Sunday, December 18, 2011

Countdown to Christmas


We’re coming into the homestretch here for Christmas, and around our house, things are moving a bit slower than usual this year. I’ve been wrapped up in a big project creating a book for my 97-year old mother that I’ve titled “A Hero’s Journey”. It tells her brave and amazing story during World War II as the only woman in the Polish Parachute Brigade and as the director of a United Nations camp after the war for displaced people who had been in concentration camps. I used audio interviews that we’ve recorded throughout the years, so the stories are told in her own voice. I’ve illustrated it with photos of her life, and I came to a new realization as I looked at the finished book. Even though there was a period in her life for about six years from 1939 to 1945 that was really tough and frightening (and definitely marked her forever), my mother’s 97 years have been mostly filled with happiness and love. I gave her the book early since I decided that every day is fragile and precious when you are her age and I wanted to be sure that she was cognizant to appreciate what she was looking at. It was overwhelming for her as she flipped through all the pages of photos and stories, but I think that she feels something important has now been preserved for her granddaughter and all the great grandchildren who will never actually meet her.

So, now I’m moving on to baking cookies and cranberry-orange bread and filling the house with all the sentimental decorations that we’ve collected over the years. For our family, the holidays are a time of remembrance. Our tree has ornaments that go all the way back to the one my first grade teacher made for me and the felt and glitter mitten that my husband’s grandmother made for him. There are little bells on it that were from my grandparent’s 50th anniversary cake. We’ve got lots of horses and cowboy boots and chili pepper lights from our years living out West, which are regarded as very exotic here in New England. As my daughter grows older, she appreciates decorating the tree more and more because each treasure that is hung on it comes with a good story.

Out in the pasture, Silk and Siete are really enjoying this mild weather in December and the lack of snow and ice. It’s cold at night, but they have such thick coats this year that even though it goes down into the 20’s, I haven’t been blanketing them. The supplements that I’ve given them for the past couple of months have made a huge difference in their health and energy levels. Silk’s back right hoof has improved dramatically, and she is moving so well that I feel a rush of happiness and relief each time I see her run past me. We are what we eat, and the horses are both visible reminders to me that I need to keep up my own nutrition.

If you are able to take 10 minutes to really improve your state of mind, please check out this link to a TED talk given by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg. It is a perfect message that captures the meaning of gratitude and it’s guaranteed to make you smile:
(for some reason, the link feature on blogspot isn't working, so you'll have to paste this into your browser. I'll try to fix it in a while to see if I can get it to work - sorry!)

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxSF-Louie-Schwartzberg-Grati/player?layout=&read_more=1

Thursday, November 24, 2011

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!



"There are really three medicines that you should put in your medicine bundle every day: the power of genuine acknowledgement and gratitude, genuine apology, and the spirit of laughter and joy."

Angeles Arrien

Let us take care of the children, for they have a long way to go

Let us take care of the elders, for they have come a long way

Let us take are of those in between, for they are doing the work

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mia Puppia



It feels so right to have a dog in my life again. Stella is a perfect companion for running errands or driving up to visit my mother. She goes everywhere I go most of the time. I’ve never had a dog that loves to ride in the car as much as this one. Sometimes, when she’s all hyped up with puppy energy, I take her for a quick turn around the block to mellow her out.
Stella also likes to sniff more than any dog I’ve ever had. It’s all about sniffing, every time we go outside. I am wondering what she’ll do when we have the Christmas tree in the house. Pepper used to crawl up next to the stand and sleep underneath it, and I always thought that she dreamed about the forest. We called it “Pepper’s tree” each year. Now, it’s time for new doggie rituals for the holidays.

When Stella was really little, we got her a soft harness that had “Puppia” written on the front. I nicknamed Stella “mia puppia”. My daughter calls her “Guppy”, which also seems to suit her. She is so goofy and sweet.

Silk is very jealous, and acts totally disgusted each time the door from the house opens and the little black creature emerges with me in tow. She is used to getting my undivided attention. Now, I have to tie Stella to the post at the cross-ties and make sure she has a stick to chew on before I can dispense carrots to the horses. And speaking of chewing wood, when we came back from buying hay on Sunday, our dear pup had shredded and eaten a log that was on the woodpile next to the fireplace in the living room. I was really worried that she was going to get blocked by a chunk of wood in her stomach. I kept recalling how a puppy that belongs to a friend of ours ate the elbow off her sweater and had a $3000 surgery to remove it from her tummy. Luckily, Stella threw up twice and seems to have gotten over it. I’m looking for an attractive covered box to store our logs this winter.

When I’m playing with Stella and she’s racing around, leaping happily, people who stop to talk to me sometimes comment on how wild she is. It makes me laugh since Stella is only six months old and one of the reasons that I’m standing there encouraging her to be a crazy dog is so that when I get home, I’ll have a calm one. Soon enough, she’ll be old and lazy like the rest of us.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Powering On

When you live in a house without any electricity or heat or hot water for nine days, your reality changes. Luckily, we had a small generator, so we were able to keep lights on and the furnace running and the refrigerator working for about half of each day. We shut down at night, and it was really dark and cold. Some nights, the temperature dipped into the 20’s. Still, we were in better shape than our neighbors who didn’t have generators. Our house became the central haven for them, and their lives became intertwined in ours with both the benefits and annoyances of that kind of closeness. Towards the end of this ordeal, my husband had to go on a business trip, so my daughter and I were pushed out of our comfort zones even further.

The hardest moments in each day were the beginning and the end of generator operation. In total blackness, at 6 am, I would crawl out from under my down comforter and layer up all the clothes that I had carefully assembled next to the bed. Grabbing my trusty flashlight, I would stumble downstairs and open the garage door. Balancing the flashlight, I had to drag the generator out to the driveway and connect all the electric cords. Then came the part I liked the least. I’d have to open the choke, turn on the switch and yank the cord as hard as I could to start the motor. Without a cup of coffee in me, it was tough to pull up with all my might and get that baby going. If I didn’t manage to start it after three pulls, I had to stop and let the motor rest so I didn’t flood it. That was usually about the time that I loudly started praying to every god, saint and dead family member that I could think of to help me get this --- machine started already. And each time, it would work, thank you very much. I’d stagger back into the basement, flip the transfer switch and turn on all the circuits that were wired to it, knowing that the coffee pot would be working when I got back upstairs to the kitchen.

At the end of the night, I made my daughter go out with me to power down, since it was so dark and I didn’t have enough hands to turn everything off and hold the flashlight. There was such comfort in having her next to me as we plunged to silent blackness. On Sunday night, the utility company had promised that 99% of us would have power. We were in the 1% that were still in the dark. I actually was able to get the mayor of our town on the phone, and she told me that because there were only 10 houses on my street and the pole needed to be replaced and there were so many hours of work to fix everything, the utility company didn’t think it was worth the effort since it wouldn’t give them enough houses to reach their 99% goal. At least she was honest, and I could tell that she genuinely felt sorry for me. It didn’t help that I learned that the power company plans to raise our rates to pay for this disaster, and the COO of the company supposedly got a 31 million dollar bonus last year.

We did get the power back on in time for my birthday on Wednesday. That was enough of a present for me, but my husband surprised me with a new laptop computer. Sadly, once we transferred all the files off of my old computer, we discovered that the new one is defective and has to be sent back to be replaced. So, here I am, typing away on my trusty old dinosaur, which is fortunately still working. I’ve pretty much filled up the 30 gig available on it, and the new machine has 500 gig, which is so exciting that I can’t wait to actually be able to use it. Steve Jobs, I hope that you’re up there keeping everyone at Apple on their toes since it does feel a bit like there’s no one in charge over there anymore.

The horses weathered all of this drama without any problem, and I am grateful for that. Our sweet little doggo, Stella, had an operation and was spayed on Monday, so we are supposed to keep her from running and jumping for two weeks while her stitches heal. That’s not easy, to say the least. She’s totally back to her normal happy puppy behavior. All in all, we have been very fortunate that we were able to stay safe and healthy here. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I rely on technology and how different everything is when there is no phone, cable TV or Internet. Reading in bed with a flashlight gets old really fast. On the positive side, we were all forced to talk to each other a lot more and we all took the time to notice how many bright, beautiful stars were in the sky each night.

