If Abbott and Costello did turn out…

•March 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Abbott: Strange as it may seem, all the horses in the barn are know by their “Barn Names.”
Costello: Funny names?
Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, in this first paddock we have Who’s a black Nokota gelding with the snip. What’s the pregnant sorrel mare with 3 socks; I Don’t Know is the white Arabian cross–
Costello: That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the horses that go out in this field.
Abbott: I’m telling you. Who has the snip, What’s pregnant, I Don’t Know is —
Costello: You know the horses’ names?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: Well, then who has the snip?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: I mean the horse’s name that has the snip…
Abbott: Who.
Costello: The black horse.
Abbott: Who is black.
Costello: Well, what are you askin’ me for?
Abbott: I’m not asking you–I’m telling you. Who is a black Nokota.
Costello: I’m asking you—who is the black Nokota?
Abbott: That’s the horse’s name.
Costello: That’s who’s name?
Abbott: Yes.

Most people want to believe that their lives would make for a great movie.  Action adventure.  Maybe a little romance.  Hopefully not a Hitchcock thriller.

Mine?  Think more along the lines of the Three Stooges.

Let me set the stage:  Morning, Barn.  Rain can be heard on the tin roof. The snow has melted from the latest several inch snowfall and you need hip waders to get around the farm. The ground is so soppy that the tractor can’t get to the manure pile to keep it tidy. The mud alternates from being slick as wet glass to sucking your fillings out through your feet.  Usually in a matter of steps.

Our hero, Hawkeye is still turned out with the two grumpy broodmares, and all three of them have discovered that there is a weakness in the gate design. Any one human handler is not really enough to manage the two gates that swing freely in opposite directions, and three horses looking to jailbreak.  I usually take someone out with me to help, but yesterday things were a bit busy, my barn manager was dealing with his farrier, and I was the only border at the barn.  As it happens I was running a wee bit late for a vet appointment and so prudently (Ha!) decided that I did not need an extra set of hands.

Did I mention it was raining? Like any good slapstick, you can see this coming, right?

All three horses trot happily up to within 5 feet of the gate, but none really want to venture closer due to the deeper mud that has been churned up along the inside track around paddock. Not to worry, I have nice knee high boots and I can manage keeping the gates closed while I step in and halter Hawkeye – but the trouble always starts when I try to work out the logistics of holding the horse on a lead, letting one gate swing away while maintaining control of the other.  As Hawk comes through the open gate, so does his little sorrel girlfriend… but she comes between Hawkeye and I so we totally snag her between us in his lead rope.  Excellent, I think, Gotcha!.

Um….Yeah.  (Cue goofy music)

Hawkeye hits the end of his rope, and being an ever so practical pony, drops his head to snag what little grass exists just outside his paddock fence.  The lead rope is still across Twixt’s chest – until, with one mighty heave, she pulls me over onto my knees and the rope drops to her ankles. She simply steps over it and trots off to find a patch of her own grass.  Hawkeye looks at me, in the mud, rain pouring off my glasses  “Oh, Hi.  What are you doing down here?” and continues to graze.  As I pull myself up – Lady, the flighty little Arab cross mare, zips past us to follow her buddy Twixt.  Hilarity ensues (picture Scooby Doo and the long hall of magically connected doors) trying to herd them into stalls.

Once we get Whozit, Whatzit and IDK all tucked safely away, I figure out that my vet and I had miscommunicated the dates so my big ‘ole hurry was for nothing. <le sigh>.

Well.  I am here, and I am muddy up to my knees.  I am already wet.  Let’s help my barn manager with turn in! Cause how can that go wrong?

Um-hmm.

Remember the manure pile?  The one that is usually under control… but has not been picked up in a while?  Yeah, that one. It lives right next to the gate for the stallion paddock.  Not ideal – but usually not too bad.  Remember how it is raining? The mud at the gate is well… gross.  Banner, a beautiful sweet welsh stallion, won’t walk in it.  Don’t blame him; I am in boots and I don’t want to walk in it.  So I open his gate and traverse the worst of it so that I can halter him in a place where he is not knee deep in muck.  I, however, am not so smart having sunk almost to the tops of my ankles by the time I finish fooling around with his halter and scritches. He knows the routine and is ready to go get dinner, but apparently my boots have different ideas and I cannot pull them free.

(HEY, ABBOTT!)

Here I am standing in the foulest muck… Banner is on his way.  Two steps forward and smart enough to know not to stop or he will be trapped – and I am still facing the wrong direction with no hope of pulling free in time to save myself.  Arms flailing, slow motion falling. I keep thinking– OH!  Wait, I got it!   Only to find myself seconds later lying on my side in the runoff from the manure pile with a Welsh pony stallion sniffing the back of my head.

