Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Horse Poetry--Memories of Warm Autumn Rides

In preparation for the upcoming Horsewomen's Poetry Anthology, I'm dusting off my daily poems from last year--at least, the ones that relate to horses.  My poetry blog is BitsOfPoetry.com and last year I really pushed myself to write more.  Now, I'm thankful I did.  I read this poem last night and was instantly transported to that day--that ride--better than a picture would have sufficed.

It was October and we'd had an unusually dry summer/fall.  Our pasture had died out and wouldn't come back--which is unusual for us.  We can usually count on some late rains to keep it muddling along until the first freeze.  The drought forced us to feed early.  It was really quite sad--the horses had pounded the dry ground to must--which sounds better than dust--which is what it really was.  I remember feeling guilty at relishing in the dry, sunny days and the opportunity for more fall rides.

This particular ride was started at a friend's home.  He's in his 80's and still riding horses.  His wife was a tough, wonderful woman who started and ran our non-profit organization, Palisades Park.  She died about a year and a half ago, but until her last day she was out riding her horse through our park, chasing down motorized violators, and fighting developers to preserve it.

We pulled our trailers into his apple orchard where his many trees were heavy with unpicked fruit.  I don't know if I could ever capture in words how delightful it was to pick one of those juicy, ripe apples and feed it to Cowboy--his lips brushing against my palm.  


You should have wished for rain,
But you relished the sun, instead,
And the sweet smell of orchard grass,
In the pinto’s October sweat.
Before you left,
You stood under the bow,
And plucked an apple,
Ripe with the full bloom
Of a long summer.
You held it outstretched
Until all that was left
Was juice, and the salt
From the palm of your open hand.

You should have wished for rain,
But you relished the sun, instead,
And his slow steps down steep trails,
Adrift of dirt and loose chunks of basalt.
The robin and wren, tree swallows and chickadees,
Flitted among branches of Ponderosa, Serviceberry,
and the Hawthorn with its dangerous nails,
While you thought of nothing but that,
And how your horse’s mane felt in your hands.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

When I'm An Old Horsewoman & Attention Poets



WHEN I’M AN OLD HORSEWOMAN
I shall wear turquoise and diamonds,
And a straw hat that doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my social security on red wine and carrots,
And sit in the alley-way of my barn
And listen to my horses breathe.
I will sneak out in the middle of a summer night and ride my old liver-chestnut gelding across the moonstruck meadow if my old bones will allow.
And when people come to call, I will smile and nod as I walk past the gardens to the barn and show instead the flowers growing inside stalls fresh lined with shavings.
I will shovel and sweat and wear hay in my hair as if it were a jewel.
And I will be an embarrassment to all, who have not yet found the peace in being free to have a horse as a best friend.
A friend who waits at midnight hour, with a soft velvet muzzle, a nicker and patient eyes
For the kind of woman I will be
When I am old.
Woman dies after farewell to her horse.  http:

That's the way I want to go when it's time.

Attention Poets!!  My friend, author Kimberly Verhines is accepting submissions for a Women and Horses anthology.  The deadline is May 2015.  If interested, contact me for details.

Monday, January 12, 2015

More On Doing Less

I wanted to reblog (below) a post from DoctorRamey.Com because I love it, and it largely sums up my feelings about the over-complication of horsemanship--which simply takes away a lot of the fun.  

Food and water.  Essential.  I was worried we'd run out of food for the winter (the herd was going through it faster than estimated) and have to go scavenging, but my hay supplier (Saint that he is!) put enough back for us to get us well through winter.    

Old Red is alive and well on pelleted foods.  At 34-35, his teeth aren't all there anymore, but his body and brain are in tip-top shape.  He doesn't like Safe Choice for Seniors.  He told me he'd rather starve to death than eat it.  Good slave that I am, I hopped to and got some Equine Senior that he loves.

Here are some winter photos from our little piece of heaven:





And this is my dream barn.  I want to recreate this breezeway in my own barn someday.  


