Sunday, December 11, 2005

Friends sometimes are found in places one least expects. For those of us who are familiar with on-line communities, to find real friends, ones that you can still enjoy in real-time, doesn't seem unlikely, or odd. But those who are not that connected through the 'net, or who are new to it, only think about the scary situations that are played up by Hollywood. While it is true, that you must be careful, that it is easy to think you know someone through their words; without being able to watch their face, their eyes, their body gestures, it is relatively easy to be misled. Yet, this happens in real-life so much more often; it is just that we are used to it, whereas, the 'net is still so new in our human existance.

We are blessed to have gotten to know some super wonderful people through our 'net and horse connections, and this weekend we were honored to host a get-together for six women friends, who joined us from around the world to visit and chat about horses.

CJ joined us from England. She has many passions including Parelli training, classical dressage, and hooves; but more importantly she has an overwhelming drive to share those passions. Michelle, from Connecticut, is truly gifted in finding animals who need her, and lovingly, openly, sharing herself to help them live happily. She extends this to the people around her too. Deanna, from Ontario, brought Clicker-training to life for us. She is adept at finding the try in the horse, and also shares her enthusiam for longer-distance riding. Steph, from Massachusetts, although unowned by a horse (much to her chagrin), is enthusiastic and determined to get there some day. She has already sold her soul (hehe) and traded physical labor for riding lessons, while biding her time. Yvonne, from Ontario, was our quiet one, but what talent! She is driven by the need to create and to learn, and is a silversmith/jewelry designer AND a horse owner. When her life quiets some from raising children, her horses will receive the benefit from a creative energy, but quietly centered soul. And finally, Susan, also from Ontario. Susan has found the love that horses bring into our lives, and with her sincerity, her deep understanding, and her desire to become further connected is moving toward a true partnership inspite of suffering a set-back over a year ago that would have devastated a less stout-hearted woman.

All of these women joined us for one deeply satisfying 24 hour period, and our lives are much better for it. We all learned much, but mostly we learned that we hope we can join together again at some point.

May all of you reading this, find such a blessing in your lives, that goes beyond any mere social connection to the type that binds soul-to-soul, on such a sublime level.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Finally, some sun! This weekend was beautiful, even though we still are suffering the muddy remains of the snow earlier this week.

Besides are usually weekend activities of trailering Red and Guin for their lesson with Marcy Baer of Briar Hill Farms; trash and recycling run; and the normal horsie care, we worked with our hay guy, Steve, to erect poles for our winter paddocks. We had cut cedar earlier this fall, and had gotten most of them stripped when the rainy weather prevented us from finishing that job. So we put them up anyway, knowing full well those will be the ones that need to be replaced first.

We created two paddocks on either side of the pipe that leads to our leach field. We have to keep the horses off of the field, and no heavy machinery on it either! But in the winter, we like to have the horses closer to the house. This eases the necessary chores of haying and watering.

Last year, as we had just moved in and were living in the cellar, we used T-posts and 3 strands of electric rope, just as we have out in the pastures. However, we found that this set-up didn't work that well in deep winter. Whether it was due to their thickened coat or the ground not being good enough or the snow acting as insulation, the shock value of the fence was considerably lessened.

So, we decided to give wood a chance. The paddocks are smaller than the pastures, and each will have their own run-in, of course. We hope to have at least one round of wood crosspieces for each paddock this year and will run electric for the rest, unless we find the wood a bit cheaper than expected. Our desire is to eventually run 3 rounds of crosspieces, and electric wire to discourage chewing.

We designed in two gates in each paddock. A 10 foot one at the bottom and a 4 foot one at the top. Horses and humans can go in and out either gate depending on the ice conditions. Hopefully, we will get started on the crosspieces this week. Here's a picture of the posts.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Snow. Heavy, wet, slushy snow. That is what we awoke to this morning. We have had almost a week and a half of very wet weather, and nigh on to three weeks of grey, with a bit of sunshine thrown in for special effects.

This has been a highly unusual fall for us. Our typical fall weather pattern is some rains in September, followed by crisp October mornings, bright, warm sunshine during the days that reflect from brilliantly colored trees....golds of poplars; reds and oranges of ash and maples; finally followed by the burnished gold of the Tamarack tree, the only conifer that I know of to lose its needles in the fall. But not this year. Throughout September we had a continuation of summer; hot, muggy, and bright sunshine but absolutely no frost! October has been grey and wet. When we finally got a frost, three days ago, it was much closer to a freeze, than the light first frosts of fall. Two nights of freeze and then snow!

