Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer nights and long warm days

This is a photo of me riding Pie with no tack at all on Memorial Day a few years ago. I was holding his mane and I didn't ride him outside of the fence. I think if I could safely get away with it, I would never use tack. In fact, if I have a "goal" with horses that would be it - to ride everyday without any tack at all! I do ride bareback most days and bitless always, but if I could ride without anything everyday - well, that would be it for me. Recent events on our farm has sent me into a philosophical tailspin about how less is more - especially with horses.

The tenants in our farmhouse decamped abruptly leaving us with a huge junk hauling/cleaning project. They also abandoned their three cats. To say that I am stressed is putting it mildly. Sorting through the leftover remnants of other people's lives is more uncomfortable to me than the obvious amount of work. It is depressing to see how other people live. I don't mean that in an elitist way. I am sure my life and household items would seem weird to someone else. It is just that many people wade through so much STUFF in their homes that I don't understand how they can enjoy life. I am reminded of my twenty-something petsitting business when I used to visit cats and dogs when their owners were on vacation. I would arrive to walk or feed an animal, but some people were honestly so messy that I had trouble entering the house and finding the pet.

I admit, I am a minimalist when it comes to horsekeeping and housekeeping, though, not artistically or architecturally. I adore quaint cottages and messy perennial flower gardens. So to me, less is more, but not Mies van der Rohe less. Rather, less is more in that I would like to see the quaint cottage, not all the Dollar Store plastic items junking it up. 

On Tuesday, after my first interior view of the farmhouse for two years, my head was swimming with the sight I had discovered inside of forgotten clothes strewn on the floor in a sea of Happy Meal toys and trash. I walked to the barn and as I entered the cool, empty space I felt like I had just taken a shower! I had put the horses in earlier and they were quietly munching in their uncluttered sanctuary. I got Pie out and then Foggy, grooming each of them with just a soft brush and my fingers. My tack box is not full to overflowing with anything. I don't need much. The tack room is orderly with very little equipment. 

Our barn is old and not restored, so it isn't like this "cleansing" feeling was the result of being in a space that had money thrown at it. In fact, I think it was just the opposite. The farmhouse was "dirty" because of all the money spent on all the "must have" things clogging it up inside. The people who had lived there couldn't even clean it well because there was so much stuff. The cats, who I will feed and care for until I can find them suitable homes, are surrounded by the human rubbish that their people thought was necessary. 

I slipped on Sovereign's bitless bridle and hopped on him bareback and we rode out through the fields. I could feel the weight of our consumer culture lift off my shoulders. We investigated the clover out in the far pasture to make sure it was the right kind after Sydney's clover warning from the day before. (It was red clover with the "v" shape and is safe - hooray!) and then we made our way to the barstool. I dismounted and fed Sovey the apple and then used the barstool to get back on. He is the best of all my horses for mounting out on the trail. Pie and Foggy are always wiggling around. Sovey stands perfectly. We made our way back and I groomed him under a shade tree. I only used a soft brush. When I came to dirt on his hocks, I used my fingernails to "curry" it off. I thought of a friend I used to know who was an avid gardener. She always said that the best tools to use in the garden were the shortest ones because they put you closest to the earth. She said the best "hand rake" was your fingers. 

While Sovereign grazed, I thought about all of this and how uncluttered my horse life is. I don't have tons of gear or brushes or lotions or potions or many saddles. Just like the beauty of the bare bones of the quaint cottage, I like to see my horses, not all the gear on top of them. I do think the best curry comb is my own hand and fingers. Someday I hope the best bridle when I ride will be no bridle at all. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Diving swallows

June has been cool and happy for my horses and rides. Here my Foggy is nibbling a carrot from my hand. You can see our battle scars - my arm is still healing from the Locust tree incident, Foggy's face is always covered in cuts from the Reindeer Games he plays with his brother. 

I introduced the horses to a new pasture last week. The farmer cut the hay so Maizie and I went out and marked fox and groundhog holes with snow fence and caution tape. Below is a photo of a fox hole that looks little in this picture but is large enough for Maizie to crawl inside. (She did not crawl in!)