Now, as I continue to navigate each day along the roads of our town, between the carcasses of huge fallen trees that continue to remind us of the intense power of Mother Nature, I’m trying to absorb the lessons I learned so we can handle this situation better next time. And yes, let’s not kid ourselves, there will be a next time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Blogging in the Dark

We lost power on Saturday night as the snow was falling. I'm so thankful that we have a generator and that my husband was home. He had just returned from a long business trip. I was able to stockpile food for all of us, two and four legged. We have firewood. It's getting harder to find gas for the generator, and over 95% of our town is out of power, as is most of the state. There are no estimates of when they will be able to restore everything.

It was an instant replay of the hurricane, only with a foot of snow. There was total silence on Saturday night, broken only by loud cracks and pops and crashing noises as huge trees fell. We lost a big oak that crushed our lovely dogwood tree. A 75 year old maple, really huge, fell from our front yard across the road, splitting a telephone pole in half. Big branches from the ash tree came down on the power lines from the street to the house.

Sunday morning, as I ventured out to feed the horses at 6:30 am, I was so relieved to see that nothing had fallen near the barn. The girls are calm and mellow. I haven't let them out in the pasture yet since the snow is melting fast and there's a lot of water under it. The temperatures are supposed to warm up to almost 60 today. The phone and Internet come and go, and right now I'm so thankful that we have a way to connect with the outside world. They won't make any estimates when power will be restored, but we're thinking it might be as long as a week more of this crazy camping out lifestyle.

I'll try to get some photos up later. This certainly makes me not take forgranted the basics of living.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Wisdom of Old Mares


The wisdom of old mares and growing older has been swirling around in my consciousness this week. Billie at Camera-Obscura wrote a beautiful post about her 28 year old horse, Salina. As I mentioned earlier, Linda Kohanov talks about the importance of her mare, Rasa, in guiding her towards her life’s work. Since I’ve been facing some challenges and choices on my own path recently, I have been spending more time with Silk, my 23 year old soul sister.

My farrier told me that he doesn’t think I should ride Silk anymore. At first, it made me very sad to contemplate not being able to sit on her back and wander around on the trail with her anymore. What drew me to Silk from the first time I rode her was that she seemed to be able to read my mind. In the beginning, I thought that it was unique to us and a little bit frightening for me to be able to communicate with my horse without saying or doing anything. Then, I began to find other women who had similar experiences with their mares, and I came to appreciate that there is a connection between some of us and our female horses that is a wonderful gift.

There is no one else on earth, human or animal, that accepts me and appreciates me the way that Silk does. People see it in the way that she looks at me and often comment on it. I have no doubt that if I asked Silk to walk through a flaming building with me, she would do what I said we must do. That kind of trust is only possible if it goes both ways, and I have learned to listen to Silk with a closeness that sometimes seems odd to anyone watching us. So, I have come to the understanding that whether I ride her or walk beside her is insignificant. We still have a lot to talk about and share with each other.

There is a pervasive climate of fear in our country right now. I see it changing the way that my neighbors and my friends behave and think. So, some of the choices that I make these days have to do with focusing on the positive implications of what happens in my life rather than the negative. There’s enough negative energy flying around to sink us if we keep stirring it up.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who is working on a new book about wise old women, has good advice about how to deal with this problem: “Consider that most fear is not fear of failure: rather, it’s fear to live fully, in full power. Choose your petty fears carefully, because they can grow truly big teeth. Instead, draw your attention here…I have several fears I would like you to have…Fear these: Fear not loving while you have the chance. Fear becoming bitter. Fear cynicism. Fear turning to stone. Fear living underwhelmed by everything.”

When I am standing with Silk in the barn or in the pasture, I can feel her strength, and just putting my hands on her back or her neck, I am able to draw from it. If I am wavering or hesitating about following what my intuition is telling me to do, I go to my horse, and she lets me know that I have the power to trust myself. That is the gift these old mares give those of us who are lucky enough to live with them.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Autumn Update


My days have been filled to the brim over the last month with video projects, dog training and juggling horse care and the hectic schedule of my 16 year old daughter. So, even though I hate to see the torrential rain we are getting today that is flooding the corral and pasture, I also welcome the excuse to hide in the house and take a break. Silk and Siete are huddled in Siete’s stall with some outrageously good hay, so they’ve got no complaints. Stella and I have already been for an hour-long trek in the hills, and I’ve kicked the soccer ball so she can chase it about 200 times today. She has almost inexhaustible energy and is growing about two inches a day.

I’ve started Siete on D-Carb Balance, a supplement that I hope will help her lose weight, strengthen her immune system and keep away the hoof abscesses. She’s not crazy about the taste of it, but since it’s all that she finds in her bucket, she eats it. We had a good week of dry weather, so both horses were able to get out and run around without any mud. We’ve had so much rain that our grass just keeps growing, and the leaves on the trees are not falling or changing colors as vigorously as they usually do. It’s really weird and doesn’t feel like the usual crisp autumn we love.

Last week, I took some time to listen to a couple of interviews with Linda Kohanov about her new book, The Power of the Herd. I always find it stimulating to catch up on what Linda is thinking, and these conversations with Mark Mottershead were both thought-provoking and astonishingly honest. She discusses the death of her beloved horse, Rasa, and the leadership challenges that she has faced with her Epona programs. One of my favorite things that she talks about is how horses ask us to develop “emotional courage”. Certainly, this is true of both my horses, and I am grateful to them for teaching me how to stand my ground without being dominating or argumentative. I recommend that you check out what Linda is doing these days at www.poweroftheherd.com/

Recently, I’ve been stretching myself creatively, and I’m embarking on a new phase in my work as a film-maker. I’ve started shooting and editing my own projects -- going solo. It feels like I’ve come full circle back to when I was in college making documentaries. I’m hoping to create a very natural and comfortable rapport with my subjects where the camera becomes almost invisible to them. As I get my sea-legs on this new adventure, I’ll be asking Silk and Siete to participate with me. So, there will be some videos coming to my blog soon. All this new technology is so seductive that I find myself renewed and excited by the idea of a video journal.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
Albert Einstein

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mother Nature's Wild Ride

The stress level around here has been a bit extreme. The Thursday before Hurricane Irene began her crazy run up the East Coast, my husband had the good sense to pick up a generator. We couldn’t find an electrician who would wire up a transfer switch immediately, so Mark rolled up his sleeves and figured out how to do it himself. I was busy securing the barn and the house and getting provisions. My daughter was going to have a big back to school party on Saturday night, so there was lots of agonizing about whether to re-schedule it.

As we watched the frenzied, fear provoking weather reports, I began having nightmares about trying to reach the horses in the barn during the storm, which they said would go on for 24 hours. And I was really worried that the huge hickory tree which stands over the barn would fall on it. So, Saturday morning, I made arrangements to walk the horses up the hill to my friend’s concrete block barn. It was a bit scary since the wind was blowing hard and there were dogs barking like crazy behind an electric fence. Just after we got Silk and Siete inside their stalls, the rain started to pour. My friend reassured me that he would somehow make it out to the barn on Sunday morning to feed the girls no matter how bad it was blowing. My husband was frantically running around trying to find some of the connectors for the generator since everything was sold out. He managed to finally locate what he needed, but for a while it was a bit tense since it looked like the generator wasn’t going to be ready in time.

Saturday night, we started out sleeping in our beds, but around midnight, Maark woke me and suggested that we move to the pull-out couch in the living room. We have big beech trees next to the house, and we were worried that they might come crashing through our roof. We dragged the puppy crate downstairs with us and almost as soon as we all snuggled up together, there was a huge crash from across the road, and the power went out. About a half hour later, there was a big explosion around the corner as the transformer blew. Then, at 5 am, the wind was so strong that there were a series of four large cracking explosions as the trees in the woods around us started to break and topple. My daughter leaped up and announced, “We’re going to the basement!” We grabbed the dog and the cat and went downstairs to our little nest that we had carved in one corner. I could see out the window in the garage, and these huge trees were bending and waving around like they were feathers. We had a radio so we could listen to a New York City station as they broadcast updates on Irene’s approach. At 7 am, the basement started flooding and we fired up the generator to get the sump pump working. We edged our way cautiously back upstairs where the coffee maker and the donuts were. Around 8, our neighbors started showing up on our doorstep, and we had a little impromptu party gathered around the TV. By mid-afternoon, I was able to go up to my friend’s barn to see Silk and Siete. Getting there wasn’t easy since trees and downed power lines blocked all directions except one. I had a winding route that took an extra ten minutes, but I was able to reach them. The horses were totally fine, and I was so grateful that I had made the decision to move them.

