Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's Okay to Just Be Okay

Yesterday, nothing went wrong all day. I’m learning to appreciate just getting through the day without anything significant happening. For some unknown reason, Silk didn’t itch her belly or seem bothered by bugs. Siete was a fine and happy little horse. Inside our house, things were normal. The sun was shining, and the temperature was balmy. The hay and grass tasted good. Horses and people were all fine.

These no-drama days would have seemed boring to me when I was younger. Now, I welcome them. I enjoy just following the routine without any annoyances or cause for concern. In fact, I relish it. I know that this easy rhythm can be disrupted in a flash. I try not to wish for more or worry about what I can’t control. I don’t berate myself for tasks that are left un-done.

This acceptance of the day-to-day sameness is completely natural to the horses. They don’t wake up worrying about whether everything is going to be okay today. I have to admit that I always breathe easier when I am greeted by two eager horse heads poking out of the top half of the doors of the barn as I come out to feed the girls each morning. We all made it safely through the night. Let’s hope it will be another uneventful day. It gives me the space to remember who I really am and just be. It grounds me when things eventually do get hectic or the going gets rough. Of course, living with my 93-year old mother and my 13-year old dog color my perception, but it is all a delicate balance.

When I was growing up in a small town in the Midwest, my parents’ routine life drove me crazy. I couldn't wait to leave and go somewhere more exciting. These days, I only hope that I can give my daughter the gift of stability and contentment that was reliably there to come home to whenever I needed it.

We always want more, don’t we? We spend our lives pushing ourselves to the next level and feeling frustrated if it doesn’t happen fast enough. Some days, we scramble just to keep all the balls up in the air. Left to their own choices, I’ve never seen my horses do that. If I’m going to be part of this herd, I’ve got to learn that it’s okay to just be okay.

“What we’re all doing is we’re all managing gracefully.”
Sylvia Boorstein, "It's Easier Than You Think"

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nix the Garlic

Thank you, Everyone, for your helpful suggestions about Silk and her allergies. I got a comment from Ann about how garlic might be dangerous for horses, so I went on-line and investigated it. I found a good article on EquiSearch that made me decide that I wouldn't risk trying it. So, an extra big hug to Ann for alerting me!

It's so interesting how easy it is to upset the delicate balance of your horse's health. I did consider other possibilities with Silk's itching, like something in the pasture or in the hay. I soaked their hay for a while to see if it helped. In the end, I really do believe it's the gnats. She had a similar reaction to the blackflies last fall. I see the little buggers flying around her, so I am pretty convinced that they are the problem.

I'm also very wary of giving my horses any herbs or supplements without consulting a vet. A couple of winters ago, the girls started chewing on the wood fence in the corral. I fed them this product from a very well-known equine company that was supposed to control the problem. It worked, but I had a terrifying experience with Silk. One morning, she collapsed on top of me when I opened the door to her stall to feed her. It was a nightmare that was never really resolved. The vet came out and Silk's heartbeat was muffled. We rushed her to the equine hospital and did all kinds of tests. The closest answer the vet could come up with was that this supplement had a lot of electrolytes in it and might have thrown her electrolyte balance off.

The lesson it taught me is that a call to my vets is free and always welcomed by them. I vowed never to give the horses anything without checking with them first. I am grateful that Ann reminded me of that before I added anything new to their menu.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Itchin' All Over

Poor Silkie! She is going nuts with the itching. I’ve started her on hydroxyzine which gives her some relief, but the gnats and midges still bite her. I wash her with warm water twice a day and put aloe on her belly and under her tail and on the base of her mane and her neck and back. Some days, she breaks out in hives the size of quarters all over her neck and back. The fly sheet doesn’t help, and it’s too hot. She’s rubbed her belly so bad.

Monday, I tried to put a saddle on her so my 9 year old niece could go for a ride. My daughter managed one turn around the arena before Silk started bucking and kicking herself in the belly. I took off the saddle, and we were going to try it bareback to see if that would avoid rubbing. No way -- Silk started bucking before I could even lift the child up on her back. I felt so bad for my niece, who had never been on a horse and was dying to ride. But I felt worse for my dear horse, who has never done anything like that before. I knew how miserable she was.

So, I’m going to try adding garlic granules to her feed in hopes that the insects won’t think she’s so tasty. I also found this herb mixture made by Hilton Herbs for “sweet itch”. I’m going to order that. If anyone has any other ideas, please let me know. The strange thing is that last year, Siete was the one who was the target of all the insects. We aren’t having any fly problems, fortunately. The pollen is so thick that everyone is sneezing like crazy, and we don’t usually have allergies. I’ve got something bumpy on my right arm that is also itching non-stop, but it’s too early for poison ivy.

The weather is gorgeous, and I’d love to ride Silk but not until she’s more comfortable. One good thing is that our horses' “golden nugget” compost has made our garden even more beautiful than usual. The Japanese irises are really incredible this year.