I walked each horse around the perimeter and then turned them out. I think they love the new space. I still have them on a timer because there is lush clover around the outside edge. Eventually, they will have free rein out there. Last night Pie was getting involved with some small animal near a snow fence. He was looking and pawing the ground and coaxing with his nose. Foggy would flip around quickly and turn his hindquarters toward the animal and do his tiny bunny bucks. I think it was a groundhog and I am sure Foggy thinks his bucks are really scary, but in reality his antics are hysterical and adorable.

Two deer ran through the pasture when I was introducing Sovey to the perimeter. The deer jumped over the fence in one side and out the other. Sovey and I just stood there watching them. They are unbelievably graceful.

This pasture is crazy big and my horses look tiny in there. They are at the left side of the above photo, but you can barely see them. This is the closest thing I have to seeing my horses "free and in the wild" and I have to say, I could watch them for hours. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sweet Euphoria

Wednesday we had a Masterson Method practitioner, Marie Riley, from Philadelphia come to our farm to work on the horses. I had decided on The Masterson Method after reading Kristen's moving post with dramatic photos about the recent bodywork she had done on Lazarus. I was most interested in what we could learn about Sovereign's obvious uncomfortable state of being. One caveat: this post might get wordy and I do not have photos of the session. A quick summation for short attentions spans would be to say that there were no dramatic releases during the actual visit, but all three horses, even Sovereign, started displaying very interesting behaviors after Marie left and these behaviors are still continuing. My own knowledge of The Masterson Method is minimal so this visit initiated the horses and me into this technique and I have been practicing what we learned and am happy to report that I am seeing results!

I immediately liked Marie. Her email communications even before I met her in person were clear and professional. We scheduled our appointment to start at 8am and she was punctual. Punctuality is essential when working with horses in my opinion. Because my boys are outside most of the time, any stall time must seem (to them) to be easy, breezy and intentional. Sovereign is aware when "something is up" so I try to keep a calm program running smoothly for him. Maire's timely arrival allowed me to pull them inside in a nonchalant manner earlier and quietly groom them (not Sovey) before she arrived.

We began by discussing  my concerns about Sovereign - namely his pain and her safety when working with him. We started in his stall and then moved to the cross-ties and eventually ended up outside in the forebay. He was uncooperative initially, but I do think he eventually understood that this process was intended to make him feel good. Marie was super agile and willing to bend and reach and do whatever was necessary to help him.

His usual demeanor when the farrier or vet is present is cooperative, but rigid. I generally hold him and stroke his muzzle but his neck is not released or relaxed for these visits. Marie needed Sovey to be free to release as necessary. This was difficult because Sovey wanted to use his freedom to crowd Marie and jab at her with his teeth and plastered ears. She was able to use her body and lead line to establish a safe working distance. Marie was smart in her approach and rather than follow a prescribed "one size fits all" routine, she alternated between different release points in her arsenal. She said that he was willing to allow her to work and release around his jaw, mouth, tongue and TMJ. Sovereign has a "pig eye" on the left. Marie achieved some releases on that side with eye closing and yawning and eyelid closing on that side. She also got some releases with his front legs and feet.

Pie was wound tight and not the puddle of love that I had hoped. In everyday life, he releases with huge yawns and eye rolling all day long and was exhibiting this even as Marie entered the barn. Her presence in his stall worried the big boy, so he was tight especially in his legs. Pie has a bow and clubfoot on the front right which makes front end work difficult. Marie was able to get Pie to release in the rear.

Foggy was also worried for a few minutes but then became the bowl of jelly and yawns and eye rolling that I anticipated. He loved everything Marie did with him.

Marie's visit epitomized the anticlimactic nature of working successfully with horses. Often, we as humans anticipate BIG results from a new horse, a new stable, a new saddle, a new trainer, a new technician and we are disappointed when the "new thing" doesn't deliver. But, in reality, tiny subtle changes are actually made and their positive results are far reaching and grow exponentially everyday.

When Pie and Sovey arrived in February of 2009 non-horse people would ask, "Well, did you ride them yet?" My response in the negative was usually met with disappointed faces. I remember thinking how those people don't know one thing about working with horses so I continued my slow and consistent program with the boys that had us out and riding safely in a few short weeks.