Unfortunately, one of the other two horses who live in the barn decided that she hated my girls. The next day, when we turned them out in separate pastures, this psycho mare tried to tear down the fence and attack Siete. She was rearing and screaming and biting, but Silk just got right up next to her with the fence between them and peed in her face. The crazy horse stopped suddenly and sniffed Silk’s butt and then backed off. Soon after, she raced towards the fence again, and she and Siete started to snort and carry on. Again, Silk stepped right in between them. The owner of the barn was really worried that the psycho horse would crash through the fence and get hurt. I put my girls back in their stalls and started to plan an exit strategy. Luckily, my neighbor down the road who has a big hunter/jumper barn agreed to help me and bring her trailer up as close as she could get, given all the downed lines and trees. We were able to walk Silk and Siete around to the trailer and bring them near enough to walk to our house. Our little narrow street was the only one open to traffic, so it had become a major throughfare. Then, as cars drove past at 40 mph, my husband and I led the horses back to our yard. It was scary but nobody spooked. When Silk saw her own barn, she was so happy that she actually whinnied. Both of the girls were amazingly good even in all these strange, tense situations, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

We had no power for five days, which makes for some strange routines. I was just relieved to have the horses back in our barn and to have water for all of us, even though we didn’t have enough room on the generator for the hot water heater. Oh those cold showers! The barn flooded, but we were able to drain it and dump a dozen bags of wood pellets in the stalls to dry things up. The corral and the pasture and the ditch were just starting to clear up but now it’s pouring again. We’re going to get 3 inches of rain today and tomorrow, which seems like no big deal compared to the 10 inches that Irene brought us.

Mostly, we feel like we were very lucky. If Irene had been stronger, with 80 mph winds, the damage would have been so much worse. During the middle of the storm, my daughter was really frightened and I told her, “Mother Nature is beautiful and cruel. This is a reality check for all of us, a reminder that even though we think we control everything, we don’t.” We love our magnificent old trees, but this experience has taught us a good lesson. This week, I’m going to call the tree trimmer and see about taking down the hickory and thinning the beech trees since we won’t be moving the house or the barn. Hurricane season continues through October, and I hope that this wasn’t just a practice run.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Adapting the RItual


I have a new partner in my morning routine. Stella is now waking up at 6 am, having slept through the night in her crate like a good little puppy. I actually get up first at 5:30, sneak stealthly downstairs , avoiding the step that squeaks, since Stella sleeps in my daughter’s room. After some quality snuggle time with Velcro, who is still playing the role of the disgruntled cat, I make coffee and go back to wake up the pup.

First, we tumble down the stairs and out the front door to take care of business. I don’t use the back door because it will alert Siete and Silk. They will both dig holes to China in their stalls if they have to wait too long for breakfast, so sshh! don’t tell them . Then, back in the kitchen, I feed both Stella and Velcro and pound down some coffee. Fortified, we’re ready to greet the horses, which I regard as the official start of every day.

At first, Stella was afraid of the tack room and the garage door that growls as it opens to reveal all those bales of hay stored there. I really didn’t want to make this feeding ritual turn into a frantic battle of wills, so I tied her leash to one of the cross-ties. This seems to be a satisfying grounding post for both of us. Siete and Silk stick their heads out of their stalls and begin talking to me from across the yard. I can answer them, fill the feed buckets and grab a couple of flakes of hay without a whirling dervish of puppy tangling the leash around my legs. Stella finds the “stick of the day”, usually the largest branch she can fit in her mouth, and settles down to gnaw on it.

When I’ve got all the essentials together, we cross the yard to the barn. Stella proudly marches with her oversized prize in tow, leaving me to carry the buckets and hay. I tie her to the pasture gate while Silk complains that I’ve got that crazy black creature with me again and that I need to hurry up because can’t I see that there are horses that are starving here? Stella sits like a puppy poster child observing everything I do as I feed horses and fill water buckets and open stall doors. When I’m done and it’s time to go back to the house, Stella carefully places her prized stick through the metal pipes just on the other side of the gate inside the pasture like an offering. Siete wanders out and sniffs it but chooses the hay that I’ve left next to the water bucket.

Recently, I realized that I had stopped taking the extra moment to appreciate the angle of the sun rising over the trees and the sounds of horses munching hay and the Canadian geese honking as they fly by over our heads. So, this morning, I made Stella wait a few more minutes while we just soaked up the glories of the beginning of a late summer day.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

What I Wish For


Daughter: “Mom! Stella nipped me.”
Silk: “Nmmm, nmmm!”
Daughter: “Can’t you make her stop? Stella, quit! Why is she doing this?”
Velcro (disgruntled feline): “Meow! Meow!” and “Meow!”

For two years, I have really missed not having a dog. It was the first time in over 20 years that we hadn’t had one. Now, the reality of living with a puppy and training her is fully eclipsing our lives. Stella is a 16th birthday present for my daughter, who wants to train her to be a therapy dog. The puppy has already been going to the nursing home with us to visit my mom and the other residents, and she obviously loves it. She has a natural attraction to people, whether they are old and in a wheelchair or little and sitting in a stroller. I am very grateful that she has such a sweet and gentle way with everyone.

That said, she is also a puppy. When Stella arrived, she got sick with a parasite called coccidia that probably came from her mother. It’s been a big challenge, involving medication and vomiting in the crate in the middle of the night. Fortunately, she appears to have gotten over it. She has also become more comfortable and settled in as a member of our family. Now, Stella is trying to figure out her place in the pecking order of the pack. She’s testing us, along with teething, and we’ve nicknamed her “piranha pup”.

Meanwhile, out in the barn, some of us are feeling very neglected, with good reason. Each time I come out the back door, instead of heading to fill water buckets or dispense flakes of hay, I now have a little black creature in tow and I’m focused on whether she is peeing or pooping. “Good dog, good job!” doesn’t sound anything like “Good horse!” to my girls, who are standing at the fence, heads hanging over forlornly. Silk is mastering the art of the guilty stare. My husband even came into the family room yesterday and said, “Silk needs you right now.” I rushed out to reassure her that she is still number one in my heart and that this puppy fussing will stop eventually.

Just like when Siete was a foal, we are at a critical stage with this little dog. How we treat her every moment will shape the kind of responses that she will have to everything in the world as she grows up. Doing it now, while she is only fifteen pounds is much easier than when she is 50 or 80 pounds. If I can convince two 1200 pound horses to trust me and respect me and love to spend time with me, I can teach this puppy what she needs to know to navigate through this world happily and successfully.

What I am reminded over and over, even in the middle of the night when Stella wakes us up and has to go out, is that the key to getting along with anyone is your energy. If I am grumpy and resentful about having to stagger outside in the pitch black in my pyjamas at 2 am, the puppy won’t want to “do a good job” and will start getting all revved up and nip at my ankles. When I am as Zen calm as I can possibly be, she will curl up on my foot and sleep while I drink my coffee at 5:30 am.

But just like it felt when I was waking up several times each night and nursing my human baby sixteen years ago, I also remember how exhausted, cranky and fragile I am when I’m sleep deprived. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

So, let me go on record that I wish for a harmonious, relaxed home with calm, satisfied people and animals who love each other.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Meet Stella


We have a new member of our family - Stella, This is a photo taken after her very long ride up to New England from Tennessee. Her mama is a Welsh Springer Spaniel named Zoe and her papa is a Black Labrador Retriever named Rocky. They are both great dogs. And Stella is 100 % wonderful! You may remember that our beloved Pepper was the same mix only her mom was a black lab and her dad was a Springer. It took us two years to find another dog with that good combo. My daughter is going to train Stella to be a therapy dog and take her to children's hospitals and nursing homes. We can tell that she's got the personality for it. She loves everyone and is a snuggle expert even at this early age.

