Monday, March 31, 2008

It's Coming!

As I was assembling some of my friend’s favorite music for her memorial celebration, I came across the lyrics to “The Waters of March”, a song by Brazilian artist Antonio Carlos Jobim. My husband teases me that I like anything that has a horse in it, but I do find myself singing these words as I clean the stalls:

A stick a stone
it's the end of the road,
it's the rest of the stump
it's a little alone
it's a sliver of glass,
it is life, it's the sun,
it is night , it is death,
it's a trap, it's a gun.
the oak when it blooms,
a fox in the brush,
the knot in the wood,
the song of the thrush.
the wood of the wind,
a cliff, a fall,
a scratch, a lump,
it is nothing at all.
it's the wind blowing free.
it's the end of a slope.
it's a beam, it's a void,
it's a hunch, it's a hope…..
a pin, a needle,
a sting, a pain,
a snail, a riddle,
a weep, a stain.
a pass in the mountains.
a horse, a mule,
in the distance the shelves.
rode three shadows of blue.
and the riverbank talks
of the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart
a stick, a stone,
the end of the load,
the rest of the stump,
a lonesome road.
a sliver of glass,
a life, the sun,
a night, a death,
the end of the run
and the riverbank talks
of the waters of march
it's the end of all strain
it's the joy in your heart

Friday, March 28, 2008

Totems and Synchronicity

I believe that there are times when certain ideas or impulses flow in thought currents around the world. It’s what Jung called “synchronicity” or the Buddhists call “auspicious coincidence”. For me, it’s a tap on the shoulder by the universe, calling me to pay attention to something unseen but meaningful.

After writing yesterday’s post about my bird friends, I visited some other favorite blogs. At camera-obscura, I discovered Billie and some other folks were also discussing birds. Billie mentioned Ted Andrews’ book, “Animal -Speak”. He describes the meanings associated with various bird and animal totems and spirits. “A totem is any natural object, being or animal to whose phenomena and energy we feel closely associated with during our life,” according to Andrews.

Since I was starting a new relationship with the chickadees, I looked up what he had to say about them. I discovered that they are cheerful, fearless and get along well with other birds. Andrews says chickadees can help us “learn to express truth in a manner that heals, balances and opens perceptions. Truth is shared in a manner that adds cheer and joy to your own life and the lives of others.”

I’ve got a lot of birds in my life right now. My mom feeds them every day under the big pine tree in the front yard. We have many ravens in our pasture, which I learned from Andrews are here to “stir the magic of life without fear”. Last Saturday, we had a convention of robins, at least 20 of them, eating dinner at the same time in front of our back door. Robins symbolize new growth and creativity and encourage you to sing your own song. The barn swallows in Silk’s stall are telling me that this is a protected place where we can rise above irritations and become more objective.

And what does my own favorite totem, the horse, signify? Andrews says, “No single animal has contributed more to the spread of civilization than the horse….Horse brings with it new journeys. It will teach you to ride into new directions to awaken and discover your own freedom and power.”

Good thoughts to ponder on a rainy day. Do you have a totem animal? I remembered an article written by Rachel Naomi Remen about synchronicity. She says, “Perhaps the real meaning of synchronicity is more universal than personal, with every instance simply pointing to the possibility of a hidden pattern underlying the events of this world….Synchronicity is always an experience of the unknown…. a reminder to wake up and pay attention, because the mystery of the heart of life can speak to you at any time.”

Especially if we listen to the birds and the animals.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

For the Birds

The barn swallows in Silk’s stall have some new neighbors. Chickadees have moved in next door with Siete. It’s almost that “baby bird” time of year again. For two years, barn swallows have built a nest in the protected rafters over Silk’s feeder. It’s an ideal spot since it’s like a trough so the little ones can’t fall out on the ground if they try to fly too soon. Last year, there were two hatchings using the same nest. Now, there’s a second nest over Silk’s front door.

The chickadees copied the barn swallows, and their nest is over the entrance to Siete’s stall. They are so sweet, with their beautiful white chests and lovely voices. They talk to me while I muck in there every day. The barn swallows aren’t so welcoming. When I go into Silk’s stall, they dive bomb me. I noticed when the babies were in the nest that they would peep like crazy if they heard me, but when it was just the horses in there it was completely quiet. I guess I’ll never be anything more than a smelly predator to them.

