Monday, November 30, 2009

Relax and lie like a dog

It is Monday morning, post Turkey Day weekend. After a long holiday weekend I had looked forward to an opportunity to get to the barn and ride and possibly work off some turkey and dressing today. I had some pent up energy to burn and felt the pressing of the lack of time to ride from last week.
I looked out the window to see the sky to the east and was sunny and full of promise for a nice day of riding. The western sky though was a deep periwinkle blue, which made for a nice backdrop to the remaining colored leaves but looked a bit more ominous. That blue then invaded and spent a few hours heavy with rain. Rain mostly departed, but the sky has remained dark and gloomy and not worth the risk to get my lovely Stubben saddle soaked.

My daily life here on the farm generally revolves around what the weather is doing at the moment or is going to be doing. If it is nice then the first thing I like to get done after coffee and animal feeding is to work the horses. Some days that includes riding all three that are working under saddle. I also try to get ground work/manners basic in with the two 2 yr silly fillies. All this is dictated by priority of which one needs the education/exercise the most, and what kind of energy level I feel. If its like today and the weather directs me elsewhere from the barn, then I attack the most pressing thing that hasn't gotten done for a while inside the house.

Today's goal was try to figure out what the heck was going on with our sleep number hammock/bed. It seems that the middle of the bed has recently lowered to a good half foot below the edge and won't re inflate making a good night sleep absolutely impossible. That turned into typical series of events loosely involving the initial purpose. The bed got taken apart. The sheets got washed, vacuuming done behind and under the bed, sorting through the pile of magazines and books on the floor, and dusting, a bit of internet research on sleep number bed pumps, and more dusting and multiple trips to the trash can. There also was the underlying frustration tape running about how I wasn't doing what I wanted or felt the need to be doing at the barn with the horses.

After realizing that I had worked myself into a good little frenzy on this multifaceted mission and letting my stress build over the idle ponies out there munching their hay, I thought, "Where is the cleanup police and where is the barn gestapo? " There isn't anyone pressing me for the speed cleaning award. I am not a clean freak. I like clean, but when there is so much else to do, then why obsess about getting it all done now? Whether I get three horses worked today or not will also not go into the history annals and they certainly won't care.
So it may well be another decade before I go on a cleaning rampage and who will notice or care. I doubt there will be writing on my tombstone about my not being a great house cleaner. I will just have to be hopeful and patient for a nicer day tomorrow or some time soon, to enjoy a day at the barn. For the rest of this day I may try to be a bit more like Memphis, the white lab in the header shot. That dog understands what our dear late friend Emmit Patton used to say when things got dicey and stress levels were edging upward. He would just smile that wonderful smile of his, and say "Maintain Margaret. ( or to whoever he felt needed the prompt)... Maintain."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jack Hates Spinach

Jack is laying at my feet. I am standing at the stove waiting for the spinach to cook before I make my favorite thing, spanikopita. Dropped spinach is not his favorite thing but he remains hopeful for better. While spanikopita is not among our family's standard Turkey Day grub, I thought it would make a nice change from slimy green beans cooked in canned soup. It is also one of my parents' favorite things to eat. My mother and I were taught how to fix it by a very tiny elderly Greek lady who was a friend of my mothers. It was important to this woman for us to learn to make this dish and she had us come to her house to see how it was prepared and by doing this, passed along a bit of her heritage. Spanikopita is a laborious mixture of spinach, lots of onions, butter, oil, dill weed, obscene amounts of feta, riccotta, and parmesan cheeses, more parmesan cheese, and eggs. The beauty of it is its finish. It is topped with a layer of a multitude of paper thin pastry sheets of phillo dough, each carefully coated with a brushing of butter. Cooked until golden it becomes a dish of most pleasant thoughts and comfort. Jack still waits for better spillage but I can't think of one.

Outside I see the horses are all waiting not very patiently for my morning walk to the barn for their relief from nocturnal fasting. A lovely fall day with a hint of moisture in the air to soften the edges and brighten the colors. There is a solid wall of gold from some unidentified tree putting on a splendid show just off the back porch. A slight breeze continues to send flurries of acorns to the ground where they lay like the scene in the cartoons where ball bearings are spilt to thwart the bungling efforts of the bad guys. I am amazed Jack hasn't resorted to woofing these down too.

It is Turkey Day Eve. This afternoon I will cook the bird on the Green Egg. Maybe I will put the sweet potatoes in there with it to let them smoke a bit before mashing them. Then there is the must have salad to be made. Then rolls and the gravy. I forget, the dressing has to be in there too. And dessert? How does one keep a Turkey Day spread small? There will be once again, more overeating and months of leftovers to be creative with. What a wonderful dilemma to keep repeating.

