Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Walt Disney was quite right on one thing. "The world is a carousel of color, mystery, comedy, and fantasy." This is so true and the jingle to the opening of his tv show each week in my childhood reinforced this idea over and over. The natural world that Disney revealed to the audience was perfect, kind, and glorious.

The natural world is just so many, many things. It is beautiful, mysterious, charming, humorous, graceful, enchanting, mesmerizing, amazing, wonderful,etc. The superlatives and descriptions are endless to describe it. As I was to learn later as I grew up and was shown other views, it is also a cruel and very hard thing to comprehend sometimes. In its unbiased perfection, it is a set of checks and balances that we, as humans, judge and give labels to, and morally decide the good guy from the bad, the right from wrong. Nature does not view itself from this myopic view point and has no moral code. It is totally about life and it is about death, and all means go this end. It is about the survival of the best, and eating is at the core of our survival.

This morning began well enough, coffee drank, hat on, out the door I went to start the day. Two of the dogs came up to begin our walk to the barn, with their ritualistic yapping at my heels. Jack was not present and neither was white dog, Memphis. When I turned the corner of the carport I saw why. Jack was urgently gnawing on the remains of a hind leg of a young deer and he looked up at me with a somewhat guilty look. I took it from him in disgust and then saw where Memphis was.

Further down the drive towards the barn she stood pulling at pieces from the rest of the front end of this poor young fawn. Its delicate ears draped to the ground  and its beautiful head bent away from her pulls like a woman swooning from a romantic kiss.

I was instantly revolted and sickened by this horrific image, and angry too. Then I began to question both my horror, and more my anger. Why did I find humor in the time she had the dead squirrel and find myself so repulsed by this particular killing by my supposedly domesticated pet?

I live in the world, on this farm with these animals, that most folks read about and never experience first hand. One where death and life are close companions. It is a hard world to really emotionally grasp and I cant' help but be subjective. Exactly why is one animal's life, and its death, more important or different from another? Is it the fact that we relate more to the large eyes of the deer and care little for the furry tail rats? Is size the answer or is it of our emotional attachment to the species? And too, there is the primal thing about watching
a recently live animal being devoured, crunched on, chewed that is deeply disturbing.

I remember so clearly the film Disney did of Bambi and the movie's rude departure from the feel good stories I had viewed previously. The startlement in the death of Bambi's mother, shot by a hunter, leaving the poor fawn alone to fend for him self, really rocked my boat. This unfairness in the course of the natural world had never occurred to me. Until this point I was naively there with Bambi and Flower and Thumper rolling thru the flowers of life, having never thought anything but good was always to happen. Disney had ingrained this into our young psyches on previous works. The devastation, in the sheer concept of Bambi's mother' death , and finality of the pleasantness his young life to that point, was an unexpected eye opener.

Memphis did not happen to see the movie about Bambi and really doesn't discriminate about her prey choices based on some moral judgement call. They are all good to her. She was proud of her kill and the other dogs respected her prowess and gave her wide berth when they walked past, making sure their eyes were averted and they kept one ear was pointed in her direction lest she think they had intent to take it from her. Having filled her belly with enough to satisfy, she just laid there looking at her kill, admiring it, claiming it, owning it. The poor fawn's remains were twisted and ripped, but even then, it retained a soft beauty to the closed eyes and delicate curve of the domed head and neck.

I am an omnivore. I like meat. Does my moral compass shift away a bit at seeing this today? Yes a bit. I am glad to be spared the part where slaughter houses do the dirty work to bring my plastic packaged dead animals to my grocery store. On the other hand tho, should I feel any less guilty eating lettuce, ripping the leaves, and chewing them up? Eating is for survival. As humans we have just come up with ways to make food, whether animal or vegetable, pretty and appetizing. We manage to just sweep our little consciences under the carpet, unfold our napkins, and dig in. How different from Memphis are we? Not so much I think.