That's all for now, but you'll be hearing and seeing more of this little angel soon. She's full of joy and just what we needed.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Go See "Buck" Now!


Go see “Buck” right now. It’s in over 200 movie theatres around the country and it will make you feel so good. Director Cindy Meehl has never made a movie but after her second clinic with Buck Brannaman, she decided that she had to share what he taught her with as many people as she could. It's about people and their hopes and fears and anger and how the horses are wise enough to be able to heal them.

I hope that Cindy does incredibly well with this movie because it will help enormously to change people's views about horses and about not being ruled or tormented by what has happened in the past - allowing us all to move on.

I am so impressed by Guy Mossman, who is one of the cinematographers, and also shot the video I made up in Vermont a couple of summers ago about the family farm and Eco Apples. His work on “Buck” is breathtaking, allowing you to feel that you are right in the middle of what is happening. I was fortunate that Cindy Meehl's local movie theatre is also mine, so I was able to meet her and listen to her talk about making the movie. It is something that she can really be proud of accomplishing after many years of work.

In my own little corner of the world, things are really good around here right now - please don’t let me jinx anything! I can’t believe it’s been a month since I wrote a blog post, but I was getting tired of complaining and telling you about hoof and leg problems. So, at last, both horses are healed, and I am gradually getting over my back injury. I pinched a nerve when I was bailing out the barn after one of our Spring floods, but let’s not go back there anymore.

I will be blogging more frequently, I’m sure, since we are about to have something very exciting happen this Wednesday. So, I’ll be filling you in on that later in the week.

In the meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this thought from Buck Brannaman:

“Over the years, I’ve come across plenty of people who criticize me because they subscribed to the old-school methods of dominating a horse. They worked a horse as if they were going to war with it. And they were. If that’s the way you deal with your horses, it’s the way you deal with your fellow man as well. I just can’t subscribe to that primitive notion of forcing your will on a horse or a human…”
- From “Believe” by Buck Brannaman

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Whew!


Monday, Silk started limping on her back right leg. It was a little swollen and warm. I began soaking it and called my farrier to let him know that if things didn’t improve, I would need him to stop by later in the week. Then, yesterday in the middle of an incredibly busy afternoon, Siete was dramatically lame on her front left foot.

We had a huge rainstorm earlier in the week, after it had been dry for about five days. This is usually the perfect storm for the horses to develop abscesses. So, I was hoping and praying that this was the problem. Of course, you know me, I went to all kinds of other terrible places in my mind. I started with Siete having laminitis, since her foot was so warm and she was standing with her front legs spread wide, and then, I imagined Lyme Disease again. Even the dosing of 30 days of antibiotics seemed like it would be a blessing compared to laminitis. And let's not forget, I also had Silk to obsess about with her swollen back foot. The rough waters of the Sea of Worry were testing me. Like a mantra to calm myself, I kept coming back to “It’s just an abscess.”

Dropping every other ball I had in the air, I sent out frantic calls for Johnny, the farrier, and began soaking and packing Siete’s feet along with Silk’s. I gave them both some banamine, which helped ease the pain, and locked them in their stalls. I stopped feeding Siete any grain and soaked her hay. She only got a small handful for dinner. Johnny told me that he’d come by after lunch the next day. I didn’t sleep well last night, but was heard mumbling, ”only an abscess”.

It was so good to see two red heads poking out of the barn this morning. More soaking, more Animalintex poultices, more banamine and very little hay, but the girls were very mellow about it. I kept promising them that I would make them both feel better soon. I also called the vet and told her what was happening. She said it’s the season of the abscess with this dry and then extreme wet weather. She also told me to call her after Johnny was here and if he didn’t find anything, she’d stop by to look at them.

So, I wandered around for four hours, trying to get things done that I had abandoned yesterday, pretending that I wasn’t worried, hoping and praying, reassuring myself that I had two horse professionals who would help me figure this out today. And then, Johnny came.

It’s abscesses!!! Hooray! Who ever thought I’d be celebrating about hoof abscesses?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Score One for Mother Nature


I opened the gate between the barn and the pasture yesterday and noticed something big and dark out in the grass. To my joy and amazement, it was a large snapping turtle about the size of a dinner plate. You may recall that last year, we had a tragedy when our resident mother turtle, an ancient creature about two feet in diameter, was hit by the school bus on the road in front of our house. I imagine that this new younger girl is probably one of her daughters. The big mama used to travel from the pond in the woods behind our house over to our neighbor’s yard across the street, lay her eggs and trek back to the pond at exactly this time every year for as long as anyone around here could remember. So, seeing another turtle follow her path was cause for celebration. I immediately closed the pasture gate to give her safe passage and called all of my neighbors to tell them the good news.

Then, I pulled Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews, off of my bookshelf to find out what the appearance of a turtle in my life might signify. The turtle is an animal whose magic can help you unite heaven and earth within your own life. It is sometimes known as “the keeper of doors”, crossing between land and water and between earthly and spirit realms. “If a turtle shows up, you may need to ask yourself some questions. Are you not seeing what you should? Are you not hearing what you should?” A snapping turtle may indicate the ability to grab and use the mouth, i.e. your voice, in new ways. “ Turtles remind us that the way to heaven is through the earth. In Mother Earth is all that we need.”

After about a half and hour, the turtle had successfully negotiated crossing the pasture, and I opened the gate so the horses could come out. The sun was shining, the temperature was back down to normal, and there was a great sense of renewal in the air. The night before, we had another huge scary thunderstorm, with two funnel clouds sighted within a few miles on either side of where we live. Many trees were knocked down, and on the other side of town, there was still no power. So we were very lucky, and Siete trotted around like she owned the world.

Everyone is talking about how crazy the weather is this summer, and I thought about a quote that I read in the NY Times from Paul Gilding’s book, The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World: “When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required.”

“If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees,” writes Gilding. “If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth’s CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science.”

So, while Mother Nature reminds me that the cycle of life, at least as far as snapping turtles go, continues in good health, I also feel it’s time to start speaking out about how we are damaging the earth and making ourselves sick and scared when we actually have the capabilities to solve these problems that we have created. Denial is a slow seeping poison, and I try to keep it out of my life. I wish that other people would realize the damage that it can do.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Don't Dream Too Small


At 2 am last night, it was as if someone blasted a spotlight over our house and slammed the door on the Universe. The lightning and thunder were so close that it shook me to my core. I leaped out of bed and ran downstairs to unplug the computers. Thank God, I had turned off the fan in the barn. The electrical hook-up out there is so funky that I don’t like to leave anything on while I’m not awake or nearby. It was still almost 90 degrees at nine o’clock last night, so I had kept the doors to the stalls open in front. I saw Siete rush in to be with her mommy, just like my daughter did with me when the next flash and crash struck.
So now, I was wide-eyed and jittery as the storm passed over us, and my child slept peacefully beside me. It gave me a chance to reflect on my life, as I am wont to do when I find myself sitting up in bed in the middle of a thunderstorm. This has been a week of milestones around here. It was our 19th anniversary on Monday, although my husband was out of town working so we haven’t celebrated it yet. Last year, the day after our anniversary was when my mother had her big dementia breakdown and ended up in the hospital. Looking back on how bad and scary it was, I thought that it’s truly a miracle how content and happy she is now. She lives in a nursing home that is so amazing. The people who work there are loving and devoted to enriching the residents’ lives. I never worry about whether she is being well-cared for and safe. And our own home is a much more relaxed and enjoyable place now that we don’t have all that stress and craziness.
In an effort to move on, my husband recently transformed my mother’s sitting room in the back of our house into my office. He set up my desk so I can look out the window at the horses, which gives me great pleasure. As I was moving my files and books, I found a folder in which I had written a list of goals back in 2007. I was sad to see that I had accomplished none of them. At the same time, it was interesting that they were all the same things that I still dream of today. It’s been bugging me, but last night, in between the lightning flashes, I had a realization. For some reason, it usually takes me six years to achieve whatever I am trying to do. I don’t know why that cycle repeats itself in my life, but this week is the beginning of the sixth year that we’ve lived here. So, maybe I am going to accomplish a few of those goals now. I heard a great line from someone yesterday: “Don’t dream too small.”
Meanwhile, with temperatures of almost 100 today, I’m focused on hosing down the horses and keeping them safe. As I’ve told Siete about ten times today already, “Drink water, little one.”

