Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Happy Birthday to the Best Horse in the World!


Yesterday was Silk’s birthday, and I forgot to celebrate it. I have excuses, like it was pouring rain and I had a writing deadline to meet. So, today, despite the continuing gloomy, wet weather, I prepared to have our annual party.

Every year, I make a special “fruit salad” for the birthday girl with carrots and apples and some chopped up horse cookies. For Silk’s people, I bake a carrot cake from scratch with cream cheese frosting. My daughter always invites some of her friends to help us celebrate.

One year, when we were in Virginia, she asked the little boy who lived next door to come with us. He had just gotten in trouble with his mom and was grounded. His mother called me to say that she had temporarily lifted the punishment. “How many other times in his life will he have the chance to go to a horse’s birthday party?” she explained. Two of the children at that party told me, “I’ve never been anywhere that didn’t have sidewalks.” They had a fabulous time, grooming Silk and Siete, playing with a litter of puppies and some mini-horses that were on the farm. The horses really enjoyed the attention.

If this is “spoiling” my horse, I don’t intend to change it. When I bought Silk, she hated to be touched. She was born in Oklahoma, descending from a lineage of superstar Quarter Horses. Two of the finest Western Pleasure and Trail trainers beautifully taught her everything a show horse needs to know. The expectation was that she was going to excel in the ring, but she didn’t. She won quite a few points, but sadly ended up in the hands of a man who abused her. A well-known Quarter Horse breeder saw him ripping on Silk’s mouth at a show and offered to buy her. After over a year of “rehab”, she was sold to a teen-ager and forced to go back into the ring. Silk hated it, and her young owner lost interest. When I came along, the breeder saw a soft-hearted first-time owner who was dying to buy a horse and convinced me that this hot, flashy red mare was what I needed. I wanted a gentle old gelding, but seeing Silk trapped in that small box stall broke my heart.

Soon after I officially became a horse owner, I was getting ready to ride when I noticed that Silk had pulled one of her back shoes partially off. I asked one of the trainers in the barn if she could help me remove it. I later learned that this trainer had been violently thrown by a horse and was plagued by nightmares. She approached Silk with a big metal tool and without greeting the horse or touching her, grabbed Silk’s back leg. My horse jerked her leg out to get away from her. The trainer kicked Silk in the belly with the toe of her pointed cowboy boot so hard that she lifted the horse off the ground. I freaked out.

I started yelling at the trainer and at the breeder who had made this “match” for me with my horse. I insisted that no one was ever allowed to mistreat Silk. The “experts” yelled back at me. I was told that a horse is not a big dog and that Silk could kill me. I must dominate this horse. I was warned that I was ruining her and all the effort they had put into re-training was going to be wasted. Rather than back down, I surprised myself by fighting back. I knew that I was right. No one, animal or human, should be kicked or abused. I don’t think I had ever stood up to anyone with that kind of fierce intensity.

I went back to Silk’s corral, still steamed. As I watched this elegant horse, her red coat shining in the sun, I thought about what had happened. She paid no attention to me. I started to consider the way Silk had been treated throughout her life, and I began to better understand why she behaved the way she did. Until I moved her outside to a corral, she had been confined to a 12x12 box stall for almost ten years. If she was lucky, she was turned out 20 minutes a day in the round pen. As a show horse, she was treated like an object. Her mane was pulled out strand by strand if it didn’t grow neatly. She was groomed and saddled without any regard for whether it felt uncomfortable. On both her back legs, there are still scars about six inches long caused by a trailer accident.

As I was considering Silk’s history, the woman who had been giving me riding lessons walked by. She asked me how I was enjoying owning Silk. I told her what I had been thinking. She pointed out that after all the horse had been through, Silk was exceptional in her ability to still be basically well-behaved. Despite everything, she had kept her spirit intact. Suddenly, I knew why I had bought this horse. We shared the same spirit. She reminded me of myself, and in defending her and being kind to her, I was allowing that spirit to live and flourish.

In our backyard, the sun burst through the clouds this afternoon when it was time for Silkie to eat her birthday treats. I rubbed her belly and her favorite itchy spots. She loved it when all the kids hugged her around the neck. Later, as I closed her stall door, I said what I say every night, “Silkie, you’re the best horse in the world.” We’ve come a long way in the last eleven years.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Welcome, Nor'dzin!

One of my favorite things about blogging is making connections with people all over the world. I would like to introduce you to a new blog called ceffylau. It is written by a woman who lives in Cardiff, Wales, named Nor'dzin. She is a Buddhist, an ordained ngakma who teaches meditation, yogic song and other yogic practices. Nor'dzin and her husband have two horses, Red and Dee, and they are people who clearly love their four-legged friends.