Regrettably, a long life was not to be for this fawn, who had most likely followed its mothers command to stay put somewhere hiding low in the grass. I have come across several fawns in similar situations and have nearly stepped on a few. Memphis probably had a very easy prey. I feel very sad for the fawn, and for the mother who will be looking for it later on today.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Reluctant Fall Finally Arrives

Today was the first day in many that I have turned off all of the fans in the barn. After 5 long months of the incessant whirling of their plastic blades in their unsuccessful attempt to make it any cooler, it is now quiet, it is peaceful, and it is cool. Yesterday the first, of hopefully more, cold fronts descended from the arctic and brought much needed rain and finally, the cooler temps.
This summer has just been so extremely, friggin, hot here, and for so many other places, due to the global climate change or just bad luck.  The effects tho, of this extreme heat to one’s psyche when one works outside all day is stretching the limits of mental and physical abilities to withstand such torture, much less function. I know my mental ability was challenged just by being out there, and physically I felt beat up by it. It needed to go away.
That was where I was on Saturday, burnt toast. I had finished two very intense weeks with focus spent on horse stuff. First there was the stress of the Keuring, the taking the foal and mare to inspection and all that entailed. Then last week was a dressage clinic, which I hosted here at the farm, with Jeff Moore teaching. It was great and we all learned much as usual, but the most important thing we learned was, to never have the clinic in September again. October is a much better choice, but wasn’t available because of folks heading to the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky this time. We all spent 6 to 8 hours baking everyday by the side of the arena, and then too there was the time spent on the horse as well. It was brutal. It is not sane to be doing anything when the thermometer says 96 degrees and means it. Who says you have to be sane to ride a horse anyway?
So after all the trailers had headed out the driveway, tents and arena taken down, and instructor off to the airport, I went and hid in the house to cool my body and relax some. My mood was dark and deeply depressed. I simply could not take anymore of this weather. Greenland, as a new home, was looking pretty good. Mark said the weather forecast was promising a good change, but I thought he was only saying that in self defense to cheer my dour attitude. I was a doubter and just added more ice to my water and whatever.
Typical that when you are at the end of the rope, another comes along. Seasons change, over and over. Thank the gods, or whatever planetary alignment and rotation of the earth’s axis that makes these changes possible. Suicide rates would be much higher if they didn’t. I was close. So with this cooling rain, the earth and all its creatures, including moi, have all been given a much needed reprieve from the brutal stress, for the moment. I am thankful.
We sat on the front porch yesterday watching the rain, with light jackets on, dogs laying around us without panting. The trees visibly soaked up the moisture and filled their parched and brittle leaves back out and the grass went from crispy brown to green again as we sat there watching. It was a nice day with no particular thing to do, and now the weather had turned itself into a polite thing again. My stress level slowly melted to about a 2 year low, (except for the sublime time we spent in August at Snowbird Lodge), and my attitude soared in direct proportion.

Often when it rains and we are sitting on the porch, we get to see animals come out of the woods as tho they think of the rain as some sort of invisiblity cloak for them. Once there was an enormous flock of tom turkeys casually walking around the pasture. Frequently a Red Shoulder hawk hunts the fence line in the rain.  Yesterday tho, I noticed one of our furry friends from this spring sitting alertly looking towards the house. It was one of the red foxes that Marley had befriended back then and had been scarcely seen since then.
Mark went to get  some binoculars. While he was gone, the fox ducked under the fence and trotted closer, and over to the persimmon tree, which is loaded with orange fruit right now, and some of the riper ones lay on the ground. I hadn’t known foxes were fond of this particular fruit, grapes, yes, according to Aesop’s little story, but this one was seriously chowing down on his find. It was apparent too by his, or her, actions that this was not a first time at checking out what’s under that tree. There was a look of major happiness as the fox stuffed his mouth with these morsels and sat and chewed them, then looked for more. Once the supply was done, off he trotted to the gap under the fence, and back to the dark of the woods he went.
Well if fall has come reluctantly and late, then Halloween has come early in barn world. Everyday I walk in and am met with spider webs of all description. These aren’t evil spiders with intent to bite me. They rather prefer flying bugs, I know, but the strands are annoying and creepy as heck. I feel rather simpatico with Gulliver with his trouble with the Lilliputions, some of the strands are so tough that they stop my forward progress into the barn aisle until I can extricate myself from their pull. 