Friday, June 3, 2011

Not To Worry



I was cleaning Silk’s hooves last week when I noticed that she had chipped a large chunk off her back right foot. Our farrier, Johnny, and I have been concerned about the way that Silk’s hoof had grown a strange flair and is angling out. We believe that she had an injury years ago and now, at 23, the arthritis and wear and tear on her back legs is causing it to twist slightly to the right. My old farrier suffered from a bad back during his last few months of working on the girls, and he wasn’t getting under them enough to do the job the way he should have. Johnny has slowly been trying to trim the hoof back to correct it. When I picked out Silk’s feet, I was alarmed that it appeared that the hoof wall was separating away in what seemed like white line disease, only more severe.

I had a small panic. The holiday weekend was just starting. Silk didn’t appear to be limping or in any pain, but I’ve never seen my horse’s feet look like that. There was a thick hoof wall and then a sizable crater. I put Animalintex and a boot on her and called the farrier. When he returned my phone call on Saturday morning, I wasn’t home. My husband explained my concern, and Johnny told him that he wasn’t worried. He said I should relax since it was her flaired back hoof not a front hoof, and that he would call me on Monday night to schedule when he would come out this week. Well, the reality was that I was worried, and Silk kept kicking her boot off and I didn’t like the way her foot looked at all. I even had a friendly neighbor who owns horses stop by to check it out. She agreed that she’s never seen anything that looked like that, although Silk seemed to be walking just fine. Okay -- I admit that many times, when I have other things worrying me, I transfer my anxiety to my horses’ well-being. I come up with some reason like this to stress out and avoid focusing on the non-horse-related problem. So, truth be told, there was some of that going on here.

On Monday night, Johnny called to tell me that he wouldn’t be able to get out to my place until Friday (today). He assured me again that since it was a back hoof, and she wasn’t even limping, it was probably not as bad as I thought. My voice did not sound convinced, and he could hear it. The next afternoon, as I was at the grocery store, my husband called to tell me that Johnny was in our driveway. He had some time in between jobs, and he came over to trim the horses four days early. I raced home and found my husband holding Silk while my farrier worked on her front hooves. It was a beautiful sight. As I’ve told you before, that Johnny is a good man.

It turned out that he had trimmed her back hoof so that it would grow this way to allow him to cut more off of it and not have her be sore. As soon as he pared away the hoof, the scary hollowed out part next to the hoof wall was totally leveled, and everything looked really fine. He was actually very pleased by how well she was coming along. The flair was practically gone, and after one more trim, she should be back to normal. He told me that it was really bugging him that I would probably be upset all the way until Friday, so he figured out a way to come the day after we spoke. I thanked him for being so considerate and pointed out that now, he could sleep later on Friday morning and I could sleep easier tonight.

When something is not okay with my horses, my mind has a tendency to fear the worst. It’s one of the lessons that I’m forced to learn over and over because I care too much and my sense of security is so dependent on everyone in the barn being healthy and happy. I should know by now that I over-obsess about every “off” moment that Silk and Siete have, and that as Silk is in her senior years, these little problems will most likely become more frequent. It reminds me that after decades of taking care of horses, I still have a lot to learn. When I assume something awful is about to happen, and it turns out to be the opposite and all good, there’s not only a flood of relief but also a big reminder that I need to stay open to the possibilities and not jump to dire conclusions.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

EHV-1 Pay Attention!

I was going to write about something else, but I think that it's more important to spread the word right now about the outbreak of EHV-I in the western part of the United States. The disease, Equine Herpesvirus, which can also be referred to as Rhinopneumonitis, has also been diagnosed in New Jersey and Colorado. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) issued a statement:

"The EHV-1 organism spreads quickly from horse to horse but typically only causes neurological disease sporadically. However, in an outbreak of EHV-1 neurologic such as we are experiencing now, the disease can reach high morbidity and case fatality rates. The incubation period of EHV-1 infection is typically 1-2-days, with clinical signs of fever then occurring, often in a biphasic fever, over the following 10 days.
When neurological disease occurs it is typically 8-12 days after the primary infection, starting often after the second fever spike. In horses infected with the neurologic strain of EHV-1, clinical signs may include: nasal discharge, incoordination, hind end weakness, recumbency, lethargy, urine dribbling and diminished tail tone. Prognosis depends on severity of signs and the period of recumbency.
There is no specific treatment for EHV-1, although antiviral drugs (i.e. valacyclovire) may have some value before neurological signs occur. Non-specific treatment may include intravenous fluids, and other appropriate supportive therapy; the use of anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is strongly recommended. Currently, there is no equine vaccine that has a label claim for protection against the neurological strain of the virus."

Our friend Mikey in Arizona has posted a very good message regarding safety issues and links for more information. Please pay attention and check it out. Let's all take the precautions that we need to keep our horses safe!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Great Escape


I was in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher and making a salad for lunch. My husband sat down in the family room to eat a sandwich. He took one bite and looked out the window just in time to see two red horses dancing through the front yard.

He called me, but I couldn’t hear him since our noisy old dishwasher was going full blast. So, he ran out, and just as Siete reached the end of the driveway and started to head down the road, he called out. “Hey, Siete, come here!”

To his amazement, she stopped and trotted towards him. Silk detoured to sample the gorgeous green grass in the front yard. My husband grabbed Siete’s halter and started to lead her back to the fenced-in pasture. Silk began running the Kentucky Derby in huge circles behind him. All the while, he’s shouting my name, but I’m in the kitchen on the other side of the house completely unaware that anything is going on outside.

Just as he opened the gate to lead Siete inside, Silk came charging down the hill and headed into our neighbor’s yard. There’s green grass the size of a football field over there. Siete thought, oh no, I’m not missing out on this party! She twisted sharply and yanked herself out of my husband’s grasp.

While both horses were gobbling up the grass that was indeed greener on the other side of the fence, he ran to the barn for a lead rope. Then, as they wandered back onto our property near the woods, he approached Siete again. She cheerfully lifted her head to greet him and he was able to attach the lead rope. He led her successfully into the enclosed pasture and locked the gate. When she realized that he had trapped her, she began bucking and racing around in protest. Meanwhile, her mother was totally absorbed in the long, succulent blades out back. My husband quietly crept up next to her and snapped the lead onto her halter.

Back in the house, I was obliviously eating my salad in the family room while I checked my email. The door flew open and my husband stormed inside. “Where have you been?” he shouted. Who knew?

It was entirely my fault that this escape occurred. When I opened the barn up for the horses in the morning, the front corral was so muddy that Silk didn’t want to cross it to go into the pasture. So, I led her out the back corral and through the other gate. I totally forgot to put the chain on the gate in that back corral, moving on to fill water buckets as part of my usual routine. Silk never misses a thing and has learned over the years to be very resourceful with her nose. Hmm, that chain just needs a little push. You may recall that I left the gate open after the farrier came a few weeks ago, and both horses took a walk down the driveway. And I confess that I forgot to lock Siete’s stall door last Saturday night. As my husband was going to bed, he saw something out the window in the pasture, cavorting around in the darkness. He realized it was Siete and had to go out to tuck her back into bed again. That’s three times in the past month that I’ve been absent-minded about keeping the horses safely confined.

Why is this happening? Could be that Silk isn’t the only one who is showing her age. Or is there another subconscious message that I’m sending to myself? We’ve all been locked up here too long and feel ready to explore new territories. Maybe Silk and Siete are trying to show me that it’s time to be free.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Birthday Princess


I woke up at one in the morning and realized that I had forgotten yesterday was Silk’s birthday. I felt so bad I almost got out of bed and ran out to the barn in the darkness. I’ve got a lot of excuses, like I had an important meeting and I got caught driving in a scary thunderstorm, but who cares. What was important was that Silk entered her 23rd year in this world, and I was so wrapped up in other things that I missed it. That’s a big sign to me that I need to slow down and pay more attention to my horses.

