Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Finding Happiness

I got up earlier than usual this morning because I was worrying about the horses in this crazy cold weather. When I checked the temperature, it was 8 degrees in the barn with a wind chill that made it -4. I trudged out an hour sooner than normal to give them breakfast with extra hay. I’m mostly concerned about my dear old lady, Silk. When I took her blanket off on Sunday during our brief heat wave, she had obviously lost some weight. I researched cold weather and aging horses and have begun adjusting her diet, adding some beet pulp and extra hay.

While I was filling their buckets with warm water, I reflected on how this past year has consistently presented daily tests and difficulties beyond those I normally face. Then, I realized that this last decade has also been just one great challenge after another, not only for me but for everyone in this country. The actions of others, whether they are blowing up the World Trade Towers or offering bad mortgages that cause the banks to fail, impacted most of us in dramatic way s that we were unable to control or change. And it wasn’t our fault, so it made us angry and for some people, full of hate. I also thought about how sometimes over the past ten years, I’ve gotten involved in other family members’ life lessons and found myself wondering why the heck this is happening to me when it’s really their problem. I’ve come to understand that those moments are the ones that help build compassion and forgiveness, and I’ve learned that vulnerability can be a door to finding great strength. Those are pretty heavy thoughts for six o’clock in the morning.

Now that I’m back in the house, comforted by another cup of hot coffee, I’ve been thinking about an excerpt that I read from Linda Kohanov’s latest book that’s still a work in progress. She realized that her horses were “not so much tutoring as tuning me, helping me over time to hold a more balanced frequency. Like Zen masters, these exquisitely mindful creatures helped me navigate paradox with increasing facility. They even held the key to dealing with emotion effectively, and it didn’t involve suppression or expression.”

I owe so much to Silk for “tuning me to a more balanced frequency”, so it’s a small gesture of gratitude that I went out twice last night and got up extra early to give her more hay in an effort to keep her old bones warm. I do what I can do to keep my horses happy, and I am aware of how important happiness is to leading a healthy, balanced life.

In an increasingly important effort to create more happiness, I’ve just discovered Matthieu Ricard, a French cell geneticist who became a Buddhist monk. He lives in the Himalayas, takes beautiful photographs, cares for people who need help and writes about happiness. He believes that to understand what it takes to be happy, we must first look at why we’re not. “As influential as external conditions may be, suffering, like well-being, is essentially an interior state. Understanding that is the key prerequisite to a life worth living. What mental conditions will sap our joie de vivre, and which will nourish it?”

Ricard says, “The search for happiness is not about looking at life through rose-colored glasses or blinding oneself to the pain and imperfections of the world. Nor is happiness a state of exaltation to be perpetuated at all costs; it is the purging of mental toxins such as hatred and obsession that literally poison the mind. It is also about learning how to put things in perspective and reduce the gap between appearances and reality… In its deepest sense, suffering is intimately linked to a misapprehension of the nature of reality.”

This sharp cold spell is once again Mother Nature’s way of reminding me that I can’t control everything. In trying to control, we are closing our eyes to what is possible. Just as Silk and Siete accept and adapt to what is going on without worrying about what will happen tomorrow, I must learn to trust that I can handle what is placed before me . Following instinct and intuition the way my horses do, I will let my spirit guide me to a warmer, happier place.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Snow, Snow Go Away

Last Sunday, I was shoveling 10 inches of snow bundled up against freezing winds and temperatures in the teens. Now, only a week later, it is sunny and 50 degrees outside. And instead of shoveling snow, I spent the day shoveling poop soup because all the rain we got last night flooded Silk’s stall. What’s up, Mother Nature?

The horses didn’t know how to take it. Silk was most disturbed by the disgusting brown lake in her stall. Luckily, I was able to take off the girls’ blankets, so the warm sun helped cheer her up. Siete enjoyed exploring the pasture with grass not snow. I could tell she was a little confused about why there wasn’t any more cold white stuff, but there were a few tasty blades to be found out there.

I was too warm , wearing a t-shirt, lifting heavy buckets full of the above mentioned yuck, and dumping over 100 pounds of wood pellets into the barn. Standing back to admire the clean, dry stall, I couldn’t help but be amazed by Mother Nature’s gift of the Spring-like weather. Of course, they are predicting more snow tomorrow, with the temperature dropping back to 20 degrees during the day and 10 degrees at night on Tuesday.

It made me think about how we just can’t control everything. I could have been angry and upset when I looked at all the water in the corral and in Silk’s stall this morning, but I consciously chose not to be. Now, with aching arms and back, I’m looking at the forecast and it’s astonishing to think that we’re in for such an abrupt change yet again. I guess that 2009 is going to continue to be a wild ride right up to the end.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Silk, Siete and I wish you all the very Merriest of Holidays! We’re chowing down, enjoying the delights of family, friends and some of the nicest hay anyone has ever seen (a present from our hay man who knows how to win a horse’s heart).

Hope you have a wonderful time!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Winter Solstice!

