Friday, June 27, 2008

What Is Your Escape Plan?

I’ve been reading about the wildfires in Northern California, and it reminds me of all the times that I’ve faced potential danger from fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. It’s the season for natural disaster again. So, as horse owners, we need to ask ourselves, “Do we have a realistic plan of what we will do when our horses are in danger?”

One thing I know for sure is that if you need to evacuate your horses, it’s better to do it sooner rather than later. Last year, in the San Diego wildfires, I had friends who couldn’t get all their horses out in time. They were left with no choice but to turn them loose and run for their own lives as the fires swept through. Many wrote their cell phone numbers on their horses’ hooves with a Sharpie or painted the phone number on the side of the horse with white paint. We moved to Virginia just one week after a big hurricane went through, and horse owners had many horror stories to tell me. Most of them just left their horses out in the pastures and prayed. Several had their barns collapse, and the horses inside died or were badly injured.

We had a tornado blow through not far from our house last summer. I rushed all my smaller animals and my mom and daughter into our basement. I decided to leave the stall doors open so the horses could run into the corral if the barn was hit. Fortunately, once again, we were spared from harm. Each time that happens, I feel more grateful. I’ll never forget standing in Silk’s stall last fall, crying for my friends and family in San Diego and feeling so thankful that we were here and not there.

After one big storm that flooded all the roads, took out the power and made it impossible to get out of our driveway, I learned that I needed to have between 10 and 20 gallons of water stored for the horses. I was half prepared. From our old California earthquake kit, I had four of these 5 gallon soft plastic containers that squish down flat when they’re not being used. The problem was that the well tank was electrically powered, so I couldn’t fill them. When the road was open, I drove to a friend in the next town to fill the containers. The horses didn’t like the water because it tasted different, but I mixed it with the water already in their buckets. So, note to self: Use the hose and put water in the containers if a storm is coming. A portable generator is at the top of my wish list.

I also have started buying feed when the can is still half full. If you have to evacuate, you need to have enough food to take with you for several days. Your horses should be comfortable with trailer loading, and if they aren’t, start working on it now before there’s an emergency.

As soon as there’s a hint of a disaster approaching, it’s important to make arrangements for a safe place to bring your horses that is hopefully out of the danger zone. In San Diego, during the last fires, even the barns where the horses had been evacuated ended up in the path of the flames. The parking lots of the Home Depot and the grocery stores were full of horses. As I saw the video of horses tied up by their lead ropes to the metal racks where the grocery carts are usually stored, I wondered how Silk and Siete would feel about spending a few days in that difficult situation. I am still amazed by how well-behaved most of the animals were under those tense, uncomfortable circumstances.

What other good suggestions based on past experiences do any of you have to share about getting you and your horses safely through a disaster? Let's try to help each other be better prepared.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Lovely Award!

I was pleasantly surprised to receive this Arte y Pico Award from my talented friend, Ewa, at “Ewa In the Garden”! She is very artistic, and I am so flattered that she has chosen me. We have a great community of horse lovers who blog, but I also wander out into the blogosphere to visit gardeners and artists and those who love to write and cook. It’s difficult to decide where this award should go next. So, while I will include a couple of our horsey friends, I hope that you will also visit some of these other thoughtful, artistic friends of mine:

“Under Construction/ Art Contemplations” is Bill Evertson’s blog about his art, Zen musings and life. He always gives me something new to think about and appreciate.

“What If?” is Deborah Carr’s blog about life and nature and being a good neighbor. She is a generous, warm-hearted person who really makes a difference in her world.

“Oak In The Seed” is DJ Brown’s blog. She writes about nature in all its glory and takes wonderful photographs of it.

"Camera Obscura" is Billie’s blog. I look forward to her views on not just horses, but writing, nature, life and anything else that she chooses to share with us.

”Grey Horse Matters" is Arlene’s blog. Not only is her design and photography elegant, but her writing is so well-crafted and thought provoking.