As can be expected this has slowed our progress on the winter paddocks and that meant that we have had to turn two of our spring/summer pastures into sacrifice yards. Horse hooves are damaging in the best of weather, and that is why it is important to rotate them through the area, allowing parts to recover. But when it is wet and miserable, the hooves to extensive damage. This means that for next year we will have to keep them from the two pastures for much longer than expected. The damage isn't irreparable, but it will take time for the grasses to recover.

And so, we work on with a goal of completion of another three weeks.

In the meantime, we did, get to celebrate our new home by holding a house warming party for friends. This joy and fun was increased by being able to welcome our long time friends from Ontario, Bruce and Marlene Tilson. They also happen to be the breeders of our stallion, Beau. It was great to have them here and let them see how Beau has matured. We talked ourselves hoarse (pardon the pun!) Here is a picture Chuck took of Bruce and Beau together.

We certainly hope your fall weather is much better than ours and you are able to truly enjoy this change of seasons.

Friday, September 02, 2005

This morning dawned misty and cool; rather typical for early September. However, by mid-morning, the fog had burned away, there were few clouds, and the sky was brilliantly blue. First on my list was to rinse out and refill the water vats in each pasture.

Because the horses live full time in pastures, we keep vats of about 40 gallons from which they drink. We have a rain barrel that has a hose out of the bottom, which we put onto the tailgate of the pick-up truck, fill, and then drive out to whatever pastures the horses are in. First I visited the Walker-Red-Sage pasture, and while dumping the vat and scrubbing it, Red had to come and stick his head into the vat to see what I was doing. Such fun, a horse head, my head, shoulders, and arms, and my brush, all scrubbing the bottom of the vat! He is always such a helper.

Once clean, I began to refill it. Red, of course, supervised most of the work, and as I was standing there making sure he didn't flip the hose out of the vat, like he loves to do, I felt this nuzzling on the back of my neck. I turned to find Sage "right there", up close and very personal. Mind, Sage and I are not what you would consider "pals"; his favorite past time with me is testing me..."Are you still leader?" he asks several times each day. So, I was quite surprised that he nuzzled me. I gave him a loving rub, and then went back through the fence to the truck.

Next-up was the Glory-Beau-Jack vat, and Beau was right there to supervise the work. Glory always trusts that I'll perform my duties correctly, but Beau occasionally likes to look on. Today, he too was feeling affectionate, and while I worked, he stood very close, with just his body hair touching me. Once or twice, he even wrapped his head and neck around me. So many people would be terrified by this behaviour in a stallion, but they don't know Beau. He lives for affection and to please.

Once watering duties were accomplished it was time to pick pooh. I was determined to really get it all out, as the rain two days before, from the remnants of Hurricane Katrina, had inhibited getting it out. There is nothing more wonderful than filling a wheelbarrow full of sodden, soaked horse manure, and then dragging said wheelbarrow though ankle deep mud to dump it in the pile. Why, you may ask, do I bother? Firstly, it is just that the pastures look more tidy, but most importantly, it helps with both control of reinfestation of parasites (gut worms) and with fertilization of the pastures. Manure, as it rots, will "burn" the vegetation, and if left in clumps, will not rot as quickly. Since we do not have a tractor yet, I remove the manure by hand, and make sure that what is left behind is thin and can either dry, or rot quickly, there in the pasture. Today's work was arduous and took the better part of four hours. I will not regale you with the stories of plopping and bouncing manure balls, but I can describe the time spent.

As I mentioned it was beautiful. The horses were happily grazing until the heat set in and the face flies became bothersome. I have learned to do my work with my mouth closed because of the flies, having had one attempt to visit my lungs, I have decided I didn't want to enjoy that sensation again. And since my hands are quite busy with the whatever work I'm enjoying, I have learned to flip my ponytail, and quiver my skin, just like our horses do to rid themselves of these tickling creatures. At one point, I found myself near one of our wild apple trees; these ones are red, and so I picked three. They are not big, but about the size of ping-pong balls. I have not tasted them, but the horses delight in apple snacks, no matter size or lack of sweetness. First up was Walker, and oh, her love of apples rivals Glory's! Walker is a slave to her stomach, truly, and I have used clicker training with great success with her. Yet, for all her love of food, she is always quite delicate when taking something from your hand. Walker is a strict alpha-mare, but highly conscientious about her duties, namely to make sure all in her herd are safe. Snatching something from a human is far from her mind.

