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

Friday, July 29, 2011


Ok, so I have been sort of dreading the vet coming. The horses need their shots, particularly because we do have rabies in this area, and that is one shot you can't administer yourself.

The vet is very nice and kind and patient. However, I always feel this pressure to a) not waste his time, b) prove that my hippydippy approach to horses actually works, and c) not waste money, while at the same time d) staying faithful to my horses. The pressure, I must stress, is not coming from him, but from my own anxiety.

Inspired by Lynne Gerard's example and by her success in getting her semi-wild young Sorrais vetted, I have emailed my vet to spell out my approach, ask for his help and cooperation, and to tell him that I'm willing to pay for him to come out "for nothing."

We have to take the pressure of "getting the job done" off the table. I want him to be able to work with the horses as I do, and if that means half an hour has gone by and nobody has their shots yet, and he has to leave and come back another day, then THAT'S OK!

I was happy that he emailed back saying he was quite willing to help in this way.

I am deciding not to worry about the potential expense, which may be irrational.

Our appointment is for August 9th. Will post!

This & That

We are in the middle of our annual summer drought.

It rains a little every week or so, but the grass wisely refuses to come out of dormancy. There's still a little green growing on the lawn, so I try to let the horses out into the yard for a couple of hours every day.

George proved his gallantry again the other day when I went into the pasture with carrots. After giving some to him and to Bridget, and managing to sneak one to Chloe, I wanted to give Rose hers. But, unlike Chloe, who stares wide-eyed at me, waiting for the opportunity to get her share, Rose was modestly hanging back a little distance away.

I told George that I was going to give Rose her carrot and then come back and give the rest to him and Bridget (who isn't afraid to hover inches away and therefore can be given a treat from the right hand while I give George one from the left). He stopped and stood still while I walked away to give Rose her carrot, and he waited til I came back with his other carrot as promised.

George has been getting more demanding about wanting scratches. He noodges me with his head and waggles his back leg (like Bridget does). This is good I think because a) he didn't used to like being scratched at all, and b) I'm happy that he asks for things, even if sometimes I'm a bit stupid about knowing what it is he's asking for.

Yesterday, Rose and George took my great-niece and great-nephew for a ride. (My nephew is only 10 years younger than me, and his kids are a year older and a year younger, respectively, than my youngest.) As has happened before, Rose and George seemed to sense beforehand what was afoot. The horses had been loose in the yard, and I planned to return Bridget and Chloe to the field and keep the other two out. As I was putting  Chloe and Bridget back, George and Rose planted themselves over next to the young humans and seemed to say - "Ok, we're ready." Or maybe it's my imagination!

The ride went very nicely. Although my great-niece has been riding for over two years, her experience has been mostly confined to riding in arenas. I told her to give Rose a long rein, trust her as much as possible, listen to her, talk to her, and let her stop if she wanted to pause for reconnoitering. My great-nephew hasn't had much experience at all, but George was good to him, and they even did some trotting.

Setting off, accompanied by pedestrian attendants.

p.s. I'm happy I switched to a bitless bridle for Rose, because when she sees me coming with the bridle now, she remains placid. When we were transitioning, she still turned away from the bitless - she probably hadn't yet realized that it was going to be different each time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brutus the Bear

Borders is going out of business, and my oldest daughter is turning 25. What do you think she's getting for her birthday?

I bought three books for her today -

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson;

Wild Horses of the World, by Moira C. Harris (foreward, if you please, by HRH The Princess Royal, and containing a section about the Banker Horses which she and I just saw);

and ... The Story of Brutus, by Casey Anderson.

The Story of Brutus concerns one man's friendship with a grizzly bear. I haven't read it, and won't have time, as the Date draws nigh and the package must be mailed, but I came across a passage which resonates:
Every time we are together, there is an opportunity to get to know each other better. It is an ever-evolving relationship. Figuratively, sometimes I want to go right, and he thinks I mean left, and we walk right into each other. There we stand, face-to-face, realizing we need to try again. We will both take a deep breath and try again, this time with a little hesitation, not in fear, but with respect for one another. When the dots connect, we celebrate that juncture as a new "word" in our language. We have developed a diverse and complex language, one that is hard to explain. Outsiders see the ease of our relationship and often ask if they can work close to Brutus. I am always quick to tell them no. At this point it would be nearly impossible for someone to just step in. It has taken countless hours and days to create the bond Brutus and I share.
And I also had to order for her the following:

Suryia and Roscoe, the True Story of An Unlikely Friendship, by Dr. Bhagavan Antle and Barry Bland.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Verray Parfit Gentil Knight

George has a new name, although he's still called George.