The designer of this award has asked that the following be passed along with it:

The origin of the Arte y Pico Award: "This prize has arisen from the daily visits that I dedicate to many blogs which nourish me and enrich me with creativity. In them I see dedication, creativity, care, comradeship, but mainly, ART, much art. I want to share this prize with all those bloggers that entertain me day to day and to share this prize with those who enrich me every day. Doubtlessly, there are many and it will be hard to pick just a few. The people I will name today deserve this prize, as do the very long serious list of bloggers I also enjoy to read. But I will name the first 10 and leave the rest of the work to all the bloggers that visit other's blogs and are nourished by them."

Here are the rules, if you decide to pass the award further to remarkable blogs in blogosphere worth to mention:

The rules:
1. You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award through creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community, no matter of language.
2. Each award should have the name of the author with a link to their blog.
3. Award winners have to post the award with the name and link to the blog of the person who gave them the award.
4. Please include a link to the “Arte Y Pico” blog so that everyone will know where the award came from.
5. Show these rules.

Thank you!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Let's Talk Turkey

Several days ago, my 93-year old mother started shouting at me to come quickly. Fearing something was terribly wrong, I ran into the family room. She was sitting in Papa’s armchair, which used to be my dad’s favorite seat, and pointing out the window. Running like little drunken sailors, there were about a dozen baby wild turkeys exploring our lawn. The father turkey was guarding them on the left side from potential attackers. The mama turkey walked very slowly and regally in the rear of her brood.

So, now they have a daily route, crossing from my neighbor on the left to my neighbor on the right in the morning. Sometimes, they go back the other direction by the barn around sunset. They ran through the corral on Sunday night. Fortunately, I had already tucked the horses in their stalls. Silk and Siete are very interested in the new arrivals. They don’t tense up like they do when the deer come through the pasture. Instead, they watch curious but relaxed with their heads craning out the top of the stall windows as the crazy babies race wildly around. If turkeys could talk, these little guys would be shouting, “Look at this!” “No, over here! Look at this!” “Hey, hey, come see what I found!” Mom and Dad Turkey just patiently and slowly guide their path from the side and the rear.

Last night, as I was in the kitchen making dinner, they appeared in the flower garden outside the bay window, clucking and running in circles like kids at a birthday party. I can tell when they’re coming because my cats suddenly start racing from window to window inside the house, marking their progress across the yard.

I turned to Ted Andrews’ “Animal Speak” book to see what he has to say about this sudden influx of turkeys in our life. I was relieved to read that the bird is a symbol of all the blessing that Earth gives us and our ability to use them to our greatest advantage. The turkey is also called “the earth eagle” and symbolizes spirituality and honors the Earth Mother. Of course we would have them here, I thought, since this property is safe and very potent with its earth energy. The only ones who will be upset are the squirrels. We have a charming, lively family who live in our hickory trees. Turkeys supposedly like to steal nuts from the squirrels’ secret pantries. Turkeys also live as long as 12 years, so I have a good feeling that we’ll be seeing these guys for a long time to come.

UPDATE: Now, the dad has moved on and another mom and her babies have joined the group. So, we've got 20 little turkeys frolicking around with two watchful mamas. They were learning to roost on the bottom rail of the fence in the pasture yesterday. They couldn't keep their balance so they would tumble off, roll in the arena dust and try again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

This Must Be the Place

It took me a while, but I finally shot some photos of Blogging Central, at the prompting of Pony Girl. She came up with a fun idea to show each other where we are when we send out our messages into the blogosphere. Many of you have shown us well-appointed offices, with beautiful desks and chairs. I have a confession to make. I have no office. I use an iBook G4 laptop computer, and where I am is where I write.

So, most of the time, it’s on the coffee table in the living room. Sorry if it’s a bit dark, but the photo was taken around 6 am. I write either early in the morning or late at night when all the two-legged family members are asleep. I have three writing assistants or muses.

My faithful doggo, Pepper.

My orange boy, Velcro, who is on duty at the window watching for wild turkeys in the front yard.

And B.K., aka Black Kitty, camera-shy and ready to assist Mr. Velcro if any turkeys come in through the window.