Then I visited with Sage, but he preferred to play with his apple. Actually he is one of the few horses I have ever known that does not particularly enjoy them; carrots yes, apples "no thank you". However, that doesn't prevent me from offering, as with all youngsters, they can change their minds at any given moment. Sage eventually lost his apple to his mom (I did tell you she loves apples).

Red, waited patiently for me to make it to him. This is unusual with Red, as food is even more important to him than it is loved by Walker. You see, Red was rescued from a neglectful situation by his previous owner. She worked hard and lovingly to restore him to health and happiness; but his concern over not getting enough to eat will always be with him. He is often rather "bully-ish" about getting to his bucket, or his pile of hay, but today he was content to wait his turn. I made sure to reward that and gave him two small apples.

Later in my work, I found myself by another apple tree, and was surprised to discover that these apples are turning Yellow as they ripen! They are also much larger than the small red ones; perhaps the size of billiard balls. This I couldn't resist trying for myself! I found a branch with a nice sized one that I could reach over the electric fence. Getting zapped on the underarm was not what I had in mind for my fun today! I snagged the apple, examined it for worm damage (none) and brazenly bit into it. I expected a tart, slightly astringent taste/feel, but what I got was a lightly sweet and juicy one! YUM! Oh,oh, Red spied me, and looked expectantly. How could I resist our Patrick Stewart of horsedom? Red is fully, a handsome, loving horse, who has given his affection to us. I am, fortunately for him, a softee. I shared my apple with him. He enjoyed it.

I took a break for lunch, and to cool off some before going to work in Beau's pasture. Today, I worked quickly in here, which is unusual as Jack thinks that I am "his" and typically follows me around, presenting himself for scratches, or investigating the wheelbarrow, trying to lift the fork, etc. As I wandered over the hill, looking for my treasures, I was amazed to find that many of the clammy ground cherries had developed fruit in their husks. Clammy ground cherries, while toxic in both plant and unripe fruit, are related to the Chinese Lantern of ornamental gardens, and their ripe fruit can be used in jams or pies. When I first saw them growing this past spring, I had no idea what they were, but the leaf reminded me of a tomato plant, and the flower, a yellow, bell-shaped one with brown center, reminded me of tomatillos. While tomatillos can self-seed up here in Vermont, I could not imagine that any had been grown on this farm considering it had last been used as such back in the 1930's. I had to find my Audubon book of North American Wildflowers to discover what the plants were. According to the book, it is a member of the Nightshade family and related to Jimson Weed (look like wild morning glories) and Horse Nettle. The horses avoid them, as there is plenty of good forage in their pastures. As we can we will be liming the pastures, and this will help to bring down the number of broadleaf weeds that now grow in them. At any rate, I'm not sure that I'll ever harvest the fruit from the ground cherries, as I don't know anyone who knows when they are ripe, or how much sugar they'd need in a pie. Some things in my life will just go undiscovered.

As I made my way down toward the end of the pasture, Jack could stay away no longer, and presented himself to me. He adores scratches. His withers are good, but his favorite spots are his neck and chest. Scratch him there and he sticks his neck out like he was a giraffe, and his upper lip grows into the size of an elephant's trunk. At first, he thought to groom me while I scratched him, but gently I taught him that grooming a human wasn't acceptable. If Glory or Beau is near, he will reach over and groom them. The urge for mutual grooming is that strong! But he refrains from grooming me, though I can see in his eye the desire to. I tell him I am happy to have him just stand by me, and this he will often do. With me, he is polite and gentle. Not that he hasn't nipped me, or tried to. That is how youngsters of the horse world get others to play, by a little nip and a dash away. So, yes, he has snagged me twice when I was distracted, but there is never any aggression from him, and now I am ready for his playful moods and watch his eyes carefully. He is definitely his daddy's boy, as Beau had the same daring glint in his eyes when he wanted to play. When I see that in Jack, and find that scratching will not deter it, I find acceptable ways for him to play with me...often it is my hat. He loves my hat, and will pick it up, shake it, toss it around, and grab it up again. Of course, I tell him he is smart and a good boy when he does this, so he has learned that it is a good way to play with a human. Today, he was content with scratches, though, and quietly being together.