There are few things more disgusting than walking face first into the center of one of the types that has baby fine strands, so you don’t see it or the spider, and are left with a sticky, tickling, elastic web that will not come off, stuck right to your nose, in your mouth,  in your hair, and across your eyes. That, and there is the wondering of where, exactly the spider is...nice. NOT. Just wish they would build somewhere else besides my barn and my house.
Somewhere during the day yesterday, I noticed my cell phone which does primary duty as my camera, would not turn on, locked, and unresponsive to anything I did to try to trick it back in functioning mode. I am pretty sure now that it is a dead thing. Hope remains that my data, contacts, notes, and photos are not lost. I don’t really mind that today I am alone from it, an excuse to be a hermit again, but missed the potential use of as  a camera. So I took my flip video along and recorded a bit of Marley and Frank doing the thing they do going to the barn and will try to post it here and also some of the beautiful views from my path today. It was a very nice morning to be on the farm.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fandango's Big Adventure

Last Monday morning’s start was a near disaster. There I was, enjoying the pleasant moments before I knew I had to get up, in the sweet drifting in and out of sleep where the lines between them are inseparable, when I was rudely interrupted by a dog barking outside, coming from our good-for-nothing, yellow lab, Memphis.

Memphis doesn’t bark unnecessarily. She is too lazy. When she does bark tho, she has a vocabulary indicating different events such as the UPS truck coming down the drive way, another is the “I found a snake” bark, and the horses are loose, and so on. That morning’s heralding was pretty close to the snake bark, an anxious, quick, and high pitched bark so I got up to see what the heck was going on, and to tell her to hush so I could get some more snooze time.

When I walked into the kitchen where I could look out the front window, I was astonished to see a plume of smoke coming from the pot of grease I had left on the cook top the night before after cooking chips. The fire was somehow still on below it, a low flame, but it had finally reached the near flash point and was now smoking and dangerously hot. The lid was still on it and another smaller lid on top of that, and the escaping smoke was pushing these lids up and so they were rattling. This rattling was what Memphis heard and was barking about. How and why it seemed to mean anything to her puzzles me but I am grateful. This ol’ dog earned her chow with this one. A few more minutes and we would have had a major grease fire going while we snoozed away unknowing. It would have been a really bad day. Good dog.

We were leaving that afternoon for the Dutch warmblood Keuring in Georgia. I was taking Fandango, aka, Frank, and his mom Joline, for the jury to evaluate the boy. I got Joline out and gave her a quick makeover, pulling mane and trimming loose hairs, giving a good washing and general tidying up, which she loved. Frank did not think much of the hose water hitting his legs so that plan got shelved but he looked ok anyway. Mark and I got them loaded into the trailer box stall, and off we went.

They both traveled well with no big stress, other than ours, over possible imagined “uh ohs”. The facility was lovely and the stalls were big and airy, and the two spent the night comfortably. Frank made buddies with a big gelding in the next stall, who happened to be a close relative thru Joline’s side of the family, and they endlessly played bite face thru the grill work separating them. Joline was grateful for the reprieve of his attention on her. After their breakfast I got Joline braided and brushed and then it was Frank’s turn.

Any foal at three months is a bit lacking in real mane and his stands like a Mohawk of fluff. I did what I could with it and got it presentable enough. Mark and I then went off to watch a bit of the other horses until our time to go. When we returned I found that Frank had found another new source of entertainment, pulling mommy’s braids out, the little brat. He would take each one in his mouth and pull them like a sucker, unfurling the buttons. What fun. So, I redid the ones that were undone, and continued to redo them every time he snatched another one, until time to go.