Monday, November 23, 2009

over the river

Short week now here with the stress of the gathering of food and the clan. Turkey Day in my mind, has long been a day of just incredible boredom and disruption. It has long been a day of basic misery to me, full of obligations, expectations, and feelings of guilt for any noncompliance. By tradition, it generally has required someone travel a long distance, which tends to ruin a usually nice day or weekend, to wolf down a huge amount of food at a weird time of day. It also required someone working their butt off for a week to make the traditional spread happen and then having to spend the time cleaning the mess up. Is has been about eating mounds of casseroles and green beans to a painful level and then some. Its about getting kissed by dry lips of ancient women, listening to all the annually repeated family stories followed by the journey home of the equally long and boring opposite direction, while trying to digest all that with the scent of the aftershave and powders of the old ones traveling with me.
Now all those folks, those grandparents, those faces, those stories that made up my childhood memories of Turkey Day, are gone. The things that once seemed so annoying, and so ridiculous to me, and so eternal in their pattern were really fleeting and ephemeral. I am wondering just how many more Turkey Days will I have to share with my aging parents, and with my husband and kids. Such a stupid holiday devoted to the gorging on a dumb bird and how absolutely precious it is to share it one more time. This year, I will appreciate it all.
On another note, the wonder dog, Jack sends thanks for all the kind remarks that were sent. He has had a very nice and pleasant week inside the house. For a first, he doesn't reek of some dead thing that he hasn't gotten to roll on that gives him that special odor that sets him apart. That is good, for us. Not for him. The fissure in the roof of his mouth is healing nicely and the bleeding toenail is healed as well. Perhaps with another day or two of not hitting the goodies at the barn and chewing sticks and staying on the canned dog food, then life can go back to normal for him. Poor puppy. I can see that the imposed inability to supplement on his part has had good effect. There is a definite waist line to be seen on the boy. Jack has got a pretty good wiggle going now. I am sure this svelte outline will be temporary as he is already scratching at the door to follow the pack to the barn where all the delicacies await his undiscerning pallet. And too, there are all the nice Turkey Day scraps coming up.
So over the river and through the woods....have a nice one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Poor Puppy

Poor Jack. Jack is our circumferentially enhanced Australian Terrorist. Breed standard says he should be around 14 lbs. Vet scales yesterday put him at 24.6lbs. Yesterday was a bad day for the pup. He had been doing some pretty weird face scratching after drinking water the day before. I opened his mouth and couldn't see anything and thought maybe a tooth issue was going on. It happened to be time for his thyroid re screening, hence his weight problem, so called the vet to take him in for both situations. Upon vet's exam with three helpers holding the dogs jaws so he couldn't chomp the vulnerable fingers, it was revealed that there was pencil size stick caught between the back molars of Jack's mouth. Since it was so far back and so deeply embedded in the roof of the mouth Jack got a quick dose of sedative so that work could be done to remove it. The good vet took the stick out with a set of forceps and rinsed the bleeding and cut off bad tissue. Nasty. The bone of the roof of the mouth was exposed it was so deep of a cut. I was told it was to be a week of house arrest and canned dog food for a week for Jack.

Poor puppy is right. You have understand that even tho this boy is way over the supposed to be weight limit, he is not slow. He can catch lizards with ease, and birds and whatever small rodent he might come across. Bugs, frogs and now apparently sticks are part of it too. Jack's days are spent in the quest for more things to eat and the great outdoors holds no end to the smorgasbord. The initial reason of the vet putting him on the thyroid medicine was to help with his sluggish metabolism and hopefully help him lose weight. It did pep his spirits tremendously but no weight was lost because he just got to the food faster. Jack is a serious supplementor.

Anyway, back to our sedated pup. Jack is laying there on the stainless table with tongue hanging out and a stupor in his eyes while we waited for him to start shaking off the juice. There is a bit of blood coming from his mouth, but not bad. So the girl assistant decides to take advantage of his situation and cut his toe nails. She got two of them done and then struck the quick on the third. Now we have major gusher. Poor puppy again. The vet comes back in, sees the mess, rolls his eyes and grabs some gauze and tape to fix the flow of crimson.

The hemorrhaging contained with bright green flex wrap and white tape up to the elbow, Jack starts to come back to the planet. I was told that this type of sedation tends to make them do a funny behavior upon trying to awaken. The behavior actually is called the "Stevie Wonder Syndrome". It is a side to side wagging of the head that really looks just like what the famous singer does. Should have had a video camera. Opportunity for fame and fortune on You Tube was lost.

