Thursday, May 29, 2008

Life is just a...

Sometimes anyway. All the wonderful summer fruit is in -- watermelons, cherries, blackberries. Now that food prices are high enough to be noticeable, I take much better care of it once it's home. Wash it right away, let it air dry, then pack it away in paper towels and airtight containers. No more moosh in the back of the produce drawer! This is good. Gas prices restrict our travel and we pollute less. There may be some good consequences of this new less economically robust world order after all.

And I have been tagged! 20 Meter Circle of Life tagged me with some questions which I will answer:

Name 4 jobs you have had:
Taco Bell, Sears fabric department, car washing at a Pontiac dealer back when car dealers sold only one kind of car, and convenience store night manager.

4 ways you know you are living your life with purpose:
I see some progress through my journal; I am generally happy all the time; I can sort of see a plan to all of my activity; I love my job.

4 things you do to take really good care of yourself:
Juicing, flax seed, make my own granola, eat organic whenever possible

4 events that formed how I live today:
Having 2 sons, taking that random philosophy class freshman year (it's now my career), my first pony ride in Jacksonville Florida.

4 other careers you have considered:
Medical technology (love the lab concept), newspaper writing, opening a bookstore, nursing or x-ray tech.

4 influential people in my life:
Aristotle, Virginia Woolf, my father, my 2 big brothers

4 foods you will not eat:
organ meats
fish with eyes in
soft-boiled eggs

4 reasons you blog:
helps me make sense of things
friendly connections
explains me to myself

And now I will tag!!!
Three-Penny Jane and Sweetgrass Farm Dish it girls!!!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Survived Memorial Day Horse Camping Trip!

It was a great time - about 35 horses and riders from the Minnesota Trail Riders Association met at Foothills Horse Camp for some gorgeous rides. I am new enough at this that the sight of Johnnie on a tie line:

fills me with combined joy and dread: There's my horse, hanging out the way horses have for centuries, think of it. OTOH, that knot was tied by me. In the end only other peoples' horses got loose and wandered around, while Johnnie watched from his usual prone position in the moonlight. This leads to human sleep disturbances.

People brought out some beautiful horses -- this draft, another Belgian draft cross named Peaches who was so sweet and placid:

...the proverbial husband-horses.

The trails were challenging and I learned a whole new function for the riding helmet: branch-fender. Both my knees got slammed severely into trees in narrow pass-throughs. Johnnie got to practice his hill-climbing and we got to work on not rushing downhill. Our fearless leader went ahead at one point to test a crossing, and his brave horse Jasper got buried to his belly in slimy sticky mud. It was scary to watch the struggle, as horses do get quicksanded in these parts and there have been fatalities. We told Paul we were quite willing to take the long way around no matter how long it might be.

Wildlife we met: A huge turkey flew up Johnnie's nose when we were out riding alone the first day, and I have never appreciated my calm horse more. John seemed to find it intellectually interesting but no more. Then later: deer, about 4000 ATV riders, geese, ducks, songbirds of heavenly singing, pileated woodpeckers who sounded like jackhammers in the quiet woods.

I have to say: I know many people enjoy nature via the ATV, but the devastation they had produced on these state forest trails was very clear to see:

It seems to happen like this: At a low point in the trail, ATV's produce a lower point and mud appears. Later ATV's go around this mud when it gets too deep, producing a great empty space where nothing will ever grow because the topsoil is gone, blown away on a dry day. We could see great clouds of dust arising from bands of ATV riders in the distance: there goes green forever. There has to be a better way to enjoy trails and preserve them at the same time. Horses have an impact too though, and I know hikers who dislike the horseback riders. So it's a conundrum.

We rode for 2 hours Friday, 7 hours Saturday, and six hours Sunday; at that point I was beat and John's feet were getting a bit ouchy so we packed up and came home. I love to return a horse to his herdmates after a trip: that high-headed rush out to meet the pasture buddies just makes my heart ache with happiness.

Hope everyone is enjoying Memorial Day with loved ones and good food! Oh speaking of food, we had the best camp potluck ever on Saturday night. You know potlucks are sometimes weird assortments and there is the occasional time when every one brings tuna salad. This one was blessed by the gods because due to luck it had the perfect array of menu choices including: chicken pasta salad, veggie pasta salad with lime dressing (I brought), Buffalo wings, venison sausage, cherry jello fluffy thing,
excellent potato cheese thing, barbecue baked beans, and strawberry cheesecake & chocolate chip cookies. Can you beat that? There was one of those afternoon scenes in which everyone is bathed in radiant slanting sunlight, everyone is smiling and laughing, everyone looks celestial and I thought: this is a glimpse of heaven on earth, the only heaven-place I really believe in when all is said; earthly heaven at a potluck camp-supper with horses.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Three Cowgirls Hit the Trail

Yesterday, Sunday, was a spectacular day and I was really glad to get a call from a cowgirl friend and trail riding companion ordering me out to the barn in fifteen minutes. I made it in 10. By adding another cowgirl we made a threesome and were on the trail in minutes. Their horses were hitting the trails for the first time this spring and both behaved perfectly - in fact it was the kind of ride that makes you keep saying 'perfect' over & over.

