and I knew that she would be upset, which she would undoubtedly express by running around. Since both horses are walking soundly on all four legs, I wanted to prevent any more injuries.

So, I walked out to where Silk was poised and just motioned with my arm for her to go to her stall. She spun and ran in. Good, I thought, that’s done. Then, she came barreling out again, almost knocking me down. She ran back into the pasture and then back inside the stall about six times without stopping. Siete watched with her head hanging out over the Dutch door, looking surprised and curious but not interested in joining her mother. I just stood there trying to figure out what was wrong while my best friend rushed back and forth in front of me, tail up and snorting loudly.

I checked my body language. I wasn’t shaken up or angry. I was tense from rushing, and by now, we were indeed going to be late. I knew my daughter was waiting anxiously in the car. I realized that as I had approached the pasture in the beginning of this incident, my mind had been filled with problems I was having with my mom and with images of the suffering in Haiti. Had Silk picked up on this or was there just something mysterious floating around that was causing those who are extra sensitive to feel rattled ? Silk is definitely tuned to a higher frequency than most of us.

I’ll never know, but I focused all my attention on making everything okay for her. I told myself that it didn’t matter if my daughter was late. I’d take the blame. I let go of everything except helping my horse. When she ran into the stall again, I could tell she was getting tired, and I just stepped in front of the door and blocked it. She dropped her head and relaxed instantly, almost relieved that she had to stop. I rubbed her neck and talked to her for a few seconds, and then closed the stall door. She got her dinner and a flake of hay. I could see that she was tensed again when I filled her water bucket. I told her that I was only going away for a couple of hours and would check on her when I got home. She watched me anxiously, peering over the Dutch door as I walked away. Pulling out of the driveway, I could still see her, eyes following our car until we disappeared. It was unnerving, and I kept wondering if she knew something that I didn’t know.

Both horses were fine when I got back. Silk’s demons were letting her rest. The last few days, I’ve made an extra effort to spend more time around the barn, just cleaning up and fixing things that I haven’t had time to deal with now that we’re having a couple of warmer breaks in this bone chilling weather. I know that I’m hyper-sensitive to Silk, as she is to me, so I’m willing to chalk it up to the change in temperature , or maybe she sensed the presence of some animals in the woods behind the barn. Or perhaps she was just picking up on the intense but unexpressed emotions I was feeling as I watched TV and read the news about this horrible earthquake.

If you are wondering what you can do that will make a difference in Haiti, here’s a group that has been providing medical care, taking care of kids and building hospitals there for a long time. Partners in Health (PIH) is an amazing organization , and they really need our help right now.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Latest Twist

On New Year’s Day, the horses were out in the snowy pasture, strolling around just before dinnertime. I went inside for less than a minute to pick up their feed buckets and their hay. When I approached the barn, both of the girls were already waiting eagerly in their stalls. The big problem was that Siete was holding her right front leg up like something was terribly wrong. I had no idea what had happened.

I checked her shoe to see if there was something caught in the snowpad, but couldn’t feel or see anything unusual. I wondered if one of the wood pellets that I had spread in her stall had gotten caught inside her shoe and caused an abscess. I didn’t feel any heat on any of her legs when I touched them. I gave her some Banamine, added extra bedding to her stall so she could lay down and take her weight off for the night. Checking out the corral, I noticed there were some icy ruts that could have caused her to twist her leg.

I was worried, but not panicked. I reminded myself that sometimes these things work themselves out and that if it was an abscess, I could deal with it. We’d have to pull her shoe, which would be a problem in this icy weather, but it was the least bad possiblity of the things that could be causing the lameness. I started to think about other causes, but forced myself to not jump to conclusions.

Saturday, she was still favoring the right leg, but able to stand on it. More Banamine, and I alerted my farrier just in case. We made a tentative date for Monday morning. Sunday, Siete seemed fine, walking normally, so I stopped giving her the meds and cancelled the farrier appointment. Then, Monday afternoon, she began holding her back right foot up as if she had an abscess, and she seemed sore on the front right again. This wasn’t going to magically disappear, so I called the farrier and arranged for him to come Tuesday morning. I soaked the back foot in Epsom salts and warm water and put on a pack with Animalintex for the night.

Next morning, the farrier couldn’t find anything wrong with her hooves. He pulled her front shoe, but there were no abscesses on any of her feet. He used the hoof testers and everything was fine, thank heavens. Siete was really limping on her front right leg, and he did notice some tenderness and a little swelling on the back of that leg. He wondered if she had bowed a tendon or maybe twisted her suspensory ligament. The thought of that sent chills up my spine. I remembered about eight years ago when Silk injured her suspensory ligament and was confined to her stall and only allowed to walk slowly for six months. It was a nightmare. I gave Siete some more Banamine and tried to stay calm.

I headed over to the vet’s office to pick up another tube of Banamine and luckily ran into the vet herself. She told me that lots of horses were injuring themselves in this ice and snow. We agreed to just keep Siete quiet, give her two small doses of Banamine in the morning and at night for a few days and see how she felt on Friday.

I am happy to report that Siete was walking solidly on all four feet by Friday, and getting a bit wound up from all that stall rest. The tenderness and swelling have gone down. So, yesterday, I opened the gate to the pasture and we had some supervised wandering around time. I know I took a chance and fortunately, everything was okay. What I’ve learned is that the horses don’t want to venture out too far in the snow, but they stay calm and happy if they see the gate between the corral and the pasture is open. They know that they have the option to go there, and that it’s their choice. It keeps them from charging around.

So, let’s hope I didn’t jinx anything by telling you that Siete is doing better. Only eleven more weeks until Spring, and it can’t come soon enough!