After we returned from vacation yesterday, Bridget was standing hanging her head over the fence, plainly wishing for some diversion.

So I went in to the pasture, put on her halter and leadrope, and approached the gate. George, of course, approached the gate too. Over a week has gone by, after all, since he last came out of the field. However, it's high time I started taking Bridget out for regular solo expeditions, and I was determined. I promised George that Bridget was only going out for exercise and training purposes, and that there would be No Grazing Allowed.

George still stood there. As I stood beside him, pulling his ears, and prattling on about how I really wished he would move out of my way, visions of Carolyn Resnick and Hempfling brandishing long sticks came into view - long sticks with which they would skillfully express their point of view as to the desired location of the likes of George. My eyes cast about in a desultory fashion, looking at various objects on the ground, as I wondered whether I could use said objects to similar effect.

But I just stood there, prattling and waiting, Bridget hiding behind me.

Then George took himself out of the way so perfectly and beautifully that Bridget and I were able to exit without the least rush, and he stayed in position long enough for me to take this photo.

You can see the edge of the still-open gate at the bottom left.
I was speechless with admiration. Well, actually I wasn't speechless, and as I rushed about pulling up handfuls of grass to hand over the fence to him, I continued prattling, telling him how absolutely fantastic he is.

And I told him that no matter what kind of a George he had been up until this moment, he was hereinafter to be known as the namesake of St. George, he of damsel-rescuing, dragon-slaying fame.

Bridget and I had a very nice walk - and although of course she snatched the odd mouthful, there was no actual grazing, in faithfulness to my promise to George. When we returned, George let us back in.

I am grateful that although I am pretty clueless when it comes to demanding what I want, my kind friend is nevertheless generous enough to offer what I ask as a gift freely given.

Wild Horses

We had a lovely week at the beach. Perfect weather, good company, lots of yummy food most of which I didn't have to cook myself, boogie boarding - and the wild horses of Shackelford Banks.

We took a little boat out from Beaufort, NC to a small island called Shackelford Banks, home to about 120 "Banker" horses, descended from 16th century Iberian horses. The horses are also found on other neighboring islands. They're about 14 hh, mostly variations of chestnut coloration. The breed possesses a rare genetic marker known as Q-ac - whatever that means - which proves the horses are descended from ancient Spanish stock. Apparently, they have only five lumbar vertebrae instead of six, a trait they share with Arabians and with other Spanish breeds. A number of them have bi-colored manes, like Fjords, although I didn't see any eel stripes. They have characteristic short, sloping quarters.

When we landed on the island, we didn't have to walk far before we found a little band of three mares and a stallion. A couple hundred yards further on, there was another group of three mares, a yearling, and a stallion, who was grazing a little distance from the mares, but aware of their location.

On the way back to the island beach for a dip, we passed another group of mares with a foal - no stallion in sight, but perhaps he was hidden, or perhaps they could have been part of the first group we saw.

First sighting.
Friendly mare.

Mother, yearling (still nursing), another mare
Stallion grazing apart from his mares.
Manure pile.
The horses all looked as if someone had spent hours combing their manes and tails - the result of constantly brushing up against the prickly undergrowth on the island.

The second group we met contained a couple of rather warm-hearted mares, who seemed to look kindly upon us. We crept up close as they stood for a little nap, stopping when the closest mare reacted. She let us approach to within 15 feet or so, and we sat down near her as she stood with her eyelids drooping. We didn't stay long, as the yearling's mother looked a bit anxious about having interlopers at such close quarters. Or maybe she just looked oppressed at having such a giant baby still nursing, as she was quite thin.

We returned home today. Look who came with us ....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


As dusk fell after a hot day, the horses emerged from the shade of their shelter to graze in the cooler, fly-free evening. I joined them.