There’s no chair, only my comfy couch, with books piled around me. We had a zero growth policy for books around here. If one came in, one had to go out. I’ve let it slide for a while, but looking at this photo, I’m thinking of enforcing it again. If anyone else was awake, I’d have them take a picture of me on the couch, but I guess you’ll just have to imagine me wearing my cowgirl pajama pants and an “Ivercare Because I Care” t-shirt with a blue horse on it.

It all reminds me of one of my favorite Talking Heads songs called “This Must Be The Place”:

“Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round…
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s okay I know nothing’s wrong…”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jealous Mama

I admit that I tend to believe that my horses have the same understanding and emotions that human beings have. Interacting with them every day, I am very aware of the nuances of their behavior. Yesterday, I was in a hurry to put Silk into the pasture, so I didn’t take the extra minute to fuss over her the way I usually do. Siete needed my attention, and I was concentrating on her rather than her mother. If a horse could go off in a huff, Silk certainly did. When I realized that she was jealous, I tried to coax her over to me and make amends. She wanted no part of it and jogged off to the opposite end of the pasture to stand still as a statue with her back towards me.

I’m always intrigued by how jealous my animals can be. My dog and one of my cats compete constantly for my attention. Just like people, some animals are more needy. Siete isn’t as sensitive as Silk. She’s a very affectionate, almost cuddly little horse. She welcomes every person who comes to see her with equal enthusiasm. Her mother really only wants to be with me or other horses. Silk shows her displeasure if I’m gone for a day and someone else feeds her and cares for her. I get the cold shoulder when I come home. If I vary the routine and forget to do something that she likes, she withdraws her affection. Even though she can’t speak, she’s amazingly expressive and more fine-tuned than Siete.

As much as Silk clearly shows her discontent, she also lets me know her gratitude. The cost of horse bedding is getting so high that I’m not putting new shavings in the stalls as often as I used to, trying to go an extra day between dumping in a bag. Wednesday night, there were some thunderstorms rolling in. I always wonder what the horses do in the barn during lightning and thunder. I imagine they stand on either side of the inside wall since there’s a window between the two stalls so they can touch noses. I know that they are both happier when they have fluffy shavings to rest on when they lie down. So, even though it was not in my new thrifty schedule, I spread some pine shavings just before the storms started. Silk made some “Nmmm, nmmm, nmmm…”noises and rubbed her head up and down on my arm to thank me.

I ask myself, if I were Silk, what would I prefer? It usually leads me to the answer that makes both of us happy. If I go on automatic pilot, not noticing what her behavior is telling me, I end up with an irritable, stand-offish horse. Taking that extra minute or two to be aware of what’s going on in Silk’s world is the easiest way to reconfirm to my horse that I care about her and she can trust me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So Green

I had lunch today with an old friend who lives in Tucson, Arizona. He kept commenting on how green it is here. I’ve been noticing it too. We’ve had so much rain that when I walk outside, I am surrounded by these intense hues of green, It delights me since green is my favorite color.

In the “Never Satisfied” department, I realize that while I was longing for warm weather last winter, I am now looking forward to the cool, crisp days of fall and winter. I need to take a lesson from Silk and Siete. If they could talk, they wouldn’t be complaining constantly about the weather. If it’s too hot, they don’t stand around wishing that they could run and play more. They just find a shady spot and give it a rest.

Sometimes, I swear that Silk understands every word I say. When I put the girls out in the pasture this morning, I decided that they didn’t need their fly masks. A while later, I came out of the barn and saw Silk shaking her head. I called out, “Silkie, do you want your fly mask?” She stopped, looked at me and trotted right over to the gate. While I got the mask, she put her head down and offered me her ears to be covered. When I attached the Velcro strap, I asked Silk, “What about the kid? “

Silk headed back over to her daughter and bumped Siete on the butt, moving her towards me as I waited at the fence. She stood next to her as I put the fly mask on her baby. Now, that’s one smart horse, and I’m so glad that she’s mine.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tips & Tidbits

While I go about my barn chores and horsekeeping duties, I keep coming up with little helpful tips that I think some of you might appreciate. Of course, I’ve usually got a muck rake in my hand instead of a pen, so I don’t write them down. As I remember them, I’ll send them along to you in some short posts.