The sun was brilliant and the air so clear that we could see all the way across the big lake to Wisconsin. Many other folks were out & about, so in total the wildlife we saw included bicyclists, hawks, mallards, geese, a nervous Airedale seeing his first horse of a lifetime, various golden retrievers, joggers, motorcyclists, families with kids, and about 20 assorted vehicles.

Our boarding barn is on a multiple-use trail system that is being considered for an off-leash dog trail (which it already is by default of leashing). This worries me a little because I'm afraid it will draw ever so many more dogs and frankly, most owners haven't trained their dogs to come when called. So we get a lot of canine meltdown when horses are sighted, and this sometimes turns into aggression. Most of our horses are OK with dogs but I would hate to see someone's beloved pet get a random kick in the head from a dancing horse. Some owners don't even call their dogs, but stand and watch to see what might happen as Fifi or Bobo snap and snarl at horses' legs. So the more of these that come out to the new leashless trail, the more wary we will have to be.

I am not too worried however, because of a story a friend told me about my horse Johnnie two weeks ago. Someone's boyfriend brought a huge Great Dane to the barn and of course, let him run. GD headed out into our pasture to herd some horses. Johnnie was apparently offended by this behavior because he chased this dog all around the pasture, his neck snaked out, head low, tail held high, the very picture of an aggressive 'stallion'/gelding. Then when the dog tried to leave, Johnnie blocked him from the gate like a cutting horse, swinging his forehand back & forth. I would have given a lot to see this. I hope this was a game, but it does reassure me that we won't likely go bolting off if a dog gets too pushy on trail.

And multiple use trails remind me of an episode last fall: S. and I were out on a narrow dirt trail enjoying the fall color when what do we see coming toward us, bouncing and scraping on branches, but a Ford Taurus station wagon up to its hubcaps in soft mud and leaving ruts like you wouldn't believe. Mind you this is a "No Motorized Vehicles!!" trail posted everywhere. We could not get past it so we stopped dead. In this car were two teenage girls. They reported that they were Girl Scouts who had to meet their troop leader down the trail and make a place for a ceremony. We explained that they must have the wrong trail, because this one heads straight down into a creek via a muddy downhill they would certainly not be able to stop on; and they very agreeably proceeded to turn around by driving into the shrubbery repeatedly, and head back to the road. I still wonder about that episode: did they find their ceremony spot? What were they thinking as they drove toward two horses at a good if bouncy clip? And what did dad or mom think about that station wagon when those girls got home?!

Sunday, May 18, 2008


It's Big Brown! Will there be a Triple Crown winner this year? I'm just thankful that no horses ended up dead; how's that for a racing fan attitude? Eight Belles has changed everyone's outlook, for awhile at least. There was a panel of experts interviewed, and all solemnly intoned that Eight Belles' death was no one's fault. No surprises there. Big Brown is not the most beautiful horse I've ever seen, and his running style is odd - he galumphs. But he seemed to have endless energy in the stretch, and he appeared to be enjoying himself.

Here's my own little piece of the racing industry, enjoying some spring grass by the roadside. They are still stuck in their mud pasture for the time being, until the grass pasture gets grown in enough to stand up to their hoofs. It has been a slow spring coming.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Dressage Training Session

When I first got this horse 7 years ago, neither of us had a clue. I had been taking lessons at a barn where the trainer was a legend in her own mind, but not really very good at teaching or even interested in it. The combination of a green off-track thoroughbred and an adult beginner was not my most brilliant idea. So there we were! We spent several years scaring each other, and then moved to a new barn. In the video you see my current riding instructor working with Montana; I used his Jockey Club name "Who's Dancer" to be a little more private, as YouTube is such a large community.

He is a horse with great big emotions - an ardent heart, a wary eye, a finely tuned flight response, devotion to his favorite mares no matter how many times they call him a dweeb. His body has changed in the new regime of proper training and riding - his formerly angular hindquarters rounded with muscle, his neck thicker and curved differently. Physically, he is a good evidence of the benefits of dressage training. He is super fit. The effect this has on his mind is a bit more debatable. Some days he seems to me hotter and fizzier than I'd like. I don't really care for those windy days when, leading him down the road, I am walking and he is dancing, or leaping like a big orange trout. There has to be a happy medium, doesn't there?!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

His name is Rupert! Hooray!

This little colt was in grave danger of being named "Dude" or "Big Lebowski", neither of which names I thought very flattering. He is less than a week old and he is large, but his masculinity is what stands out in the context. You see, he is the first colt born at this particular barn in about 10 years - unless you count the accidental mule, which is another whole story.

