Monday, December 31, 2007

Muddy Day Blues

“Should’da, could’da, would’da….” My husband and I said to each other as we began Project Mud yesterday. The front corral doesn’t drain properly. It was a big mess when we bought our property. We tried to fix it with some re-grading and crushed limestone. For three years, we’ve limped along, inadvertently creating a bowl with three small drainage ditches that spill into our Big Ditch.

When we moved in, the lady who had owned this place for 35 years told us, “Keep that ditch clear, no matter what!” She was right. Last year, it froze solid and then we had lots and lots of rain. Our stalls flooded, and I had to bail that stinky soup by hand with a bucket to clear them.

So, as they were predicting snow and then rain, yesterday, my husband and I shoveled the front corral, which is a rectangle about sixty feet by twenty feet. We hauled away over twenty wheelbarrow loads of muck, hay and mud. Then, my dear darling spouse drove the small tractor over and over what was left, trying to pack it down and grade it. We knew we need to add material, but didn’t have the time or money to get a load of crushed stone and fill delivered. Fortunately, next to the compost pile, there was a mound of the limestone, dirt, sand mixture that we originally used. So, we shoveled that into the corral and smoothed it and packed it as best we could.

Sore, tired and very pleased with ourselves, we fell asleep. My last thought was how much I loved my husband for his willingness to not just put up with my horse madness, but dig into it with me.

It snowed during the night, and then, it rained. I got up at 6 am to feed the horses. As I approached the barn, I saw the new lake in front of it. At least, the stalls are dry. The back corral, which we built ourselves behind Silk’s stall is perfectly graded and totally drains into the Big Ditch. Sad to say, we’ve got our work cut out for ourselves today. I did find one bright note: My horses have no problem walking through water.

POSTSCRIPT: We unclogged the Big Ditch, which started the muddy water flowing from the corral. It was sunny and warm, so there was plenty of melting and evaporating all day. By tonight, the corral was just as we left it last night.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Kids and Horses

My daughter got a Fender precision bass electric guitar for Christmas. It has nothing to do with horses. Right now, she has nothing to do with horses, even though there are two of them living in her backyard. It makes me sad but I believe that this is only a temporary loss of interest. Many little girls dream endlessly of owning a horse. I know I did. Sometimes, I wonder if having a horse of her own so easily made it not so special. In the end, I’ve decided to ignore the situation. I love our horses, and I continue to be overly involved with them. It’s kind of like eating broccoli. I don’t push vegetables down my daughter’s throat. I just eat them and hope that she’ll observe and someday decide for herself that they are delicious.

I know that many people who are afraid of horses had bad experiences with them as children. It astonishes me that parents don’t take more care about choosing an instructor and a safe place for their kids to ride. When I boarded my horses, I would see mothers pull up, drop off their little ones and drive away to run errands while the children had their lessons. Then, if something went wrong. and the child got frightened, there was no one who really knew the kid who could comfort her. On several occasions, I found myself hugging a crying little girl until her mom or her nanny showed up a half hour later.

My daughter started riding when she was three years old. She has always worn a helmet. One of her earliest memories is of a friend of ours falling off a horse. The lady, who was a grandmother, was sitting on her horse, wearing a baseball cap, waiting for a group of friends to go for a trail ride. My daughter was playing with kittens nearby in the barn. Suddenly, one of the horses in the group bit our friend’s horse on the butt. The injured horse blew up like a firecracker and our friend landed on her head on the asphalt driveway. She had a concussion, and it made a lasting impression on my child.

I always have looked for the “baby-sitters” for my daughter to ride. First there was Jinny Jigs, a twenty- year old mare who had about 15 off-spring. She was a four-legged angel. Then, there was Buster, who was more of a puppy dog than a horse. My daughter would ride him bareback while I led them around the ranch. It really gave her a wonderful sense of balance and makes her a great rider today. Her favorite was Dusty, a 28 year old Paint stallion. When he died, my daughter cried so hard. She stopped at one point and said, “Mommy, I think my heart is breaking.”

Now, she has Siete, her own five -year old Quarter Horse. I know that young horses and beginning riders are not a good combination. I’ve waited a long time and paid for a lot of training to be sure that our little horse is safe and mellow. I think we’re finally ready. Unfortunately, there’s a bass guitar that has captured her attention. So, I will ride Siete and not push. I have no doubt there will be a day when she comes down to the barn while I’m on her horse and asks me if she can go for a ride.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Visit to the City

Yesterday, my daughter and I spent the day in New York City. My husband took care of the horses, my mom and our old dog while I was gone. I love the city. It was my home for over 15 years, and it is one of the main reasons that we live in Connecticut. My daughter feels the same magnetic attraction to Manhattan that I do. When we go there and visit my friends, I love to share all my favorite haunts with her.