The Above-Mentioned Post from Dr. Ramey

Separating Owners From Their Horses (and How to Stop It)

Keep-it-simple

Horses need owners.
And, as my friend Joe Bertone, a professor of Equine Medicine at Western University in Pomona, CA says, a number of factors are conspiring to separate horses from their owners.
And I’d like to suggest how you can stop the conspiracy.
Here’s how I see my job.  My first responsibility is to the horse.  I know the horse has an owner, and I know it’s very important that I address his or her concerns, but, fundamentally, I need to be most concerned with what’s best for the horse.
A QUESTION:  Is there any disagreement here?
Owners make for happy horses
Owners make for happy horses
So if my primary concern is for the horse, I feel like one of the big ways that I can help him is to try make sure that:
  1. The horse and owner stay together (that is, help the owner understand the horse)
  2. I shepherd my client’s resources so that they can stay together
And that’s because that without an owner that can afford to take care of the horse, nothing else really matters.
I think most people consider two main things when it comes to deciding if caring for an animal is worthwhile.  First is how complicated and expensive it is to take care of the animal.  Second is how much emotional return you get on your investment.  Let me explain.
effort vs reward
Dogs can be very complicated and somewhat expensive to care for.  They require at least daily feeding, you have to get them looked after when you go on vacation, you have to clean up the yard from time to time, you have to take the time to go for walks (which, of course, is good for both of you) and so forth.  For their part, dogs are pretty much always happy to see you, they sit by your side, they lick your face, they want to go on walks with you, put up with all sorts of outfits and costumes and sweaters, etc., etc.  Dogs are a high maintenance-high reward sort of an animal.  Most people love them.
I have a snake (“Jar-Jar,” a rosy boa, purchased during the age of acquisition that is raising young boys.  

Rosy Boa
Jar could care less about me (or pretty much anyone).  He doesn’t bite, doesn’t strike, doesn’t show affection, but he does happily (or at least I think it’s happily) slither around in your hand when you pick him up, which is actually a pretty cool conversation starter for those folks who don’t have ophiophobia (for you linguists, this is so much more than just a horse blog).  But overall, he’s a very low emotional reward sort of a guy.  On the other hand, I only have to feed him once a week or so, it doesn’t really matter if I forget for a few days, and there’s very little to pick up in his actually-very-nice-smelling cage.  He’s low reward, but he’s low maintenance, too.  He’s 10 years old now, and, while not warm and fuzzy, he’s certainly a part of the family.