I am so blessed to be able to share my life with these beings. I have learned much, and the joy I have from just being in the same space as they, is hard to express. I would wish that everyone could find such peace and pleasure in their lives.

Monday, August 29, 2005

This morning, we awoke to heavy, humid air. It truly felt as if you could wring water out of it. Heading out for chores, I decided that today I would begin teaching Jack that his dam could go away, and yet come back.

First, I haltered Beau, and took him for a walk. Beau was a dream, although I have not been able to actively work with him much, what with all the work that we needed to do. All we did was walk around the pastures, but the whole time, even with Walker calling to him, and Sage and Red rushing to the fenceline to see him, he stayed focused, calm, and head-down relaxed. I was quite pleased by his behaviour.

By then, Guin had finished picking her pasture and I could use the wheel barrow. The pasture that Beau, Glory, and Jack are in is fairly level near the gate, but rises steeply toward the back. Picking the pooh is no easy task in it, but it must be done. As I tramped up and down the hill, searching for piles and flying gnats (they help you spot those piles!), I had sweat just dripping right off of me! I really wasn't using much energy, but nevertheless, because of the humidity, I was drenched in a matter of moments. It has been such an unusual summer here, with high heat and humidity for most of the time. Last week it felt as if autumn was right around the corner, but now we are back right into the thick of a summer we all wish we had left behind. One would think that, as we complain about our winters, we would rejoice with this heat, but not so; we are just not used to these temperatures and humidity. But don't feel sorry for us! We are storing that heat up in our very bones, to help keep us warm when we face our -20F with windchills!!

By the time I was done with my pasture, Glory had worked her way to grazing near the gate, and the two boys were off being buddies and grazing side-by-side. I haltered Glo and led her to the gate, but OH the boys spied us and gave a run toward us! "Nope," I said to them, "It isn't your turn. Glory and I are going for a walk." I rehooked the gate, and turned to walk with her. Glory was quite happy to get away, she stayed relaxed and focused on me and where we were going, rather than on the cavorting, whinneying, neighing behaviour of the two boys left behind. We also simply walked around the pasture, just as I had done with Beau, and I do believe he figured out what I was doing, because at the half-way point Beau settled down and stopped acting like a foal. Jack, on the other hand, kept tearing up and down the hill, and then back and forth in front of the gate. Not once did Glory call out to Jack. I believe that weaning will be much easier on her than on him, perhaps even a relief!

Once we were back, I gave Jack time to reconnect with Glo, and Beau time to tell her just how beautiful she is and how much he missed her, then I haltered Jack and worked on "walk" and "whoa" inside the pasture. He is such a quick study! This is about the third time that I have used my overly dramatized body language to prepare him for walking and stopping, and he is beginning to anticipate the movements. His reward for good work is neck and wither scratches. Oh, but he does love them!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Welcome to the first entry in our newly created Blog. We hope these entries allow you to gain a better insight into our farm life, and glimpse the horsenalities of the special horses we have. American Curly Horses are hypoallergenic, and that is why we have them, as I am allergic to "regular" horses. We purchased our first two horses, Walker and Beau, back in 2001, and the horse way of life has become our lives. Presently we have, not only Walker and Beau, but Glory and Red as our adult horses, Sage (from a mating of Walker and Beau) who is 22 months old, and Jack (from a mating of Glory and Beau) who is just 3 months old.

We moved to this farm in Marshfield just 11 months ago, and this first year has been difficult, with so much that needed to be done. As we move into Autumn, there is still more work, but we have accomplished so much! Our house is as completed as needs be to be comfortable for winter; the arena, while still without lights, will be stocked with both 1st and 2nd cutting hay; and the horses can easily be rotated among 13 pastures until winter sets in. Left to be done before winter are the creation of the winter paddocks (we had taken the ones down we had last year in order to make them better), and the staining of the house exterior.

As summer ends here we look forward to spending more time with the horses rather than for the horses. The seasonal changes will bring crisper mornings, and the smells of the land going to sleep for the winter. We'll experience some rain, shifting from the still warmer summer rains to the colder ones of autumn; and some brilliantly bright days with crystal blue skies. The horses, sensing this change, and the lesser hours of daylight, will begin to grow their thicker, curly coats. This year, with Jack entering his first winter, will be more exciting as we learn what type of curls he will develop. And the cooler weather will bring friskier movements as the horses keep their personal furnaces going.

We hope you check back often to hear what is happening here, and to learn about the changes we experience.