Friday, January 30, 2009

Safe Passage

I can’t believe what I’ve been doing for the past hour. The paths to the barn, the compost pile and the pasture are so slippery that it’s ridiculous. Yesterday, I got my on-line copy of that had an article about taking care of horses in icy weather. They suggested that you spread the stuff in your poop buckets over the icy and let it freeze to make safer footing. When we moved here, someone recommended that I do this, but I didn’t take her seriously. In a moment of ultimate frustration last night, I tried it just between the barn and the pasture with the hope that I could put the horses out today.

When I crawled out to the barn this morning, I discovered that the path of poop and wet shavings had frozen enough to rough up the surface so I had better traction. We were able to lead the horses safely to the pasture, which is still full of snow. Then, with the horses both curiously standing at the fence ready to supervise, I spread more brown muck all over the path from the house to the barn and to the compost pile. I could see Silk was thinking, "Hey Mom, that doesn't go there. Are you too lazy to drag it to the way back?" It's just like mulch with nuggets,folks. I have to admit that my husband isn’t thrilled with this, but I volunteered to clean it up as soon as everything melts in March or April. I think it’s better than sprinkling anything on the ice, even the stuff that says it’s safe for animals, since the horses will be eating the grass under the ice in a few months.

Call me crazy, but I’m dumping my muck buckets in a new creative way proving that desperation can be the mother of invention. Some people’s paths are paved with gold. Mine are paved with horse manure.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Care-taking 101

I think I’m flunking Caretaking 101. Most days, I wish that I could clone myself so there are four of me: one for my daughter, one for my mother, one for my husband and one for the animals. Wait, let’s make that five of me. I forgot to include one for me to do what I want and need to do for myself. That’s the part, unfortunately, that I am forgetting most often, and it’s making me really grumpy about doing what I do for everyone else.

There’s very little lip service given around here from anyone about giving Mom a little break. What happened to the foreign concept of time off so she can go out to lunch with a friend or escape entirely for a day or two? Mostly what I hear is barking, meowing or someone calling my name to help them. Not to mention those two horses standing at the gate staring relentlessly at the house waiting for me to come out and do something with or for them.

In the barn this morning, I was reminding myself that someday, the nest will be empty and/or most of the ones, two and four-legged, I care for will have passed away. Then, I realized that with another snowstorm predicted for tonight and tomorrow, I might actually get some down time. When it snows, I don’t have to get a snarling child up, make her breakfast and lunch, and drive her to the end of the insanely icy driveway in the cold and dark to wait for the bus before I go out to feed the horses. If the plows don’t come and clear enough snow, I won’t have to take my mom to her doctor’s appointment. I won’t have to go to the post office to return some things for my husband or to the grocery store or the feed store. Even though we’ll all be stuck in the house, everyone seems to be more cheerful when it’s snowing hard because we’ve been given the gift of “do nothing now until it stops”.

So, I’ve decided that today will be all about preparing for the snow. Tomorrow, even if it doesn’t really dump another five to eight inches on us, I’m going to take my own “snow day”. I need to re-charge my battery badly right now, and one thing is for sure. If I don’t do it myself, no one is going to do it for me.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In the Still of the Night

This cold, rough winter has added into my already full schedule an extra, after-dinner trip to the barn. It’s been a testimony to how much I love my horses that I once again bundle up and leave my warm, comfy house to give Silk and Siete some more hay and check to see if they need water in these single digit frozen nights.

After complaining about the new routine for a few weeks, I slowly began to appreciate being out at the barn in the cold and darkness. The sky always provides me with a new show, whether it’s studded with stars or dramatically revealing the moon behind white snow clouds. The horses begin murmuring their approval as soon as they see me walk out the backdoor and head down the path. It makes me so glad that I climbed into my boots and coat and scarves and hat one more time so that they will have hay to warm their bellies overnight. The heated water buckets are usually half-empty, making me thankful that the horses are drinking enough and that I had the good sense to come out and fill them again so there will be enough water to last until morning.