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun who has written many wonderful books, reminds us that all activities should be done with one intention, which is to awaken the heart. She says we should speak in a way that encourages other people to hear us, trying not to use words that cause barriers to go up or ears to close. She believes that it will teach us to learn how to listen and how to look. "If we really want to communicate, we have to give up knowing what to do. When we come in with our agendas, they only block us from seeing the person in front of us. It's best to drop our five-year plans and accept the awkward sinking feeling that we are entering a situation naked. We don't know what will happen next or what we'll do." I find that this is also true when I communicate with my horses.

So, welcome, Nor'dzin! I'm looking forward to listening and learning from you.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Moving a Mountain

After a restless night, worrying about Siete, I was relieved to see that she was feeling much less itchy Saturday morning. I’m fairly positive it was itch and not colic related. I just read in the AQHA magazine that Quarter Horses are prone to gnat and midge “sweet itch”. The vet checked in, and we decided that I would wash both horses twice daily with warm water and apply a cortisone lotion. If things don’t improve by later in the week, we’ll go for the stronger oral meds.

So, I was a bit foggy from lack of sleep when I started mucking out Siete’s stall yesterday. I bumped my toe on a pointy rock that has been emerging more and more prominently in the middle of the shavings and dirt. It reminded me of the story of the Princess and the Pea, and I worried that Siete would have a hard time getting comfortable at night when she laid down. I asked my husband how big he thought the thing was, and whether we could pull it out.

Next thing I knew, we were moving a mountain out of Siete’s stall. My husband loves a challenge, and fully embraced this with a “never say never” attitude. He kept telling me that if the Egyptians built the Pyramids, we could lift this boulder out by ourselves.

We hoisted it up using boards and a “Wonder Bar”, which is a long piece of steel. Then, we attached chains to the 500 pound rock and used our Landcruiser to pull it out of Siete’s stall. Of course, Siete had to inspect the operation both from the front door and the back door. Then, after we filled the huge hole and put wood pellets and fresh shavings down, she rolled and rolled on it until she looked like she was tarred and feathered. She approved, and so did her mother.

I guess I must have been inspired by Strawberry Lane's latest excavations. Or perhaps it was just a temporary loss of sanity due to lack of sleep. At any rate, my husband and his favorite horse, Siete, are very happy. My arms were so sore that I couldn’t lift them above my shoulders. I went to bed at seven last night and slept like- you guessed it - a rock.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Anxious Night

If it’s not one horse, it’s the other. I hadn’t been around most of the day, so I went out last night to check on the horses around 8 pm. Siete was rolling around in her stall and rubbing her belly back and forth. She was seriously agitated. Neither horse had finished her hay, which was odd. Was it colic or an allergic reaction or just bug bites? I dragged my husband out to the barn to be my assistant.

As we were leading Siete out of her stall, Silk went down on her belly and began rubbing herself back and forth. Meanwhile, Siete was biting at her sides and kicking herself in the belly with both back legs. I was pretty sure it was a severe itch and not colic, but the biting and kicking her stomach is a colic symptom. I got a bucket of warm water and a sponge and washed Siete’s underside. Then, I took her temperature, and it was 100 degrees, which was normal. We put her back in her stall and did the same thing with Silk. By this time, Siete was again on the floor rolling and rubbing. I decided that no matter what was going on, a little Banamine might help. So, I gave each horse a half dose (for 500 lb.). Then, I felt guilty that I hadn’t called the vet first, so I asked the emergency operator to have the doctor on duty call me.

We swept out the uneaten hay and got rid of it. Earlier, my husband had opened a new bale when he gave them dinner. I wondered if maybe there was something wrong with it. Neither horse has been drinking much water the last two days. We had taken out the heated buckets and replaced them with regular ones for the summer. Silk especially didn’t want to drink from the new bucket, so I put the heated one back, unplugged, and filled it with fresh water. The vet who was on call phoned. She’s someone that I don’t know, but she was very helpful.

One thing that I love about this equine practice is that they welcome phone calls and always believe it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, the doctor reassured me that up until this point, I’d done all the right things. She suggested giving them a little hay from a different shipment and wetting it to reduce dust and possible mold. She also asked if I had any dexamethasone. It’s a corticosteroid used for allergic reactions. I thought I might still have a packet from when Silk got the “big itch” last fall from the black flies. I was able to find some foil packets in my emergency kit, but I didn’t recognize what they were labeled: flunixin meglumine. So, I called the doctor back to see if it was the right medication. Good thing, because it wasn’t. It was more Banamine, and she complimented me on checking with her before I gave it to Siete.

By this point, both horses were calmer, so I was more convinced that it had been a reaction to gnats or something on their skin. I reviewed what was different. The bedding was the same as usual. The only new thing was that I had sprayed them both for the first time with a mix of vinegar and water instead of fly spray. Maybe it was the vinegar? Since I am the designated worrier in our family, I went in the house to fret while everyone else fell asleep.

