Friday, April 24, 2009

Catching Up

I apologize for not posting more. I’m in the middle of writing something that has to be finished by May 1st, so I’m trying not to get distracted. Not much is happening around here anyway. The big event was that the horses got their Spring shots this morning, and the vet drew blood to test Siete to see if she is insulin resistant. We’ll find out next week if I have a chubby horse or an IR horse.

Both horses were good as gold about the shots. Siete was totally calm when they took the blood, and they really took a lot more than I thought they would. I’m keeping an eye on them, watching for any signs of stiffness or being “off”. They got rabies vaccines, which sometimes can cause a reaction. I have mixed emotions about animal vaccines, but with all the wild creatures in the woods behind the barn, I don’t want to take any chances with rabies. So far, the only things that seem to be bothering them are those darn gnats.

I got an email today from that the new Mark Rashid book, “Whole Heart, Whole Horse: Building Trust Between Horse and Rider” will arrive on my doorstep on April 30th. Got to keep writing so that I’m done by the time it gets here. What a great reward - a new Mark Rashid book!

"Anyone who has spent any time around horses, and has paid attention to how they do things when they are out in the herd, knows how patient horses can be... One of the big keys to working with horses is the ability for the handler to be patient. Generally speaking, horses will learn the specific task we are trying to teach them in exactly the amount of time it takes them to understand it... It's when we try to force them into learning things faster than they are capable of understanding that things generally begin to go south... It's never so much the waiting we do, but how we do that waiting."
Mark Rashid, from "A Life with Horses: Spirit of The Work"

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Appreciating the Cycle

The longer I live in this place, the more I am aware of the cycle of life. This time of year brings so much re-birth, and I am remembering how it felt five years ago to move here in the Spring. I was full of expectation and constantly surprised by what was happening on this small patch of land that we now called home. Once again, this year, the daffodils and forsythia are blooming, and the irises and peonies and lily of the valley are peaking up out of the ground, getting ready to show off like girls going to the prom. The gnats and no-see-ums arrived yesterday in a massive battalion. I put the first coating of fly spray on the horses. This year, Silk doesn’t seemed to be attacked so maybe some of my preventative measures are finally working. Siete was the one they went after, poor thing. I’m back to my bug fighting regime. The fly predators are arriving in about ten days, as they do annually.

My dog, Pepper, has made it through another winter. This week, her back legs completely gave out on her so she couldn’t even stand up. Once again, we thought it was the end of the road, but the vet pulled off a small miracle. She’s been saving prescribing prednisone for this inevitable moment. With just three doses, Pepper is able to stand and walk about the way she was a month ago. It’s a huge relief to see her outside enjoying the warm weather and the sunshine. It made me realize again that you just never know. It’s the mystery of life.

The birds are laying their eggs in the nests in the barn in their usual places. I’m hoping that the bunny will come back. Our favorite little red squirrel has moved out of the tack room and back into the beech tree on the patio. We’re looking out for some babies soon. I did find a dead mouse in Silk’s water bucket this morning, but unfortunately, that’s part of the cycle around here too. It’s the joy and the sadness, and once again, nature is teaching me to roll with the punches.

Silk is back to standing at the fence, gazing longingly at the green grass growing on the other side. Siete has decided, out of the blue, that she doesn’t like it when I put fly spray on her ears, so we’re working on accepting that since it’s never been a problem before. I’m really hoping that we can have a summer without any tick emergencies. I’m planning that I will find more time to spend with Siete and even be riding her by the end of this season. One thing that I’ve learned is that it’s not worth it to get frustrated by what I can’t control. Horses take it as it comes. I think the only expectations that Silk and Siete really have revolves around when their food will be in their buckets.

So, on this lazy Saturday, I’m feeling relief at having made it through this difficult year with all my people and animals intact to enjoy another Spring, and I’m finding great pleasure in recognizing the signs that Nature gives us each April that good things are to come.

“I suppose the pleasure of country life lies really in the eternally renewed evidences of the determination to live.”
Vita Sackville West

Monday, April 13, 2009

Soul Grooming

I just did something that was so good for my soul that I had to tell you about it. For the past week, we’ve had visitors from the West Coast. My husband’s sister and her two children have never been to the East before so it’s been very exciting for them. We’ve had a whirlwind of trips to New York City and other famous New England attractions. I’ve cooked and cooked and cooked. Today, my husband took the gang into New York again, but I stayed home.

I’ve been pretty busy and quite tired all day. After I fed the horses their dinner, I focused on how incredibly dirty Siete was. She’s been rolling in the mud and shedding and her white 7 blaze was so dusty that it was grey. I got out the grooming gear and while the horses ate their hay, I started with the shedding blade. We settled into a very satisfying rhythm. I could see how good it felt when I used the red soft rubber “grooma” to curry the dirt out of their mane and faces.