It was drizzling and icy as we wandered around. We ended up walking across Central Park West, where all the carriage horses stand waiting to take tourists into the Park. The horses were soaked and dirty, and my daughter’s heart went out to them. Although, she did tell me that she’d rather go uptown in a horse drawn carriage than a taxi or the subway. I insisted that we walk, and my feet are feeling the effects of that unforgiving concrete this morning.

My friend told me that in her building, which has rent control, an apartment that becomes available now rents for between $12,000 and $15,000 a month. How insane is that? I realized that as much as I still love New York City, I wouldn’t want to live there. I love waking up in the country, feeding the horses and hopping on the train to go to the city.

More important, at the end of the day, I am so glad to come home. Last night, it was very foggy. When I got out of the car, I announced to my husband that I was going to check on the horses. As they heard my voice, in the darkness, Silk neighed a greeting. “Good, Silkie really missed you,” he told me. As I rubbed my face against my horse’s nose and she murmured, “Nnnhhh, nnhhh, nnnhhh” to me, I knew I was in the right place.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


I really didn’t want to get up this morning and feed the horses at 6:30 am. We have been entertaining non-stop for two days, and I was wiped-out. Then, I thought about how I didn’t have time last night with all the partying to go out to the barn and give the girls a late night flake of hay and some more water. I realized that it had been about sixteen hours since anyone had fed them. I put on my coat and my boots. If I were a horse, I’d be ready for some food. The air was cold on my face. The sun was peaking over the trees behind the barn. It was a beautiful morning. Of course, they were happy to see me.

Last night, my friends brought a houseguest with them. She told me that she had never touched a horse. She was afraid of them. She talked about her life as an English teacher and about her two sons. It made me consider what my life would be like without my horses. I’ve thought about it before: What would I do without Silk and Siete?

I would sleep later. I would spend less money. I wouldn’t take an hour out of each day to muck the stalls. I wouldn’t schlep water from the house to the barn. I wouldn’t pick hooves, brush dirty fur, smell like a horse and have hay in all my coat pockets. Each day would not be book-ended without fail by feeding the horses and turning them out and then, bringing the horses in and feeding them again.

There would be no way to spontaneously hop on my horse and ride around to get the life flowing in me. I wouldn’t get nuzzled and neighed at when I walked down to the pasture. I couldn’t look out the window in the kitchen and watch Silk kicking up her heels or Siete prancing around with her tail held high like a flag.

In short, my life would feel empty. The horses are my labor of love and my spiritual practice. They fill in a part of me that was missing for many years. They are my greatest gift.

Monday, December 24, 2007



One of the unexpected pleasures I’ve gained from becoming a blogger is the astonishing feeling of connectedness with people all over the world. I regularly communicate with new friends in Africa, Nova Scotia, Poland and fellow Americans in the Midwest, the Southwest and New England. Our common ground is a joy of sharing what’s happening in our lives and realizing that we are often thinking the same thoughts and dreaming the same dreams.

It’s easy to feel isolated and caught up in one’s own swirling pattern of worries and problems. Now, all it takes to open your world is to turn on the computer and enter the blogosphere. So, on the day before Christmas, as I bake cookies for my neighbors, walk in the woods with my children, brush my horses and turn them out to kick up their heels, I will think about what everyone else is doing on their side of the planet -- and wish them well, with the hope of peace and happiness for all.

One by one, with small kind gestures, we will make the world a better place.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Barn VooDoo

We’ve got some superstitions and ghosts floating around our barn. Today, I came out to find one of the bad omens. I always know that I’m going to have a tough day if I find a dead mouse in the water bucket. Sure enough, some little guy decided Silk’s heated bucket was a Jacuzzi last night. It makes me so sad when it happens. This was the first one in a long time. When we first moved in, there must have been some bad juju because I was finding floaters several days a week.

I’ve learned some interesting history about our property since we moved here. Our street is named after a Black woman who was the mid-wife, medicine woman and healer in our town during the 1700’s. I think her spirit still lives up on the hill in the “way back” near the altar or grave made of stones nestled in the cedar trees. People often mention to me how tranquil and soothing it is to be here. One friend even called it “enchanted".