Monday, May 26, 2008

My Lucky 7

Today is Siete’s birthday. I will never forget the night that she was born.

I was the ultimate nervous mother as the time approached for Silk to have her baby. Silk was fourteen, which is old for a maiden mare, and she kept going into the early stages of labor and then, backing away from it. I hadn’t realized that horses can stop their labor if they feel there’s anything threatening.

For two weeks, my friend who was the owner of the barn where I kept Silk got up in the middle of the night every two hours to check on my horse. I slept fitfully, with my clothes piled next to my bed, expecting the phone to ring. Twice, Patricia called me thinking that the time had come, but my mare wasn’t quite ready.

Finally, one night, at nine pm , Silk’s water broke. It took me ten minutes to get to the barn from my house, and by the time I arrived, the baby was already out and lying next to her mother. What a thrilling sight! I immediately went into the foaling stall with Joe, Patricia’s husband, and helped him “imprint” the baby, introducing my scent and touching her gently all over her body so she would accept me along with her mother.

She was a chestnut filly with a white blaze in the shape of a seven on her face. We decided that it was a lucky sign. About twenty minutes after she was born, the baby stood up and boldly wobbled over to the fence to meet the three ranch dogs, who were lined up like an attentive audience watching one of the greatest shows on earth. Silk was exhausted, but she was also a very gentle and accepting mother. She was very glad to see me, and wasn’t over-protective of her little one.

I will always remember the beauty of that scene. The night was so dark, and there was a warm orange glow from the work-light. The foaling stall was tucked half under the barn and half open to the sky. Both horses were wet and there was some steam coming from them. And all of us, people and animals, were so happy and relieved. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned I had missed the dramatic part.

When the vet checked the baby, he told me that Joe had to reach into Silk and pull the filly out just before I got there. He said that I was so lucky that Joe was so experienced at delivering foals because I probably would have lost both Silk and the baby if he hadn’t been there. I was stunned. No one had said a word the night before. I hugged Joe and told him that he was my hero. Patricia said, “God did it. He just used Joe’s hands”.

I nicknamed the baby “Siete”, which is “Seven” in Spanish, for our good luck and her white blaze. A foal is the pefect physical incarnation of the word “joy”. Everyone in my family loved to watch Siete, especially my daughter. And Siete was thrilled to have a little person who was her own size. When I would come to the corral without my daughter, Siete would stand at the fence searching for her. As she saw the little girl running down the path towards the corral, the filly would dance around and whinny to greet her.

I wasn’t planning on keeping Siete. One horse was expensive enough, and I had a very good friend who told me that she wanted to buy Silk’s baby. Then, when she learned that it was a filly, not a colt, she changed her mind. The vet advised me not to breed Silk again, and I realized that this would be her only off-spring. I also felt responsible for putting this being on the earth because I was the one who decided Silk should have a baby and arranged for her to be implanted. I was Siete’s two-legged mother. I promised her that I would protect her and love her forever.

Now, six years later, she is still our sweetheart. Smart, good natured and ready for anything we have to offer. She’s my daughter’s horse, but Siete is also Daddy’s Girl. She lights up when my husband is near, and he is equally taken by her charming horsey ways. If she could follow us into the house, she would. Her official name is My Impulsive Hobby, but around here, we’re lucky that she comes running any time you just call, “Siete!”

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Sacred Horse

I really believe that owning horses is a balance between the practical and the spiritual. My last post was about the practical side of caring for horses. This is about the adventures of the spirit that can come with loving horses, if you are open to them.

I was given a gift last Sunday by a remarkable man who came to visit me and my horses. With his encouragement and permission, I would like to share it with you. It will take a leap of your imagination, but it’s invigorating. First, I should give you a little background.

Last year, my good friend, Jaqueline Sussman, introduced me to her mentor, Dr. Akhter Ahsen. Jackie, who is an author and therapist, teaches and practices Eidetic Imagery. Dr. Ahsen developed the concept of Eidetics. He believes that each of us store visual memories in our minds, like little movies. These images are emotionally charged records of events that have shaped you into the person you are today. Accessing them using techniques and exercises that he has formulated can give you deep insights about who you are and allow you to find a fresh perspective on the potential that exists within you.

Dr. Ahsen draws on various mythological and spiritual sources in his work. Joseph Campbell called one of his books, “Manhunt in the Desert”, a “work that has the quality of revelation and should be read by all.” Ahsen likes to use the horse in his imagery, but I learned that he had never actually gotten up close and personal with a real horse. So, I invited him to come meet Silk and Siete. Standing next to them, he noted, “They’re very powerful.” Then, he taught me a meditation on the horse that will help me take this power to strengthen myself.

