The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More Trail Blazing

Hooray! I made it all around the alfalfa fields and back to the barn, and the mower survived!

This was the easy part. In some places, the greenery was a foot or more
high. Another week, and I'd've had to put this idea off until next
year. I had to stop frequently to unclog the blades as it was.

Bridget and George followed along for a while.

Day Two

Today was the second day of solo lawn-venturing for George and Bridget.

Once again, Bridget was first at the gate but hesitated too long.

I think George might be coming. He'll be mad.
So George got to come out first. Sure enough, this time he had a little bit of energy left over from eating to snoop around. I was in the kitchen, and when I turned around, there he was.

If I'm at the other end of a leadrope, George will stay out on the lawn indefinitely, but as I was busy mowing and he was on his own, he got lonely after about 40 minutes and wanted to go home. I asked Rose if she would like to come out, but she said, "Nope, don't want to, too scary." Bridget clearly wanted a turn, so I put the halter and leadrope on her,  and sternly instructed George not to interfere with our egress. Amazingly, I convinced him, and I let Bridget out. She too took a few minutes to explore.

I kept an eye on what she was eating. I know from my youthful days reading pony books that lawn cuttings are Not To Be Fed to Horses.

That mower was fixed just in the nick of time.
Bridget lasted about half an hour or so before wanting to go back with the others. Maybe next time I'll take a book outside and keep Bridget or George company - to see if that gives them the confidence to be on their own a little longer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Back Yard Bounty

The lawn mower suffered a relapse and had to be taken in for minor surgery. Thank heavens, it is not a blown gasket as originally diagnosed, but a much cheaper problem; it returns home tomorrow. In the meantime, though, it seemed a crying shame to let this go to waste:

I set about patching all the leaks in the back yard.

When all was secure, I went to the gate to see who wanted to venture forth and pig out. I decided to let only one out at a time . Bridget arrived first and stood in the open gate: "What? No halter? Go out alone into the world?" She hesitated too long, and George came blustering over. Bridget scuttled off, and George - after due reflection - exited onto the lawn. Not for long. He too thought it rather strange and asked to be let back in.

He proceeded to vent all his nervousness in a mad dash around the field, driving the mares before him.

Having got that off his chest, George exited via another gate and proceeded to get down to grazing.

Well now, this isn't so weird after all.
Hand grazing is undoubtedly a noble and self-sacrificing activity for the horse owner, but it is not always the most amusing pastime, so I am happy to have a way now to let the horses take turns coming out to enjoy some extra grass. Hand grazing, however, was not entirely done away with, as Bridget shows:

It's funny how they don't want a handful of grass: they want you to hold the grass so they can graze it out of your hand, bite by bite.

After George had been returned to the fold, I wanted to let Bridget out. This time, she knew exactly what was at stake. We exchanged meaningful glances and nonchalantly snuck away from George toward the gate, one on each side of the fence. As soon as the gate was open, Bridget darted through.

Looks pretty good out here.
I'll have to watch Bridget more closely than the others, as she has a penchant for eating weird plants. She had a bite of poppy today, and last year she was all for eating the wisteria. Tomorrow I'm hoping to let Rose out before I mow. Chloe will have to wait until there isn't quite so much food.

I'm hoping also that coming out at liberty onto the lawn will enable them, once their desire for lush grass is somewhat sated, to explore the human environment a little - to maybe hang out at the picnic table with me, to look in at the windows, to share space in the human habitat. And if they come out one at a time and have a pleasant experience, perhaps it will encourage them to look favorably on solo excursions away from the herd.

The Pylons

The secret of these hills was stone, and cottages
Of that stone made,
And crumbling roads
That turned on sudden hidden villages

Now over these small hills, they have built the concrete
That trails black wire
Pylons, those pillars
Bare like nude giant girls that have no secret.

The valley with its gilt and evening look
And the green chestnut
Of customary root,
Are mocked dry like the parched bed of a brook.

But far above and far as sight endures
Like whips of anger
With lightning's danger
There runs the quick perspective of the future.

This dwarfs our emerald country by its trek
So tall with prophecy
Dreaming of cities
Where often clouds shall lean their swan-white neck.