The best part about going out to the barn in the still of the night is the great blanket of silence. After everyone is taken care of and I’ve turned off the lights, I stand for a moment to just be there with my horses and listen to nothing. This moment gets harder and harder to walk away from since it feels so satisfying and right, but the glow of the lights in my house reassures me that everything is safe and good all over this place. The cold intensifies the sound of my feet crunching in the snow, and I can still hear the horses munching their hay almost all the way to my backdoor. I say a little walking prayer, thank (step) you (step), thank(step) you(step).

Last night, the temperature warmed up into the 30’s, so I decided not to go to the barn. I really missed it. As I crawled into bed, I thought about how what first appears to be change due to adversity might actually be a lesson in flexibility and appreciation. I stopped to consider all the other ways that the belt-tightening and variations of old routines are leading us to a more meaningful and balanced way of living. It’s still going to be a cold shock to step outside and head for the barn when the temperatures drop back down tonight, but there’s a new understanding about why I need to do it that helps me make peace with it.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Siete is a restless little girl. I think she’s got the horsey version of “cabin fever”. Even though I’ve managed to let the horses out in the pasture for an hour or two every day, they don’t really try to run around. Siete takes out all that energy swirling inside her on the rest of us. I’ve been separating the two horses more in their stalls, giving them each some alone time. It’s really so Silk can have a break from being annoyed by her pushy baby.

Yesterday, my husband helped me bring the girls in from the paddock. Siete tried to rear up as he led her to the gate of the corral. He handled it well, but it was too slippery to turn her in circles, so he ended up just getting her to the door of her stall and letting her charge in to get to her feed bucket. I’m glad because I was worried that he might get hurt, but warning bells went off in my head. I’ve been thinking all night about what to do to remind Siete of her manners.

On the one hand, I see her surliness is a sign that she’s feeling better and wants to up her standing in the herd pecking order. After months of having a moping, listless horse, I’m actually glad that she’s perky again. At the same time, I intend to nip this ear-pinning, punky behavior in the bud. A couple of times this week, she’s looked like she might try to bite me when I feed her. I’ve joked with her that she knows better than to bite the hand that feeds her. I adapted one of Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals to use in the stall. When I’ve given her a flake of hay and she starts to eat, I ask her to step away from the hay and back up. She does it, and I praise her and invite her to come back to eat some more.

Ever since we moved here, I’ve tried to spend time with my horses in their stalls. I don’t want them to be territorial about the space. I knew that during these cold months, I would need to do things with them inside and being somewhat claustrophobic, I wanted to feel safe in a small enclosed room with them. I remembered that this was about the time last year that I discovered Clicker Training for just these reasons, so I dug out the clicker yesterday when I got back in the house.

This morning, I’ve had a really hard time sitting still. I can’t seem to find anything that holds my attention. Trying to clear my mind and just be relaxed in one place is too difficult. Suddenly, I realized that I was mirroring Siete, and I felt a huge wave of compassion for her. I’m stuck in a nice warm house with many rooms and books and computers and plenty of interesting things to do. She’s out there for yet another day, in the barn and the corral, waiting for the short amount of time when she gets to explore a freezing cold pasture that’s deep with snow where she is offered the same old flakes of hay that she gets in the barn. Still, she’s got a very good life compared to other horses. But when you’re a “teenager”, having someone tell you that you’re better off than most is a lesson that you don’t want to hear. It's boring here, Mom!

So my goal is to come up with things to do with Siete in her stall and the corral to occupy her mind and make her feel good about herself. Any suggestions?

Friday, January 16, 2009

My Humble Opinion

I looked at the photo of the passengers standing on the wing of the US Airways plane as it sunk into the Hudson River in New York City yesterday, and I thought it was the perfect metaphor for what life is like in this country right now. Our plane hasn’t completely crashed and burned, but due to circumstances beyond our control, lifelong plans were aborted, and now we’re standing on the proverbial wing sinking into icy waters. Thanks to the kindness of other human beings, many of us have not drowned, while others have not been so lucky. How many people in this country feel the same way right now? The number grows bigger every day.

Maybe the biggest lesson for us in these turbulent times is that we better learn to be humble. Humility has been out of fashion for a long, long time. The one thing that having horses in my backyard insures is that I am reminded, as J.M. Barrie said that “life is a long lesson in humility”.