The meditation is based on the first chapter of the Upanishads, which bring out the spiritual meanings of the Vedic texts. It is called “The World As A Sacred Horse”:

“Aum, the dawn, verily, is the head of the sacred horse, the sun the eye, the wind the breath, the open mouth the Vaisvanara (lightning) fire; the year is the body of the sacred horse, the sky is the back, the atmosphere is the belly, the earth the hoof, the quarters the sides, the intermediate quarters the ribs, the season the limbs, the months and the half-months the joints, days and nights the feet, stars the bones, the clouds the blood vessels, the liver and the lungs are the mountains, the herbs and the trees are the air. The rising sun is the forepart, the setting sun the hind part, when he yawns it lightnings, when he shakes himself it thunders, when he urinates then it rains; his voice, indeed, is all voices.”

If you’d like to try it, Akhter Ahsen has broken this meditation down into twelve steps with these instructions:

1. In your mind, see the horse’s hoof on the ground, which is the earth. Tap your own foot and feel the power and strength through your legs. Stamp it and feel it. This is good for people who are disconnected from their own power. We all travel on our legs and feet where we want to go. So, if the whole universe is you and you stamp your foot, there is a special feeling. There is no power outside of it. You are the one.

2. Feel your eye like it is the sun. Your own eye in the context of the bigness of the horse as the universe. When I tried this, I closed my eyes and felt like the sun was rising. Dr. Ahsen told me that I may progress as I do this more often, but it was a good place to begin to see the universe as the horse.

3. Feel the breath in you like the great wind. It is the wind that is free all over the earth and between the earth and the heavens. You are joining them in the universe.

4. The sky is the back of the horse. You may ride it like you are flying.

5. The stars are the bones. You are riding through them. You can feel your bones, brilliant and powerful and big as you ride among them and your self is in the middle of the stars.

6. The rivers are flowing in your blood vessels with the sound of that rushing like the sound of water. A small stream is coming down the mountains and when it falls, it feels like your blood is coming down from the heart. There is no failure. Sometimes, people hear the sound of their heart beating when they do this meditation. Just feel it and let it clear the stream.

7. The trees are your hair. You have a huge head. Shake it and feel these power images. The wind is blowing through the trees (your hair) and singing.

8. When you yawn, you cause lightning on earth. Feel the lightning come out of your mouth. It’s another power image.

9. When you shake your body, you cause thunder. Open your limbs. Sometimes, out of fear of keeping your space, you can become congested and smaller. This image makes you big and opens your insides. Shake your body, letting the wind pass around your organs so they are breathing on their own, open.

10. The lungs are mountains. They can change the weather because the weather contains the sound and the wind, which is your voice. See the immobility of your lungs. They can’t just be told to move. They assert themselves, these lungs, and change the weather.

11. When you urinate, it rains. In other words, let them take a good bath under what you express. Let it go. Otherwise, you hold it back and the whole thing is reversed. You become introverted and it poisons you.

12. In front, is the dawn, verily this is your head. The hope is the beginning of a new day. In the Vedas, the dawn is very sacred. It gives you the strength to do what you want to do.

So, every morning, before I do my barn chores, I’m taking some time to meditate and move through these twelve ideas. When I started, my left leg was weaker than my right, but now I stand more firmly balanced.

Before he left, Dr. Ahsen also mentioned that he knew that many people who rode had a fear of falling. He said that doing this meditation will make you less rigid. You become more confident in your mind and lighter in your body. He also said that if you have suffered a fall, you should go back in your mind to the moment before the fall and feel what you were feeling right before the accident happened. Remember how it was when everything was fine. It will help restore your mind to where it was when things were okay and it will help to heal you. This is one of the ways that he works with people who have had traumatic experiences.

If you are interested in learning more about his work, Dr. Ahsen’s website is Image Psychology.. Jaqueline Sussman also has good information about Eidetics on her website. If you decide to try the meditation, please let me know how it goes for you. Right now, I’m going to ride the back of my horse like it’s the sky. I love that image.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More Horse Tips, Please!

Many thanks to Arlene at Grey Horse Matters for giving me ANOTHER award! Callie at MidWest Horse designed this one to thank everyone for the good “horse tips” that we share with each other. I will mention a few things I’ve learned over the years and then pass the award on to some other horse lovers whom I look to for advice.

1. To clean my saddle from mildew and mold, I use a cloth dipped in white vinegar first and then I rub in Oakwood Leather Conditioner. It works on even the most furry and green nasty stuff like magic.

2. When I had to give Siete two big doses a day for a month (aaggh!) of bitter antibiotics last fall when she had Lyme Disease, I mixed the medicine with vanilla yogurt, molasses and some salt- to cut the bitterness. Then, I put it in a big syringe and dipped the tip of the syringe in some sugar. She went from hating the meds to waiting for me, and comes right over if she sees me holding a syringe now. I rub a little sugar on the tip of the deworming paste syringe too.

3. I love fly predators! I get them from Spalding Laboratories, ordering and paying for a full season of shipments in the Spring so I get some free as a bonus. Once a month, I sprinkle them on little piles of manure to “seed” them in the horses’ stalls, the corrals, the edges of the pasture and around Poop Mountain. I have almost NO flies. Now, if I could only find something that eats gnats and black flies.