There are at least two horses buried near the barn. One was white and the other black. I believe that Silk and Siete feel watched over by them. The girls and I can sense the presence of the Horse Ancestors. When I first bought Silk, I kept her on a ranch in San Diego. Near the cross-ties, there was a small shed used as a tack room. When a horse died, the owner of the place always buried it behind the shed. There was also a dirt trail going out from there to the bridle path. Many horses refused to walk on that trail, and my trainer used to say that they could feel the ghosts of those dead horses. Silk never minded going out that way, and I actually always said a silent prayer to them to bring us back home safe.

Some of the good omens in our barn here in Connecticut are the birds. A barn swallow built a nest in Silk’s stall the first year that we arrived. She cleverly placed it in a hollow created by the way the rafters were built, so none of the babies can fall out. This year’s babies never really left the barn. We now have three or four birds living in both stalls, and the horses appear to enjoy their company. I’ve been putting out some birdseed and suet cakes for them now that it’s cold.

Last summer, when they flew out of the nest, one of them rested on the floor of the stall next to Siete. I noticed the little bird when I was feeding the horses, and I was afraid Siete might accidentally step on it. Carefully, I led her out of the stall into the corral and closed the door so the bird was safe. Then, I got my 93-year old mother to perform her magic. She’s always been the best at bird rescuing. She pulled out a pair of white gloves from her drawer, telling me that to pick up a baby bird, you should always wear the softest gloves. Hold the tiny creature, she carefully settled it on a branch of the big pine tree. As soon as she stepped away, the mother bird joined the baby on the big flat needled surface. My daughter and I like to think that the little bird is now one of the residents flying around in our barn.

If the notion of Horse Ancestors interests you, check out a book by Kate Solisti-Mattelon with photos by the wonderful Tony Stromberg called “Conversations With Horse: An Uncommon Dialog of Equine Wisdom”. Linda Kohanov also writes about them in “The Tao of Equus” and her new horse cards and book, “Way of the Horse”, which also has beautiful illustrations by Kim McElroy. And may the Horse be with you.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Let's Do It Our Way

I was thinking today that what I practice, I bring to my horse. If I am consistent, even-tempered and patient, my horse will feel that. She will trust my judgment and follow my lead.

Horses are always aware of what’s going on around them. They are consistently attentive in order to protect themselves. I think self-preservation breeds awareness. If I can calm the inward part and go inside myself, I will also go below the surface of the horse to touch its spirit. My focus will bring the horse’s attention to what we are trying to do.

I know how I feel when someone forces me to do something. It usually doesn’t make me want to do it. It certainly doesn’t make me want to spend time with that person. I always work together better with someone if we share the same goal and ideas.

It was a relief and a revelation to discover horse trainers like Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and Mark Rashid. They validate what I know in my heart is the way to best communicate with my horse. They also make me realize that I have so much more to learn.

When I ask my horse to do something, my goal is that she understands what I want and that she wants to do it too. The horse doesn’t have to do my thing my way. I hope she'll do my thing her way and like doing it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


The horses are weathering our first big snow quite happily. I have fewer aches and pains because my husband is home for this strenuous event. Last year, he serendipitously missed every major storm because he was on the road, working. This time, I had to go into the city on the day it really dumped, and he had to do all the heavy shoveling and hauling on his own. He was so glad to see me when I got home. I think he had a revelation about what I had actually been through last winter.

The horses played in the snow for a while yesterday, but their legs got cold. They are still California princesses, so they came over to the pasture gate and stood there to let me know that they were ready to go back into their cozy stalls. My biggest problem is the front corral where there’s still some water and mucho mud under the snow. We resolved to fix the drainage out there, but somehow never got around to it.

In the “you say potato, I say potaaa-toe” part of our relationship, my husband believes in clearing the snow so that the ground shows. I believe that leaving a thin layer of snow a couple of inches thick makes it less slippery for both man and horse. Since he did the shoveling, it is now treacherously icy on the paths to the barn and the pasture. I remind myself that my back is not the least bit sore and I can stand up straight, so maybe I can adjust to making my way through a slippery spot or two.