My farrier suggested that I hang cd’s from strings on the beams of the ceiling. The spinning and the shiny reflections will keep the barn swallows away. It’s a good tip, but I don’t know if I want to do it. I love them, even if they don’t love me so I’m hoping that they will just listen to the chickadees and mind their manners.

What is it with birds and horses? In the first barn where I boarded Silk, they also raised chickens. At night, some of the horses would actually let the chickens roost on their backs and fall asleep. It was so funny to see a horse with a chicken sitting on its butt. The next stable where Silk and Siete lived had barn owls in the rafters. It was a male and female, a married couple, who had been living there for over 15 years. When I groomed the horses in the cross-ties, owl feathers would float down on us. I still have some of them for good luck. There was one boarder who was really irritating. The barn owls used to drop gooey white bird “bombs” on her while she brushed her horse. Eventually, to all of our delight, they drove her away to another boarding facility.

Last summer, I found a baby barn swallow floundering in Siete’s stall. The little bird couldn’t fly well enough and got stuck in the shavings on the floor. I managed to steer Siete into the corral and keep her out so we could save the baby. My 93 -year old mother and my 12 year old daughter took over the rescue operation. Nana pulled out a pair of fancy white gloves from her drawer because she insisted that you need very soft hands to pick up a bird. She gently cradled the baby, and they found a broad flat branch on the big pine tree where the bird could easily sit without falling. A moment after they safely placed the little creature on the pine bough, its mother flew over to join her wayward child.

As I cover my head with my arms and duck while the barn swallows zoom down towards me, I remind them that I’m the one who chased away the cats and kept them safe while they were growing up. It reminds me of when my stepson was little and you told him not to do something. “I don’t listen to that,” he replied. I guess I’m just going to have to go next door and hang out with the chickadees.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sacred Space

I’m committed to having a day of relaxation and harmony this Easter Sunday. We’re having the neighbors and their kids over for an egg hunt. Siete will run back and forth, trying to join in the fun. The Easter Bunny will leave some extra carrots for the girls.Some friends are staying for a buffet supper. It could turn into a lot of work, but I’m determined to keep it mellow and simple. The weather is not too warm, but clear and sunny. I’d like to ride Silk as a gift to myself.

What I’m not going to do is think about what lies ahead for me in this next week. It’s going to be busy and stressful. Next Saturday is a big memorial service for my dear friend, Pat, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. Hundreds of people will be there, flying in from all over the country. It’s really hard to watch Pat’s family and friends try to coordinate this huge effort while still feeling their intense grief. I’m trying to just be there for them, to do whatever is needed and pick up anything that I notice is falling through the cracks. It reminds me of something that Linda Kohanov talks about in her book, “Way of the Horse”. (

Her friend and co-founder of Epona, Kathleen Barry Ingram calls it “holding the sacred space of possibility”. Linda explains it as “ an active form of patience without attachment to outcome, allowing someone in a place of uncertainty to feel supported through the darkest night of the soul”. It’s a concept that can be applied to many circumstances. My friend, Pat, lived in that sacred space for many years, surviving cancer while the doctors watched her defy all odds. She always said it was the strength of the love of her “people” that helped her hang on.

Linda Kohanov has had to make some difficult life or death decisions about her horses over the years. Rather than choose an outcome, she opened her heart and allowed the opportunity and the hope of recovery to exist while she promised them that she wouldn’t leave them, regardless of what happened. I know how this feels having been with Silk through three such near death experiences since I’ve owned her. It can be a frightening and painful, but it teaches us one of the most important lessons.

“Holding the sacred space of possibility” allows hope to grow even if we don’t have the answer or can’t control the situation. I looked up the word “resurrection” in the dictionary. Besides the Christian interpretation of Jesus rising from the dead, there was another meaning: “a revival from inactivity or misuse, as in a resurrection of hope”. We live in a world right now where we need to take this idea to heart.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


I subscribe to a magazine called the Eclectic Horseman, and I just received the latest issue. There’s an article called “Matter-of-Factness” written by Tom Moates that started a dialogue in my brain ever since I read it yesterday morning.