Today was not only the shortest day of the year, but also one of the coldest we’ve had around here this winter. The wind blew in these big bitter gusts, sending snow whipping around. The horses didn’t let that stop them from spending some time playing in the drifts and getting some exercise after being stuck in the barn all day yesterday.

One thing that makes this solstice especially interesting to me is that there are two full moons this month. The second one is a rare blue moon coming up on Dec. 31st, which seems like it should have some significance since we’re beginning not just a new year but a new decade as it travels across the sky.

Hopefully, it will bring a more positive, generous spirit to the year ahead. My favorite quote from the essays in “What Matters Most” was this one:

“If we listen only to those who are like us, we will squander the great opportunity before us: To live peacefully in a world of unresolved differences.”
David Weinberger, Harvard Beekman Center for Internet and Society

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Matters Now

I got a great, free gift today, and I want to share it with you. There’s a new ebook that was created by Seth Godin called “What Matters Now”. It’s an amazing, generous effort that is 82 pages of provocative, inspiring short essays.

“Here are more than seventy big thinkers, each sharing an idea for you to think about as we head into the new year. From bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert to brilliant tech thinker Kevin Kelly, from publisher Tim O’Reilly to radio host Dave Ramsey, there are some important people riffing about important ideas here.”

“Now, more than ever, we need to shake things up. Now, more than ever, we need a different way of thinking, a useful way to focus and the energy to turn the game around.”

They talk about fear, dignity, meaning, ease, strengths, technology, enough, (dis)trust and sleep, among other thought stimulating topics. The goal is to spread ‘What Matters Now” to over 5 million people around the globe. So, check it out, enjoy and send it along as one of the best free gifts of the season. Thanks to Seth and everyone who contributed to this creative effort!

It may not be written with horse people in mind, but in my mind, everything connects back to my horses.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Who Ordered This Mess?

I just came in from the barn to give my aching arms a break. Siete was asking for more snow, fluffy this time, please. Silk wants to go back to California NOW. She’s wishing I knew how to teleport us there. Okay, it’s not as cold as it is in Wisconsin or Montana or Maine, but it’s only mid-December, and we’ve already hit the complaint department button several times this week.

First, there was snow topped with the inch of rain that created lakes in the corral and the pasture when it fell on the four inches of snow. Then, with temps in the teens for several nights, all that water turned everything into a skating rink. When it began to warm up yesterday, we had a disgusting flooding mess. In a moment of desperation, I dumped some bags of wood pellets into the corral so no one would break a leg. It worked well until we got more rain last night. Now, I’ve been trying to dig ditches to get the water out but there are chunks of ice blocking the drainage.

This is the first winter that we’ve had the gate between the barn and the pasture. Both horses were hovering around it after the first snow, eyeing the vast pristine white blanket on the other side. Since they have their snowshoes on, I decided to risk the icy patches out there and managed to pull it open. It’s your choice, ladies, I told them, but be careful. Siete charged right out and scampered around in a couple of big circles. Silk looked at me like I was out of my mind and headed back to her stall. Right away, Siete wanted to come back in, but the drainage ditch was full of frozen chunks. She stood there waiting to see if I was going to come to the rescue. When I didn’t, she remembered that even though she’s a western cow horse, she can jump. With one pretty little leap, she crossed the ditch and ran into the stall with her mother.

By today, they were both ready to explore the far corners of the pasture to see if there was any grass worth eating under the snow. As soon as I walked out with feed buckets in my hand, they took off and Silk demonstrated the proper way to deal with the ditch. How many days until Spring?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Here It Comes Again

I’m feeling pretty smug today. We got our first snow, and unlike last year, the horses had their borium cleated snowshoes put on a full five days ahead of it. I waited until mid-December last winter and it snowed so hard that the farrier couldn’t make it out here. Then, each time we re-scheduled, it was like a guarantee that we’d get another blizzard. The girls didn’t get their shoes until the end of January and we had to slip slide down to the icy driveway because it was too socked in to drive up to the barn. I learned my lesson, yes sir.
After watching Siete run and fall one winter, I am a firm believer in this added protection.

I also planned ahead and bought myself a new pair of YakTrax. These stretchy rubber grippers fit over the bottoms of any boot and are my own equivalent of borium shoes. I wore out the first pair. They just disintegrated after four years of heavy use. So, it was a pleasure to pull on my new “pro” model Yaks which have an extra strap to secure across your toes for heavy trekking.

There’s a good layer of ice and some really disgusting soupy mud under this pristine cover of white, so don’t be fooled by the pretty picture.

By the way, my daughter and I ventured down to New York City despite the bad weather yesterday to a Director’s Guild screening of “The Princess and the Frog”, the latest Disney movie set in New Orleans. It’s delightful, so if you have kids, check it out. The projection and the sound were incredible, which highlighted how bad my local theatres are. The animation is hand drawn, and the colors are gorgeous. Great music too by Randy Newman. It’s a winner.