It was quiet except for the munching of hay, and the afternoon light was so soft and hinted of summer. After all the running around and worrying about people, just relaxing with my horses was exactly what I needed. I stood for a while after I finished, just leaning against each of them and resting together. I can’t remember the last time I did that. It’s been months. The bonus is that they both look lovely. I can tell that they feel better, less itchy and no longer burdened by that old winter fur coat.

The only problem is that I can’t show you how pretty they look because my husband took the camera with him.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Blue Sky

I thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(I who have died am alive again today,_
and this is the sun’s birthday;
this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:
and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any
lifted from the no
of all nothing—
human merely being
double unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

Happy Easter - Peace and hope to all!

Friday, April 10, 2009

To Graze or Not To Graze

I had no choice. Siete must wear a grazing muzzle this year to avoid gaining weight and to avoid founder. I researched the options and consulted some of you about what you have used. It’s hard for me to even think about putting a muzzle on one of my horses, but ultimately, I know that it’s like limiting the amount of candy someone would give a child.

The grazing muzzle that I should have bought comes from England. It’s called a GreenGuard. By the time I paid for the muzzle and a special halter to attach it to that makes it more comfortable, and the shipping, it was going to cost over $150. Also, it would take time to get here to the States. So, being economical, I chose the Best Friend Deluxe Grazing Muzzle, which was about $55. It arrived quickly, but it looked huge and was much heavier than I expected it to be. Apparently, you’re supposed to be able to put two to three fingers between the horse’s face and the muzzle and leave an inch and a half between the horse’s mouth and the base of it. I think it’s a bit like putting a football helmet on your horse.

I decided to get Siete used to it by putting a few treats in it and letting her eat out of the muzzle for a couple of days. As I approached Siete in the paddock, she looked at me as if I had a small black monster in my hands. I changed course and offered the muzzle to Silk. Of course, she stuck her nose right into it and gobbled up the pieces of carrot. I attached the halter to Silk’s head, and she just accepted it and began nibbling grass through the hole in the base. Now, that’s why I love her, but she definitely isn’t the one who needs the muzzle.

For the last few days, I’ve tried repeatedly with Siete. I even put the muzzle in her food bucket with her dinner inside. No way! She’d rather starve to death than touch that evil thing! Meanwhile, the recent Spring rains are bringing up the grass nicely. If I want to be able to leave the gate open between the pasture and the barn, Siete must have her muzzle on most of the day. Plus, this muzzle only has one hole in the bottom, which makes it difficult to eat hay. I’ve got all the packing still sitting here while I wrestle with sending the muzzle back and buying the expensive English one instead. Time is a-wasting, and I’m wishing I had just ordered the GreenGuard because it would probably be arriving right about now.

I watched Siete run around, getting exercise in the pasture yesterday, and I made my decision. There’s no way that she could actually run and play with that huge black thing strapped around her face. So, today, I’m packing it up and shipping it back. I’ll order the GreenGuard, and appropriately, since it comes from England, learn the lesson: “Pennywise, pound foolish".

Friday, April 3, 2009

People Training

I am realizing more and more that learning to communicate better with my horses is changing the way that I react to people. Just because Silk and Siete can’t talk back doesn’t mean that they don’t have strong opinions of their own. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Ray Hunt’s belief that you can’t force anyone, two or four-legged, to learn something without also causing there to be resentment. Good teaching is setting things up so the student has that “a-ha!” moment on their own.

I see how my attempts at making Siete or my 13-year old daughter pay attention by insisting that they do it my way causes them to rear up and stubbornly dig in their heels. Giving them a choice, with one alternative that is obviously going to be more pleasant for the “student” always seems to help them remember my “lesson” better the next time.

One of my first attempts at applying my horse training experience to dealing with people came years ago when I had a difficult boss with a big ego and red hot temper. I thought about how circling a horse around and around can result in the horse finally coming to the conclusion that going my way is a better response than getting bored and dizzy. So, I used to circle around the same subject with my boss, patiently letting him get out all his aggression and blustering until he was so ready to be done with it and move on that he would let me do it the way I was suggesting just so we would stop talking about it.

When Siete or Silk are in some kind of pain, they get very soft and affectionate with me while I take care of them. As soon as they feel healthy and are bored, their energy rises and they try to assert themselves. The other day, I noticed that my 94-year old mother was behaving the same way that Siete was. I thought about what I do with my little horse when she gets edgy. I give her more exercise. So, I bundled Mom up and took her to the store with me, walking her up and down the aisles to give her something to do and to distract her.

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned over the past couple of years of interacting throughout every day with my horses is that things don’t always have to go my way and that calmness and patience are my most effective training tools. Just as horses remember when humans hurt them, they also remember when someone is kind. There are times when Silk and Siete don’t want to do what I’m asking them to do, but if I step away and give them a break, I am usually pleased to find when I come back and ask them again that they accept my leadership. In the end, with people or horses, it’s all about mutual respect, isn’t it?