I woke at 5 am and didn’t see Siete’s lovely head poking out of the top of the Dutch door the way I usually do. I forced myself to follow my routine of feeding the cats and making coffee. I still am haunted by a frightening experience two years ago with Silk. I went out to the barn to feed one morning in a torrential rainstorm. When I opened her stall door, Silk collapsed and fell on top of me in the muddy corral. I’ll never forget it. I thought she was dead. Even after many anxious hours and medical tests later, we never were able to determine what had been wrong with her. So, I still have a brief flash of fear as I go out to the barn each morning. I breathe easy when I see both horses sticking their heads out to greet me.

As I opened the back door, I didn’t see Siete or Silk watching for me. These are the moments when I remind myself about my faith. I am doing the best I can. What will be, will be. God and the Universe have a plan, and I will find the strength in myself to handle whatever I have to face. Filling the buckets with breakfast in the tack room, I reminded myself that I had my cell phone in my pocket this time and help was only a phone call away. Of course, when I came out and saw Siete scratching her nose on the door latch, I was filled with joy.

No one is rolling on the ground or rubbing her belly yet. I’ll keep a close eye on them today and probably use some warm water to clean them off again. Horses are accidents waiting to happen, our vet in California used to tell me. Everyone else in my house is still asleep. I’m going to check on the girls one more time, and then stretch out on the couch for a little nap. But before I do, I wanted to share with you something that a friend in San Diego sent me during the wildfires last year:

St. Theresa's Prayer:
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fear and Trust

There’s been talk about fear floating around the blogosphere. You may have read the brave, honest exchanges of stories and feelings after horse accidents on Nuzzling Muzzles and MiKael’s Mania- Arabian Horses. If not, you should check them out. As you all know, I’ve wrestled with these emotional issues. Most horse owners have, at one point or another.

It’s a humbling experience to be injured by a horse. When Silk reared up and tore all the skin off my right hand seven years ago, it rocked my world. One important lesson I learned was that admitting my vulnerability helped make me strong again. I learned to really listen to my horse. I forced myself to accept what was happening and not make up excuses.

I think what it basically comes down to is trust in yourself and your horse. Trust takes its own sweet time to grow. I was very impatient. I doubted myself and everything I knew about horses. I wanted to sell Silk, but I couldn’t find the right person that I believed would care for her the way that I did. Then, I found a new barn where the owners, Joe and Patricia, really understood what I was feeling and wanted to help me. Inch by inch, I made my way back to feeling safe around my horse -- and I mean with baby steps. Silk also benefited from their kindness and was able to relax and learn to trust me too. A big part of our problem was that we didn’t trust each other from the very beginning, but I wasn’t willing to see that. The solution involved a lot of patience and a lot of hanging out together doing nothing. I discovered that sometimes doing nothing is really the most important thing you can do. Eventually, I could see the change in Silk’s eyes. After eleven years together, our trust now runs deep.

Not all horses and owners are a good match, no matter how much you love the horse. It’s very similar to any human love relationship. I know men who are valued,dear old friends of mine, and I love them, but I’d never marry them. I’ve seen friends of mine who have a really stormy experience with a horse. Then, they sell it to someone else, and the horse becomes a perfect angel. Horses are emotional barometers. They know, even when it’s so deep inside you that you might not even know. The way they express it and how much it takes to get your attention can be dangerous. I learned the hard way about being honest with Silk and myself.

Every day, I take what my horse has taught me and try to apply that awareness, acceptance, forgiveness, patience and kindness to all the other relationships in my life. It’s interesting that the hardest place to do this is when I’m dealing with myself.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What Makes Us Happy

If you look at Silk, Siete and me, very different things make us each happy today. The horses were very itchy, rolling around in the dirt and rubbing their bellies. Since it’s almost 80F degrees right now, and it will stay pretty warm tonight, I decided it was a good day for bathing.

Siete went first, and I have to say that this is not a horse who takes to water. She tolerated it, but she was very glad when we were done. What made her happy was to roll in the dusty corral and get covered in hay and a thick coat of dirt as soon as I turned my back.

Silk, on the other hand, was very happy to get wet. She loves water and really enjoys a bath. She gets weak at the knees when I soap and rub her tummy. We took much longer and had a great time. Of course, when we were done, she took one look at Siete and followed her lead. So, what made Silk happy was to get clean and then be a piggy. She probably hopes that as a result of her antics, I will give her another bath.