Jack is now home from the clinic and will be an inside dog for the week while his mouth heals. For a week there wont be any trip to the barn to pick up spilled grain from the horses mouths, or the stuff from the other end. No sticks either. Jack is adapting well to his incarceration and is getting used to this pampered life of luxury pretty quickly. Sofas do make pretty good dog beds and there is a neat dark cave to hide in with lots of soft cloth things to lay on just past the water bowl that the people sit on. The food is great, real canned chow with beef and rice instead of the dry chunks. Yup life is rough. But I think Jack is just doing quite alright with his poor puppy status

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mr Murphy's Laws and Pattern Breakers

There is no doubt that the immortal words by Mr. Murphy about his overwhelming pessimism about how things never go as planned, were written because he had a farm to run and I bet he had horses. My husband, Mark and I were laughing recently with a visitor to our farm, that on any given day to begin any project, chore, or activity it would be absolute certainty that things weren't going to get going in a smooth, straight forward way to easy completion. There are no straight lines to being productive on a farm. Each intended move requires multiple precursory moves to even begin the said project. The tire will need inflating, which will require rewiring of the air compressor plug because it shorts out, which requires finding the screw driver, wire cutter, and the new plug which we bought and put in a safe place, which we have forgotten, to be able to find it latter when we got around to needing it. The screw driver can't be found because it got used and left at the site of the last project, which we can't remember what it was and where either. The battery will need to be jumped off, if we can find the cables. The list of hurdles to complete, or begin, any project are so daunting that most don't get started. So life on a farm mostly is a continuum of making lists of things to do, losing the list, and not getting everything done.

One way to deal with this cycle of frustration is to bang your head on the wall. The other is to accept the idea that everything is going to take longer than expected, will not turn out exactly like you planned, and might lead you down a totally different rabbit trail altogether. You just have to accept Mr Murphy's Laws and be content in its uncertainty of outcome.

Dealing with and training horses is a prime lesson in the value of this pessimistic philosophy. If you think you have absolute control over what you plan to train that horse for today, you are living in a fantasy land and are going to be disappointed. Hardly any day at the barn goes as I think it might or should. There can be goals to aim for, for sure, but the best laid plans tend to have a mind of their own. It seems best to have rough ideas of what you want to play with. Then if the wind is blowing gale force and your horse is a bit fresh, or there is a herd of cows (not yours) coming up your driveway, or any other distraction that will impede your initial plan , you try to roll with it, using a healthy dose of self preservation instincts, and use the moment to teach the horse something new about how to deal with these strange happenings and get on with their work. I might, for example, get off the horse and use this opportunity to practice ground driving and basic manners to get the horse to approach this horror, or at least accept it. This just might show you where in your training you have a gap that needs to be addressed, ie. the horse has less respect for you telling him to get in front of you than he has fear of that scary thing. Not a safe relationship.

Such is the way it was this morning, the winds having blown in a new batch of cool air. A fact, that with each decrease in temperature comes a doubled proportional decrease in the momentary IQ of a horse. Normally feeding time comes with a bit of excitement but today there were many tails lifted high and many snorts and blows and some truly spectacular movements shown by all of them. Even Tony, the ancient Shetland stallion, was passaging around his quarters, tossing his locks and looking quite spritely. The dragon head that guards the broodmares and which is totally ignored most of the other 364 days du year, was being snorted, kicked at, and run away from with great bucks and head throws... and this was by my 18 yr old broodmare Joline and her normally laid back side kick Robijn. So it was no surprise when I brought the silly two year old fillies in to their stalls that suddenly the towel laying over the rail outside Cupcake's stall was a sudden source of terror. To that she decided she needed to leave and was considering going over my head and body to do so. Taking advantage of this situation we then schooled "better be more afraid of Margaret than the towel". That was about respect for my space and a focus on me. I can't expect for her to not have fear of things, but I do expect that I don't get trampled because of it.

When things don't go as we planned then we have to address the change and break our pattern. Pattern breakers and moments like this morning are great ways to see other perspectives and to notice gaps, and to learn and teach. It is so easy to get stuck in a safe little rut of repetition and think you can avoid the unknown results of change. You have to use the tests and take advantage of the things you don't expect. The only thing constant is that there will be change. It is how we deal with, adapt and modify that allows us to progress. It does make life, and dealing with horses, more interesting to look at it with Mr Murphy's perspective.