Moates attended some clinics with horse guru Harry Whitney in Arizona. At one point, Whitney asked him to help bring in a couple of horses from the pasture. They drove out in a ATV that Whitney calls his “mule”. Without thinking about it, Whitney hopped back in the quad holding the lead line and prepared to drive back to the barn. Moates worried about some “what if’s” like the horse spooking or slamming into the vehicle. He kept his mouth shut, however, and got back on the”mule” holding his horse on the lead line. The two horses trotted along calmly as they drove off.

It led Moates to decide this matter of fact approach, which he believes is based on unconscious confidence, is something he is going to emulate. He thinks that all those “what if’s” that go through his mind, like what if the horse goes berserk, are the opposite of this matter of factness. He suggests that a “what-if-ness” approach is just looking for trouble and indeed, even asking for it.

Now, I understand that a horse can sense a person’s uncertainty, and this can set off a series of very unnerving responses. I’ve had it happen many times myself. So, I know that there’s a core of confidence and calmness that you must carry inside you in order to communicate successfully with a horse. What I also see is that people who blithely assume the “matter-of-factness” without having the awareness that includes “what-if-ness” can get into serious trouble.

I admit that I’m a “what-if” kind of girl. A friend once told me that I’m allergic to not knowing. I tend to worry, but it’s a trait that has made me a successful TV and film producer for many years. When someone asks me what the producer does, I reply, “I’m the one who worries the most.” I can’t help wondering if at some point before that day with Tom Moates, Harry Whitney didn’t let the horses sniff the “mule” or even stand still tied next to it a few times before he started driving along with them trotting beside the moving vehicle. Each horse is going to react in its own individual way to every situation, so to just assume that things will be fine seems a little na├»ve. There’s a famous saying in my business: “Assumption is the mother of ----up”,

Just this morning, I experienced a positive re-enforcement of my “what-if-ness”. I gave the horses some hay and opened up the barn so they could go out in the corrals. Then, I noticed that I should do a quick muck in Siete’s stall. There’s a back door leading out to the yard, so I went in through it and cleaned up, leaving the muck bucket outside the door. As I stepped out to empty my forkful of nuggets, I thought. “What if one of the horses raced in, and the back door was open?” As a precaution, I stopped and hooked the door closed before I dumped my fork in the bucket. Instantly, Silk charged into the stall, running right up to me at the back door. She probably heard me and thought there might be some more food to be had. If my back had been turned and the door was wide open, I’d be chasing a loose horse instead of sitting here drinking my coffee and writing my blog. So, to my mind, a little “what-if-ness” can go a long way to avoiding a big drama.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring Planning

It may be the first day of Spring, but it doesn’t feel like Mother Nature is ready to strip off her winter coat and party yet. While I was grateful that the horses’ stalls didn’t flood after the three inches of rain dumped on us yesterday, I have to admit that it’s pretty depressing in my backyard.

I was just reading an email from White Flower Farm, which is a gardening Mecca here in New England. They were cautioning about rushing into planting too quickly. Instead, they advocated careful planning. I decided to take their advice not just with my flowers, but with my horses as well.

Before I launch into working with Siete, I need to have a definite game plan. My friends, Arlene at Grey Horse Matters and LJB, at Horsey Therapist, have kindly encouraged me and offered to help figure out how to go about taking the steps I need to move Siete’s training to the next level.

I think it’s a lot like looking forward when you ride and concentrating on where you want to go instead of looking down at your horse’s mane or legs or other distractions. So, I’ve started to consider what is the best way for me to help Siete, given time, money and other realities. Since I haven’t found a saddle that fits her, it’s logical to start with groundwork. The Clicker Training has been successful, but I need to also find ways to help her work off her chubby winter tummy.

Ground driving might be a good way to go, if I can manage to not be a klutz and tangle both of us up. Siete was started with ground driving by her first trainer before he rode her. I’ve never done it, so I’ll have to learn how to do it correctly. I’m also looking at other flexing exercises and ways to help Siete bend more easily. I’ve got stacks of books and some videos to check out for ideas. I did longe her a little today, but I’m trying to come up with some ways to work with her that will be more interesting and engaging. Siete’s very bored, and overly eager to do anything I suggest. just like a kid who’s been trapped indoors too long. She does get out and run around every day with Silk, but she’s really looking for a sense of purpose.