If anyone else has any good tips, please share them with us, either on your blogs or in the comments you leave. I’m going to pass this award along to Linda at the 7MSN Ranch and to Billie at Camera Obscura because I know they’re both so clever that they will be able to enlighten us about something helpful.

Monday, May 19, 2008

It's Great to Have Friends

In the middle of a very busy Sunday, I got a lovely surprise. My friend, Arlene at Grey Horse Matters, gave me an award. It was like a big hug coming across the blogosphere. I really needed it. It reminded me of all the wonderful people that I have met who take the time to read this blog. I also appreciate reading and learning from what all of you have to say. I know it takes some extra effort, but my life is richer for knowing so many talented, caring and interesting people from all over the world.

It’s hard to choose who else should get this award. Fortunately, I’ve seen it floating around recently to many of my blogging buddies. I’m going to send it along to the following people:

Julian, the Transylvanian Horseman, who made a gigantic leap to a new life in England and a big commitment with his partner, Danielle, to get married. Congratulations on moving forward with much courage.

LJB at Horsey Therapist, who leads me to new paths and supports me in my fumbling efforts to train Siete.

Esther/Ishtar in Niger, Africa, who loves her horses and travels an exotic path with quiet, consistent bravery.

Lynda Polk at Hoofbeats, who encourages our horse-loving community and offers good insights.

Nor’dzin at Ceffylau, who is eloquent and kind in her learning and caring for Dee and Red.

Jodi at Bloomingwriter, who taught me how to be a good blogger, loves her horse and donkey and just lost her beloved orange kitty over the rainbow bridge.

Ewa in Poland, for cheering up my day with her gorgeous garden and showing me parts of Warsaw, where my mother’s family once lived.

I imagine you all know what to do to pick up your award. Just click on it and take it away to your blogs to share with others who deserve to be celebrated.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Full Circle

When I rode as a kid, I never thought about balance. I just had it, naturally. My daughter is the same way. Her seat looks like it’s glued to the back of the horse when she rides. The older I get, the more top-heavy I seem to be. I know I’m not alone with this problem. Callie started an entertaining discussion about it on her blog the other day.

I recently read James Shaw’s “Ride from Within”, which explains how to use Tai Chi principles to help you balance and get into the horse’s rhythm. Many of the motions used in Tai Chi are circular. Mark Rashid also talks about the circular movement in Aikido and how it is one of the most powerful forces in nature. He often uses it as a way to offer a horse a better alternative when the horse is troubled.

I was thinking about how it has been four years since we have been living here in the Northeast. We have circled through the seasons enough times for me to recognize the blooming cycles in my garden and the changes that occur in caring for my horses. Each season is so distinct, unlike the blur of weather that we experienced living in California in a warmer climate. I look forward to the changes here, feeling each annual circle moving our lives forward.

We are making a medicine wheel on our hill above the barn. In San Diego, we created a big circle of stones with special larger rocks that marked the four directions. We gave each direction a corresponding animal totem and painted a picture of it on the rock. The horse was East. Now, we are adapting it to a new, very different location. For Native Americans, the medicine wheel is the circle of life, a symbol of wholeness and equality. The end is also the beginning.

Longeing Siete in a circle, I am learning to move with her, not just stand in the center and get dizzy as she moves around me. James Shaw talks about how your balance can’t be stationary. It must be alive and moving. He says, “Think of letting your center breathe.” Sometimes, it’s not easy staying centered while your horse is moving. So, he gives exercises both on and off the horse to help you.

The exercises in his book are simple but really challenging. There’s one called “Wall Sitting”, where you position your feet about a foot from the wall and slide your back down the wall so your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then you rest there and breathe, slowly rolling your tailbone and shoulders forward to press more of your lower back on the wall. Aii-ee-ya! That’s tough on the thigh muscles.

All those Eastern martial artists and philosophers make it sound so simple, but I am a total klutz. Just breathing with my abdominal muscles requires my intense concentration. I know if I stick with it, my balance will improve. Hopefully, by the time we circle around to next May, all these movements that are so difficult will be second nature to me.

“Move like a beam of light….Whirl in circles around a stable center.”
Morihei Ueshiba

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Here She Comes!

It's the little things that just make my day. I needed to get Siete from the pasture so I could rinse her off and put some aloe on her belly. She was off in the far corner eating grass. I clicked once with the clicker and called her name. Bang, zoom! Here comes my little horse flying across the field.

I can't get over how handy this little clicker is. I use it for any kind of training issue that might cause resistance. What's most amazing is that after we do something with it for a few times, the behavior sticks, and I don't need the clicker or a treat anymore to get the response that I'm after.

How often can you say that you truly love a training tool-- especially one that costs less than five dollars!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Happy Horse

Can you tell when your horse is happy? I can see it in Silk’s eyes. She gets a certain look that lets me know that all is right in her world. Yesterday, it wasn’t. Today, she has a relaxed softness that says it’s a good day.