I was wondering this morning as I opened the stall doors and fed the horses whether they happier living here in New England or in California. The winters out West were severe too, with heavy rain and mud and more mud. They had shelter, but not a fully enclosed warm barn with fluffy shavings. I decided that they like it better here. Then, I realized that they would like it anywhere, as long as they were living with me, my husband and my daughter.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Free-Floating Anxiety

Silk got very agitated yesterday. I can't figure out why. She and Siete were out in the pasture, calmly nibbling bits of grass between the patches of ice. Some people drove up to my next door neighbor's house, and Silk became riveted like a frozen statue. Then, she took off, racing around on the icy ground, snorting and looking wild eyed. I was worried that she'd fall again, but assumed that whatever had spooked her would go away in a few minutes.

It didn't. Her anxiety continued the rest of the day and into the night. She paced her stall and the corral. When I tried to soothe her, she arched her body away and stiffened up. Her eyes, which are normally soft and relaxed, were tense and wild. I kept coming out to the barn every few hours to check on her. I put my hands on her neck and withers and took long, deep breaths to calm both of us. By bedtime, she had eased up a little. This morning, she seems back to normal.

Last Spring, a similar mystery occurred. In the middle of the night, Silk got freaked out by who-knows -what and bashed her head into the back of the stall. She cut herself just over her eye badly enough that I had to call the vet. The barn, which had been a real safe haven for her, was suddenly a scary place. After a few days, as quickly as her anxiety had come on, it disappeared. I thought maybe a wild animal like a buck or coyote might have frightened her.

I have to admit there was some free-floating anxiety that I was wrestling with myself yesterday. As I led my horse from the pasture to the barn, I wondered if her emotional radar was so finely tuned that I had transmitted my worries onto her. Her behavior forced me to really calm down and get centered. Whether or not this was the cause, Silk and I both benefited from my awareness. Today is a better day.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Santa, Are You Listening?

Dear Santa,

We’ve been good horses all year long. Here’s our list of what we hope you’ll bring:

1. A gallon of patience - We see Mom running back and forth to the car, driving off and coming back all day. Sometimes she’s gone for a really long time. We know she doesn’t have as much time for us as she’d like. Please give all of us lots of patience, especially while she’s with us, so no one gets upset.

2. A tub of attention - It’s boring out here, especially in the winter. We’d like more grooming and fussing and riding.

3. A bucket of fairness - Equal time for each of us. Some days, Mom pays more attention to one of us than the other, and it’s hard not to get jealous. She’s good about alternating who gets to go first, but we both always want to be first, so we promise to work on that.

4. A hundred bales of green grassy hay - Boy, the hay is stinky this year. The farmers say it’s because of the weather. Please give Mom some help so we don’t have to eat any tough dry brown stuff.

5. Endless amounts of warm water- Mom carries the buckets from the house so it’s hot. Sometimes we drink it as fast as she fills them. She seems annoyed when that happens so please refer back to Wish # 1 on our list.

6. A bag of “I’ll Be Fine” - Mom heard about this stuff from the lady at the feed store. She told Dad, and they laughed really hard. Maybe we could try some of it.

That’s it. Fly safe and say hi to the reindeer for us. See you on the 25th!
Silk & Siete

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Intimidation: It's Never Okay

A friend of mine called me, angry and crying. During a riding lesson, her trainer yelled at her and reduced her to tears. She refused to do what he was telling her because it seemed like it was hurting the horse. When she got off and led her horse out of the arena, the teacher followed her, continuing to yell and berate her.

“Get out of that place.” I told her, “Take your horse and move somewhere that they wouldn’t dream of treating either of you that way.”

Honestly, I don’t know if she will. It takes a lot of effort to find the right stable. The first time I moved Silk from one barn to another, it took me a year to find one that I liked. When we left, I had to sneak her out without warning to avoid an ugly confrontation. The sad part is that I hear stories of intimidation by trainers fairly often from other riders that I know. It takes courage to stop and defy someone and get off the horse.

What I can’t understand is why anyone thinks that horse or human will learn if they aren’t relaxed and in a trusting environment. Horses, with their highly responsive and intuitive powers, attract us because they tune into our emotions. Unfortunately, this brings a good number of dysfunctional people into the horse business. Egos run high. The urge to dominate both horses and students is rarely discouraged. Often, trainers work with five or six horses a day. If they have a difficult time with one, they rush on to train the next horse in line with all their anger and frustration as emotional baggage that they dump on this poor unsuspecting animal. Someone at the barn might be hammering on them, so they take it out on their students or the horses they are training. It's a world where toughness is considered a virtue.