I’ve been thinking about what Mark Rashid calls “the chain of knowledge”. He believes that it’s important that both horses and humans build it one link at a time. If any of the links are missing, things start to fall apart. So, I’m going to carefully go over each of the links in both Siete’s chain of knowledge and mine until I find the place where the link is weak. That’s probably where I should begin.

Rashid points out that we humans have a tendency to choose the quickest way to learn a new skill, even if it’s not the best way. When we reach the end of our chain of knowledge, we become frustrated and worried. In Aikido, Rashid learned five basic principles that he thinks are necessary to build a strong chain of knowledge: “awareness, commitment, staying centered, understanding and performing circular movement, and honoring our teachers and our places of learning”. Now, he also applies those principles to working with horses Maybe the other thing that I really need to do is sign up for that beginning Aikido class.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dreaming Horses

The days have been sunny, and Silk and Siete enjoy lying down in the pasture after they’ve kicked up their heels. The first time I came out and saw one of them stretched out, I have to admit that my heart started pounding. Colic was my first thought. Then, I noticed how warm the sun was, and soon both horses were dozing.

I noticed that Siete’s feet were moving as she slept. My dog sometimes dreams and runs in her sleep. I wondered if horses also dream. I decided to do some research. Dr. Sue McDonnell, who is the head of the Equine Behavior Lab at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, has studied horses’ sleep patterns. She discovered that when they lie down flat on their sides, they experience REM (rapid-eye-movement) deep sleep, and she believes that they do dream. She also saw horses “trot” in their sleep like Siete was doing.

Dr. McDonnell determined that horses sleep best when they are with other horses. As prey animals, they set up sentries for the herd when they are in the wild. Several horses will stay awake and guard those who are resting. I often find Silk and Siete in the same stall in the afternoon. Silk will be lying down, having a siesta while Siete stands close to her mother with her nose touching Silk’s back.

The research showed that even in stalls, horses usually stand on either side of the same wall while they sleep so they can feel less isolated. Wild horses had better, deeper sleep than ones that live in stables. We have a window cut in the wall between our two stalls, so Silk and Siete can touch noses and see each other. They both lie down every night to sleep.

What are they dreaming? It’s fun to conjure up possibilities, but we’ll never really know. I often dream about horses, which probably comes as no surprise. A friend who is a therapist and a shaman suggested to me that the horses might represent my creativity.

Last night, in my dream, Siete was walking in the woods and she fell down a hole near a tree. I ran to help her but couldn’t get there in time. I saw her tail disappear. Shouting for help, I kept running until I found her swimming underwater in a muddy river next to the trees. She swam past me and then emerged from the water, covered with mud. I woke up asking myself, what in the world does that dream mean? Then, I sat down and wrote for two hours, slogging my way through something that I’ve been procrastinating about for weeks. Creativity, Siete, falling down holes and emerging victorious but muddy……I was in the barn, mucking Siete’s stall when it all began to fit together, the dream and the breakthrough in the writing.

“The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul…If we meditate on a dream sufficiently long and thoroughly, if we carry it around with us and turn it over and over, something almost always comes of it.”
Carl Jung

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Love On Four Legs

As everyone can see, I love both my horses. I confess though that Silk is my very best friend. She knows she’s the Number One Horse. I try not to be preferential, but sometimes I can’t help it. When Siete isn’t looking, I sneak her mama an extra carrot. I hang out more in Silk’s stall. If something goes wrong, I run to Silk for comfort.

She’s so good. She always waits patiently, ground tied with the lead rope hanging from her halter, while I put Siete in her stall first when it’s time to eat. She murmurs and nickers as soon as she sees me every morning. I really believe Silk understands every word I say. When I fed her breakfast at 6:30 am, I noticed that her water bucket was still full. I told her that with this crazy weather, she needed to drink her water. It’s very important. When I came back two hours later, the bucket was empty.

There’s something so reassuring about seeing her beautiful face with the big white blaze when I pull into the driveway or step out the back door to head towards the barn. She’s a joy to ride. As a mother, she is my role model. Silk gave me a wonderful gift of her sweet, smart daughter and every day, I watch her help me train Siete to be a good girl. Now that I’m trying to exercise Siete more, Silk has started herding her around the pasture, making perfect circles like they are in some invisible round pen. I thank her for being Siete’s personal trainer.