I’m doing the chores that I don’t like to do. I’ve dumped and scrubbed all the water buckets and re-filled them. I’ve cleaned up the area where I store the hay. I’ve picked up all the branches that fell during the winds yesterday. I’m trying to not get annoyed by the raucous baby birds who are pooping all over the feeder in Silk’s stall while their mama dives at me in attack mode.

Now I’m going to take a moment to sit in the Adirondack chair that I’ve put under the hickory tree. It’s time to just do nothing for a few minutes but watch my horses eat grass. I might even bring a glass of iced tea with me.

P.S. My angel dog, Pepper, who is 13 years old, rests right by my side, as always.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spooking Weather

It was a chilly, blustery day, with winds around 25 mph. Siete wanted to go out and play, but her mother wasn’t too sure if it was a good idea. Silk is fairly unperturbed by most things, but the wind was really tossing around muck buckets and branches. In the pasture, every time a gust blew up her mane or her tail, she leaped into the air in these crazy spooks. Siete just munched the grass and ignored it all.

I’ve never seen Siete spook at anything. Silk doesn’t do it often, and she makes one quick sideways jump when she does. If I’m riding her, I can usually tell just before she does it and remind her to pay attention to me. When I bought her, she had been living in a barn where Corgis chased her and nipped her heels. So, she’s not fond of dogs. Our one really big spook came years ago when a dog suddenly appeared and ran towards her.

Most of the time now, Silk will spook when she thinks that she needs to get my attention. Last week, I was leading her into the back corral when the mama barn swallow dive bombed out of Silk’s stall. It startled both of us so bad that Silk almost tried to jump in my arms. I admit my heart was pounding.

So, today, I told my horse that when she had enough of the wind in the pasture, she should just let me know, and we’d go back inside. After about 45 minutes, Silk came and stood by the gate. I brought her in and left Siete out for a few more minutes. Silk took refuge in Siete’s stall, so of course, Siete decided that she was ready to come in too. That was it for going out today. Both horses stayed tucked in the barn as the wind rattled and roared.

It does make me wonder why some horses are spooky and other aren’t. Does anyone have any insights on this? I know that Icelandic horses usually don’t spook because they have no predators in Iceland so their fear/flight reflexes aren’t strong. I was thinking that Siete has never had the kind of frightening experiences her mother had, so maybe that makes her more level. She’s always been a plucky little horse. When she was just a baby, the first time we walked out with Silk, Siete raced ahead of her to be the leader. Maybe some horses are just born brave.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Earth, our mother, breathe forth life
all night sleeping
now awakening
in the East
Now see the dawn

Earth, our mother, breathe and waken
leaves are stirring
all things moving
new day coming
life renewing

Eagles soaring, see the morning
see the new mysterious morning
something marvelous and sacred
though it happens every day
Dawn, the child of Mother Earth and Darkness.

Pawnee Prayer

Friday, May 9, 2008

Slowing Down

The world spins faster these days than it ever has. We crave instant gratification, quick fixes, information at our fingertips in a split second. Those who understand the nature of balance are reminding us that sometimes slow is better.

You may have heard about the Slow Food movement that started in Italy and has spread around the world. They advocate taking time to enjoy your food by avoiding fast food restaurants, giving old-fashioned attention to growing and cooking food and eating what is seasonal and locally grown. I was very intrigued when I learned about it, and by following their suggestions, I think I’ve improved the way my family eats and enjoys food together.

In searching for answers to take care of my aging mother, I came across a new book called “My Mother, Your Mother”, by Dr. Dennis McCullough. He coined the term “Slow Medicine”, which offers advice on how to take the time to make decisions and create living situations that are uniquely caring and best for the elderly patient. He models his recommendations on the Slow Food Movement.

So, I decided that I am in favor of the Slow Training approach to working with horses. With all the recent news about the accidents and deaths on the racing and cross country courses, over and over it appears that people are starting horses too young and pushing them to go too fast.

I deliberately waited to start training Siete until she was three years old, teaching her good manners and groundwork and then, letting her live in a herd to learn from other horses. I wanted her to grow both physically and psychologically to be ready to be ridden. She’s had a total of almost a year of professional training and riding. This month, she’s going to be six years old, and I admit, I’ve been fretting that I’m not riding her yet. I’ve been feeling guilty and putting pressure on myself to move faster. But really, what’s the reason? It’s not like I’m ignoring my horse. In fact, our relationship has improved so much over the last six months that I’m really pleased. No deadlines, I tell myself.

Impatience is a hard habit to break. When I was younger, I missed a lot of great moments by wishing I was already moving on to the next great moment. Going slow allows you the time to understand, to heal, to accept and to enjoy. I’ve watched Siete grow as we both go through this training process together, and I’m continuing to grow along with her.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spring Is Bursting Out

It’s such a relief to have a quiet rainy day. My garden is exploding with gorgeous flowers. The dogwood, the lilacs, the lily of the valley are just going wild this year. The pollen levels are at an extreme high, leaving a thin yellow and white film over everything. So, it’s no wonder that two nights ago, Siete had another one of her allergy attacks.