For example: My favorite new barn tool is a fish net. I went to the pet store and bought a long-handled big rectangular net last winter. I used it to fish poor dumb mice out of the heated water bucket when they came to an untimely end trying to take a Jacuzzi. What I’ve discovered is that it also makes an excellent skimmer in these warm bug-ridden months. The water buckets always seem to have drowned bees, moths, spiders and other flotsam floating on top. My horses are princesses, so if the water is dirty, they don’t like to drink it. Each time I pass through the barn and corral during the day, I grab my bight blue fish net that is hanging next to the front gate. One swipe in each bucket leaves the water nice and clear again so the girls can drink without getting a dead bee up their noses.

Also- I learned a new trick about fly predator maintenance. When I come into the corral to clean up, the fresh nuggets are always covered with the tiny fly guys doing their job. I started to think about how dumb it was to clean up everything and dump it in the manure pile, leaving no fly predators left in the corral to continue their efforts. So, in the same way that I “seed” the corral when I first release the fly predators each month from their shipping container, I have started to leave a couple of very small deposits of fresh nuggets that my superstar fly eaters can snack on while waiting for the horses to drop another load. The fly predator population is flourishing right now, and I hope I don’t jinx it by saying that we have almost no flies.

Last tip - Love that clear, 100 percent aloe vera gel that I buy at the health food store! I have been rubbing it into the base of Silk’s mane for about two weeks since the gnats attacked her and almost made her bald. It’s helping her hair grow in again beautifully and soothes her everywhere that the insects have ravaged, especially the center line of her belly.

Late last night, I had to pick up my husband at the airport. We didn’t get home until after midnight. This morning, as I fed the horses, I was pretty fuzzy. For some crazy reason, I decided that I needed to realign my perspective, so before I got a cup of coffee, I stumbled to the top of the hill above the barn and stood in the cedar grove, looking down on my world. I hadn’t been up there for a while, and it helped.

“The eyes experience less stress when they can look upon a wider horizon.”

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Hard Lesson

When I was picking my daughter up from school, I stopped to talk to a woman whom I knew that also owns horses. We are only casual acquaintances, so just to make conversation, I asked, “How are your horses?” She launched into a story that I’ve been thinking about all night.

Here’s what she told me: This woman wanted to compete on a higher level. In order to buy a horse of the caliber she felt she needed, she sold her other three horses, took out a loan and spent almost $100,000 on a mare. This mare was selected for the woman by her trainer, who knew another trainer who was selling the horse. In the beginning, things were fine, but after several months, the horse began to resist everything she was asked to do. She wouldn’t let anyone tighten her girth or put a bit in her mouth. She exploded when the woman was riding her. Fearing the horse, the woman tried to sell her. No luck. Finally, the horse went up for auction, and the trainer who originally sold her the horse bought it back for a third of the price. The woman had lost over $60,000 and now had no horse. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she still loved the horse and was really worried because she just heard that it was being sold again to a young rider.

How many of you know a similar story? There probably isn’t as much money involved, but the suffering of the horse and the heartbreak of the owner who couldn’t handle the horse is a familiar saga. I came home and opened my email to find photos someone sent me of four beautiful foals that need to be rescued or they will be sent to slaughter. There are so many “lost” horses in the world. Looking out my window, I could see my girls eating hay, fat and happy in their corral. It all seemed so overwhelmingly sad.

The ambiguities of the situation are complicated. I’ll bet the trainer who sold the woman the horse and then bought it back for so much less believes that was a noble thing to do. Selling it to another person who is too inexperienced to handle the horse is probably not something that ever weighs on the trainer’s mind. Silk’s life story is similar, being sold eventually to someone who got so frustrated about not being able to control her that he beat her. She was too much horse for me too until I dedicated myself to gaining her trust. It takes a huge leap of faith to not give up on building a relationship with a horse that resists everything and does dangerous things. I don’t know what made me do it, and I certainly understand if someone says that they can’t work through the fear.