Friday, November 13, 2009

our anscestors must have been nuts

We have just been watching a show on the tv on the
evolution of humanoids and it showed the usual bits about
when tools were first used and made etc. all the
basic national geographic blah blah about what
was the reason for our ancestry's success and subsequently our being here. What was not mentioned was that somewhere along the line of this evolutionary changes one of these humanoids must have blown a fuse and decided they were sick and tired of carrying their mate's stuff around on their backs and started to use their newly increased brain size to figure a way to make their lives easier. They must've looked at that herd of early horses and said "how hard could it be to domesticate that horse over there and make it work for you." Right. That's a kind of the screwy logic ... the part about the horse being scared of everything with a strong tendency to leave, or fight with its hard hooves and some sharp teeth, must've been a small point to them. And like I wrote yesterday about those defensive tools to survive.... who the heck first got one of these animals to stand still long enough to get a rope on,, oh wait was rope even invented yet. Probably not. Then how do you communicate with an animal with a brain of grossly smaller capacity than homo erectus and no rational thought patterns that could bite, kick, buck and turn your day into pure misery, if not kill you? It amazes me that anyone ever got horses domesticated without the entire group attempting it dieing and not being able to pass along techniques that make it possible today to continue this madness.
Today I rode my young gelding, Atlas, who is doing remarkably well with his training. He is biddable and sweet and fairly uncomplicated. That being said he is where he is in his training because I have spent an enormous amount of my time and adrenalin to get his brain to run in a slow mode where his thought patterns now move at a snails pace instead of light speed, which is where it was when I first began work with him. He was scared of things , imagined or real, and he left. Fast. Not good for my neck but good business for my bone cracking chiropractor.
It is such a long road to train a horse for our uses, farm, dressage, pleasure. It is the first months which are critical to it becoming a "good" horse or a "bad" one, or totally useless. The folks who ride who have never started a young one from scratch have zero idea of what has to happen to make this creature safe enough so they can buy this nice young prospect and then take it to a show and come away with a blue ribbon.
Every time I start a new one down that road to being a useful animal in my world, it takes such an enormous amount of my physical and mental energy to just try and get it right. I try to limit mistakes that will set the training back or doom it. How did our ancestors do it with no books nor instructors.. and bigger question is why try. I suppose the mate breathing down their necks with lots of stuff to get carried around was high enough motivation. I am glad they did and were successful. I do have to admit there is nothing like the communication between with an engaged horse that has learned to learn and is relaxed and comfortable in sharing the job with you. That is sublime.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

horses are buddhas, and so are folks

one thing that i have learned about animals, and that includes humans, is that there are no such things as perfect relationships. all are flawed and all have limited perfections because of our expectations and perspectives. non can live up to all of our hopes and some can be nothing but disappointments. but if you can get past that and recognize beings for what they are, imperfect in whatever way you perceive them, then they can become the teacher. they are the Buddha.

in working with horses it is a fact that they are wired for their survival. first and foremost. and to deal with that wiring we must understand that even tho they show affection to us at times, love has nothing to do with their wanting to avoid being potentially eaten by something. to this end they will run away, bite, kick, buck, rear, and do whatever needed to fulfill the defense mode. does this make them evil, flawed, or imperfect. no. they are here because one or more of their ancestors was perfect at self defense, thus passing on the gene pool that got this creature here. the problem comes in where this defense mode tends to get us riders hurt. i don't like that part. so it becomes our job as riders and trainers to understand this about them and to help them learn that all that is not familiar is not necessarily a threat and doesn't require that behavior to survive. it is also about purposely using the unfamiliar and scarey things to teach them to have trust in us and do what we say despite the scarey thing. and if they trust us and learn to bypass that survival behavior, then we judge them as "good" horses. a "bad" horse is one that has learned that these defense tactics for survival work to make ineffective riders scared and go away. oh do they quickly learn which buttons to push. we all do.
if we are close minded to the process of change and judge only from a moment of a behavior, an act perhaps made in fear, anger, or an emotional misunderstanding, then the relationship is doomed to not improve. relationships, between whatever the species, are ongoing processes. they require the openness to a difference of perspective, and a real sense of adventure and humor to learn to dance together. it is a journey, the learning to communicate, that makes the relationship become a partnership.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the day after ida

well for a hurricane that wasnt supposed to be anything much, ida certainly brought on its share of the gulf of mexico. is there an end to the words used to describe mud? slop, mush, pain in the butt. just when the barn yard had dried to an almost liveable, tho not arid, condition, now here we are back in the caked on legs, faces, sloppy footing, cant get a wheel barrow thru it, mess . i whine certainly. horses are best and most fun under ideal situations and weather makes a huge difference. how much fun do you really have a show or an event when the sky is opening up its guts and landing it all on you while you try to do your best and look like you are having fun so the judge up in their dry little shelter gives you that score you want. life on a horse, and horse farm, is so much nicer when the air is mild, almost cool, dry and there are no bugs left and the leaves are colorful. that is what fall is supposed to be about. the easy time to be owner of a horse farm. but as in most things...this too shall pass. wasnt it a few months ago we were in serious drought. and i could whine about that but it has passed and life is short. and there are muddy horses nickering for dinner