Bridget pestered me for a lot of hindquarter and tummy scratches, backing into me, gesturing with her head, and waggling her hind leg to tell me where to scratch. Finally I got tired of this and wandered off.

George came over and said hello, and I reflected that George, who is the one who most likes comfort, is the one who is the best at giving it. Despite his tendency toward bossiness and grabbiness, he is the one who is the most peaceful with me, often asking for nothing except quiet companionship.

After George had strolled off and I was mulling all this over, Bridget, who had disappeared behind a tree, came back into view and marched purposefully towards me. She took my arm in her teeth - not a bite, not a nip, but a gesture of some sort - and then let go. She walked forward, backed slowly into me until she made contact, stayed like that for a couple of moments without asking for scratches, and then walked off intent on grazing.

Had she read my thoughts? And what did her response mean?


On Sunday there was a brush fire across the road, burning around the edges of about a 5- or 10-acre area. We could hear the flames crackling up at the house, and as the grass is very dry, I was afraid some sparks might jump the road and start burning up toward the barn. So I called the Fire Department, who came out in force.

Spraying the fire
Now Chloe happened to be out on the lawn while all this was going on. After the neighbors and I had exhausted the entertainment to be gotten out of watching the fire trucks driving around the field, I returned to the house. A little later I looked out and saw - yikes - Chloe across the road.

I dashed out and retrieved her, the other horses meanwhile charging around their pasture in a state of great anxiety - "What's she doing?! She's not supposed to be over there!"

Some more neighbors were out witnessing all this, and their little boy wanted to say hello to Chloe. She was in no mood, but I asked her to be polite. She came over, sniffed the little guy's leg, let him pat her once, and then said, "That's it, we're done here."

Chloe must have somehow been attracted toward the commotion, I guess. What a funny girl. Her lawn privileges are now restricted - temporarily at least - and when I let her out today, I tied a barrier across the drive.

I felt like our little world had been all shook up.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In the Orchard with Jill

On Monday, my oldest daughter texted me to say she was re-reading Jill's Gymkhana (presumably as an antidote to having had the recent misfortune to experience the movie Bridesmaids) and demanding to know why I hadn't named her Jill.

Jill has a special place in our hearts. As a young girl, I read and re-read the Jill series many times over, sometimes reaching the last page of a book and immediately turning back to page one. There is a treacle stain on my copy of Jill and the Perfect Pony, the vestige of a midnight sandwich eaten in bed while reading the book for about the 12th time. To this day phrases from Jill will often pop into my head, and her life remains for me a kind of Shangri-La of perfection, if Shangri-La is the proper term to use in connection with a life spent in pigtails and jodhpurs.

I read the books to my oldest when she was little, and often when Daddy was away on business and younger siblings safely asleep, she and I would load up a tray with a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits and get comfy in bed with a Jill book to read aloud in (as Jill would say) the Silent Watches of the Night. When my daughter graduated from college, my present to her was a complete set of Jill books, first-edition hardcovers with the proper illustrations, gleaned from several months' searching over the internet among British second-hand and antiquarian booksellers.

Everything you need to know about horses and about life is there in the Jill books. Always take care of your pony before you take care of yourself. Never be a pot hunter. Don't boast. Drink lots of tea and eat hearty. Don't complain. If something goes wrong, it's your fault, not the pony's.

Jill inhabits the come-back-all-is-forgiven version of 1950's England. The children are plucky and independent, the adults eccentric, stern, or kindly - and distant; the food is plentiful and wholesome (bread and dripping's good for you, right?); buses or trains take you anywhere you need to go if you can't get there by horseback; tall trees throw leafy shadows across long lanes in endless summer afternoons; and horses abound.

Inspired by my daughter's example, I picked up Jill's Riding Club to read in bed that night. In the very first chapter, I came upon the following paragraph:
In the end we went to our orchard and sprawled under the trees, and my ponies Black Boy and Rapide nuzzled us and tried to chew our hair, and it was all very pleasant, especially as Ann had brought some chocolate.
 And had I not earlier in the evening of the very same day posted an account and photos of our horses joining us under the trees as we partook of refreshment, and did they not also try to chew our hair?