                                                     Stephen Spender

Good Colour Combination

Chestnut Mare and Spring Green

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering         
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
                                                                             from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

Monday, April 11, 2011

Trail Blazing

The riding mower just returned from the repair shop. For the first time ever, I'm getting a head start  - before the herbage runs rampant - on cutting some trails for riding, running, and walking. Despite a fraught encounter with a hidden iron bar, which caused the mower to have a temporary seizure, I managed to mow a couple of paths and return the mower intact to the barn. Tomorrow, I'm going to make a nice little path around the big alfalfa field, and when the weed whacker returns from the shop, I'm planning some more clearance exploits. Of course, I was supposed to be mowing the lawn today, but  that is way too boring.

Now if we can just keep the mower going, I'll be able to keep these trails clear all summer!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Evening Gallop

This evening after supper, the dogs and I went for a stroll up behind the horses' field.

George kind of wanted to play with the dogs and trotted along the fence in pursuit.

Of late, George has taken to running the mares off at dinnertime, taking off after them in a high-speed circuit of the field, before they all come back and settle down. Of course his ostensible aim is to show them that he's the Boss of Dinner. But he's always been the boss of dinner, and he always used to impress this upon the mares by means of evil glances and tooth-bared lunges. This new method is partly just for fun. George doesn't quite know how to play, but he's managed to transform this pre-dinner show of authority into a bit of a romp.

Today after jogging beside me and the dogs along the fence, the horses took off into a flat-out, thundering gallop - apparently for the sheer joy of it. Chloe moved her legs twice as fast as the big horses and managed to muster bursts of speed which matched theirs. Sometimes the mares would slow down and cluster together for a moment, before charging off again at the approach of George.

They ran and ran, until I could hearing them breathing from clear across the field. They finally stopped by the gate where I feed them and hinted that it was time for hay to be served.

It's nice to see them having fun together - the socialization of George is slowly progressing. Moreover, it's frightfully good for their hoofs to run like that!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In at the Deep End

Yesterday, my little date with the bank statement spooked me so much that I actually started looking at jobs on Craig's List.

Then yesterday, a call came in response to my recent ad in the local free paper. Could I come and trim just one foot? The owner couldn't get hold of their farrier, and this one foot was way too long.

Um, ok, well, I'll come and have a look.

So this morning I drove over, and here is the one long foot. She was not kidding about the long part.

 And here is the underside of the other - not so long(!) - forefoot:

You can see how the bars have grown up to form a sort of substitute-frog to support the hoof, as the actual frog is nowhere in contact with the ground, and is disintegrating anyway. She's partly gotten in this pickle as she is blessed with hard feet which don't break off. (Well, the main reason of course is lack of trimming.) Amazingly there was almost no flaring, and the white line was tight (when I finally found it!)

Fortunately, they'd decided I should do all four feet. Took about an hour and a half, and there was still some fine-tuning to do. But we figured we'd quit while the mare was still cooperative, and I'd come back and finish another day.

And then they decided I should come back and do their other two horses. Hooray! Maybe I won't have to be yet another waitress-with-a-philosophy-degree.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Ride

April - what a lovely spring-like word, reminding one of singing birds, and blossoms, and fresh new leaves. Tell that to Pennsylvania, where I was greeted last Thursday morning by a thick layer of wet snow covering the still-bare trees. But Mississippi, now that's another story. I've just returned from a weekend in Jackson, where the verdure was dazzling to behold, and the air was filled with the scent of flowers and mown grass.

The main purpose of the journey was to visit college kids. However, a trip to the area could not be complete without a pilgrimage to our old barn, most especially to catch up with human friend Judy and horse friend Gus. So on Friday morning I donned my boots (taking up inordinate amounts of space in my little suitcase) and headed up to our old haunts.

The weather was perfect for hanging out with horses - clear, still, and mildly warm. My friend fetched in her Thoroughbred mare and started preparing for a ride. Now, my friend thought it would be nice if I went for a ride with her, so she told me to go get Gus. Naturally, I very much wanted to see Gus, but knowing him, I wasn't sure if he would be up for a ride. Apparently he has been ridden off and on since I left, but Gus has Views about things.

I took a halter and went out. Gus came up very amiably and seemed happy to see me. He even expressed an interest in the halter and poked at it with his nose. But when I put it on and invited him to come along, he - in his inimitable gentlemanly way - informed me that this was not on his agenda for the day. He even gave me a tiny, careful, little nip on the hand.

So I said, "Gus, old buddy, today we are not exercising that option. Judy is up in the barn, and it would be disappointing for her if I didn't join her on her ride. So, pretty please? Do your feet hurt? Is that it?"