nothing-is-worth-it-if-you-arent-happy
Horses, I think, kind of fit in the middle.  They’re certainly more complicated to take care of than are snakes.  But they don’t require as much attention as do dogs.  For example, you can leave them in the field with grass and water for a few months (years?) and they’ll do just fine.  They’ll nicker when they see you – which, in my opinion, is one of the most heart-warming sounds in the animal kingdom – but it’s not always clear if they’re nickering at you or the carrots that you’re carrying (I know – you’re sure it’s you – I’m just sayin’).  They won’t curl up in your lap – which is a good thing, insofar as prevention of serious injuries to  you goes – but they will stand there and let you brush them and dress them and ride them.  In general, I think of horses as a sort of medium reward, medium maintenance animal (there are plenty of individual exceptions, of course).
Too complicated
Too complicated
So, if you’re with me so far, given that horses do require some effort to take care of, and that they can’t sit with you on the couch and watch television, I think that the last thing that horses need is a bunch of folks telling the people who own them how complicated and difficult it is to take care of horses, because telling those things:
  • Turn the horse into a high maintenance animal
  • Breed anxiety among horse owners
  • Make taking care of horse much more expensive and complicated than it needs to be
But telling people that taking care of horses is complicated and difficult is precisely what is happening, and they’re hearing it from just about every direction.
  • Specialization92009From the specialist “dentist,” who may be telling them that they need to have their horse’s teeth worked on twice a year.
  • From the supplement companies, who crow about the need to “support” or “optimize” or “normalize” just about every cell in the horse’s body
  • From “chiropractors” (most who do not, in fact, have degrees from chiropractic colleges) who assert that the horse’s body needs to be regularly “adjusted”
  • From massage therapists, who may want to “optimize” performance or “improve” circulation
  • From feed companies, who assert that the horse’s feed must be “precise” and “balanced”
  • From veterinarians, who may want even the simplest problem to be immediately evaluated with a battery of diagnostic tests and procedures
  • From farriers, who insist that horses be shod on an exacting schedule, and to some exacting “balance,” without account for the individual needs of the horse (unless, of course, they tell you that shoeing a horse is a terrible thing in its own right)
  • From trainers, who tell horse lovers that they can’t/shouldn’t/don’t ride in this or the other way.  Otherwise stated, if you ever feel comfortable on top of your horse, you’re probably going to be told you are doing something wrong.
  • From horse magazines, filled with articles from various experts, and four color advertisements asserting the importance of doing this, that, or the other, as well as news about the “latest” promising development
ASIDE:  I’m sure I’ve missed annoying plenty of other groups.  That oversight was purely unintentional, I’m sure.
charles-barsotti-well-i-think-you-re-wonderful-new-yorker-cartoonFrankly, after caring for horses for 30+ years, and watching the commercialization of all things horse, I think that all of this noise is making the horse world a very loud, difficult, and unnecessarily complicated place to be.  In fact, it’s worse than that;  I think it’s separating horses from owners.
Look, fundamentally, horses are very simple creatures. The vast majority live very happily with access to two things: good forage (hay and or grass) and water.  It’s not at all difficult to live a good life, being a horse, as long as you avoid predators (which is not hard, even in rural settings) and have enough to eat and drink.
Horses survive – and thrive – without two things that have been foisted on horse owners by all the “experts”: precision and cost.  Precision and cost are the bane of people owning just about anything, because precision usually means difficult, and cost means, well, it’ll be expensive.  And if something is difficult and expensive, fewer people will bother with it.  And I worry that a misguided emphasis on precision and cost is causing some people who might be inclined to own horses to just not bother.
Chicken Soup 
ANOTHER ASIDE:  Some people seem love trying to make things complicated.  For example, some people really like “over”-caring for their horses, and, mostly, I think it’s fine.  I believe that fussing over a horse – you know, mixing up special grains and supplements and treat buckets and scheduling appointments – brings a certain amount of pleasure to some people.  I can be that way, too.  I mean, the other night, I made chicken soup.  I’m sure that everyone would have been happy with store-bought chicken soup, and, frankly, I made it as much for me as I did for everyone else.  But I didn’t go to a broth specialist, and I didn’t go to a certified bowl expert for advice either.  It was really good.

NOTE TO YOU CULINARIANS:  I don’t use a recipe.  Sorry.
What’s at the bottom of all of this?  Why is it that, just a few decades ago, when I got out of veterinary school, taking care of a horse was a pretty simple endeavor?  Why is it so much more of a bother now?  One word.  Marketing.  Marketing is separating owners from their horses.  And who is doing the marketing?  Well, just about everybody.  Marketing experts can almost smell consumers looking for non-existent products, and when they catch a scent of something missing, they jump to put something on the shelves.
Don'tJustDoSomething
I think it’s totally wrong to try to convince horse owners to spend money on products and services that have immeasurable benefits (if there are benefits at all).  In fact, that’s one of the big reasons that I spend time blogging. All of the marketing that goes on in the horse world shouldn’t take away from the wonderful experience that is owning a horse.  It’s not that hard.
So here are a few things you can do about it.
  1. Ask for second opinions
  2. Ask for information that’s been published in scientific journals to back up assertions that are made to you about products.
  3. Don’t trust product endorsements.
  4. Beware of “weasel words” such as “may,” and vague, positive-sounding words like, “assist,” “support,” “help,” “optimize,” etc.  Stay away from “natural,” too, for that matter.
  5. Don’t go for the latest fad
  6. If it’s not an emergency situation, don’t be afraid to wait a bit before you spend a lot of money.  Lots of things get better on their own.
  7. Spend time with your horse, and go have fun
LetUsThinkOfWays
Horses need owners, and especially now, with horse ownership declining.  Horse owning should be fun, and it shouldn’t have to be super expensive.  Your horse most likely needs more time and attention, not more products or services.  The bottom line is that if your horse looks like he’s doing well, he probably is.  Oh, and don’t allow anyone or anything to start separating you from your horse.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Path of the Horse, Beyond Riding