Siete loves to cuddle. The more attention she gets, the happier she is. When we have visitors, she’s always ready to hang out at the fence and snuggle. Silk usually gives a quick sniff and then hides in her stall. She’s my horse, and she makes no bones about it. I can see it in her eyes. I can feel it when I drape my arms around her neck or lie down on her back. For as long as I can remember, I wanted my own horse, and Silk is everything in a horse that I’ve ever wanted.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Riding and Writing

I’ve been reflecting on the similarities of riding and writing. In my life, there’s never enough time for either. There’s always something else that doesn’t get done when I ride or write. And yet, there’s nothing that I enjoy more than riding and writing so against the odds, I keep on doing both.

Even the cost of a good computer and a good saddle are about the same. I’m longing for a new saddle right now. I’ve had a hard time finding one to fit Siete. Last summer, I borrowed a friend’s Bob Marshall tree-less saddle and tried it on my little round horse. She was very comfortable, and I think I could get used to that close-contact, almost bareback feel. It would fit both horses, although Silk already has a wonderful old cutting saddle that we both love. So, if I sold some of my writing, it would benefit my riding because I could buy the new saddle.

Riding and writing both require practice and patience. There can be extreme frustration due to inability to communicate clearly. They keep me humble and teach me to forgive myself rather than beat myself up for my mistakes. Riding and writing bring up all my insecurities, my resistance to change and my fears of failure. At the same time, when I get it right, either in the saddle or on the paper, I feel so proud and happy that it lights up my whole world.

I got an email from Barbara McNally, who used to publish a wonderful magazine called “A Real Life”. She quoted Gandhi, and although she was talking about writing, I took it to heart about riding as well:

"Whenever I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love always wins. Always. When you are in doubt if this is God's way, the way it is meant to be, remember that, and try again."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thoughts at Dawn

I was greeted by a blazing dawn this morning. It stopped me in my tracks. I took a moment to stand in the back of Silk’s stall, drinking my coffee and listening to the horses eat their hay.

This has been a rough winter. It’s not entirely over yet. Even if the weather stays mild, I have a few more personal storms to ride in the next few weeks. I started thinking about how sometimes I try to go around the flooding waters, even though I know there’s no other path that will work. I will just have to slog through even if I’m afraid it might drown me.

It reminded me of a time years ago when I was having trouble with Silk. I was convinced that she was more horse than I could handle. In fact, I was afraid of her. I tried to find another path by looking for someone to buy her. I really wanted to feel that Silk would be safe and well-treated wherever she would end up. After struggling with the problem for several months, I came to the realization that I had to work through my fears and keep this horse. Of course, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Giving up, going around it, pretending that everything is fine are no longer options in my life. My horses have taught me that lesson. Often, the worst problems are really my greatest gifts in disguise.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spring Fever

When I turned the horses out in the pasture this morning, they put on quite a show. I tried to capture it with my digital camera, but I kept missing the moments. Siete was like a little girl pretending to be all the things that she’d ever wanted to be.

First, she was an Olympic jumping star, leaping with all four feet so high off the ground that I applauded her. Then, she was a champion reiner, running towards the fence and sliding to a stop. Next, she pranced like a circus pony, rearing and walking on her back legs in a circle around her mother. You could almost hear her shouting, “Look at me, Mom! Look at me!”

Silk started the whole performance by charging at us as I opened the gate to walk in with Siete. She never does that, or at least, not since this time last year. I knew that Spring Fever was finally here. It made my heart soar to watch them. Two happy, healthy horses celebrating a much-needed warm, sunny day.

"A horse is a beautiful animal, but it is perhaps most remarkable because it moves as if it always hears music."
Mark Helprin, "A Winter's Tale"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Better Way

The other day, I was catching up on some of my favorite blogs. I came across something that Billie at camera obscura wrote that has stuck with me. She successfully helped someone convince a horse to do something that it was reluctant to do. She did is calmly and without any force. The horse’s owner responded by saying, “You can’t let them win these little battles”. It unsettled Billie, and I urge you to go read her eloquent response.