Now, I know that I am not supposed to find happiness in material objects. I confess that what made me happy today was a new pair of muck boots. I have always gone for the fourteen dollar kind of rubber boots, which often get holes in their soles. Yesterday, I broke down and bought the muck boots of my dreams. They are made by the Muck Boot Company. I opted for the garden variety, not the equine line. They are lighter weight and green, not black. Green is my favorite color. Most of all, they are incredibly comfortable. Dare I say, delightfully cushioned? I haven’t taken them off since I put them on at 6 am. So what made me happy as I cleaned the stalls and the corrals and both of the horses, was my new green boots.

I just finished reading a book by Anne Rudloe called “Butterflies on a Sea Wind”. She’s a conservationist from Florida who studied Zen. So, as I sat on the patio with my feet up, resting and admiring my new boots, I thought about what she wisely wrote: “Life is not about being happy and whole because things work out the way we wanted. Life is about being whole regardless of what happens.” Lucky for me, on this beautiful day, I am able to appreciate the whole enchilada and realize that this is about as good as life gets.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Tragedy of Big Brown

I am haunted by an article that I read this morning in the New York Times. It was a story about a favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby named Big Brown. The horse was bought last fall by a group on Wall Street called International Equine Acquisitions Holdings who are raising $100 million to breed, sell and race horses like they are a hedge fund.

This horse has only raced three times. The three year old colt has hoof abscesses in both its front feet. That’s why it hasn’t been able to race more. They say that the injury was caused by “concussion”, his feet hitting a hard surface. They have hot glued some special shoes with a polyurethane bottom to cushion his feet, and they are racing and training him again with hopes that he will win the Triple Crown. It makes me want to find these Wall Street dudes, drill holes in their feet and make them run as fast as they can for few miles everyday to see how they would feel. It also makes me sick.

This is the reason that I can’t go to a horse race anymore. When I was a little girl, my dad used to take me to the track in Arlington Park, just outside of Chicago. I have wonderful memories of the horses in the paddock and the beauty of them thundering down the track. We moved near Del Mar, California, “where the turf meets the surf”, when I lived in California. The first time that I went to the races there, I felt like I had fallen into a marvelous time warp. The whole scene was just like I remembered as a child. I used to take my four year old daughter to the track very early in the morning to watch the horses warm up.

My fond memories were dashed when the horses that were running began dying. In 2005, in the first seven days of racing, seven horses had to be euthanized. I almost took my daughter to see a friend’s horse race, but our schedule changed. Fortunately, we weren’t there when the horse broke its leg during a race and had to be put down on the track in front of everyone. That season, in 43 days of racing, 16 horses died while racing on the dirt track. They put in a new polytrack, which has significantly lessened the number of deaths. About 800 horses die on the racetracks in this country each year.

When I lived in California and worked in a tack and feed store, I got to know some of the trainers and jockeys and grooms while they were there in Del Mar for the season. They all believed that the horses are started too soon. They’re so young, and their bones aren’t strong enough. Unfortunately, racing is all about speed and short-term profit. It used to be that stamina and long-term durability were the key, but now that horses are the new hedge funds, it’s all about making money fast. I know that horse racing isn’t the only place where this happens. Look at the reiners and jumpers that can barely walk by the time they are ten or twelve years old because they were worked so hard so young.

A horse is not a race car or a snowboard. It is a spirited, soulful creature that loves to run and jump and generously allows human beings to come along for the ride. It should be illegal for a horse to be treated like a hedge fund.

P.S. You can go to ieah.com, the owners' website and leave them a note where it says "Contact Us". I just did.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Year of the Gnat

Everything feels slightly off-kilter today. It’s all the gnats fault, I think. They’re so bad that I might have to start wearing that extra fly mask I’ve got in the tack room. Silk hates to wear a fly mask. She usually rips it off with lightening speed. This morning, she bent down her head and offered her ears to me, desperate for some relief. Does anyone have any non-toxic remedies to get rid of gnats?

I think the horses look super-heroes. Who is that masked horse?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Update on Silk

Thanks for all your kind thoughts and concern. Silk is doing better, drinking more water, eating normally. I think it was just the weird change of weather. Today, it was almost 80F degrees. The gnats were horrible. The horses actually were glad to wear the fly masks.

Tonight, I put fresh pine shavings in the stalls and instantly, the annoying little devils disappeared. It's a good thing because otherwise, the girls would have had to sleep in their fly masks. I hope this isn't going to continue all summer. We've never really had a problem, but now we're being invaded. The one good thing is that my entire family is constantly covered in organic bug spray. Usually, I have to remind, cajole and even threaten them to make sure that they use it before they go outside to protect themselves from the Lyme ticks.