Recently, I watched a horse documentary that took my breath away, The Path of the Horse.  (It's free to watch at that link.) The filmmaker sold her ranch to fund the project--a personal journey to meet the most enlightened, visionary horsemen and women she had read about: Alexander Nevzorov, Klaus Hempfling, Mark Rashid, Linda Kohanov, Carolyn Resnick and Kim McElroy.

A lot of what I heard and saw in that documentary resonated with me since I'm always looking for the least amount of force or coercion, as we all are, and as the filmmaker, Stormy May, was.  I wrote her for an interview, so I could learn more.




As we talked during the interview, she said something I didn't expect--that she had given up riding altogether.

That was a new and shocking idea to me.   I have eight horses and enjoy relationships from the ground with all of them, but five of them entirely.  I wasn't surprised that someone could find a non-riding relationship as good, valuable and worthy as a riding one.  The time I spend feeding and grooming Old Red, my 34-year-old horse, every day is one of the joys of my life. It has proven to me that horses have value far beyond their riding days.  And people who say, "That horse isn't useful anymore, time to put him down," are cheating themselves out of the most beautiful parts of a life with horses.

But to give up riding altogether?  I had to think about that.

Since our conversation I've had several trail rides during which I mulled over the concept and questions:

Did Cowboy want to ride the trails with me?
How much coercion was I using during the rides?
Could I be convinced to give up riding altogether?

My answers:

Did Cowboy want to ride the trails with me?  Most every day I go out to see my horse and spend time with him, and he knows he can see me that way or during a ride.  Each day I was going to ride I hooked up the trailer and pulled it around so that he could see clearly that I was coming to get him for a ride.

My answer: Each time I went out to halter him for a ride he came to me and was happy to go and seemed to have a wonderful time.  (By the way, during long trail rides we do stop and give our horses a little break--eat lunch and relax--and at the end of every ride we spend a fair amount of time at the trail heads grooming and letting the horses relax.  Cowboy always stands ground tied and falls asleep.)

That said, he doesn't particularly seem thrilled to be saddled or bridled, but he tolerates it well.  At that point in the whole routine he does tend to give me a hard eye.

The full answer: Cowboy likes adventure and he likes me, thus, he likes the trails.  However, Cowboy would prefer I ditch the saddle and the bridle.

How much coercion did I use on the ride?  Pretty much none.  I ride on a loose rein and he moves out eagerly on the trails.

So, what does this mean for me and riding?  I don't know.  I love for my ideas to be challenged and to look at things in a different way--especially when it comes to horses.  I'm going to continue to think about it.

One thing it has definitely done is to solidify by belief that for horses out on pasture with a herd, a relationship on the ground is a perfectly legitimate choice and your horse won't feel robbed one little bit that he gets to spend time with you in a non-riding situation.  In fact, as in the case of Old Red, he may show you something about the horse/human relationship you've never seen before, but are so very thankful you were entrusted with.

I want to thank Stormy May for accepting my invitation to converse on this topic and not to judge me for being a rider, but to so graciously understand that we're all on a journey with our horses.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Horse and Rider, A Poem

Once there was a horse, and on the horse there was a rider.  How handsome they looked in the autumn sunlight, approaching a strange city! People thronged the streets or called from the high windows.  Old women sat among flowerpots.  But when you looked about for another horse or another rider, you looked in vain.  My friend, said the animal, why not abandon me?  Alone, you can find your way here.  But to abandon you, said the other, would be to leave a part of myself behind, and how can I do that when I do not know which part you are?

by Louise Gluck
from The Faithful and Virtuous Night

Time for an autumn ride on that horse which is a part of me.