By means of coaxing and cajoling, interspersed with expressions of sympathy for his potentially sore wee tootsies, I got him to move a few steps at a time. Finally he stopped dead and emphatically pawed at the ground with first one foot and then the other. This was his way of saying, "Let me spell this out for you - there is a lot of clover growing here, and I feel it my duty to stay and eat it - someone's got to keep on top of the situation."

So I said, "Oh, sorry, I see - it's not your feet - you want to stay and graze. Please, let's go though, because I'm only here one day, and I think it wouldn't be polite of me to not ride when I've been invited." And then Gus walked forward cheerfully and followed me into the barn.

When we were all ready, we went out to the arena. I lead Gus to the mounting block (not being nimble like my friend, who levitated onto her tall mare without any help). He was distracted by the food growing at his feet and kept repositioning himself. But as Gus understands Human rather well, I asked him to please stand still for me on a loose rein while I got up, and afterwards he could eat for a bit. So he did.

After a little grazing, I asked him to please stop. Then he got all fussy and peeved, but I told him we just had to behave ourselves and he didn't have to move or anything, but could he please just stand still on a loose rein and not eat. And then after standing for a short while, I suggested we might move forward. So we did.

In her heyday, our old mare Misty would go out into the arena with me and enter a zone of calm attentiveness, her ears flicking back and forth, listening to me and to her own body. She knew I would let her stop when she asked, but she would often be willing to go for an hour before stopping. I believe she enjoyed the experience. Gus, on the other hand, thinks the whole arena thing is dumb. I've had lessons on him, when he has stayed focused, but I feel that part of having an official lesson is eliminating the option of really listening to the horse. Gus is not an angry or insecure horse - if he sees that the human means business and that he really has no choice but to buckle down, buckle down he will, with a pretty good attitude. But Gus knows I'll listen to him, and so he makes it clear that this is a Waste of His Time.

Gus believes reins are for chewing on.
As a visitor, I felt I had to be on my best behavior, so Gus and I sort of walked a little, stood a little, grazed a little (be careful no one's watching!), and walked a little more, until my friend and her mare were warmed up and ready to head out on the trail. Phew.

At first I thought I should work with Gus as I used to, asking him to bring his weight back a little, soften a little, bring his back up. But he's out of practice, and he fussed, and I realized: gee, this is supposed to be fun, why should I get on his case when I'm only here for one ride? So we walked along any old how, trying to keep up with the longer-legged mare, who kept circling back so we wouldn't be left behind.

Then my friend suggested we might t-r-o-t. Gus's default trot is a heavy-on-the-forehand, out-of-control-feeling, rushing trot, which is good for neither man nor beast, and particularly not good for a combination thereof. So I made him do what I call (and he probably feels is) the sissy trot. Once we had that established on a loose rein (after some objections from Gus), I realized that if would stop poking his nose to the right and leaning his shoulder to the left, we might manage to morph the sissy trot into a much faster, but still nice, macho one. And so we did!

And once Gus had that under his belt, he re-discovered his good jog, which is a light, airy, loose-necked jog, enabling him to keep up with the mare's long-strided walk.

And so back to the barn, where Gus received treats and accolades from me, before being released to his important grazing.

Gus in the middle distance
I could have insisted on working in the arena, but once we were out on the trail and starting to trot, making improvements in Gus's carriage was no longer a matter for idle tinkering, but a matter of necessity. What's more, at that point, Gus had a real desire for forward motion, and I could negotiate meaningfully with him - "I understand - but if we're going to do what you want, we have to make some adjustments." And then when the adjustments were made, he could see and reap the benefits.

I don't know about the moment when I insisted on bringing  him out of the field. I think it was the right thing under the circumstances. But what if he were my horse? Would I always let him stay and eat clover and get fatter and fatter as the summer wore on? (Although if he were my horse, I wouldn't have any clover available to him in the first place.) Would he sometimes want to come out for a ride? Maybe if he knew I wouldn't make him work in the Dumb Arena, he would be keener to come. Maybe if he got fit, he'd even enjoy a little arena time after all.

One thing I'm sure of: in the months since we moved home with the horses, I have learned a little bit more about how to have a conversation - how to ask-not-tell, how to take the horse's views into consideration without giving up my own agenda completely - a little bit more about when to give in and when to persist, and a little more about trusting the horse. Only a little bit, mind you. But that's something.

I miss this guy.