Frank was the first colt to be presented in his class. He sort of stood still for conformation evaluation and the jury made their marks on their papers, and said to let him go. Janko, the professional handler from Holland and owner of a large stud farm there was to have the honor of running with Joline with the colt loose beside her. I handed him Joline’s reins stepped back to watch.

Janko is called “Runs Like the Wind” in the Keuring world around here because he can keep pace with a horse at its near fastest pace, making them look their best, never holding them back, and making it look nauseatingly easy to be doing so. A quiet spirit, he can calm the most terrified animal, and somehow coax them into gaits and positions that show the jury the best of the animal.

So off they went trotting around the oval. There were gasps and “oh my’s” from the crowd. I could hear the judges muttering between themselves about how extraordinary this colt’s trot was. They asked for canter to be shown and Janko stepped up into a faster gear, Joline kept with him. Fandango led the way barely touching the ground, hovering about a good 12 inches off the sand, lifting him self with power and grace, sheer athleticism, and natural talent, snapping those legs up with a crisp retort and a broad reaching for the next stride.

It was stunning, to me, to the crowd, and to the judges. There was clapping and hollering. When the colt was led out of the ring there was a cry from one of his new fans, “Yea Fandango!”

All of the mares and foals were called back to the ring and I was trying hard to keep the colt standing in one spot in a final line up while we waited on the judges. Fandango (Frank) began trotting in place and I watched a judge open wide eyes and say what a fantastic piafe the colt had. Wow.

It was so nice to have other folks see what I get to see nearly daily and have the jury, and the crowd, really appreciate how special this spunky colt’s talent is. I am admittedly partial but it is based on 20 years of watching my babies hatch and grow, and now, with Fandango, I am seeing perhaps my best result in him. He could well be Joline’s last foal, but I hope not. Anyway, it was nice.

He ended up third in his class, a result of averaging of all the horses’ conformation and movement scores. There were some very nicely put together foals, perhaps older than he and so more developed who had higher scores there, but he had the highest movement score of all the horses presented for the day, regardless of age. It stunning, gratifying, and delicious.

After the classes the head of the judges came over to our stall and was smiling and said how excited he was about this colt and said, “This is an excellent sport horse prospect. He has amazing movement.” We talked some more and I was giddy with the further affirmation of this judge’s excitement over this colt. I over heard, too, another judge retelling the day to anonymous person on the other end of a cell phone about how spectacular this colt’s movement was.

We loaded out stars and set our trek back home. The big Orange ribbon of the First Premium foal sat bench seat behind me and gleamed. Mission accomplished. Go Frank. It was a very good trip.

photos are on this site.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

You Horse People

“You horse people,” my lab coated doctor smirked after he had give me orders for rest for the next 3 weeks, and knowingly admonished me ahead of time for my probable noncompliance to his advice. “You are a hard headed group, who will not rest and follow doctors’ orders. If you want to heal fast… then let it rest.” With that, he took his chart and left the room. He had obviously had previous experience with people, like myself, who dabble with horses and have need of orthopedic services from time to time, as the job requires.

 As a younger person, the time off recommended by the dude in the white coat was scoffed at and as soon as I could muster the will, I was back on the horse, proverbial and literally. Today I have been off the horse for two weeks now, nearly unprecedented. This has been a time of my being  totally at the mercy of advil, and I hate being “stoved up” and sidelined.

I had gone to see the orthopod just to make sure, that my knee having gotten whacked by my personal bulldozer of a horse, hadn’t had ligament or tendon damage. Xrays were clean and stay mechanics were good, just major bruising and a bit of hip joint misalignment, which my chiropractor will hopefully address when I can get her. With age, I am finding, comes slower healing time and more of an appreciation of not being hurt to begin with.

Life just does not stop on a horse farm, though, simply because of an injury, or rain, or inconveniences. Horses like to be fed at reasonable  and regular times. Hay has got to be moved from one place to another, fences mended, and the list of stuff that simply must be done to keep the plates spinning and not crash to the floor is endless. So onward I have limped,  and just did it. We all do, we horse people, hard headed and persistent... and downright responsible for our herd.