I was already feeling guilty about Siete. She lets me know that she wants me to do more with her, and I just haven’t had time. When I come out to the pasture, she follows me around trying to play like a puppy. I’ve been battling the mud and digging out the drainage ditch so much this week that I haven’t focused on the girls at all.

So, today is gorgeous. I apologized to Silk this morning and she let me know that she won’t care that she’s getting her special fruit salad a day late. It’s been a birthday ritual, along with a carrot cake that I always make for her two-legged family and friends, for the past 13 years. When my daughter was young, some of these horse birthday parties got pretty elaborate and we all have fond memories of them. One time, one little boy who was invited had been “grounded” by his mom. When she heard about what we were planning to do, she made a special exception for the event. “How many times in his life is going to be invited to a horse’s birthday party?” she told me. I was so glad that he came because it turned out that he had never been on a farm in his life. He still remembers it ten years later.

I’m going to stop wasting any more time berating myself or reminiscing. Got to go out with the birthday girl now and celebrate! After all, she is my favorite horse in the whole world.

Happy Birthday Silk- you look so stylish in your leopard skin fly mask.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Right Place at the Right Time


The girls are barefoot and frisky now that Spring has officially arrived. Our daffodils and forsythia are in full bloom, and the brown lawn magically turned emerald green overnight on Wednesday. All it took was a couple of warm days and some rain to flip on the growing switch.

A week ago, Silk gave me a scare. I came out at dinner time and she could hardly move her back legs. I had Johnny, our farrier, swing by in the morning to check if there were any abscesses, but he couldn’t find anything. He said she was moving more like she was 33 than 23. He suggested that it might be scratches. In the thirteen years that I’ve owned Silk, we’ve never had scratches or mud rot. On Sunday, when I was buying hay, I was lamenting to one of the farmers about Silk’s problem. “Don’t read too much into this, Victoria,” he said, “Sometimes, you’re just old.” True but I had to do something. I am a miserable, anxious wreck when SIlk isn't feeling good.

I recalled that JME posted a great explanation of what to do, so I consulted her. She recommended washing the legs with warm water, but not pulling off any of the the mud that was too crusted to fall off. Then, she said I should wrap both legs with Animalintex that I wet lightly with warm water and then use vet wrap to secure it for 12 hours. Then, wrap dry Animalintex around both legs for another 12 hours. I am happy to report that it worked perfectly. Silk tooling around just fine, back to her usual routine.

After Johnny came back this morning, trimmed the girls and removed their winter shoes, Silk was certainly not acting like she was a senior horse. We decided to leave them barefoot for now, and I’m hoping that I can pick up the rocks in the pasture often enough to let them stay that way for the summer. Since he’s been doing their feet for the last six months, I am so pleased by how much better they look and feel.

As I opened the pasture gate to let Johnny pull out in his truck, my husband called me from the driveway to help him lift an old sofa that we are taking to the dump. Once we got it into our car, I went back to the barn and let the horses back out into the pasture. I was standing next to our car, talking to my husband when Siete came charging out into the driveway, heading up towards the road. Freedom! Her mother pranced out right behind her. Luckily, some luscious grass tempted them to stop. My husband and I casually strolled over to them and each grabbed a horse by her halter. They weren’t happy that we were leading them back to captivity, but they didn’t resist.

The gods were smiling on us that my husband was home and that we both happened to be in the right place at the right time. Once I got the gate securely fastened, my heart started beating again. That was a close one.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Shedding Time


Now that the air is full of promise and a hint of warmth, the horses have come alive again. Each morning, when I feed the girls and open the doors to their stalls, I hesitate before I swing Siete’s door open. In the past, I’ve tried to train her not to rush out like a bullet train into the pasture. What’s different this year is that some days, she is still full of exuberance, but other times, she just strolls casually past me to check out the new day. I’ve become more accepting and amused by the times that she revs up and dances wildly as the sun rises. I kind of feel that way myself on the mornings that she does it.

The horses are literally shedding away the winter blues. I’ve brushed huge amounts of fur off of them, joking that I could make a sweater with it. Silk has gained weight so I’m no longer worried about her. Siete and I are another story. We’re both on diets. I started us on a strict regime last Friday. My little horse is not happy about it, but I am personally feeling so much lighter and better already. For the past year, I’ve pretty much eaten whatever I want, and I’ve added some inches to my girth. In the winter, my bones began aching, culminating when I threw out my back during all the digging after the flooding. Recently, in a not so subtle way, the Universe started sending me messages everywhere I turned about how bad too much sugar and starch are for our bodies. I decided to cut them out of my diet for a couple of weeks and see if it made a difference. It was much harder than I thought.

On the first day, my neighbor was giving me a ride down to the garage where my car was being repaired. As I opened the door on the passenger side, I found a huge platter of warm-from-the oven brownies on my seat. She offered me one, and I explained that I was on a diet. Then, my neighbor asked me to hold the plate on my lap as she drove because she was afraid the brownies would spill all over the backseat if we put them there. Smelling that sweet chocolate for ten minutes was torture. Yet, it certainly strengthened my resolve. I thought it would be pathetic to not even be able to make it through one day without sugar and starch. So, I resisted temptation.

After five days, I am amazed at how much better I feel. No aching bones, no regrets, and a stronger resolve to keep my horse on her diet too. It’s difficult not to give in to Siete’s begging for more hay and food. She’s very cute and smart about pushing my buttons. I started reading Geneen Roth’s book, “Women, Food and God”. She is a tough teacher, and I’m really looking at how I use food to comfort myself when things get scary and hard. "The relationship with food is a direct path to coming home after a lifetime of being exiled.” What an interesting thought. It forces me to consider whether I want to give in to self-indulgence and all the health risks that result from automatically reaching for that fresh baked brownie.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Eternal Optimism


Yesterday must have been a bad dream. On Sunday, I was out in the yard wearing a t-shirt, loving the budding of Spring. By 10 am, the very next day, the ground was covered with yet another depressingly white blanket, and all signs of green were gone. Miraculously, this morning, as I opened the back door to go out and feed the horses, there wasn’t a hint of winter. All the snow disappeared overnight, as if I had imagined it. Only I didn’t, and here are the pictures to prove it.

The horses didn’t enjoy the interruption of the rites of Spring either. Silk stayed in her stall all day, giving me that sad-eyed look, resigned to her fate. Her daughter was just plain grumpy. Siete would take a quick turn around the pasture every few hours with her tail flagged up high, snorting like a dragon. She’s as done with mud and snow as I am. Each time I watched her prancing and tossing her head, I thought that’s exactly how I feel.

On top of the bad weather, I threw out my back last week. It was definitely my body’s way of telling me to stop stressing and cleaning up after all the flooding. So, I’ve been forced to slow down and take a few days to contemplate my life. It appears to me that the state of my small piece of land is a mirror for how I am feeling. We’ve both survived a rough patch. The barn is splattered with mud and needs a thorough cleaning. So do I, and a diet and a new haircut are mandatory. The corral must be dug out and new footing needs to be brought in and properly graded. I’m personally digging into my business persona and refreshing my presentation and goals. After hibernating for all these months, I’m ready to emerge like Persephone and start to open up in new and exciting ways.

Today, it’s horsey spa day. The girls are going to get cleaned up with the shedding blade. I’ll put all the fur from their winter coats out behind the barn for the mama birds to use to build their nests. With warm water from the hose, those white socks on both horses’ feet will be revived for at least a few minutes before they run through the mud and blacken them again. The chorus of bad weather predictors are chanting that we’re getting more snow tomorrow night. Still, seeing the sun shining right now and listening to the birds chirp, I’m reassured that these last little hiccups of winter will soon be over.

Just like the little green sprouts didn’t freeze and wilt under that unexpected onslaught of snow yesterday, I’m not going to let the obstacles that fall in my path keep me from coming into flower. Years ago, a friend gave me a lovely old French ceramic tile that says “joie de vivre”. It sits on our mantelpiece and as I noticed it this morning, hobbling down the stairs with my sore back, I decided that it will be my new mantra.