As the woman ended her story, I knew I needed to say something. What popped out of my mouth is, “Have you ever heard of Carolyn Resnick?” I just thought that it might help her to learn about Carolyn and her philosophy of training horses. This woman already has a new horse, a four-year old gelding. I hope that the next time I see her, she’ll have a better tale to tell.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's a Big Snap

We’re back to normal today, and I’m so grateful that all of us, two and four-legged family members, made it through the heatwave without getting sick. In the middle of the worst of it, yesterday morning, I had a crazy adventure.

After I wrote my post, I went out to the barn to feed the horses. Glancing over at the pasture, I saw this large black bowl turned upside down in the grass. It was bigger than a dinner plate. I did a double-take. It was a huge turtle.

My plan had been to turn the horses out right away and muck before the heat got too oppressive. Now, I had to deal with this invader. When I approached the turtle, I could see it was a big old snapper. It’s neck and head were as thick as a soda can. I got a snow shovel and the wheelbarrow. I tried to dig under it and lift it. Like lightning, the turtle’s head flew back and grabbed the shovel almost pulling it out of my hands. I backed off really fast. This was not a job for one person.

My husband wasn’t home, but I saw my neighbor across the street getting ready to go to work. I ran over to him and asked for some help. “I’ve been waiting for her.” He told me, “That turtle comes to my yard every year just before Father’s Day. I’ve been warning the kids to watch out for her.”

He showed me that the turtle had laid her eggs in our pasture not far from where I left the wheelbarrow. We tried to flip her over on her back, but she kept righting herself. Finally, using two snow shovels, we managed to lift her and balance her on one of them. My neighbor walked as fast as he could holding the shovel with the snapping turtle straight out at arms’ length. He almost got to the back fence when she fell off onto the compost pile. He wasn't going to try to lift her up again.

I thanked him and ran into the house to grab my camera. I was worried that the turtle would just make her way back to the pasture. When I got back to the compost, she was gone. I guess she headed back to the pond in the woods behind our house. Once she laid the eggs, her job was done, and she could relax until next year.

I’m so glad that I noticed the snapper before I put the girls out. I can just imagine Siete sticking her curious nose right into that turtle’s face. She could have really gotten hurt. I’m still on the look-out for more turtles since my friends keep telling me about finding them in their gardens or in the middle of the road, stopping traffic. If you happen to run into any snapping turtles, take my advice, don’t try to pick them up with your hands. You can borrow my snow shovel.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

One More Day

I’m going out to muck right now, at 6:30 am. I don’t mind getting up early to feed the horses, but I really like to have a little time and a bit more coffee before I have to start lifting those heavy buckets. I'm trying hard not to resent this or to postpone it. Yesterday was brutal. I lost count of how often I hosed down the horses. At 9 o’clock last night, it was still 87 degrees.

Siete was more miserable than her mommy. Silk grew up in Okalahoma, Texas and California, so I think she’s used to the high temperature heat. Siete just couldn’t find the right spot. Silk stands in front of the fan, and after wandering around looking annoyed, Siete comes back to rest next to her. There’s only one point in the day when the sun really beats down on the barn, but mostly it’s in the shade of the trees. Not that being in the shade made one ounce of a difference in how hot I was yesterday. Just standing still, I’d be dripping with sweat in moments.

So, we’ve got one more day of this, with thunderstorms coming in later to push out the hot air. I am always in awe of how the weather can completely alter my life. My daughter’s school closed early yesterday and will again today. Life sort of stands still, whether it’s a snowstorm or a severe heat-wave. It’s Mother Nature, letting us know that we can’t control everything. I’m just glad that she’s decided that this torture will be over tonight.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

How Hot Is It?