Both horses have been so itchy, and the gnats are still attacking with a vengeance. The worst time is at sunset. Tuesday night, Siete was sneezing and rubbing her nose and her butt. I thought she was going to knock the barn down. After washing her nostrils and putting aloe on her behind and her belly, I called the vet again. While waiting for the vet, I put Vaseline all over the area around her tail, which gave her some relief. Since this wasn’t an emergency, it took quite a while for the vet to call back. My regular, favorite doctor just left the practice because she is having a baby. So, this was a vet that didn’t know my horses, and I was really grateful that he agreed to give Siete some dexamethasone without coming out to see her. Even more, I appreciated that he offered to let me run over right away to pick it up.

So, at nine o’clock at night, I drove to the equine hospital to pick up the medication. I realized when I got there that I was wearing my pajamas. There was only a vet tech and a barn full of sick horses, so no one noticed. I can;t get over how lucky I am to have a place like this so close to my home. As I drove down the pitch black country roads, I briefly considered whether it was crazy that I would jump in the car and race over so late to pick up the dex. Then, I thought ,”Hey, what else can I do?”

Siete slurped it down in some bran mash and molasses. I considered giving it to Silk too because she was so itchy from the gnats, but I just did the wash and aloe routine again with her. By eleven o’clock, all was calm, with only occasional sneezing, and we went to sleep. The next day, I gave my little horse a second dose of dex, and I also gave one to Silk. I spoke to the vet again and we decided that if the itching continued, we’d try some hydroxyzine, which is an antihistamine. Meanwhile, I’m also soaking their hay and changing the bedding in the stalls more frequently to make it less dusty.

The baby birds hatched in the nest above Silk’s feeder, so she’s hanging out at the back of her stall. She instinctively seems to know to give them some space. The girls also like to stand in Siete’s bedroom in front of the fan. I was realizing how glad I am that it’s only a ten second walk across my backyard to check on the horses. I’ve been hanging out with them more now that the weather is warm. Thinking about what’s causing Siete’s distress, I am once again confronted by how many mysteries there are in horses, as well as in life. The longer that I live with my horses, the more accepting I become of the notion that there’s not an answer to everything.

While watching Silk as she ate her breakfast, I was thinking again about how the turning point in our relationship came when I stopped trying to “fix” my horse and just began to see who she really is. I am finding that the same thing is true with my mom and her problems. Here’s the reality: I can’t “fix” anything with anyone. All I can do is try to see them for who they really are. And enjoy the smell of the lilacs and lily of the valley.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Do You Know About the Feed Recall?

I received this information from my local bridle trails organization and I want to pass it along:

Major Feed Recall

Land O Lakes/Purina has issued a feed retrieval for a number of brands.

Land O Lakes/Purina has issued feed recalls, or "retrievals," for a variety of their brands manufactured between the dates of November 3, 2007, and March 10, 2008. These feeds were identified to contain greater than 20 ppb of aflatoxins, originating from a single ingredient from a single supplier. Only specific manufacturing plants and dates are involved. The recalled products also vary.

As of May 6, 2008, the contaminated feeds had been distributed in the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

The manufacturing plants involved, and dates, are:• Statesville, North Carolina: Feeds manufactured between November 3, 2007, and February 8, 2008.• Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Feeds manufactured between January 1, 2008, and February 8, 2008.• Guilderland, New York: Feeds manufactured between January 8, 2008, and March 10, 2008.

If you have purchased a Purina feed and live in one of the involved states, check the bottom edge of your feed bag for a date code. The date codes on Purina feeds are in this format: 7NOV03STA

The first number is the year. "7" = 2007, "8" = 2008. The next code is the month. "NOV" = November. Next two digits are the day. "03" = 3rd (of November in this case). Last three letters are the plant code. STA = Statesville. HAR = Harrisburg. GLD = Guilderland.

If you have feed from one of these three plants manufactured within the recall dates, call your feed dealer to see if your specific brand is involved in the recall. If you purchased feed during the time frames listed for the recall but no longer have your bags, call your dealer anyway to see if the feed you use was involved in the recall.

If your horses are having health problems of unknown cause, call your veterinarian and let him/her know you may have fed aflatoxin-contaminated feed. Feed, urine or liver biopsy tissues can be tested for aflatoxin and aflatoxin metabolites. Your state’s Department of Agriculture should also be notified if your veterinarian suspects feed related health issues.

Note: As of May 6, this was an ongoing issue. Further recalls could be issued. Details are still very sketchy. Other feeds could also be involved but no details are available. Signs range from acute liver failure to stunted growth in young horses, poor hair coat, abnormal liver enzymes on blood chemistry, jaundice (yellow eyes and gums), feed refusal, unexplained loss of condition, poor immune system function. Fetal abnormalities have been reported in other species.