It’s like living  in an audition for an episode of I Love Lucy…

<Fade to black.>

<Cue Closing Credits>

Mud final

*Side note – cold, wet, and covered in manure makes for the BEST SHOWER EVER.

Happy Hawk-a-versary!

•March 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

On this date, in 2011 – I signed on the dotted line to become the caregiver, veterinary assistant, groomer, pedicurist, and most importantly – bringer of the orange veggies, to the coolest pony ever.  In the history of ever.   I do not consider myself his owner, but he does own me.

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Happy Hawk-a-ver-sary, Happy Hawk-a-ver-sary… Happy Hawk-a-versary… Haaaaaaapppppppy Hawk-a-verrrrrr-sary.

Insight and Insomnia…

•March 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Ok, people.  Sleeping is not supposed to be hard. I can generally sleep anywhere, at a moments notice – even standing up, thanks to my theatre education. I can’t say that I have not been tired, but it is more that my brain is too busy and I am finding it difficult to shut it down enough to let go. It is not a grand mystery why. I have taken a big leap of faith recently, and I find myself swinging with no net below.  The risks are substantial – but so, too, are the potential rewards.  I am optimistic enough to take the leap, but pragmatic enough to wonder when the other shoe will fall.

Usually late at night.

My new coping mechanism, for the wee hours when I can’t stop worrying about my own petty first-world stuff, is that I have discovered that the TED conference has started making their lectures available online. I could spend a post and a half on what I think of TED, and its mission – but better yet – if you are unfamiliar – go here.  I’ll wait.

I have been watching two or three a night – everything from brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s evaluation of her own stroke, to Mary Roach’s hysterical list of 10 things you don’t know about orgasm. (Well, then again, maybe you do.) Last evenings selection culminated in Brené Brown’s lecture on Vulnerability.

I was still thinking about it this morning, so I watched it again. She is funny, insightful, and engaging.  Her thesis is based on the principal that our connection to others is why we exist.  Why we are here.

Her entire talk resonates with me.  Life is a constant search for these connections, and not just between humans.  Learning to exist in the moment and be as authentic as possible with Hawkeye is teaching me how to be more authentic with people.  And when it comes right down to it, this leap of faith that is keeping me awake at night – watching lectures on vulnerability – is just another attempt to create more connections. I am putting myself in this vulnerable position because the connection to other living beings is important enough to justify the risk.

It is the most important thing we can do with our lives.

It is the most important thing we can leave behind.

It is why we are here.

Snapped

•February 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I wrote this entire post earlier today about the crazy weather, the power outages, the non-stop shoveling, and the dwindling state of my Advil supply.  In the end I decided that I can’t post it.  It was far too complainy, ranty and downright depressing.  No one wants to hear that much about the slow loss of my sanity – not to mention any will to get out of my PJ’s.  (Remarkable how often these things go together…)

So, in take two, I am going to try and focus on the positive things.  In no particular order I am thankful that:

  • Snow is beautiful to watch… as it builds up in mountainous deck-eating drifts.
  • Everyone I know has power back on, and there was no significant damage caused by the ice storm. (Yeah!)
  • As it turns out, salesmen will not attempt to navigate the front steps when they resemble a half pipe.
  •           Nor will they climb the 5’ snow wall, created by shoveling storm after storm, to get to them.
  • I do not have to actually drive anywhere in the snow.  Which is good since I can’t get down my driveway (let alone back up!).
  • Scotch is an acceptable reaction to being trapped in the house for days on end not being able to get down the driveway… till it runs out.
  • Luckily, Scotch is also an appropriate reaction to shoveling 16 inches of igloo quality snow off of 150’ of driveway.
  •          My neighbor has a jeep.  With a plow.  And he is not afraid to use it.
  • We have heat, and the internet. (Not clear which is more important.)
  • Cats are like small portable space heaters – which garner the best results when applied directly to the lap.
  • Hawkeye has a stall and an excellent blanket.  To be fair, he may not care about this nearly as much as I do.
  • Any excuse for Hot Chocolate.

I keep trying to remind myself that I like snowy winters.  That they make the world feel peaceful for a little while.  Snow coats the landscape like pristine white paper, and whispers of clean slates and second chances.

It is just too much of any one thing can wear you out.  I am ready for daffodils, and pony rides.  For longer days and the smell of cut hay.  The wheel seems stuck this winter, and I am ready for it to turn.

 

Snow

Reflection…

•January 31, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I realized yesterday, that Hawkeye and I have an anniversary coming up.  I have owned (I hate that word – I prefer to think of myself as his guardian, his advocate, his provider of carrots) my big beautiful boy for almost three years. I may have paid for him, but I am unclear who exactly owns whom.