At this barn where I board, two mares are bred every season and two fillies are born every spring, like clockwork - until Rupert. Therefore, Rupert is like the prodigal son, and has been showered with treats and attention like nobody's business. He is very calm with all this fuss, and seems to think it is just what he deserves - how like a guy! :) His mother is a little less serene about it:

She keeps a weather eye out for anything she might not like, and now & then just shoves in to separate Rupert from his admiring crowd of barn girls. She has not got the sweetest disposition even under normal circumstances, and she is a savage cribber. When she can't get Rupert away from the folks, she goes and comforts herself on a fencepost.

Here's one of the reasons I like the name "Rupert":

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night

The Dead
Rupert Brooke

My TB gelding loves babies, and here as he stares through the fence you can see his longing to go join Rupert and snuffle him up:

He whickers and whinnies softly whenever there's a baby in his sight line, and his eyes just melt. Isn't Nature funny sometimes?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Round-Pen Reasoning or Lack Thereof

Today I arrived early enough for my dressage lesson that I had time for a really good grooming and some ground work. I am a fan of the round pen for seeing what I have to work with on that day, for setting ourselves up for success with a calm session of join-up etc., but I encounter a problem sometimes which I'm hoping someone might be able to help me with.

Here is how we start out, with my OTTB Montana on any typical day:

Then as he gets warmed up and muscles nice and loose, the trot gets bigger and springier; all good, right??

Then we do a little join-up, horse-follow-closely this PonyGirl etc., feet pickups, and general stroking "I am your comfort zone" stuff.

Back to work but things start to get a little more interesting; he is sniffing the air and I love the way he shows his noble Arab ancestry, but I know he is thinking thoughts of how spiffy he's feeling:

And then we get this type of thing:

And while I am saying, "HUP-hoa" and trying to project calming vibes with my body language, he goes on to this:

And then we get a bit of this:

And I believe at this point he is apt to damage himself in the small circle that a roundpen presents.

There have been days when he just bucks and farts and gallops around the roundpen at a solid slant until he is too tired to move, and then we have the fake 'join-up' of a tired horse and a relieved human.

Is there a way to keep the buckey/slantey/gallop phase from ever starting up in the first place?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My son's graduation in 3 minutes!

My older boy graduated from Indiana University last Saturday and here is a 3 minute video of commencement. Any university that has the line, "Glorianna! Frangipana!" in its alma mater has my respect as well. I mean, you need a rhyme for Indiana and this is not an easy thing, so go for it. I stayed at a little cabin in Brown County State Park, to avoid the $300+ hotel rates that the town offers for graduation weekend. It is a luscious and tasty state park for horseback riding and I mean to go back there some day - what hills! And softly firm ground, and majestic trees.

I saw probably a thousand horse trailers on the road all the weekend - it is riding time in Indiana! And so many happy horses up to their hocks in sweet green grass. Spring is advanced far beyond us there; dogwood trees in full bloom, redbud, crabapple, intense.

On the way home, my truck loaded up with years of dorm and rental accumulation, we stopped in Madison to visit the younger boy and eat Chinese food at his favorite restaurant. The boys walked ahead of me talking genetics shop and I took this picture which warmed my heart:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fear Strategies

Recently I have read a great deal of interesting things about fear in relation to riding horses. Over at NuzzlingMuzzles' blog (see links to the left) you may find a great series of posts about experiencing and responding to a riding injury, and what it leaves behind. This blog's author invited folks to share their strategies for dealing with fear, and I have a few that work for me. Maybe they will help someone else too.

My off-track thoroughbred and I scared each other to death for 2 solid years, mostly because of my incompetence and his inexperience in normal riding situations. But even though after 7 years I now know him very well and am a better rider, he remains a reactive horse. As he advances in dressage and becomes very supple and fit, this makes him pretty to watch because it gives him that spark. But it triggers in me memories of falls and failures that set us up for more of the same.

In the above photo you see him in his favorite setting, galloping around a course of jumps. You also see how strong he is and full of himself. I psyche myself with the following tricks:

1. "Horse, we are in this together." Every time I get on his back, I say this to myself; it continues: "Wherever you goest, I am goesting right along with you and I am NOT getting off before I am ready." I had noticed I had a certain defeatist attitude when he spooked or offered to gallop; I would curl forward and start to separate from him. So this little self-hypnosis plugs me in and tells me I am on for the duration.

2. Bucking straps are a grand invention. I have some sort of grab strap on every saddle and during our walkaround warmup I remind myself where it is without looking, just to get the body memory of reaching for it back activated. I also grab it and pull a few times, so he doesn't associate that movement with an 'episode'.

3. "We are not done yet." To keep on working even when I've had an unsettling episode was hard for me to learn, but so good for him. Right through a spook, right past the looky spot, right back to trot after an uninvited gallop-offer, keeping on with the work as smoothly as possible helped him calm himself.

He may never be a steady-Eddy but I am so much more steady myself that it matters less. What helped me the most was good riding lessons with a competent instructor who put me and SpeedyBoy on the longe line for what felt like forever. She took away my stirrups, she took away my reins, it made me sore as all getout. It has paid off so well, I recommend it for anybody who ever felt unsteady on a reactive horse.