I just went out to the barn and saw the moon rising. In two more days, it will be full, although it looks like it is already. Silk and I gazed at it as Siete munched hay. I felt very lucky.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, April 17, 2008

That Time of Year

Silk isn’t feeling good. She didn’t drink her water last night. The temperature outdoors is going up and down and up like a yo-yo. My horse’s temperature is normal. She’s leaving mushy cowpies in the corral, not her usual nuggets. Now, her belly is itchy like it was last fall when the black flies were so bad. Fortunately, I washed her underside while it was in the 70’s this afternoon. She’s dry and seems happier. Her appetite is okay, and I gave her some Fiberpsyll (made by Select). It has psyllium, wheat bran and beet pulp which usually gets her back to normal pretty quickly.

My big fear is that we will have a replay of last Spring’s nightmare. Around this time of year, I came out to feed dinner to the horses, and Silk refused to eat. I was rushing to pick up my husband at the airport, so I had to leave her for several nervous hours. When I got back, things weren’t any better so I called the vet. Our favorite doctor was at a horse show. I spoke to the vet on-duty, and we began treating her like it might be colic. The next morning, she wasn’t feeling any better, so he came out and “tubed” her. Her temperature was a bit high, and she was really listless. For another day, we struggled along with a slight improvement.

On Day 3, I had a meeting about an hour away from our house. My husband was home, and he kept checking on Silk. As I was driving home, he called me to say that she really didn’t look good. I raced back, took her temperature and was horrified to find it was 104 degrees. I frantically called the vet again and began walking her, still thinking colic. Luckily, the preferred doctor was back. and she drove here at breakneck speed while I shoved Banamine into my poor horse. Silk appeared to be going into shock.

She went down on the ground, with a look in her eyes like she was going to leave me. Somehow, I got her to stand up and I just kept walking her in the blazing hot sun, even though it was the last thing in the world that either of us wanted to do. I begged her to hang on. I could see how she was suffering, and I kept reminding her of several other times that she had been hurt and I had made it better. I promised her that if she would just stay with me, help was on the way. My husband hovered around us, while we trudged in a circle, and I prayed. It was really terrifying. About ten endless minutes later, the vet came tearing into my driveway.

The doctor took one look at Silk and said, “She’s been bit by an Ehrlichia tick.” A what??? She gave her a huge dose of Tetracycline and explained to me that this evil bug was a mutant of the Lyme tick. She showed me that the whites of Silk’s eyes were yellowish, and coupled with the symptoms that mimicked colic and the high temperature, it was a good indication of what was wrong. We started a month-long treatment of anti-biotics, and within two days, Silk was feeling better. I felt so fortunate to have a smart vet who knew about this new tick and cared about us enough to drive 90 mph to get here.

So, tonight, I’ve done a “tick check”, and I’m being a vigilant mom. Silk drank some water and I’ll check on her again in a little while. At least this year, I know what to look for and I’ve got my vet’s home number. Hopefully, I won’t have to use it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Life in the Rope

Siete and I had a good session today leading towards ground driving. Tomorrow, it’s Silk’s turn, and I’ll share her with my daughter as we ride around in the arena. This is the perfect weather to enjoy being with the horses, sunny, no humidity and pleasantly cool.

I bought Mark Rashid’s “Ground Driving 101” DVD to help me with Siete. As always, I enjoy his easy-going, very mellow style. The horse that he uses in the DVD is so calm that it’s a bit surreal. I wish he’d also worked with some other horses that were more high-spirited. My horses can go either way.

Some days, they are perfect angels. Other times, you’d think there’s a stick of dynamite under their tails when I lunge them. So, my question is always what to do when I’m not in a round pen, and I’ve got a thousand pound horse flipping around like a crazed fish on a line. Breath deep, don’t panic, and don’t stop because it will make them think that they are being rewarded for behaving that way. It’s a control issue, and Silk especially likes to test me every once in a while.

I was very interested in Rashid’s discussion of ropes. He uses a braided soft rope and recommends spending some time twirling the end of it. He talks about learning how to feel the “life in the rope”. Twirling it underhand sends the energy out and moves the horse forward. Going forward with the twirl pushes the horse away from you. It intrigues me that this inanimate object has life and energy. The first step is to rub the rope all over the horse’s body so it isn’t frightened by it, especially if the rope gets wrapped around the horse’s legs. Mark recommends that you take your time, saying it could take two hours or two days or two weeks for the horse to become comfortable with this. It took Siete and Silk no time. They could care less that I was rubbing and dragging the rope around them. So, I guess I better watch the rest of the DVD tonight since we might be moving faster here than I thought.

What I’m aware of though is that there is a chain of knowledge. Rashid points out that any link in the chain that is missing could cause problems down the line as you learn and become more skilled. I deeply believe this is the key to successfully learning how to do anything. As is often the case, the one who needs to go slow and not miss any links here is me, not my horse.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is It DInner Yet?