Similarly, I knew nothing about The Masterson Method before Marie arrived and she did not rush to teach me everything in one second. This is a slow process that needs to unfold at the horse's own pace. In time, I am going to research and add new release points to my knowledge, but for now, I am thrilled with the two or three releases I did learn on Wednesday. I have practiced with each of the boys and I am seeing more and more relaxation and yawning and eye rolling and sighing/snorting. Foggy even peed the other day when I was working with him which seemed like an odd, totally relaxed behavior for him. Sovereign is sure he wants me to do something with him because he nickers a lot and lines up in the forebay and waits after Pie and Foggy have their turns.

Sovereign has a habit of turning around and scratching his sides and ankles out on rides. He does this more than a horse that is biting at flies. He did this frequently, too, as Marie worked on him. She and I agreed that his body seems to "wake" up and tingle as he exercises on his rides and also as he receives bodywork. That makes total sense in his history because I have an easier time grooming him after his rides. In addition, he LOVES going for rides. Whatever painful cross he is bearing, physically or mentally, there is less of it after a ride. The few releases I have learned so far have been much more pronounced after I ride him. His overall demeanor seems to me more easy-going. After Marie's work Sovereign started munching hay in his stall which he rarely does when humans are in the barn.  I am enjoying how this new chapter is unveiling itself to us. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sleeping with a full moon blanket

Little Foggy was the perfect boy today. Our temperatures have been cool and windy. The horses love it! I had a rough time getting started though because it felt like October. I am not complaining - just noting that there was more snuggling with blankets and coffee all morning instead of getting to the barn. I like when I am late to the barn because my arrival seems to stop the natural-ness of early morning grazing. When I am late, I think the horses tend to do more "horsey" activities like graze and meander and relax without checking on me and what I am doing.

When I finally got there, I thought I would groom and then get to work on much needed shed cleaning. Foggy had other ideas. After his grooming session he waited for his bridle and seemed disappointed when I didn't go to the tackroom to get it. Ok, Foggy - you talked me into it! I can do chores later. We headed out for a chilly, but sunny jaunt around the farm. We even walked under and around the mean Locust tree that had grabbed us last week. My mom kindly had trimmed the offending limb so we were safe. 

After our ride, I cleaned out both sheds. Pie sadly thinks the sheds and fluffy sawdust in there are for his peeing pleasure. His fastidious urinating practice requires a soft surface without any splashing. Unfortunately, everyone has to sleep there later. We find them piled up like three pretzels, legs this way and that during their early morning siestas. It would be nice if Pie could find a better urinal. Ugh. I try to keep up with the mucking out there, but it is tough when there are three cute boys coaxing for a ride at every turn.

Yesterday Sovereign was a bugger to groom, but what a ride we had! He bit at me twice when I was brushing him. I try to go soft, but after three failed attempts, he will take no more. He was angry and I was too. I stuck him back in the stall for a mutual time out and then he nickered softly. He does this often after his ouchy behavior. I take it as an apology when really he doesn't owe me one. I wish I knew how to keep from hurting him. I should know by now that I have to forget the mud and just stick the bridle on him. Off we went for a ride and he did not disappoint. There was a soccer tournament at the church across the street. Sovey had to stand right on the edge of the road and stare at all the activity. I love how he stands and watches. He sighs and looks and sighs and looks and would stand there forever if I let him. He really enjoys watching humans and it seems like he is trying to sniff the air to get more information. He was quiet and not very interested in getting back to the barn which is my favorite kind of ride on any horse. And, happily, I was able to groom him fairly well after the ride. 

Tonight is full moon and I thought June's full moon would be the one for the moonlight ride. The cool temperatures are going to push it back until July. I can't believe what a baby I am about "the cold" (58 degrees) - after all - I almost rode on November's full moon in Carhartts!

Friday, June 1, 2012

it seems like too much love is never enough

Friday was horrid in many ways. This is my second post today, but this one or the other one is probably lost to anyone who uses Blogger's "Reading Lists" feature. My blog posts will always be one behind unless you "stop following" and then "start following" this blog. Ugh. I thought that I would go to the barn to get some horsey kisses and love and a break from virtual world problems. All that I found at the barn was real world problems.