It made me think of some of the other common platitudes people say about horses that just drive me nuts. When I first learned to ride as a child, I was often told, “Show her who’s the boss! Kick her harder!” Now as someone who has owned horses for over 10 years and as a mother, if I hear my daughter’s instructor say that, I stop the lesson and look for another teacher. How ridiculous to think that this little child can make a 1200-pound animal do what she wants by kicking harder. Teaching anyone that this is the way to communicate effectively with a horse is the complete opposite of everything that I believe.

I bought Silk from a 16-year old girl, and when I asked the young lady if this horse was affectionate, she answered, “I don’t know. I’m the boss, so we don’t have that kind of relationship.” Her answer was one of the reasons that I own Silk. She used to have to lunge the horse for a half hour before she felt safe enough to get on her. I wanted to free this beautiful animal from a master/slave relationship. Today, Silk is my four-legged sister, and I never lunge her. She enjoys it when I ride her. Most of the time, she reads my mind, and does what I want before I even ask her. The last thing I would ever do is kick her.

“Don’t spoil them. That horse is just being a brat.” How many times have I heard someone say that? Unfortunately, it was often a trainer who was speaking. After my recent attempts at Clicker Training with Siete, I am overjoyed by the reaction she has had to “positive reinforcement”. The temper tantrums are over. I now have a calm, happy little horse, and I used treats not force to teach her to be respectful of my space.

We constantly face choices. I have a friend who demonstrates our options quite simply. She asks, “Would you rather do it like this?” and holds out her fist. Then, she opens her hand and extends her palm. “Or like this?” I’ve decided that hands, hearts, minds and eyes usually seem to work better when they are wide open

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Peaceful Again

Yesterday was not a good day. We got two inches of rain in about two hours, and the barn flooded. I was soaked to the bone three times trying to drain the stalls while the horses huddled in the corner. No time to bail anything, no one to help me. I emptied two bags of wood pellet horse bedding into the water as it was oozing up. It was all I could do.

Then, the sky opened up again and dumped another two inches of water on us. Let’s just say it was the dark night of my soul. The wind roared and wailed. I tried not to think about what was going on in the barn. Every direction my mind took led me to bleak places I didn’t want to go. Finally, I realized that in that very moment, worrying about all the things that were wrong in my life wouldn’t change any of them. All it would do was make me feel worse. The horses don’t worry about what is going to happen tomorrow, do they? The one thing that I knew was that right now, there was a spot in the back of each stall where Silk and Siete could stand and be dry. I took some comfort in that.

The sun was shining this morning. Miraculously, the stalls didn’t flood again overnight. I went to see my “hay man”, and he had gorgeous second cut at a most reasonable price. He promised to deliver 50 bales to me tomorrow. The horses were so happy to run around when I turned them out. I didn’t even mind shoveling out the heavy wet muck created by the dissolved wood pellets and the poopy water.

Now, with aching arms, I’m contemplating how much better life looks than it did twenty-four hours ago. Even as I poured the wood pellets into the disgusting brown ooze yesterday, I knew that if I could just keep slogging through it, I would reach the point where I am right now. And even now, I know that there will be moments ahead that are bound to be as dark as the ones I just experienced. So, for the time being, I am going to be happy and practice “il bel far niente”, which in Italian means “the beauty of doing nothing”.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Day to Remember

I spent yesterday in New York City and Brooklyn. It was a challenge logistically to take care of all the people and animals here at home. My husband is away on business. The friends who usually care for the horses when I am gone both had the flu. I left my neighbor, who is not a horseperson, and my mom, who is 93-years old, in charge. There were no options. I had to go to the funeral of one of my closest friends, so I crossed my fingers and tried to go and come back as quickly as possible.

The weather cooperated. It was sunny with the promise of Spring in the air. I took the train to Grand Central and the subway to Brooklyn, as I have done countless times before. It was my friend’s 60th birthday, but certainly not being celebrated the way her family and friends had expected. I saw people that I hadn’t seen for decades. I recalled the joy and energy of my twenties and thirties.

I brought a birthday present for my friend. She loved the color turquoise. A few days ago, I tracked down a man who had some beautiful blue feathers. He is a medicine man, and he made a“paho”, which is a Native American prayer stick, with an exquisite turquoise feather from a macaw. I gave it to Pat’s family, and we made plans to plant a memory garden at their farm in Maryland with two special trees and her favorite heirloom roses. They will place her ashes there, along with the “paho”.