When we moved here, I taught Silk and Siete to go to their stalls before they would get their food. I didn’t want them to crowd up against the corral gate or make it difficult for anyone else in my family to go in and feed them.

So, as soon as they see me with the feed buckets, they rush to their assigned spots. I came out this evening, and the horses had switched stalls. Silk nickered loudly, and they trotted out like two dancing girls. They kind of do-see-do’ed in the corral as they traded places. I laughed so hard.

They stood with their heads poking out. “What’s for dinner, Mom?” Seeing their beautiful faces looking expectantly at me always reassures me that all is right in the world.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


It took all my willpower to leave my cozy house this Sunday morning and drive out into the countryside for my usual hay-buying ritual. Yesterday, it was sunny and in the 70’s. Now, it’s turned cold and miserable. I wasn’t expecting much as far as the hay went. The second cut hay hasn’t been very good. It’s dry, and I got some bales full of Queen Anne’s Lace and thistles recently.

So, I was blown away by this truck trailer full of soft green grassy hay. What a stroke of good luck! The boys who loaded it for me said they were shocked by how beautiful it was when it came in this week. My horses wolfed down a flake in nothing flat. I decided to go back for a second load.

On my way home, as I was chanting “Thank you, thank you, thank you”, I remembered that one of my neighbors had been burned by a bad hay deal. She ended up with some really awful, moldy stuff and was struggling to get by. I stopped to see her, pretending to be the hay fairy, and gave her some of my bounty.

“It’s going to freeze tonight. Put the blankets back on your horses because this is the worst time of year for them to get a chill. It will make them really sick.” she advised me. She's our local medicine woman, so I always do what she tells me. Tonight, Silk and Siete weren’t happy to be bundled up again, but that gorgeous green salad made up for it. And I felt grateful for good hay and good neighbors.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Desert Sage

I was delighted to see a new blog by Carolyn Resnick, a remarkable horse trainer who lives in Escondido, California - not far from where I used to live. Carolyn grew up in the desert and received her equine education by living with a herd of wild horses. Through years of observing their waterhole rituals, she learned their language and was able to be accepted as part of the herd. She wrote a book called “Naked Liberty”, which is a charming and insightful account of how she formed her philosophy and training methods.

I encourage you to visit her new site and leave some comments. I hope that Carolyn will get to know us and that her participation in the blogosphere will be beneficial to all of us horse lovers. One thing that she mentions is that she trains horses in a way that is enjoyable for the horse. She wants the training to be “life enhancing” for the horse. It sounds like what I’m hoping to give Siete.

If we still lived in California, it would be easy for me to just go over and have Carolyn work with us in person. I’ve been feeling very nostalgic for the West this week. My husband returned last night from a trip to San Diego. He grew up there, and we lived in the North County for over ten years. This is the season when we usually go to the desert. The flowers are blooming, and I love the wide expanses of horizon that open my mind to new ideas.

There will always be a part of me that longs for the West. I am charged up by the Santa Ana winds and the scent of desert sage and eucalyptus. Some people say that the colors are dull and brown, but to my eyes, they are magical. I see in the desert the same colors - purple, green, terra cotta, rose - that I see in the ocean floor or on the beach here on the East Coast.

When I fed the horses this morning, the sun was rising after a sudden thunderstorm. The world was so fresh and green. I planted pasture grass for the girls yesterday, and if we lived in California, we would not have this kind of wonderful place. We would have earthquakes and wildfires and drought. So, our life is easier now, but there are parts of the West that are in my soul, and some days, I miss them.

“All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us, the wilderness still lingers. What they dream, we live and what they lived, we dream.”
T.K. Whipple, “Study Out the Land”

Friday, April 11, 2008

Drink Water

I’m teaching my horses something new, and it’s turned out to be a very handy trick.

It all began when it was cold, and I would carry out a bucket of warm water to mix into the water from my faucet at the barn. Siete would try to drink from the smaller bucket before I could pour it into the big one in the corral or pasture. She loved the warm water and would slurp down the whole thing. At first, it annoyed me to have to go back to the house to get more warm water, but then I realized that it was a great way to be sure that she was getting the water she needed. A horse needs to drink about 8 to 10 gallons of water a day, according to Tufts University's Vet School.

Now that the weather is flipping back and forth from cold to hot, I’m really concerned that the horses keep drinking enough so they won’t colic. These drastic temperature changes really can throw them off, especially Siete. So, I’ve been filling the small water bucket and offering it to her. “Drink water!” I tell my horse, and she does. Her mother was not so eager. So, I started to add the clicker and a treat to the command. Now, I have both horses lined up to drain the bucket.

“Drink water!” I tell Silk when I lock up her stall door every night. She knows what that means, and she goes to her bucket. It’s my new mantra.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Practical Yet Spiritual

Living with horses is a constant balance between the spiritual and the practical. That’s why I want to talk about a little of both here.