This information comes from Eleanor Kellon, VMD
Horse Journal Veterinary Editor

PS- I feed my horses Triple Crown Equine Feed. They do not have any recall issues and on their website is a very good, clear explanation of what the problems are right now in their industry. I recommend going there and checking out what they have to say: Triple Crown

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The River of Change

Owning and caring for horses in the middle of all the other challenges of our lives isn’t easy. I’m wrestling with some serious problems with my 93-year old mother’s health. She’s been incredibly strong and well, “a geriatric poster child”, as her doctor jokingly calls her. She takes no meds and hasn’t ever had a major illness. Unfortunately, her hearing and her eyesight are wearing out. She has macular degenerative disease, and last week, her world just went completely blurry. There’s nothing that anyone can do to change it. Suddenly, all the things that were no problem, like walking to the mailbox or emptying the dishwasher, are disorienting and difficult.

The horses are insanely itchy, and I feel stretched and jerked back and forth trying to help them and comfort my mother, who lives with us. So, even though the weather is gorgeous, my horses and my mom are miserable. I can run outside to wash the horses and cover their bellies with aloe and fly spray. I can race back into the living room to listen to my mother, who is wondering why life is worth living if you can’t see or hear. Waking in the middle of the night, I worry about how we will be able to communicate with her if she’s deaf and blind. I wish I could wave a magic wand and fix these problems.

Just the other day, before this unhappy turn of events, I was realizing how everything was fine. I stopped for a moment as I was picking up some flakes of hay to give the horses and just appreciated how okay life was, with a prickly intuition that soon it might not be. Even now, I realize that things could be a lot worse, and very well might be in the near future. So, I’ve been looking for some guidance as to how to ride through this upcoming turbulence.

I was bending under Silk’s belly, rubbing her with a soapy sponge, when I thought about Jack Kornfield’s book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”. Kornfield is a doctor of clinical psychology who is also a Buddhist monk. I am particularly fond of him because he has a wonderful sense of humor and a great heart. Coming back inside, I found the book on my shelf and read something that helped me:

“Underneath all the wanting and grasping, underneath the need to understand is what we have called “the body of fear”. At the root of suffering is a small heart, frightened to be here, afraid to trust the river of change, to let go in this changing world. This small unopened heart grasps and needs and struggles to control what is unpredictable and unpossessable. But we can never know what will happen. With wisdom, we allow this not knowing to become a form of trust.”

It reminded me of that same leap of trust that I had to take with my horse after she had injured me years ago and I was afraid of her. I learned to be comfortable in the "not knowing". I was able to ride and successfully handle Silk because I decided to trust her. It was more than okay, it was a turning point in our relationship.

Then, Kornfield quotes St. John of the Cross, “If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.” I had to laugh because it was so in line with what I just wrote in my last post here. Maybe that’s why I’ve been riding around on Silk with my eyes closed and my feet dangling out of the stirrups. It’s good practice for what’s to come when I’m not in the saddle.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Private Riding

I really prefer to ride Silk when we’re all alone. Ideally, my husband is around somewhere on the back of our property working on one of his never-ending earthmoving projects. If something happened, I could shout and he’d come running. It’s highly unlikely that anything would go wrong, since to someone watching from a window inside our house, it would appear that Silk and I were not doing anything.

Since Silk is so responsive, I’ve been practicing with her before I take the reins on Siete. I’m doing the exercises in Mark Rashid’s “Finding the Try” DVD to teach myself, not my horse. Silk is a very patient, cooperative partner. She appears to understand what I’m doing as I make small movements and stop and start and back and turn using as little pressure on the bit as possible.

We work on what I jokingly call “mind melding”. I think about what I would like to do and see if Silk can understand what I’m thinking. Sometimes, she does what I’m hoping she’ll do almost before I complete the thought. Other times, she’ll stand and wait since I’m not focused and communicating clearly. I’m also really working on relaxing my body while I’m on the horse and trying to move in a more balanced way. I take my feet out of the stirrups and ride with my eyes closed, feeling Silk’s footfall. Only recently have I understood how important footfall is to good riding. All of this practice requires concentration and awareness that can’t be found when someone else is there, talking to me or watching or riding. It would have seemed boring to me when I was more flexible and in my teens and twenties. Now, it fascinates me how sensitive my horse is and how subtle our communication can be.

What do you like to do with your horse in those private moments when it's just the two of you? I feel like I just confessed some secret and most people will think I'm an obsessive lunatic. Someone asked me for a picture of me riding Silk. I realized that I don’t have any. It’s become a very private activity. Maybe I can drag my earthmover away from his latest stump-removing task and give him the camera. Don’t expect to see anything exciting, just me sitting calmly on my favorite horse.