The one thing I wanted to do was go to her house in Park Slope and have a cup of tea with Pat. We had sat together so many times over 33 years, savoring the moment and our friendship, so it was not something that either of us took forgranted. Now, there was a huge emptiness in realizing I could never do that again. Instead, I got back on the subway and the train and came home.

Pat’s husband said that there was a point in their lives many years ago when they had considered moving to California. They were fortunate enough to have two homes, one in New York and his family's farm in Maryland. As they were sitting on the bank of the river at their farm, trying to make the big decision, Pat looked at him and asked, “Do you see what you have here?” They stayed and built a very meaningful life with their children and their efforts to protect the river and save the Chesapeake Bay.

I drove home from the train, along the winding roads through forests of trees that are starting to bud. The rivers and reservoir are overflowing from all the rain we’ve had. The sun was setting. The horses were waiting for me at the gate, so glad to see me. Everyone at home was safe, and I appreciated where I live so much.

I loved New York City so much when I was younger. It was the place where everything happened first. I felt like I could feel the pulse of the world when I lived there. It was always exciting to be right on the cutting edge. I still am grateful that I can easily dip in and out like I did yesterday. Last night, standing with my horses as they contentedly munched their dinner, I knew that I had lost my edge. If anyone finds it, you can keep it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Get Used to It? I Don't Think So!

I’m gearing up to look for a new trainer for Siete. I haven’t had great experiences so far, even though I’ve tried really hard to find people who are kind and won’t hurt my little horse.

When Siete was ready to be started with a saddle and ridden, we lived in Virginia. I searched for someone who was gentle and used Natural Horsemanship techniques. Everyone kept recommending one man. He was a cowboy who spent years on the range before he moved into showing horses. These days, most of the horses he trained were ridden English, not Western. He talked a good game. In fact, he pontificated on and on about everything.

Fortunately for us, he had just left the fancy Hunter/Jumper barn and moved to a place owned by a wonderful lady in North Carolina. She was an experienced Western Pleasure trainer who had won championships at the AQHA World Show. I felt really comfortable keeping my horses in her stable, and we became good friends. The trainer was a different story. We started out disagreeing. He told me that while Siete was in training for the first month, she wouldn’t be turned out at all. He wanted her to be totally dependent on him for whether or not she could do anything. I said that was ridiculous. She’s a young horse who needs to have time off and run around and play. Luckily, the owner of the stable agreed with me. It was a clue of what was to come.

Siete was a model student, but she hated the trainer. She would pin her ears when she saw him coming. I was there almost every day to watch what he was doing. I insisted that we move at Siete’s pace, not his. He informed me that in over 30 years, none of his clients had ever said something like that. Most of them wanted him to “fix” their horse in 30 or 60 or 90 days. I said I had no deadlines, only that I wanted this to be a kind, good experience for my horse. We were moving along so that by the end of the first month, he was long lining her and started riding her.

Like many trainers, he was trying to ride six or eight horses a day, so it was all business. He showed no affection for Siete, even though he did sing her praises for being a willing, smart young horse. The trouble came when I had to leave for a week so that I could sign the closing papers on the house we were buying up North. While I was here, he switched saddles, using one with an Arab tree. When I returned, he was out of town. He had been suddenly called away to his uncle’s funeral. To my shock and horror, I found a gaping wound on Siete’s side where the girth had cut into her. I freaked out, and so did my friend who owned the barn. She discovered he had also cut one of her horses’ mouths with a bit. She broke off their partnership, and he sued her. The judge ruled in the trainer’s favor because they had a written agreement, which he said was legally binding no matter if the man was injuring the horses.

I was very upset that despite my best efforts, Siete had been hurt. She was understandably resistant to being girthed up. I spent many months working with her, putting my saddle on and trying to get her comfortable with the cinch again. My saddle fit Silk, but was too narrow for Siete’s Foundation Quarter Horse back and withers. I also didn’t feel I was capable of teaching her what she needed to learn. Once we settled in our new house, I began searching for a trainer again.