Three years since the pre-purchase exam, where the vet outlined things like ringbone and excessive sidebone.  Where we talked about his shifting leg lameness and sensitivity to the Culicoides midge.  None of these things scared me particularly, though they probably should have.  I had been riding for a couple of years, but had no real idea what I was getting myself into.  I researched and asked around – there were several veteran, respected horse-women who told me to walk away from him.  But I couldn’t do it, and did not really understand why they could not see how fabulous he was. FAB.U.LOUS.

So, the long-term road-test update? Yes, he has arthritis and ringbone, the shifting leg lameness is the Lymes disease, and the sweet itch needs staying on top of, and… and… and…  I think there are a lot of other people who would have walked away from my boy, or worse, he might have been purchased and then (once it was out of the hands of the woman who I begged to sell him to me) re-homed time after time till he ended up at the auctions.  He is sound – on and off and he is never going to jump anything. If the value of a horse exists only in terms of his usefulness, than Hawkeye would take up more room than he is worth. It makes sense for most people – if you can only afford one horse, that money gets spent on a horse that can help you meet your riding goals.

But I never think about anything that way.

Hawkeye’s issues have forced me to think outside the box.  To find other ways to connect with him, besides sitting in the saddle.  Yes, it is a given that if I had purchased a sound(er) pony with less going on I would be farther along with my riding. I would have spent more of my time taking lessons and improving my seat.  I would have a better understanding of impulsion and inside leg to outside hand.

But what I have is worth so much more than that. Here is this horse, who was a little aloof when I purchased him, that now puts his head in my chest to get his ears scratched.  It took a lot of time for us to develop the relationship we have.  I worked hard to earn his trust, and to continue to live up to it.  I have had to find ways to keep his mind engaged from the ground, so that we can work together even when I don’t think I should ride him.  Agility work, clicker training, desensitizing ground-work… all have proven great ways to connect with this amazing, powerful animal whose mind thinks sooo  differently from mine.  He wants to learn, and to please.  He wants to be with me – I am clearly herd.

In the end – I am glad I was not smart enough to be scared by the nay-saying and the complicated vet report.  I am glad I followed the advice of my trainer who, knowing me very well, suggested I just follow my heart.

I still do.  I follow it everyday as it wanders around the field.

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Riding!

•January 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I rode today.  For the first time in… don’t ask. I can’t count that high.  Not a long ride, or a particularly groundbreaking one, but a lovely brisk-evening sunset ride.

The ground everywhere is sooo mucky, and the horses are clearly hating it.  Hawkeye comes to the gate to be haltered, but will stand juuuuussssst out of reach, trying to keep his feet out of the worst of the sludge. I am contemplating the lovely fashion statement to be made by hip waders.

He had his legs hosed, blanket removed. I groomed…everything – checking for new and fabulous owies (there were none!), and then cleaned the feet.  He was rewarded carrots for well learned behaviors (like backing up, and picking up the aforementioned feet).  After all that – there was just enough sunlight left to go out in the ring and do a couple quick circles to see how sound he is.  Deciding he was looking pretty good – I hopped on bareback for a few circuits.

The footing in the ring is mostly sand and, except for the pool at the gate end, it drains pretty well.  Otherwise I don’t think I would have gotten on. The way I see it, if it will suck the boot off my foot and leave me lurching around in muddy socks (What?  Like that has never happened to you??), it is not fair to ask him to carry me around in it.

He must have been as happy as I was to spend some time connecting as he set off with what I call his “Big Boy” walk where he really moves brightly. We did some figure 8’s and some stretching. Some single cavalletti’s – just ‘cause they were lying there.  We ended with the ever-popular game of “put your front feet in the hula hoop”.   Now, this is an agility exercise – usually done on the ground.  The theory is – Pony puts his two front feet in his hula hoop – you put your two (front?) feet in your hula hoop a few feet away and he should stand quietly and wait for you.  Mmm….yeah.  Done from the ground it can be easier said than done, since ponies don’t tend to like to put their feet into anything.  Done from the saddle it is an interesting way to gauge if you can tell where your pony’s front feet are (for the record – Bwaaa haaa haaa).  For Hawkeye – this is always a great time for displaying his fabulous sense of Pony Humor.

  • 1st attempt – we step clearly OVER the hula-hoop.
  • 2nd attempt – we put the RIGHT front foot in the hoop.  Get scritches.
  • 3rd attempt – we put the LEFT front foot in the hoop.  More scritches.
  • 4th attempt – completely sidestep the hoop (TA-DAH!) and wait for scritches.
  • 4th and a half attempt – instead of going back around the foolish rider tries to make pony back up and step into hoop.  Ok, carrot lady – how about ON the hoop – with one foot – so that it stands straight up in the air.  I swear I can hear him snicker.
  • 5th attempt – one foot in, and one foot ON. Cause we are BRILLIANT.
  • 6th attempt – oh who are we kidding, we aren’t even trying anymore.  Giggling rider is a clear sign that this round goes to the horse.