Friday, March 11, 2011

In These Dark Days


Once again, my days and nights are occupied battling against the elements of Nature. We had torrential rain on Sunday and Monday that flooded my hay storage and Siete’s stall, among other places in our house and garage. I am tired of blogging about the weather, but it is my constant nemesis these last three months. Last night and this morning, we’re getting a few more inches of rain and everything that flooded earlier in the week is flooding again.

The horses have been taking it very well. Siete spent one night sharing a stall with her mother before I was able to dump enough wood pellets into hers to soak up most of the water. It still bubbles up when she steps in the front, but there’s a dry area in the back where she can stand. After a night with mom, she opted for coming back to her own space. Last night, I listened to the wind and rain fiercely pounding and I feared for the worst this morning. Miraculously, she’s still got this dry spot where I can feed her and she can keep her feet from getting wet, but now I have to figure out how to get her out and into Silk’s stall again. The front corral is a lake and it is continuing to pour down. It continues to challenge my coping skills.

Each time I’ve come back into the house to take a break over the last few days, I’ve been presented with unexpected examples of a disturbing topic. First, my daughter came home from high school eager to talk to me about the problem of dating violence. She isn’t involved, thank heavens, in this horrible situation, but apparently some young women in her school are. They have had the courage to come forward to talk about it, and my daughter applauded their bravery. Then, I received an email from a friend with a news story about an 11-year old girl in Texas who was gang raped by 18 young men, including high school star athletes. Yesterday, another friend sent me a link to a presentation at one of the TEDx conferences by Chameli Ardagh called “The Fierce Face of the Feminine”. It’s a very compelling argument about how women must use their power to protect the children of the world. She points out that each day all over the world, there are more and more children whose lives are in danger and who are afraid to go to sleep at night.

As you know, I try to stay away from discussing politics and events of upheaval in the world. You also probably have noticed, through the years of owning Silk and Siete, I have come to appreciate the temperament and characteristics of my mares and other female creatures and learned a lot about the power of the feminine. And coincidentally, Wednesday was International Women's Day. So, I feel a strong need this week, as Mother Nature continues to rage around me, to urge women to take hold of their power and teach their daughters how to use it to make the world a safer place for our children. It might appear that as mere individuals, we are not able to stop the horrors of acts of violence and war. Yet every day, in how we relate to what goes on right here around us, there are opportunities for every woman to find her own power and take a stand against what we know in our hearts is not good for us or our children. From one drop of consciousness and action, there can be an enormous ripple.

Here’s the link to Chameli Ardagh’s talk: “The Fierce Face of the Feminine”

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The White Blanket


The white blanket on our pasture is getting lower to the ground, but there’s still a lot of ice and snow before you hit grass. At the worst, it was actually almost reaching the top rail of the fence but slowly it’s melting, inch by inch.

I was gone for about five hours yesterday, visiting my mom and going to the grocery store. My husband was supposed to throw a couple of flakes of hay to the horses, but he got busy and forgot. So, when I came home, Silk was standing at the gate of the corral watching anxiously for my arrival. I didn’t see Siete until I walked up to Silk with some hay. There was my little horse, standing at the far corner of the pasture, four hooves on top of the snow like an ornament on a birthday cake. I called her to come get some hay. She was still as a statue.

I realized, oh my god, she's stuck, so I headed inside to put on my boots. My husband beat me to it, feeling guilty that he forgot to feed the girls. He grabbed a halter and lead rope and ventured out to rescue Siete. Each step, he sunk into the snow almost to his knees. When he reached Siete, she started shaking her head wildly. He petted her and whispered something in her ear. Did I mention that Siete is his girlfriend? She let him put on the halter and lead rope without any fuss.

I stood at the gate, worried that she would drag him but she wasn’t going to budge. Finally, he calmly and gently coaxed her to follow him. She took two steps on top of the ice and then, whoosh! Siete’s feet dropped into a soft spot in the snow, and she sank about a foot. After that, she was afraid to lift her leg again. I don’t know how he convinced her to try, but step by step, my husband patiently dragged the horse at a snail's pace across the white blanket. At the edge, where the snow ended and the small “runway” was cleared except for ice and mud, Siete started leaning on him like she couldn’t bear to take another step.

I was afraid she was going to explode as soon as she hit terra firma, but she waited until he unclipped the lead rope and stepped out of the way. Then, she took off running into the barn. Safe in her stall, Siete bucked and bucked and bucked and bucked. Then, she whinnied very loud at us. It was quite clear what she had to say about the whole experience.

I offered her a carrot to calm her rattled nerves, and I served dinner early to the girls. This morning, when I opened the stall door, Siete poked her head out and tossed her nose in the direction of the white blanket. I reminded her that there was nothing but trouble out there for her. She’s a smart little horse, so she stood at the edge of the snow for a long time today without lifting a hoof in that direction.

Soon, little darling, soon. Spring is right around the corner.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What Do the Trees Say?


The wind is howling through the trees again today. This winter, I have been very aware of the forest that hugs the back of our land. I often think that it rests an arm around us to keep us safe. The last six weeks have been all about the forces of nature here. We’ve had snow beyond our wildest dreams, followed by ice and power outages. At one point, the branches of the trees were coated with ice. When I walked out to the barn late one night to give the horses more hay, the forest was cracking and rattling and making so much noise. The trees were talking. The next morning, the wind was softer, and the conversation was more like a whisper.

The horses have had a really hard time, not being able to run at all or even walk very far into the pasture. The snow was almost as high as the fences. As everything melted, the ground that was cleared turned to ice. Silk slipped and almost fell a couple of times, so she’s sticking close to the barn. I am so thankful that both of the girls have remained in good spirits and are taking this all in stride. Every time I get cranky or frustrated, I go out and spend a few moments with them to restore my equilibrium.

It was so warm the last few days that I was finally able to take off the horses’ blankets. I was shocked. For the first time, Silk looked old to me. She seems frail, and we will have to work to get her back in shape when the snow is gone. I can’t believe that she will be 23 in April. Yesterday, as I brushed her, I was thinking back on all the cycles of all the seasons that we have been together. So much has happened in 13 years.

I am feeling that the lessons I have learned in my life keep circling back to make me go deeper and see more each time I face them. Watching the birds and the animals get through this difficult winter reminds me that no matter how great the challenges are, it’s our spirit and our will to live that helps us find the strength to move forward.

Looking around at all the political turmoil in our country and around the world, I am witnessing cycles of change that are much larger and have a greater impact than what’s happening in my small universe. Some are uplifting and some are frightening, but all are beyond my control. Yet, if we can only stay true to our own compass, treating everyone around us with kindness and doing what we can, we will collectively improve this tired old earth. I am constantly aware of all the bright, good people that come in and out of my life each day, making a difference even when things get really tough.

Listening to the wind this morning, resilience is the song that the trees are singing to me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thanks for the Award!


Thank you to Calm, Forward, Straight and to Juliette at Honeysuckle Faire for giving me the Stylish Blogger Award. In my frayed Gortex parka and polartec pants with the holes on the seams, I’m not exactly a Fashion Queen these days. I’m going to use the below zero temperatures and the snow that is falling yet again as an excuse for my tattered but waterproof outfit.

I know that this award has been making its way around the blogosphere, so I’m not going to attempt to send it on to anyone. I really enjoy CFS and Juliette’s blogs so much, and if you don’t already visit them, I encourage you to take a look. I was able to get to know both of them a little better from their responses to this award, and I think it’s a great distraction from what’s going on outside my back door right now. So with no further ado, here are 7 things you might not already know about me:

1. I really enjoyed being stylish when I lived in New York and Los Angeles. I was skinny, wore expensive black clothes and my hair was short, then long, then short, then whatever was considered hip at that moment. When I moved to San Diego and became a cowgirl, my godmother came to visit. She said, “Victoria, you were the most sophisticated woman I knew. What happened to you?” No regrets, not one.

2. I love to cook and bake. I enjoy reading a recipe and then taking artistic license with it. My friends and family aren’t complaining. It is especially fun to prepare food for large groups of hungry people. Recently, I’ve been trying some of the Pioneer Woman’s recipes and really liking them, even the ones with Mountain Dew as an ingredient. I’m adventuresome, although I usually try to stick with healthy, whole foods when I’m in the kitchen.