First, the practical: I am getting my first shipment of fly predators next week. Last year, I was very successful in keeping the number of flies down to a minimum. My neighbors couldn’t believe how few we had when they would come to visit. So, I thought I’d share my method of dispersing the little buggies.

I always put the plastic bag of un-hatched eggs in a warm place for several days and waited until there were a lot of fly predators crawling around in the bag. Then, I made very small piles of fresh manure in the places where I was going to “seed” the bugs. I put one in the front and back of each stall. I placed other piles in the corrals and at the gate of the pasture. I also made several piles on the edges of the pasture. The fly predators will spread out about 150 feet from where you leave them.

I’d deposit small groups of fly predators at each spot I’d prepared, as well as the compost/dumping heap. After I was done, there were always some left in the bag, so I’d put the bag on the compost heap with a rock on it so it wouldn’t blow away. I’d leave each of these piles for about four days before I cleaned them up. I could see when the fly predators began moving around and doing their job, so I’d wait until they were established. I get double shipments at the end of June and the beginning of August because that’s when the flies seem to really have a party. I also added an extra shipment this year to be delivered at the end of September since it stayed warm into October, and I was wishing I had one more batch last year.

My fly sprays of choice are “Nature’s Defense” and “Equisect”. They are both organic, and I alternate them. I never spray in the stalls because it will kill the fly predators and hurt our nesting birds.

Now, the spiritual: I was sitting at my husband’s desk yesterday, and I noticed a little book that a friend gave him years ago. It was “The Art of Peace” by Morihei Ueshiba. I discovered that Morihei was a legendary Aikido martial artist. This book is a collection of his beliefs. These were a few of the most meaningful for me and my horses:

"To practice properly the Art of Peace, you must:
Calm the spirit and return to the source.
Cleanse the body by removing all malice, selfishness and desire.
Be ever-grateful for the gifts received from the universe,
your family, Mother Nature and your fellow human beings."

"When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him; if he wants to pull back, send him on his way."

"The techniques of the Way of Peace change constantly; every encounter is unique, and the appropriate response should emerge naturally. Today’s techniques will be different tomorrow. Do not get caught up in the form and appearance of a challenge. The Art of Peace has no form - it is the study of spirit."

Does this remind anyone of Mark Rashid?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I am so pleased to receive this award from Arlene at Grey Horse Matters. It is hard to choose from all the other great horse blogs, but I know that this is being spread around by other horse lovers whom I respect. So, I will pass along the award to these dedicated horse moms, and encourage everyone to visit their blogs:

Linda at The 7MSN Ranch
Nancy at Cliffy's Mom's Blog
M.C. Valada at Out of the Darkroom
Lynda Polk at Hoofbeats
The Trail Riding Cowgirl at All Things Horses

Monday, April 7, 2008

No! Not Gnats!

After a day and a half of cold, gloomy weather, the sun brought out some unexpected little devils this afternoon. The horses were suddenly under attack by gnats in the pasture. Siete spun in circles, shaking her head like crazy. Silk rubbed her ears against the fence post. At first, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. As I came closer, I couldn’t believe that there were flying insects already attacking my horses less than an hour after the temperature crawled up to 60 degrees.

I raced to the tack room and dug out the almost empty bottle of fly spray. Fortunately, it seemed to discourage the gnats for at least a half an hour. Both horses stood at the gate, practically begging me to let them go back inside the barn. I felt really bad, since the sun was shining and the air was so warm. As the gnats began dive bombing their ears again, I gave in and led the girls to safety.

Mysteriously, there were no gnats in the stalls, only fresh pine shavings and an early dinner. I’m taking this as a warning that I should double my order of fly predators and stock up on more fly spray tomorrow.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What Kind Of Horse Are You?

In case you haven't seen it, Lynda Polk's Hoofbeats blog has a fun quiz to take to find out what breed of horse you would be.

Silk and Siete were not surprised to learn that I was a Quarter Horse. Duh, Mom, what did you think you were?

What breed of horse are you? Find out!

My Challenge

Yesterday, Siete was all fired up. The weather was perfect for a horse. It was brilliant blue and sunny, but cool in the 50’s. She ran around kicking and bucking, full of joy. As I was cleaning the corral, she came over to the fence in the pasture asking me to play. I fooled around with her for a few minutes, but my schedule was really busy. I had to get back to work.

I hurried into the corral, filled a muck fork and tripped backwards over the bucket. As I landed on my butt, Siete stopped and stared at me with great surprise. “What the heck are you doing on the ground?” She came over to the fence and put her nose down, trying to reach me. I began laughing, and she trotted away to bug her mother.