As I stood on top of a huge pile of horse manure yesterday, unable to feel my fingers and toes in the burning cold, and turned it with a pitchfork so it would steam and cure into good compost, I thought about how I used to live such a glamorous, hedonistic existence in New York City and California. Those days are so far gone. Would I have preferred at that moment to be eating lunch in a chic restaurant or having a massage instead of standing outside in 5F degree cold? You bet -- but wait, maybe not. The weird part is that I sleep better and have less anxiety than I did back in my urbane life, and I like myself much more now. That's when the thought that I’m fortunate that my horses keep me humble popped into my mind as I climbed down off the poop pile.

I got an email from a friend in Tennessee today who has 17 horses and ponies and many other assorted animals, along with several children. She was explaining what she went through last night to be sure that all her creatures were as warm as possible in weather that was very cold by their Southern standards. I had some consolation that at least I knew a few people who were schlepping hay and chipping ice and filling heated buckets the way I’ve been laboring these frigid days. Most of my friends and neighbors stay in their warm houses and shake their heads, saying, “I don’t know how you do it.”

What else would they do, let the animals freeze and starve? If I drum one lesson into my child, it will be “It’s not all about you, darling.” I think it was St. Augustine who said, “Humility is the foundation of all other virtues.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How Cold Is It?

These are the kind of days that try horse-owners’ souls. The temperature has been dropping since I got up this morning. We’re at 11F degrees at noon, going further down over the next two days with a little more snow thrown in to make it even more fun. The weather forecasters say it will warm up on Saturday into the "upper lower digits". Are they trying to be gentle and hide the truth from us about how insanely cold that is?

I shouldn’t complain. I know that some of my friends, like Callie at Midwest Horse, have it even worse. The biggest worry that I have is keeping the horses warm enough through the night. I hate going out to the barn at 9 or 10 pm. I’ve been getting away with throwing some extra hay and filling the heated water buckets around 7, which means they have to make that hay last for almost 12 hours. For the next couple of nights, when they are predicting extreme cold, I will bundle up right before I go to bed and bring them some late night flakes.

This is the time of year when Siete is really full of beans. She can’t run around because there’s a good layer of ice on the snow. Fortunately, she seems to have sense enough not to try it and fall down like she did the first year that we lived here. So, she amuses herself by stealing her mother’s hay and just generally being a punk. When I lead her into the barn from the pasture, she’s been trying to race inside to get to her feed bucket. Instead of turning it into a battle, I decided to try something that LJB at the Horsey Therapist suggested. She told me to change the pattern and do something different.

I forgot to empty the water bucket in the corral before it froze solid, so I decided the other day to put Siete’s lunch in a small bucket inside the bigger bucket. When I led her into the corral, instead of heading towards her stall, we went over to the bucket. Each day, I keep mixing it up, so she doesn’t know where the food will be when I bring her in from the pasture. She’s being very polite and well behaved now.

Meanwhile, Silk stands at the gate, ground-tied with a lead rope, and watches us. She’s usually totally calm about waiting, but today, it was incredibly cold and she just wanted me to stop messing around with Siete. She started digging a hole to China in the snow with her front hoof. I apologized for the delay, and after I offered her an extra carrot, she forgave me because she’s the perfect horse.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mission Accomplished

The farrier finally was able to put the borium shoes on my horses’ front feet yesterday. He takes regular shoes and adds little cleats to help give them more traction in the snow and ice. On Silk’s front feet, he also covers her frogs with special pads to protect them. Since Siete’s shoes are still on backwards, we decided not to use the pads so ice and snow wouldn’t get caught in the front, and he did a borium wash to rough up the shoe instead of making the cleats.

We’re about a month late with this essential winter project. The weather just wouldn’t cooperate. Every time he was scheduled to come, it snowed. Yesterday was sunny but very cold and windy. We still have ice on the trees from the storm earlier this week. We were able to pull his truck into the pasture, close to the barn so we didn’t have to walk the horses down the icy paths to the slippery driveway. Siete was first, and until John nailed the shoes on, she was fine. Each time he tried to add a nail, she yanked her leg out of his hands. It was really difficult. I kept thinking that maybe she was still sore on her front feet. We stayed calm, and although it took about a half hour just to put the nails in one foot, I really appreciated how John never lost his temper. He just kept reminding me that no matter how long it took, we had to finish the job.