"The human mind has absolute freedom as its true nature. There are thousands upon thousands of students who have practiced meditation and obtained this realization. Do not doubt the possibilities because of the simplicity of the method. If you can't find the truth where you are, where else do you expect to find it?"
Dogen, founder of Japanese Zen

Friday, May 2, 2008

Too Much, Too Fast, Too Hard

Accidents in equestrian sport of Eventing have caught my attention in the past month. Most notably, last week-end at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, Olympic hopeful Laine Ashker and her horse Frodo Baggins took a terrible fall. The horse died and Laine is still in critical condition in ICU.

Earlier in April, veteran equestrian Darren Chiacchia, a bronze medalist at the Athens Summer Olympics, fell during the Red Hills Horse Trials. It prompted an article you can read on-line in the New York Times called “Equestrians’ Deaths Spread Unease in Sport” (4/09/08). They reported that 12 riders have died in the past year and a half on cross country eventing courses. There was no mention of how many horses have died, but from what I can tell, the numbers are growing.

Following the trends of the horse racing industry, Eventing has become a high profile, big money sport. After five British riders died in 1999, frangible pins that release the fence rail when a horse hits it were designed in hopes that it would reduce the dangers. The rails cost $70 per fence and only 4% of the British courses use them. Even fewer courses in the United States have this feature, despite the enormous amount of money in prizes and sponsorship of these events. There’s a debate raging over whether the courses, many of them designed by Capt. Mark Phillips, have become too challenging as the riders push their horses to greater speeds. Others argue that there are too many inexperienced riders attempting to compete beyond their level of skill. The recent accidents happened at the upper levels of competition.

I read the entry that Laine Ashker wrote about her horse in the profiles section of the Rolex Event website this morning. Frodo Baggins was the black thoroughbred who was the main Dark Rider’s horse in the movie “The Lord of the Rings”. He had never done eventing before she bought her dream horse five years ago. Laine is only 24 years old, and clearly loved her horse and had enormous ambition to become a member of the U.S. Olympic Team.

So, as I mucked out my barn this morning, I asked myself what was the message in all this? There will always be young, talented determined people who push and push the boundaries to achieve their dreams. There will be horses who are generous, big hearted and athletic enough to carry them. The responsibility for their safety and well-being is clearly in the hands of superstars like Captain Mark Phillips and George Morris. Once again, if anyone stops to consider the horse first, these kinds of accidents could be prevented. Let’s hope that this will finally be the wake-up call that puts safety ahead of money and winning the competitions.

You can read about how Laine is doing at her competition journal blog. Her mother, Valerie, is posting continuously from the hospital. If you go to the website of the Rolex Event, you can read Laine’s own description of her horse and training. At this time, Laine doesn't know that Frodo is dead, as she struggles for her own life. It makes this tragedy become really up-close and personal. It stirred my anger enough to write to Kevin Baumgardner, president of the United States Eventing Association. You can contact him by e-mailing: More info is available at There is also an article with comments from David O'Connor at the Lexington Herald-Leader's website.

We must be advocates for the horses in this world. Our voices will be heard. Our horses know when we speak out to make a difference. If we don’t, who will?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Are You Prepared?

On this gorgeous sunny day, I am still haunted by the photos on the news of the three tornadoes that hit Suffolk, Va. earlier this week. When we lived there, my job was in Suffolk and I commuted every day about forty minutes from Chesapeake. The offices of the TV production company where I worked were literally next door to where the tornadoes ripped through buildings and flattened houses. I was so grateful that we were resettled safely here with a few hundred miles between us and all the devastation.

I’ve felt this overwhelming feeling of gratitude for narrowly escaping disaster several times in recent years. Just before we moved from California to Virginia, Hurricane Isabel blew across Chesapeake. The owner of the barn where I ended up boarding Silk and Siete told me how terrifying it was. She painted her cell phone number on the side of each of her horses and turned them loose during the storm. In San Diego, where we once lived, other friends of mine escaped the wildfires with their horses last fall. They wrote their cell phone numbers in Sharpie on their horses’ front hooves. When we moved here, I had brass halter plates engraved with my address and phone number on them. I attached them to the girls’ halters in case they ever got loose and wandered away from home.

Last summer, there was a tornado that touched down about five miles from here. It was very unusual, and I was not really prepared. I opened the doors of the stalls for the horses, so they could run into the corral if the barn collapsed. Then, I took my family and my other animals to the basement and prayed really hard. We were fine, but it made me realize that I needed to get my act together.

So here I am, under blue skies, sorting through my emergency kit and figuring out whether I could actually walk my horses into my basement if another tornado came our way. We have four plastic 5- gallon containers filled with water in case the electricity goes out and the well pump doesn’t work. I figure that will be enough to give the horses for two days. I’ve put a generator on my wish list just ahead of the horse trailer, but so far we haven’t won the lottery.

Does anyone else have any good ideas or must-have items for horse owners in bad weather emergencies? Let’s think about it now before hurricane and tornado and wildfire warnings interrupt our regularly scheduled programs. I don’t know if you remember what I told you a while ago: When someone asks me what does a TV and film producer actually do, my answer is always that I’m the one who worries the most.