The combination of her playfulness and her immediate empathy keeps coming back to me, leading me somewhere new. As I came out to feed the horses their dinner last night, Siete began romping around in the corral. She’s trying to tell me something, and I think I’m beginning to get the message. She wants us to have fun, to build a relationship that is based on not just work but enjoyment. Obviously, she tests the limits with me almost every day, and I insist that she show respect. At the same time, she challenges me to lighten up.

I know that she senses what a strong bond I have with her mother. Silk and I are moving at the same pace and take comfort in each other. If I only had one horse right now, I’d just mosey along. taking it easy. With this five-year old ball of energy running circles around us old mamas, I face a big commitment. When Siete was born, I had intended to sell her. I didn’t because I loved her so much. I chose to breed Silk, and Siete is our gift. I am responsible to give this little horse a good, happy life. At each step along the way, as she reveals sides of myself that I’d rather not deal with, I am forced to push myself to succeed and do what’s best for her. Of course, it ultimately proves to be what’s also best for me.

So, I am promising Siete that I will carve a solid place for her in my schedule. Along with writing, giving my daughter the attention she needs, caring for my aging mother, keeping my family and animals well fed, maintaining a comfortable and happy home, and last, but far from least, spending time with my husband, I will find the extra energy to build my relationship with this little horse. At first, my thought was, “When will I have any time for me?” Now, I understand that being with Siete is the best way to learn more about myself and give myself what I need. She helps me become more of the person that I’d like to be.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Spring Cleaning

I should be doing some Spring cleaning inside my house, but as usual, I’m more interested in horsekeeping than housekeeping. I pulled out my white vinegar, soft chamois cloths and Oakwood leather conditioner. My beloved old Bob’s cutting saddle and my bridles need some attention.

One problem that I have on the East Coast that I never encountered in the deserts of Southern California is mildew. The easiest way I’ve found to remove it is with some vinegar and a soft cloth. Then, I use my tube of Oakwood. It’s magical stuff, making the leather soft and shiny without being oily or sticky. It doesn’t change the color or stain clothes, and I’ve had this tube forever.

I also changed out my funky, beat-up stirrups for these never-been-used new ones that I bought for five dollars at a barn sale this winter. One of my neighbors was moving and had sold all her Western gear now that she rides dressage. The stirrups match my saddle perfectly.

I hosed my Supracor Cool Grip pad and set it in the sun to dry. Over at Midwest Horse, Callie was talking about saddle pads, and I commented on how much I love this one. It’s made from the material they use for padding in wheelchairs and hospital beds to prevent soreness. There are little holes that allow air to circulate, and I just clean it by rinsing it off after I ride. Silk had a sore back when I bought her, but the combination of a saddle that really fits her and this amazing pad make her very happy. After many years, the pad looks just as good as when I first bought it.

Finding a saddle to fit Silk was a real challenge. She has a long back and pretty high withers. When we were living in North County San Diego, it took me almost a year before I was lucky enough to acquire one of Warner Ranch’s well-used saddles. It doesn’t look like much, but it sure is comfy.

It always surprises me how many people ride in saddles that don’t really fit their horses. Then, they wonder why the horse is irritable and won’t cooperate. I check Silk’s saddle every six months to be sure it still fits properly. When I first bought Silk, the saddle I already owned was too narrow. I had no idea how to tell if the saddle was good for the horse. The trainers and old timers at the barn weren’t any help. They acted like they were some kind of mystics or visionaries who could divine whether it was right for the horse.

Eventually, after working at a great tack store and meeting some incredible saddle-makers, I learned how to measure and fit a horse. It’s no mystery. If you want to learn more, take a look at Dave Genadek’s website and video. What I do to check Silk’s saddle is place it on her back without a pad and put my hands between her back and the tree of the saddle on each side where the withers are. I can feel if it’s too tight or pinches her. I also check the back, reaching under the saddle to be sure it isn’t putting pressure on her. Obviously, the saddle should sit well and not pop up in the back. It only takes a few minutes, and as a horse gains or loses weight, what once was the perfect saddle could be the cause of a major problem. Your horse will thank you.

Now, I’m going to clean the rocks out of the arena, and it will be time to ride. Yahoo!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

All the Girls Are Good

My horses are such good girls. Even though there was a light misty rain, they stood patiently for the farrier today. He took off their winter shoes, and they are running barefoot again. You can tell it feels good. It helps that the temperature is almost
60 F degrees.

The air is softer and sweeter. The lilac bushes are sporting big fat buds. It feels like we pushed through the hard part and can now float happily into April. I’m watching Silk and Siete roll around in the dirt and shake off the last grip of winter’s hand.

I realize how ready I am to walk barefoot too in soft green grass. On this quiet gray day, all three of us girls are good.