Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The price we pay for love...

This morning we took our final dog walk. I figure we've done around eight thousand in almost fourteen years. It was painfully stiff and slow, and the skies opened up and poured on us.

I've been nursing my dear Sweetpea through end stage Cushing's for months. She had wasted away to nothing and lost control of her hind end in the last weeks. When I had to persuade her to eat and drink over the weekend it was obviously time.

Sweetest Pea was the runt of thirteen pups. I took her in at three and a half weeks, while she could fit in my hand, otherwise she would have starved. She caught up quickly, at one point reaching eighty five pounds, and until her ninth year, was healthy, strong and beautiful.

Her dad was a local lab romeo, her mom a pit bull. As a puppy she would hang out in the back of my pickup truck down at the marina waiting for me to get off of work. When folks would ask her breed I'd say - Gulf Stream Retriever,  and usually get a nod and a knowing look. It was hard to keep a straight face. It was better than having the "pit bull discussion".

Despite her breeding, a strong prey drive, and an arch enemy dog in the neighborhood who had to be put in his place now and again, Sweetpea was very gentle, even maternal with the various strays that showed up at our house.

Favorite activities were beach walks and swims. I would help her out past the breakers, and then we'd swim and swim parallel to the beach. She would let me prop her up for a bit when she got tired, and eventually ride a wave back in to shore. She could dig to China to hunt up a ghost crab in the sand, and quickly learned to snap off the pinchy claws asap so she could torture the crabs safely.

Sweetpea was smart and persistent with a smattering of sly. Add agility, and this was a dangerous combination. I once caught her dropping the last piece of a just out of the oven, cooling on the kitchen counter bundt cake on the living room rug as I came in the front door. Guilty as hell look standing over the pile of crumbs with an already bulging belly... nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

She went very peacefully this afternoon. I think she was relieved. I know I was. It was a blessing to see how calmly she breathed after receiving the preparatory sedation. I realized it was the first time I'd seen her relaxed in literally years.

Sweetpea was a loyal, loving companion. She is buried in a lovely spot on the farm. I will miss her terribly.

RIP Sweetpea 
1/21/99 - 7/31/12

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In the Arena # 128 - Being all that we can be...

I must confess - I absolutely love when the Olympics roll around. Witnessing athletes culminate a lifetime's worth of training, dedication and focus into an ultimate performance on a global stage... It often moves me to tears. The nationalism and annoying television coverage I could do without.

Anyhow, in honor of the upcoming opportunity to witness world class equestrian events, I propose a contest. As I very young equestrian, I dreamed of riding in the Olympics. I can remember being mesmerized the few times I caught the broadcast of the musical freestyle dressage performances. I knew that one day I wanted to share that kind of experience with my own horse.

Though none of us will be medaling in our chosen disciplines this go round, I'm quite sure our equine partners all have an extraordinary quality worthy of celebrating... and prizes!

Over the next two weeks, I invite you all to share your horses' special talents here. Photos and / or video, plus a written description will do for your entry. You can provide links for me in the comments, and I will take care of embedding. If you have any trouble, we can use email.

At the close of the Olympics I'll announce the winners - chosen at random with the help of my lovely assistant Val. There will be three - who will receive an awesome, official, "Dressage is #1" foam finger. If you aren't a dressage enthusiast yourself, I'll bet you know one or two... Christmas will be here before you know it.


To get the ball rolling I submit Valentino. Though an energy conserver by nature, he can multi-task with the best of them.

Occasionally he's seen busting a move like this...

but mostly he gets plenty of beauty sleep, and makes an effort with his nutrition - two keys for healthy living. :)

Contest and entries also located here on their own page 
Let the games begin!

Friday, July 20, 2012

At the Barn # 61 - Load stars + notes from the farmette...

Settling up on some teasers from the last post...

Last week it was time to clean out the trailer, which had been serving as overflow hay storage. Val was cool and comfy, having enjoyed a post work rinse and a tasty grazing session. On a whim, I opened the ramp, placed a treat on the chest bar, threw the rope over his back and in he went, not a moment's hesitation. I've encouraged a self load or two after leading him in before, but this was the first time I just pointed him at the ramp and he complied. What a goooood boy. I love my horse. :)

The next day it was Cowboy's turn. Cowboy hasn't voluntarily entered a trailer since the fall. We believe some very bad trailer driving may explain his reluctance. His people schooled him furiously for a while. Feeding him in the trailer (without ever closing the bar), and chasing him with a broom were some of the strategies. Then they got discouraged and gave up.

It took about an hour, but we got him in calmly. No bribing, no head throwing, no bolting out backwards, no flying off the side of the ramp. Planting on the ramp was his evasion of choice. Out of respect for his owner, I waited him out with her, though I must confess, I finally shook a bucket with some noisy pellets in it, ending the session when suddenly he walked all the way up to the chest bar. Next session I'd like to turn up the pressure just a tad, get the butt bar up and take him for a very short, very slow, very safe ride, followed by excessive praise and lots of treats.

Cowboy's owner has been very discouraged about not getting to travel to lessons, or go to shows. She had signed up for several last year but didn't make it off island because he refused to load. I worry about emergencies, and Cowboy's well being. I think we're on our way to solving this problem - wish us luck.


I've learned some important lessons about gardening this season:

Leave half again twice as much space as you think you need around tomato plants, especially when planting in composted manure.