Years ago, I had a wonderful trainer for Silk. When she left to start a new career, a young woman took her place at the barn. She was a very skilled rider, but the pressure of the job quickly eroded her sympathy and respect for the horses. I was taking a lesson with her in an arena full of other riders and horses. She wanted me to bend Silk, and I wasn’t doing it the way she thought was right. She ordered me to do it again and again. Silk was getting agitated. I didn’t know enough at the time to realize that it was hurting Silk because she was stiff. The trainer told me to get off, and she mounted Silk, not adjusting the stirrups to fit her own longer legs.

Silk seized the moment and took off, bucking. The trainer jumped off my horse. In this arena with about five other horses and riders, she began beating Silk with the reins. I ran to them and grabbed the reins from her and started screaming at her. The other people and horses were freaked out. From that moment on, Silk was branded as a “dangerous horse”, and I was a “difficult boarder”. The lesson I learned was that I had to protect my horse above everything else.

It’s not okay to hurt the horse. It’s not okay to intimidate anyone into doing something that they are afraid to do or that they believe is wrong. Anyone can call themselves a trainer. Their experience in well-known barns, working with other famous teachers doesn’t give them the right to be bullies.

We owe it to the horses to stand up and refuse to follow instructions when we know it will hurt the horse or endanger ourselves. It’s the least we can do for them. What Silk taught me over the years is that when I stand up for her and Siete, I strengthen my ability to stand up for myself in all other situations that present themselves in my life. It's like a muscle that you're afraid to use at first because it might hurt or be sore. Over time, you find your power, and it becomes second nature to not let anyone push you around. Not you, not your horse, not ever.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Stalling Around

Yesterday, my neighbor had a visitor whom she called a "horse whisperer". He was a very nice man, who obviously loved horses. He was also going through some emotional turmoil. Silk took one look at him and headed deep into her stall and stayed there until he left. I didn't try to coax her out. I accepted her decision because I felt that she was sensing something about him and wanted to keep her distance. It did remind me of a time when it was scary to go in the barn with her.

When I first bought Silk, at age ten, she had been confined her whole life in a box stall. She was a show horse, perfectly groomed and intensely trained. They never turned her out with other horses. If she was lucky, she got a half hour in the round pen each day to buck and roll. Right after I bought this horse of my dreams, I was really horrified when she turned her back to me and tried to kick out each time I went into her stall. Immediately, I ditched the fancy prison and moved her to an outdoor corral with a small in and out shed where she could sniff her horse buddies over the pipe corral fence. The change was instantly noticeable. I never forgot how territorial she was about being in an enclosed space.

In Virginia, the horses were in the barn at night and out in the pasture with the herd all day. Silk still acted annoyed if I came into the stall with her. I always made an effort to groom her in there, but I could tell that her stall was a space where she wasn't really happy.

As soon as both horses moved into our backyard in Connecticut, I began spending a lot of time with them in our barn. It's not really a barn, merely a couple of large stalls with dutch doors on either end and windows on the sides. Someday, we'll have the perfect new barn, but for now I have to admit that this one works quite well. I realized during our first summer that once winter arrived, the horses would be confined inside fairly often. I started making an effort to do things in the stalls with the horses around me. I mucked and groomed and hung out after feeding. Some days, I even sit on a stool and read a book while Silk dozes next to me.

Their stalls are their safe space, but I need to also feel safe in there. With our first snowfall and ice storm yesterday, I really appreciated how easy it was to take care of the girls even though they spent the whole day indoors. The vet, the farrier, my daughter and her friends can come and go from our barn without any stress or drama. So, when a stranger came by and my horse retreated into her stall, I respected her reaction and gave her some space of her own.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Message At the Feed Store

My husband and I just had a bomb drop in our life. I won't go into the personal details in my blog, but something really shook our world this week. I was trying to breathe and act like things were normal, so I went to the feed store as I so often do.

I told the saleswoman that I wanted a bag of U.S. pine shavings. "What?" she asked. "I'd like a bag of U.S. pine shavings." I repeated. "What?" she said again. "U.S. pine shavings!" I enunciated carefully and loudly. "Oh." she answered and rang up my order.

"What did you think I was saying?" I asked her out of curiousity.

"I thought you were asking for a bag of ' I'll be fine'." She replied.

"If you've got some of that, I'll take it!"

A message from the Universe. I went home feeling like I had a bag of "I'll be fine" with me. Good thing because I'm going to need a lot of it right now.