I am so thankful - although I find myself in the real world more than 50 years on and thousands of miles away from Jill's fictional afternoon in the orchard - that Black Boy, Rapide, Bridget, George, Jill, and I all still inhabit the same universe.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tea Time

I let the gang loose on the lawn today to mingle in the coffee klatch. This venture met with varying success.

The horses thought it was pretty cool and wanted to join the social circle. My husband was willing to put up with a little hair chewing, but my brother-in-law visibly winced at having a pair of horse jaws rooting around his scalp.

Aw, it's a happy George.

George still happy, but human not all 
that comfortable at proximity of beast.
I finally returned the horses to their field, as I guess not everyone wants to share their space with 1,000 pounds of furniture-turning, shoe-munching, tea-drinking horse. I was beginning to make some headway in teaching George that the point of the social circle is that you stay on the perimeter and don't plonk yourself right in the middle. I think he'll get it eventually.

I wonder who's responsible for this?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Another Appaloosa, and a Throughbred

Today I trimmed another Appaloosa. He could have been the triplet of two others I trimmed a few weeks ago. He was a handsome, strapping fellow with a good heart, but, as with the other two, my efforts to be considerate and polite could only take me so far. When asked, he gave me his feet right away but then took them back just as quickly.

One reason his owner switched from her old farrier was that the horse had knocked the old (in both senses of the word) farrier over by suddenly snatching away his foreleg, and the owner was afraid that the man would end up being injured. Using the hoofjack made things easier to begin with, as the horse's leg didn't have to be snatched out from between my knees. Also, the horse didn't lean on me, which the owner warned me he would - I guess it's easier and more tempting to lean when the trimmer has his body jammed up against yours.

You can usually tell when the horse's reluctance to let you keep his leg stems from discomfort and when the cause is impatience. With this horse (as with the other two Appies), I felt he just plain didn't want to leave his leg up.

Sweet talking was not helpful, so I went up to his head and said something to the effect of, "Your ancestors used to hunt buffalo. They were real tough. They were so tough, you know what they used to do? They ... er ... used to ... um ... stand completely still for hours on end. I bet you're that tough too, huh?"

Whether he understood my words, or whether my manner of communicating them made an impression on him, after that he left his foot on the stand in an exemplary fashion.

His buddy was a sweet ex-racehorse, with knobby fetlock joints, one flat forefoot and one contracted-heel concave forefoot, and a sore left hindleg. When I first went to pick up his forefoot, it was glued to the ground. But by dint of me asking nicely, the foot was given. The owner warned me that he sometimes cowkicked with the hind legs. I figured this was probably due to discomfort, so when I came to the sore left hind, I stood beside that leg, telling the horse that I wanted him to pick it up and rubbing the joints to let him know I knew something hurt, and then touched the leg just above the fetlock joint. After a try or two, he figured out in his own time how to lift it up comfortably.  I rested the hoof on the toe of my boot, as fortunately there wasn't much to take off, and I could complete the job quickly. I'm planning to get a mini horse Hoofjack when I have the money, and I believe you can fit the full-size horse cradle in the mini stand, which would be very useful for horses, like this one, who can't easily lift their hind legs very high.

The horses' owner was a very nice lady - I was happy to meet someone else who lets their horses out in their yard! She described how they like to look through the windows into the house and to try and help when she's hanging out the laundry.

Once again, I'm impressed at how willing horses are to cooperate and how well they understand what you tell them. The difference between the TB and the Appaloosa was also interesting - I find it easier to work with horses who, like the TB, are softer, sweeter, and more sensitive. The Appaloosa types challenge me to find a more assertive demeanor, while still being courteous and kind. This Appy had something else in common with the other two - namely he had been roughly (or even abusively) treated in a previous home, and had nicks in his ears to show for it. The owner and I agreed that the temperament of these horses does not take rude treatment lying down, but their challenging temperament often causes handlers (men especially) to be overly dominant toward them. Yet these horses have a reputation of being excellent with children and so clearly are to some extent magnanimous toward weakness and do not need to be "bossed around" as such.  This horse, and another Appy I trimmed, are both young, and not much time has elapsed since they were badly treated. Yet they have maintained their confidence and have quickly formed new trusting relationships with their current owners. Kind of an awesome breed.