Even though you don't usually see deer until the fall, you need a very tall fence around the garden. Plan on it. When there is drought, the deer come out of the woodwork trying to find moisture. I don't even think it's about food as much as water.

The giant plants that result form the fab compost need serious support. Your run of the mill tomato cages are not sufficient. For next year, I am designing a model made from pvc that can be broken down and put up in stages. Easier to store in the off season.

No matter what you do, the majority of the harvest will come in at once. This weekend I will be processing tomatoes. All weekend long.


Deja vue.  The other day I brought a sheet in that had been drying outside. As I spread it out on the sofa, a wasp lurking in a fold in the fabric stung me three times on my left hand. My usual response to wasps in the house is trapping them under a glass and letting them out. This wasp ended up in the vacuum. Hello giant baseball glove hand.

The one bright spot was the next day, Val sniffed the sting hand all over, then licked and groomed it thoroughly for me, nibbling the super swollen back of my hand especially. I have no doubt he knew it was a hurt, and was helping.

fat hand 2012

fat hand 2011


And then there's snakes.

I'll have to tell a tale on myself. I found a rat snake under Cowboy's manure bucket. His people are likely to kill a snake reflexively, so I had the bright idea to relocate Mr. Rat Snake to my tack room. There is an obvious rodent issue lately. Why not let nature take it's course rather than resort to poison or traps?!

There's no need to be a smart ass though, by trying to multi-task while transporting a snake. The only thing stupider would have been trying to photo document the procedure as well. As I attempted to hold the snake in one hand, the feed bucket in the other and open the gate, Mr. Rat Snake saw his opening and bit the tar out of my thumb. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to having a fleeting thought questioning my snake id-ing skills.

Val was also interested in this injury, suspiciously sniffing the bite, then my arm where the snake had been wrapped, then the bite again, then the hay I was trying to stuff into his hay bag. I'm pretty sure he was letting me know that I better not be getting any snake juice in his dinner.

Not the snake bite snake - just a junior water moccasin by the manure pile.

 A lovely amphibian


In the works - A CONTEST! With prizes and everything. Stay tuned - details to come...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In the Arena # 127 - The swing of things...

Fair warning - long catch-up post ahead...

Sorry for the extended absence. I missed posting to our blog, but I really needed the break. It's been dreadfully hot here, the humid air thick with flies and mosquitoes. Not inviting riding conditions for horse or human. Once you've spent most of the day working outdoors, it's hard to get excited about riding in the hot sun. Wedging the riding pants on in the sweltering tack room holds zero appeal.

The lack of rain has made our arena footing super deep. Val's feet slide down to the coronets with every step, and I can barely push the wheelbarrow through. To compound the situation there was no air conditioning in the Shimmy Shack until about a week ago. Cold well water rinses and watermelon in the afternoons have helped us get through.

Then there was a little problem with my ego. I'd been reading too many glowing posts about show successes, excellent test scores, informative clinics and began to obsess about the blog-ability of my riding. Instead of my priority being what's the right decision for Val in this training situation, it sometimes became I have a plan to accomplish this particular thing - canter departs, x amount of trot work, incorporating ground poles... I wasn't in the moment with my horse, making decisions based on how I could help him. I was concerned with the end result, but not always focused on the process or what was best for my horse. And where did that get me? Sitting on my butt in the dirt - that's where.

Despite the weather, we have had a few decent rides, mostly bareback. One was in order to try out a new bit. I found a really good source for plus sized bits -  after an exhaustive search. We had been riding in a 5 3/4" french link eggbutt, rather than the 6" he really needs. There seemed to be no options for larger sizes in the style I wanted, other than KK Ultras special ordered, and custom bits. I now have a curvy copper french link eggbutt, much like the KKs, but reasonably priced. Val loves it. He eagerly accepts it, and mouths it as I remove his bridle - taking his time letting it go. Wishing I had done this much sooner. And if anyone sees a 6" eggbutt french link with a copper half moon (more room for big ol' tongues) please let me know, as that bit I think would be ideal.

Our most recent ride was wonderful. High points were - staying focused on correcting my position, and Val offering forward, reaching into the bridle, and using his back. Captain Outburst was going to town next door with loud machinery punctuated by curses, and it didn't even phase us.

We've also done quite a bit of ground work, especially revisiting longeing and yielding the hindquarters. I've kept the sessions very brief and outside the arena on firmer ground. I used a rope halter, which gave me the leverage I needed when Val tested me. I refined my position, aiming my body more toward his shoulder than his head. I knew that once he got his head pointed to the outside of the circle I could lose him. Off he would go, bucking and rearing, tearing the line out of my hand. Instead of feeling him looking out of the circle, I had been watching his head. Now I'm concentrating on feeling through the contact of the line, and watching his movement instead.

It's been a good time to lay still and read in the heat of the afternoons. Mary Wanless' Ride With Your Mind - An Illustrated Masterclass in Right Brain Riding has been absolutely blowing my mind. It is the most inspiring, uplifting writing about riding I've read to date, besides Erik Herbermann, whom Ms. Wanless quotes several times. Think classical ideals conveyed through the prism of biomechanics, with an emphasis on acknowledging different learning / thinking styles, and written with a thorough understanding of the physics of riding. I will be doing a series of posts about this book.

Upcoming blog topics: Val self loads, trailer 101 with Cowboy, garden update, deer + gardens, fence building, tomatoes - why must they all come at once, tomato recipes, wasps in the laundry, wasp stings, snakes, snakebites...

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