3. I’ve recently discovered the videos on the TED Conference website. “Ideas worth spreading”. Very thought provoking speakers, interesting music and some mental stimulation on these cold nights in front of the fire. It sure beats what’s on TV.

4. My other distraction as I sit cozy in my armchair with the logs blazing is to plan my garden. I look at those deep white blankets covering my flower beds and imagine all that compost that we spread before it froze giving nourishment to the soil and plants that are buried under it. Spring will be even more delightful than usual this year. I love the White Flower Farms website for dreaming about what I’m going to plant.

5. I live in a house filled with music. My husband and stepson are drummers. My daughter plays the guitar and sings. Recently, I’ve noticed that all my favorite musicians are growing older and grayer. The reality of it has been creeping up over the last few years. All those great guys, like Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, Mark Knopfler, are still recording but soon there will come a day when they’ll decide that they’re done. I just watched a movie called “It Might Get Loud” which has the elegant, white-haired Jimmy Page in it. Like good wine, they just get better as they age and mellow, so I’m going to take time to appreciate them now while they’re still around. Luckily, I have my daughter and stepson to keep me clued into who’s young and talented,

6. I’m paying too much attention to my cat. He’s the only animal left in the house this winter, and there’s a good reason that his name is Velcro. Either he’s draped around my neck like an orange fur scarf or spread across my legs like a fuzzy lap-warmer. I am the center of his world, which is flattering but also comes with too much loud meowing.

7. I’m expending a lot of energy being hopeful these days. There’s too much gloom and fear and arguing going on in the world. Hope needs to be stirred up and cultivated on a daily basis in order to drown out all the negativity that bombards us now that we have all this information available to us constantly at our fingertips. If you have something good to say, now is the time to speak up!

I’m going to throw another log on the fire and continue to hibernate. Silk and Siete are standing in the corral, with snow all over their noses. I tried to get a picture of them, but the battery on the camera needs to be charged. It’s been snowing one inch per hour, and this isn’t even the “big” storm. We’ll be getting ready for that one to hit us tomorrow night. I think I’ll start looking for some new recipes to try.

Friday, January 14, 2011

World of White


I grew up on the outskirts of Chicago, so I know about snow. I still have a snapshot of my dad, who was 6’1”, standing on our patio in a snow tunnel that is a foot taller than his head. My parents hated snow and eventually moved to Florida, where they sat by the pool each winter and teased their friends and relatives who were still stuck in the Midwest. I didn’t get it. I loved the snow, especially building snowmen and igloos. sledding and skating on an ice rink that we made in our backyard. One of the things that I missed when I lived in California was “real winter”.

So, here I am now, dragging hay through snow tunnels above my waist, dealing with the biggest snowfall that our town has had in 20 years. I’m still vividly remembering how it felt on Wednesday morning as I crawled out to the barn to reach the horses in the heart of the storm. I was smart enough to bring their hay and breakfast into the house the night before so I wouldn’t have to get to the garage and tack room before I beat my way towards the barn. I was wearing knee high rubber boots, waterproof pants and a Gortex parka, but I was sinking into drifts that were almost to my shoulders. My method was to shovel two or three feet to make a path, turn back and move the bucket full of hay, wipe the fog and snow off my glasses and then shovel a little more. It was very slow going. There was a moment where I couldn’t see the barn or the house. I felt like Nanook of the North.

To make matters worse, I was still worrying about something that I saw the night before. As I was putting the horses to bed, I noticed that in the snow in the corral, one of them had peed and it was a kind of carrot orange color. It freaked me out, so I went back into the house and leaped on the Internet to see if anyone had anything to say about the this weird colored urine. I was thinking urinary tract infection. There were a few articles about it, mentioning dehydration as a possible explanation and claiming there was no cause for alarm. Both horses were eating and pooping and drinking normally. Just to be sure, I had checked on them around 10 pm as the storm was just starting the night before. They were both fine.

Now, as I approached the barn, Silk stuck her head out but I didn’t see Siete. My little horse always pokes her head over the stall door the minute that I come out of the house each morning. I’d been shoveling and inching my way to the barn for over an hour, and there was no sign of her. It made me panic. Frantically pushing in the blinding snow, my mind went to the worst. If she was down or had colicked, how would I get help? My fear enabled me to reach the corral gate with a surge of energy like a mother animal trying to protect her young. As I shoved against the gate to squeeze through it, the little stinker ambled across her stall to the door, giving me a look that said, “What took you so long?” Tossing the hay into the barn, I felt the rush of victory while the path that I had just carved was disappearing in the insane onslaught of white from the sky.

I barely made it back to the house. Once it stopped snowing, my husband, my daughter and I spent at least eight hours digging. We had to pull 30 inches of snow off the roof of the barn because we were worried it would collapse. Silk ran into the corral when I got the doors open,and the snow was covering her up over her back. She stood still, not knowing what to do. “Don’t expect me to come and rescue you!” I told her. Eventually, she got up the nerve to push her way out and hid herself back in the barn. After two days, we still haven’t been able to dig open the gates to the pasture, and the snow out there has drifted about four feet deep. I’m trying to figure out how to exercise the horses as they grow more antsy and pent-up.

All the local stores are sold out of snowblowers. Our tractor, which has a plow is still broken. My husband has contacted his buddy, an old retired mechanic known around here as “Tractor Man”, who collects and repairs lawn equipment. He has an old Craftsman with treads that he refers to as “the beast”. He’s almost got it running, so I hope that soon we’ll be able to blast a small runway from the corral into the pasture. I have to admit that I’m beginning to understand how my parents felt after they lived through 36 winters with snow like this.

All of you in parts of the country where the temperatures are above 60 degrees can go ahead and gloat now.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Good Horse


I’ve been looking back over 2010 and reviewing how the year went with my horses. Certainly, life dealt me a full hand, and we didn’t progress as far as I had hoped. Yet, as we face this winter’s challenges, I feel a definitely stronger bond and a shift in my horses’ attitudes. So, despite the long list of “I wish I had’s” from last year, I am also proud of what we were able to accomplish.

Both horses are completely comfortable to be in their stalls with me, and I know that all the time we spent sharing territory in the pasture contributes to the relaxed atmosphere in the barn. They like to be together in the same stall, and when I join them, it used to be a bit claustrophobic. This winter, I think that they welcome me to come in with them. Everybody respects each other’s space but at the same time, being close together is calming and has the same warm connection that I got when they joined me next to my chair as I read in the pasture last summer.

Siete wants to do things with me. We are starting to practice Carolyn Resnick’s Uberstreichen Exercises, which she developed to help create flexion and responsiveness from the horse. They are the perfect activity for these days when it’s not possible to ride. Carolyn has been a huge influence on my life with my horses, as you know, and her wisdom and teaching continually strikes the right chord for us and seems to come at just the moment when we need it.

One important lesson that she has taught me is to appreciate and allow for the pause. I understand that if I ask and Siete doesn’t respond, I must take a little break. It gives her time to think about what I wanted. Usually, I just walk away and then come back. If I ask again and she doesn’t give me the response that I am looking for, I may have to leave and come back a few times. It’s almost like I can see the wheels turning in Siete’s head as she tries to understand what I’m asking her to do. There’s no pressure, no recriminations. I just give her the gift of time to think about my request. She reminds me of my daughter learning an algebra problem. Sometimes, it takes a few tries and some more explanation before it sinks in. Siete wants to please, and I’m always very enthusiastic when she responds to my request. She is like a kid, getting all jazzed up and happy when she gets it right.

I have also started to only use one word to let the horses know that I’m pleased with them. I noticed that when I tell them that they are “good”, they both seem to respond positively to it. Their ears come forward and they visibly brighten if I say “Good horse!” So, that’s our code to indicate that I’m happy, and I only use it for that purpose. Silk, especially, appears to soften and relax whenever I announce that she’s “good”. I don’t know why, but it works.

Thinking back over the time I’ve spent learning from Carolyn this year, I am reminded of a wonderful phrase that I heard Clarissa Pinkola Estes say: “Listen to me now. Believe me later.”