Anyway, for me, time off a horse and not riding is time spent dealing with another horse, from the ground. This week is about the preparation for taking Fandango (Frank) and Joline to the Keuring, or the Dutch breed evaluation and inspection, in Georgia on Monday.  For the colt, this means learning to load into the trailer, learning to stand still to be washed and braided, getting the finals on being halter broke,  getting final inoculations to keep him safe from new germs, all of which has been compressed into a week's time. Sort of a crash course in growing up fast for him. He is doing super with all of this new treatment and his mother looks pretty fabulous despite her 20 years age. Fingers are crossed for a safe trip and a nice orange ribbon, a first premium, for it all. It will be interesting to see what others think of him. I know I am partial, but I think he is nearly perfect.
Frank has changed so much since that first couple of hours of shaky legs and finding mom's milk, now almost 4 months ago. Once mistaken for a blithe filly, he is now unmistakeably all and totally, male. His muscles have more than amply filled his frame and he is solid, round, and pumped. Frank is a tank. His lovely face is marked with a wide white stripe and is framed by his large dark eyes. His color is a rich dark golden carmel with some darker,almost black, color to the parts of his legs that are not white socks, and to his mane and tail have these darker areas too . His registration papers say he is a bay but the jury is still out on that to me. I have no clue.

Frank is beautiful non the less, and is such a treat to watch playing in the pasture. His favorite toys are plastic bottles, that formerly supplied my basic for martinis, empty now of their goods with a few pebbles thrown in to make noise, they are hung with hay rope to let him bite and kill that offending blue things. There is also a long black rope tied to a post and this poor victim spends many hours getting stomped, reared up and pounded upon, and of course, bitten and shaken til dead. Once these diversions have satisfied the boy, he snoozes in the hot sand of the riding arena, and waits until the next feeding time.

At feeding time the frenzy begins with Marley, the mighty tiny terrier, running to the fence to get a rise out of any of the horses. Frank obliges by lifting his neck into a tightly bowed arch, and picks his feet up and down in a staccato beat, feigning a kick at the noisy nuisance, and then takes off at fastest speed to the barn. Mom keeps a steady walk behind him, chilled, and content to let him think he is cool too.

My finger nails have never been the model of sophistication but with him around it is impossible to stay civilized. Nay, there are not even remotely clean, ever, if I have been to the barn. He is absolutely hysterical in his enjoyment of my scratching his belly. The neck area is fine, he leans into that pretty hard. When I lean on his back and give a good scratch tho on his belly, his face goes into a zone, eyes closed, upper lip curled, and then he takes his front legs and tries to get lower and lower, until his chest is near the ground... He crosses his legs and leaves the world. If I stop, he stands back up and casts his eye and ear back at me to say..."uh, come on, keep going". I usually do.

Once the Keuring is over I will be getting ready for hosting a dressage clinic here starting next Monday with my long time, teacher, coach, and friend, Jeff Moore. I have compartmentalized my to do list down to the things that must be done and those that can wait with no big deal. The weather tho is my issue right now. This is the first time we have ever done the biyearly clinic in September, as opposed to the regular October time, and it is still extremely hot and humid here, dangerous conditions to be working a horse. I am pissed off about this climate issue. I want cool. NOW. (was that really me whining about the cold back in January?)

The lump on my knee is down to the size of a small egg now and its surrounding bruising that migrated from the knee cap, down the leg to my ankle, has turned from the lovely shades of violet and bright magenta, to an even lovelier shade of deep purple surrounded by a post mortem green. But, I can get my riding boots on now, and I can walk with out a hitch in my get along. Good things.

So things continue on their uneven and uncharted course here on the farm, always moving with an endless flow from a force unseen. I go with it where it takes me. I am just a horse person.   