It was most important to me that Silk get her shoes, since I didn’t want her to fall on the ice. As we started to fit the shoes and pads, the wind really kicked up and ice chunks rained down on us. Silkie got very nervous, but she never spooked. We weren’t under the trees, but the wind was blowing the ice off the branches all over the place. As it hit the top of the farrier’s truck, it would make these sharp popping noises. While he nailed the shoes on, Silk really tensed up and I noticed her neck started to shake. We realized that the cold nails must be hurting as they went into her hoof. So, Siete must have also been reacting to that painful feeling. I felt really bad, but I knew that for their safety, we had to get these shoes on right now. As soon as Silk had the first pad and shoe on her foot and set it on the snowy ground, she visibly sighed and relaxed as if to say, “Aahh, that feels much better.”

After two hours of standing in the bitter cold, we were finally done. My fingers and toes didn’t thaw out until many more hours later. I’m going to go through my calendar now and plan out the schedule for next year so we get this done the week after Thanksgiving. Next farrier visit is the first week of March, and we’re all hoping that it will have warmed up by then.

Meanwhile, this morning, we’re preparing for the next snowstorm. They’re predicting eight to ten inches, and I still don’t have my hay stored for the winter. I’ve been picking up ten bales each Sunday morning from my favorite farm about a half hour away from here. My hay man lost a big part of his second cut this fall when he mowed and it rained. He’s been working his way down the list of customers that he’s had for 30 years, and he tells me that I’m the next delivery. The problem is that he wants to sell me good hay and everything he’s been getting recently is pretty funky. The last thing I want is to waste money on hay that the horses don’t want to eat. It’s always something. I’m going to see if I can pick up my weekly hayload a day early so I can rest assured that we’ve got enough to make it through this snowy week ahead.

This is our fourth winter in New England, and it’s teaching us some new lessons. We’re definitely getting more snow, ice and cold than we’ve had before. This morning, I was thinking about how some Saturdays, I really wish there were magic fairies who would feed breakfast to the girls. I just didn’t want to put on all the layers of clothes and walk out to the barn in the dark at 6:30 am. When I saw that the temperature was 9F degrees, I changed my attitude. I thought about how Silk and Siete were eagerly waiting to get some hay in their bellies so they could warm up. It was so crisp and clear, and the horses were very glad to see me. It reinvigorated me to get a move on and do what needs to be done before the next storm comes in this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Take This Path

I gave myself two presents this Christmas. No surprise, both were DVD’s about horses: Carolyn Resnick’s “The Waterhole Rituals” and Stormy May’s “The Path of the Horse”. I recommend them highly. “The Path of the Horse” includes not only Resnick, but Mark Rashid and Linda Kohanov - all my favorite teachers.

Stormy May is also organizing a teleseminar that starts this Saturday and goes on for five sessions with the horsepeople who are in her documentary. You can find out more information at It’s a wonderful thing to do on a cold winter afternoon. I’m so pleased that Carolyn Resnick is participating in the first one, along with Anna Twinney. The response to the teleseminar has been very enthusiastic. It is really exciting to find a growing commitment among like-minded horse owners to create a kinder, gentler, mutually beneficial way to communicate with our horses. Seeing success with horses that enjoy their training and interactions with humans without using gimmicks or offering unrealistic promises is really inspiring to me.

Silk and Siete have been very patient and calm all week while we’ve had some dangerously icy conditions. For a couple of days, I wasn’t even able to turn them out because it was too slippery. In the past, they would become really restless and irritable if they couldn’t run around. This time, they seem to understand that it’s for their safety. Today, when I was finally able to put them in the snow-covered pasture for a couple of hours, they didn’t go crazy. Silk trotted around and around in big, graceful circles. Siete ran across on a diagonal, but when she realized that her footing wasn’t solid, she stopped short and went back to eating the hay that I had left in one corner. I think they somehow have learned that I really do have their best interests at heart.

Watching Stormy May’s documentary, I had several moments when I felt a re-awakening of my love for all horses and especially my own. It came at a time when I needed to be reminded of their gifts of insight and acceptance and the deeper understanding that they are willing to give me when I am open to it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blue Skies for 2009

Happy New Year from my herd to yours!