Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Always Something

I walked out the backdoor of my house with a friend of mine, and my horses came thundering across the pasture to greet us at the fence. “Oh my, aren’t they beautiful!” she said, jumping back at the earth-shaking force of over 2000 pounds of enthusiastic greeting.  After more than fifteen years of owning and caring for Silk and Siete, my honed-in focus was how their feet were moving. Siete looked off on her front left, or was it her back right?  I’ve reached the point where if something is wrong with one of my girls, I can almost sense it in my bones.

Last night, when I was alone with the horses in the barn, and they were munching their dinner, I reached down and touched each of Siete’s feet. There was no heat in the front hooves, which was a relief to me. So, I had a feeling that it would be warm when I felt her back right.  Sure enough, there’s an abscess brewing. The farrier is coming tomorrow so I decided to just let it cook rather than try to soak her foot and draw it out myself.  It will be easier for him to drain it. There was a time when problems like this would have kept me awake at night. It’s certainly not that I don’t care, but over time, I have learned that there’s almost always something you can find to worry about if you have a horse.

I crawled into bed later on and felt the lovely cool night air blowing in above my head from the open window. I heard a horse sneeze. I could tell it was Siete. She sneezed again, and again. Okay, now I was worried. Should I climb out of my cozy nest, grab the big flashlight and venture out into the blackness to the barn? Wait, she stopped sneezing. I lay down and was just about to drift off when she started again. It was a series of about five loud sneezes. My husband came in after brushing his teeth. “Siete is sneezing. Do you think I need to go out and see if she’s okay?” He rolled his eyes. “It’s up to you.” He’s seen me get up in the dead of winter and trudge out to the barn.  I reminded myself that no horse ever died from sneezing.  After a while, Siete stopped, and there was deep silence. I tossed and turned. I wondered if it was too quiet, and if they were both all right. Like I said, there’s almost always something you can find to worry about if you have a horse.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Summer Musings

The horses have not been getting the attention they deserve this summer. With my husband’s injury and the insufferable heat, I am mostly indoors.  I have bent the bedtime procedures at the barn during the extreme hot weather we had a few weeks ago.  Instead of locking the girls in separate stalls, I began leaving the front doors open at night so they could go back and forth or stay together, wherever it was most cool. Silk usually prefers to have her own space at night so she can lie down and not have her baby bugging her.  I soon noticed that this was no longer an issue, and Mama Horse was enjoying the freedom of moving about in the corral or in Siete’s stall.  I closed the gate to the pasture so no deer or other intruders would have the nerve to disturb the girls. And each morning, I have been happy to see the two beautiful red heads poking out in their assigned stalls, waiting as always for breakfast to be served.

Without my husband’s meticulous care of the yard and pasture, things have gotten a bit out of hand. I tried to coax the landscaper who is now mowing for us to go into the pasture and cut down the weeds. He broke a blade on his mower on a hidden rock within less than a minute and has refused to come near it for over a month. The weeds were above my waist, so in desperation, last weekend, I began pulling them out by hand. I fill the wheelbarrow with them and hump it to the way back for an hour every morning and every evening as part of my barn chores. Little by little, things are returning to normal. By the end of this weekend, I will have achieved my goal, which is incredibly satisfying.

Having lots of time to contemplate life and horses as I pull up the weeds, I began thinking about Manolo Mendez. He is a Spanish dressage trainer who is one of the founders of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. I really like the way he thinks – to quote from his Facebook page: “ Manolo's work is rooted in having grown up in rural Andalusia on a farm and learning to be patient planting rice, tending crops, watching over cattle, sheep and swines. You cannot hurry the land, you cannot hurry the ewes into giving births, or the orange trees into bearing fruits. …This is an experience that is very foreign to us who live in a world where we are asked to deliver results immediately (I NEED IT NOW) and do not get to experience for ourselves what it is like to be given time and space… What he does is not new but it is very liberating. It is ok to take time, to take weeks and months if needed, to be content with standing quietly today. And it’s a gift you can give your horse, but also yourself. “

I have not been spending enough time with Siete, and she is developing a bit of a punky attitude. This was most apparent when the farrier came, and she decided that she was not going to stand on three legs for one more minute. He pronounced her “spoiled”, to my embarrassment.  There is no doubt that she and I need to have a project that we can focus on together. I am going to start training her to ground drive and hopefully, we will get to driving a cart someday soon.  As I was reading more from Manolo Mendez, I found a description of something that one of his studentsBunny Battaglene, learned that I knew I could apply immediately to my communication with Siete:  “ No “ is a word I have often struggled with. It's a fascinating word because it can convey so much. Fear, anger, frustration, petulance and disbelief to name a few. None of these, as you know, are useful when working with horses. But Manolo has a wonderful no. When he says no, it contains not just emotion but a whole sentence. His no says "That's not right, try again." It is the no of a patient teacher guiding the learning process. It does not threaten or frighten but it is firm. It creates a boundary. “

            I tried it tonight on Siete as she attempted to yank the hay out of my hands before I put it in her stall. “No.” I got the tone “that’s not right, try again” just right, and sure enough, my little upstart stepped back politely and stood waiting for me to drop the flake on the ground. When I told her it was okay, she sheepishly came forward and dug into the hay.  Much better.