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

post vacation blues and relief in sight

Coming down off the mountain was not pleasant. My attitude soured in direct proportion to the drop in altitude and rise in temperature upon coming home from our splendid vacation spent in the habitat of trout. Why do I not live where trout thrive? They live in such pleasant locations. Are they the more intelligent species here? I am beginning to wonder.

Home was still here, hot, muggy, and depressing. To top off this sour homecoming, the beer/leftover fridge had died in our absence, tragically ruining volumes of seafood, venison, and beer and of course required replacing. Next, Jack, the former jackopatomus, the eater of all things, terrier, was not feeling well and was diagnosed with diabetes and spent a week in hospital with glucose and insulin testing. And then I got a big body slam to the ground getting run over by my monster size mare, Sunset. It was not her fault. It was my error, but it did not help the black fog hovering over the beginning of the first week back home.

I have rules by which I generally survive around horses. It is when I forget these mantras that I have had problems, and I have had major ones. Ones that could have so easily have been avoided. “Accidents” is what they call the tiny breaches which cause havoc and worse in life. They happen so fast, in hindsight, so stupidly, and leave such lingering effects.

The breach of my rules on this particular event was answering my phone while in the midst of feeding. Rule Primo is, do not multitask around a horse. There is no room for any deviation from this. Focus on the horse. That is it. Period. I did not and as a result I am waiting now to go see my orthopedic guru to see just how badly my knee is messed up.

In the course of feeding the mares, Sunset had mistaken my signals as to when to head to her stall, since I was on the phone and was not giving her clear ones, and managed to get in a spot where she got trapped by another bigger horse with deft flying feet. I was the only way out. Over my poor little self she came, my cell phone knocked into the manure pile, glasses too, I hit the hard packed clay like a sack. Thud. I felt like what it must feel like to get hit by the Crimson Tide’s defensive line. Not good. My husband on the other end of the line was freaked out until I managed to reassure him of my survival as I wiped poo off my iphone. Sunset looked at me quite sheepishly from across the paddock and my knee started to swell, and ache.

This was over a week ago. I am lucky. I am sitting here with a goose egg on my knee and a purple leg, but ok. I think. Some are not so lucky. It is ultimately our responsibility to maintain focus in the presence of a horse, to watch their ears, to anticipate their fears and reactions, and to simply be the wiser of the species to avoid these “accidents”. I didn’t. Ah, well.

It is nearing the end of pear season now. The last of the big hard ones are hanging on to the tops of the trees out front but so many have hit the ground and lay there fermenting, being eaten by wasps, dogs, squirrels, and horses(when they can escape from the pens and get to gorge). I had left a gate unlocked last week and came home at night from the gallery to find the three working girls seriously chowing down on all they could reach, mouths frothy and eyes contented. They reluctantly followed me back to the barn and incarceration, and dealt with their tummy aches the next day.

Jack is adapting to his insulin addition to his life, and has gained a pound or two back. He loves his newly groomed self and does a pretty big strut on our walks to the barn every day. The bright sparkle has returned to his beautiful eyes and Jack is a happy dog again.

Finally, now, the weather gods have blown a gentler set of temps our way and life is beginning to ease up. We sat last evening on the porch, a cool martini in hand and truly enjoyed the pleasantness of the air. It has been so long since it has been possible to do anything outside that didn’t require a change from soggy clothes to new dry ones when done. The dogs lay around us and hardly panted.

The afternoon shadows are getting longer and come out into the pastures earlier in the afternoon signaling a positive change in the planetary alignment. The grasses in the fields that have not been cut in a few weeks are now tough, dry, and beginning to yellow. I have already seen a few of the yellow cone flowers that come out in fall, a few flocks of birds gathering, and a few precocious drifting leaves giving me further encouragement to the eminence of fall. College football games begin this weekend, and the excitement is rising on that front as well.

Today is the first day of September. I have finally said good riddance to August and its two predecessors. I welcome the coming fall with wide open arms. Bring it on.  Oh, and, ROLL TIDE ROLL.