Oh my, I don’t really need a heat wave. Today was actually cooler than it’s going to be tomorrow and Monday. Here we go, into the 100’s. I know that you guys know what I’m talking about, since we’re all blogging about the weather again. My poor horses are miserable. How are yours doing?

I was glad that I was able to be home enough today to hose them down with cool water every couple of hours. I rinsed them over the neck and the chest to bring down their body temperature. They just stood in front of the fan in Siete's stall almost all day. They drank a bit less water than usual, so I gave them some electrolytes in their dinner, also adding water to make it a soup. Silk really wanted me to close the doors to the stalls so she could go to sleep. Finally, the temperature dropped into the ‘80’s around 8:30, so I tucked her in. Siete went along with it because that’s the routine, and they both love routine. Silk hates night turn-out. When we were in Virginia, she used to pace the fence all night and lost so much weight. I give them a few hours in the early morning and again after dinner, but then it ‘s back to the barn for bed-time.

I’d appreciate it if anyone has any other good ideas about helping out the girls during the hot days ahead. We had some bad heat like this the first year that we moved here, and Siete almost colicked. I’m going to turn them out and muck tomorrow around 7 am before it gets really fierce. Today, I waited too long. They were okay, but I almost had heatstroke cleaning the barn and doing the chores.

We certainly experienced 100 degree weather when we lived in California, but it was so dry. This is more difficult, especially with the gnats. I did notice today that my little fly predators are doing a fantastic job this year. I took the fly masks off the horses late in the afternoon because they were sweating under them. The animals and people inside the house were hot too and a bit grumpy. We’ve only got one window air-conditioner in the family room, aka “the cool room”. It was working over-time today, along with all the fans. It reminded me of that line I think is from “The Great Gatsby”: “I’m p-p-paralyzed.” And the worst is yet to come.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Revved Up

My life went from zero to sixty in an instant yesterday. An old friend called to ask if I could help produce a television program, and within moments, everything went into high gear. The project needs to be shot right away, but there’s still a huge amount of research to be done. I found myself sitting at the computer after everyone had gone to bed and waking even earlier than usual to jump right back into it.

Yesterday, as I did my barn chores, I also had a conference call. When I took the dog to the vet, I had another conference call. I guess that subconsciously last week, I must have known what was coming, and it reminded me to appreciate the calm before the storm.

I turned the horses out at the end of the day after it stopped raining. Silk was so itchy again and rolled in the mud. Her belly was so scratched up that I was afraid to let all that dirt sit on her all night. So, at 8 pm, after dinner, I was out in the barn, washing my horse and giving her antihistamines. Then, I raced back in the house to wash my dog’s bed since she has suddenly become much more incontinent and is peeing all over everything. I tucked my daughter into bed and went back to work on the TV production.

When I finally fell into my own bed, my last thought was that this must be a test to see how well I can still juggle.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sweet Good Night

As the weather has shifted from cold to warm, so has my favorite time of day. In fall and winter, I find a small burst of joy when the sun is rising, and I go out in the morning chill to feed the horses. Now that it feels as muggy and humid as a sweaty armpit when I carry my buckets to the barn at the crack of dawn, I realize that my magic moment comes at night around 9 pm.

Before I go to sleep, I like to go out and check on the girls, hoping to cross paths with a firefly or two. Silk and Siete are glad to have their water buckets topped off one more time and to split a flake of hay. I’ve started to leave the top of the Dutch doors in the back of the barn open at night so they can get a little extra air circulation.

One of the advantages of summer is that we can open the window over our bed. Even though I’m upstairs in the house, it allows me to hear everything going on out back by the barn. Most of the time, the only sound is the big orchestra of frogs, crickets and locusts, but once in a while, one of the horses will blow contentedly and make me smile. The rest of the house still holds the heat of the day, but there’s usually a soft, cool breeze blowing across my face and shoulders. That’s when it’s perfect. As I switch off the orange glow of the lamp next to my bed, I imagine Silk stretched out snoozing in her stall and Siete watching out the open window as our neighbor’s cat crosses the pasture. Sweet dreams, you good little horses.