There was a well-respected Western barn about a half hour away. When I went there to check it out, I saw four horses saddled up and tied to these long ropes that hung from the ceiling. It was impossible for the horse to drop its head while it was tied. I asked what they were doing and was told that it taught the horse “patience”. Every day, each horse in training stood like that for at least a half and hour. Later, someone else explained to me that it makes the horses’ necks so tired and sore that they automatically drop their heads into the desired position for Western Pleasure when they are ridden.

I also saw a horse in a round pen with a saddle that had two car tires attached to it with chains. The tires hung behind the stirrups and banged against the horse’s back legs. The horse was freaking out. It was wearing a bit and a bridle, and the reins were tied to the saddle horn so it couldn’t lift its head. The horse was in a panic. It had pulled the saddle sideways so the cinch was cutting into its side. I protested that this was cruel to the horse. The trainer told me that the horse had been “bad” and “was being taught a lesson”. A lesson in fear and hatred of people, I answered. So, there was no way that I was going to bring Siete here for training.

I finally found a young woman who would come to our place to train my little horse. She was highly recommended for her caring, gentle ways of working with horses. For the first six months, everything went along smoothly. As the trainer grew more successful, she had less time and patience to spend with us. She would rush in, full of horror stories about the other horses that she had been working that day. She called Siete a “brat” if my horse didn’t do what she was asking. I could feel all her bad energy and tried to tell her that it was affecting my horse. Siete was progressing really quickly, so the trainer changed from a D-ring snaffle to a snaffle with a short shank and a curb chain. At the same time, she started teaching Siete to side-pass. It was too much, too fast.

One day, when the trainer pulled in the driveway, I went into the corral to lead Siete out, and she flattened her ears and began racing around, pinning me to the fence. While the trainer was riding her, my horse started rearing. Once again, I felt that I had failed Siete. I knew that I couldn’t just fire the trainer. I felt that she had to come back and successfully ride my horse so that Siete wouldn’t feel like she had been rewarded for rearing. The trainer didn’t seem to know what had caused the problem or what to do about it. We both thought that Siete seemed sore, and I believed that there was something physical bothering her. The trainer asked her mentor, who was a famous dressage trainer, what she did when a horse started rearing. “I sell it.” the woman told her. We both agreed that was a stupid answer. I decided that we had to go back to zero.

I told the trainer that all I wanted her to do was get on Siete and walk her, using the snaffle bit, no curb chain. I just wanted to be sure that my horse would be willing to let someone ride her without rearing or protesting. Siete was fine, which was a big relief to me. Over the next couple of seesions, we slowly added on trotting and finally cantering. When I watched, it seemed like Siete might be lame, but I couldn’t tell which leg it was.

As I discussed it with the trainer, she began hosing Siete off since it was a hot day. She wet my horse’s body, and then turned the hose directly on Siete’s face. Siete was startled and reared up.

“What are you doing?” I yelled.

“She needs to get used to it.” the trainer told me.

I don’t think so. I wish I’d grabbed the hose and sprayed the woman in her eyes. Needless to say, she never came back. Siete was diagnosed with Lyme disease shortly after, which would explain what she was trying to tell us. It hurt, and the soreness was moving around from joint to joint.

For the past six months, Siete hasn’t been ridden. I watched her run in the pasture yesterday and was pleased to see her extending her back legs normally. Now, my search for the next trainer begins again.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Good Old Days

A while ago, I was tagged by Julian, the Transylvanian Horseman to play a game of old photo tag. I haven't been able to dig out the photos or find a scanner until yesterday. So, here's my trip down Memory Lane:

This is a photo of me in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico when I was 18. It was the first time I had ever ridden a horse on the beach. I don't know if you can see, but I'm wearing 2 inch wedged sandals. I was so anxious to ride that I didn't care what happened to my toes.

Here I am in the Greek Islands, appreciating the comfort of their magnificent architecture. I was in my mid-20's, exploring the world.

This is a photo my husband took of me in the San Jacinto Mountains overlooking the California desert. I love the desert, especially in the Spring. I was in my mid-thirties, just beginning to let go of all that ambition and learn about what really counts in this world.

Here's what is really most important. My husband, my daughter, my mom, my stepson, my dog, my horses - In the end, it's how you love that counts.