When we had the new pastures added earlier this month, I came up with the brainiac scheme to fence in a shady part of our farm. You can see where I added fencing, above, in red. This pasture has trees and lush grass and is in between three existing pastures. It is dead space that needs to be mowed so I thought it would be wonderful to make that a new pasture. Ha! My horses think this was the worst idea ever. I have turned them out there three times and there is no happy grazing in the shade. There is no contented munching on long grass while we play tennis. There is nothing remotely close to the idyllic vision I had. Instead they race wildly through the entire area barely avoiding low tree branches. 

I despise the racing around horses do when they are worried and panicked. I just can't handle nutty horse behavior because most of the time horse worry is caused by poor human preparation. I spend days planning out every last detail of my time with horses in order to avoid such nonsense. When I introduce a horse to a new pasture, I always walk them around the perimeter on a lead or on their back. I make sure they understand the borders and I do this with each horse. Then I calmly turn them out. Most times there is very little excitement. 

This space is different though because I ride them in here all the time. It is a very common border/area to them. I hand graze them here and groom them and they are not strangers to the fencing. But I suppose it is that very familiarity which is causing all the confusion. They just can't seem to understand that it is ok that they are at liberty in there. They race around and practically decapitate themselves on the branches and get separated and it is a total mess for 4 minutes until I can somehow catch them. Today was my fourth, and last attempt. I know Pie would like to graze in there, but the brothers have a Pavlovian response set up now that this place is dangerous and racing frantically is the only thing to do. Pie joins in and gets his round physique all sweaty in a few minutes. It is simply awful. I thought I was giving them the most amazing meadow of all and in the end, it was a failure. I may try again when they are 20 years old, if I live that long.

feathers for my head

Yesterday was cool and sunny and I was able to ride all three boys on the same day again. My third ride was on Foggy and we accidentally ran into a tree. Foggy lowered his head and was uninjured, but I got the brunt of the sharp thorns of an immature Locust tree. My arms were a bloody mess and I had branches sticking out of my helmet. My mom's sympathy was non-existent as she doubled over onto the ground in laughter at the sight of my "feathered" helmet. I fell almost completely off the back right side of Foggy and lost my reins, but somehow managed to stay on as he trotted forward in fear. I have close calls, but this was the closest. I don't think a fall would have hurt as much as the branches - I am bruised and stiff this morning!

The good news is that our rides recently have been punctuated with baby animal sightings. Birds and bunnies are tiny and adorable in every corner of our farm. My Memorial Day morning ride on Pie delivered the most amazing sighting of all. Pie was forcing me to ride him through the high hay field. The day was already hot and muggy and buggy and I think he was trying to get the flies off his belly. I was looking frantically for groundhog holes and trying to keep his feet out of them. Pie has super sensitive sides and will turn his hunches with just a touch. I used this technique to avoid a tan "spot" in the hay and then I saw many white spots on the tan spot. Unbelievably, it was a baby deer asleep in the hay just inches from Pie's back foot!!! The baby's little eyelashes were so long and black and he/she didn't move a muscle. Pie never saw the sweet thing as it got up and trotted off. The hay was much taller than the fawn. I have said numerous prayers that it has a mommy somewhere on our farm. I can't understand why it was all alone and so tiny.

And more good news - we scheduled three equine massages for the boys! Next Wednesday, a therapist from Philadelphia is coming to work her magic on my sweet horses. After reading this amazing post on Kristen's blog about Laz's bodywork complete with breathtaking images, I researched Masterson Method practitioners in Pennsylvania. Sovereign is the reason I am doing this at all because I believe there is some latent pain that causes his constant cranky demeanor. He is sound and healthy by all measures except for his disposition. Pie and Foggy, by contrast, will melt into two horse puddles during their massage, I am certain, because they seem comfortable and happy all the time as it is. A deep massage will only intensify their joy. Sovey, though, is an altogether different kettle of fish and my hope is that we somehow permeate his stiff, ironclad exterior. Any insight and release would mean more to me than words can express.

And, in frustrating news, my blog is undergoing a series of disappointing problems. The current situation has culminated in a new address: My blogspot address is now but it doesn't seem that my new posts appear in any Blogger Reader. Update:  To see current posts, please select "stop following this blog" and then select "follow this blog" - that is supposed to work anyway. I guess I am just blogging to myself again. Oh well...that is how it all started back in 2008.