I finally managed to get him to do it twice. From the ground.  Treats all around.  He totally knows he won.

Good god, I love that horse.

Muddy pony

Winter Wonderland…

•January 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Or, well.  Not.

I thought we were supposed to have a mild winter.  I didn’t even bother to put my snow tires on this year having run them practically bald last year. Why? Because we never had any snow.  Ahh… the good old days.

This is turning out to be the year of the 6” snow storm.  Not that we’ve had storm on top of storm, where there is no place to pile the new snow.  Oh, nooooo, we are heavy into the freeze-thaw type winter .  You know the type.  Where it gets cold, dumps several inches, gets warm and melts away leaving the paddocks a muddy, sloppy mess.  Yeah, I hate this type of winter.  How do you blanket for 6 degree nights and 45 degree days?  Muddy ankles need hosing, but you can’t keep the hose from freezing.  And the ground.  Oh, my, word.  The ground gets sloppy, and the horses leave 6 or 8 inch divots with every step – and then freezes solid leaving a rock-hard, crater-like, ankle braking moonscape in front of all the paddock gates.  And if I think I hate it, I know the horses hate it more.

Last week Hawkeye needed the scratches-inducing muck hosed from his ankles at every visit.  A few nights ago we got a 6” storm.  Fine enough snow to make a ski lodge manager cry.  So, you know, COLD.  The boyfriend stocks up if he is in too long, so if I have advanced warning that he won’t get turned out I put standing wraps on his legs. Knowing recess would be cancelled during the storm, I managed to do that that late in the afternoon. Left the barn just as the first flakes started to fall.  Two nights later we were on a winter storm watch for an ice storm due in the morning.  I knew that Jim (my fabulous barn manager) would turn them out for as long as possible before the storm hit, and therefore Hawkeye would need his legs wrapped again as there is little chance of playing outside in freezing rain.

Now, I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating.  Jim is the nicest guy.  He is more than helpful. Above and beyond.  He would totally wrap Hawks legs for me if I couldn’t get there, but he is one man with 30 odd horses.  He has a LOT of work and I often wonder when he rests.  I try not to add to it unnecessarily and to help out when I can. (ie: where he will let me!)

The barn is up a twisty gravel and mud road.  I drive a Mini Cooper… her nickname is Puddle Jumper (PJ) – NOT Snow Bunny.  Do you see where this is going? So did I. Not that I let it stop me.

PJ managed to get up the hill to the front of the farm before the traction gives up completely.  Crap.  I park as far off to the side as possible, considering the wheel spin, and hike the rest of the way.

The farm has been shoveled, the horses turned out and the stalls cleaned and mucked.  Hawkeye is out in his paddock with his little herd of brood mares and he is VERY happy to see me.  Even tho’ he has only been out for a few hours but he is more than ready to come in.  It seems that he has forgotten his heritage and the North Dakota winters that he hails from.  Wus.

I take him in and clean the ice balls from his feathers and dry his legs so that I can put the standing leg wraps on.  He is completely amenable to having his toes cleaned, for once, and just relaxes as I snuggle with him.  I wonder if he can tell there is another crappy storm coming.

Jim proposes several fabulous solutions for getting my car out to the main road, including hitching Hawkeye to it. As I can see all the ways this can go wrong – I opt to call Tom and set him the task of figuring out my car so that I can better spend my energy helping Jim water all the stalls, and bringing in all the ponies.

I hate the idea of Jim being out there in the dark alone doing turn-in on the unpredictable footing. The geldings, as always, are easy – and polite for the most part.  The mares, however, are froot loops. To be fair they have to navigate the worst of the crater-like paddock gates and endure the never-ending battle for queen-of-the-field that takes place while the halters get sorted out.  Everyone just gets themselves all riled up.  Jim pulls them out one at a time and I walk them in.  As I am walking in the newest mare – who is a bit of a flake, I manage to put my right foot under her left front. Cause, you know, snow is scary.  Luckily, it is also a pretty giving surface and my foot slips loose – but I suspect I will have a pretty bruise nonetheless.  Sigh.

We can see PJ as she makes several attempts (and finally crests the hill) to get to the paved road as we are escorting everyone in to dinner.  All’s well that ends well. Ponies all tucked comfy in their stalls.  Hawkeye is happy.  Jim kindly drives me up the hill, in his far-more-reasonable-barn-truck, to my car and I follow Tom home.

Well.  Sort of.

By now it is cold, and dark and the temperature has dropped – and the Mini Cooper, with snow still ground into the non-snow tire treads, refuses to make it up the driveway.  I try several times, getting a running start from the bottom of the hill…  Tom tries several times… eventually we are forced to just leave her out.  Poor soft-top car, left out in the ice storm.

Oh well, better PJ than the ponies.

 

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