Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What This Is About

While I was growing up, I had horses.  Then I went to college and started working, and forgot horses for almost 20 years.  How can anyone forget part of their life?  Then I had two daughters, and found that they had inherited my "horse genes" - from before they could talk they wanted to see and be with horses.  One thing led to another - they started taking lessons, I started riding again, I got a lovely older horse, they started showing and we bought more horses, and so on.  Now we have 5 horses (or should I say, they have us), as well as a collection of other animals.

A number of years ago, we became tired of the horse showing scene, and of the way many trainers and riders treated their horses - which was the way we ourselves had been trained to treat them.  We were fortunate to stumble upon an amazing horseman, Mark Rashid, and rode in a number of his clinics.  His approach involves listening to what the horse is saying to you, and giving the horse your respect, not just expecting the horse to respect you (come to think of it, why should a horse respect you if you don't respect it and its thoughts and feelings?).  It isn't about "control", or "dominance", or "making" the horse do something.  It was a real eye opener - although I had ridden and been around horses for many years, I felt like a complete beginner.  So, this led to our moving our horses to a place where we could have them nearby (the barn is about 100 yards from my house) and have substantial involvement with how they are cared for and handled.

Our stable has room for 12 horses (there are 11 right now), and 5 of them own me directly - the rest just rent me!  We have about 15 acres of fabulous pasture (kudos to our amazing pasture manager - one of the boarders who has advanced degrees in pasture management) on which we practice rotational grazing from May through the fall.  In the winter, we use round bales in two large dry lots.

Every morning before sunrise, 7 days a week, I go to the stable and feed all the horses and make up the next day's feed.  Six days a week (the owners do their own turnout on Sundays), I take all the horses to turnout - they're out from sunrise to late afternoon every day except when wind chills are below zero, there's too much ice, the heat index is too high, or severe weather is imminent.  I get to spend a lot of time being with the horses, experiencing them as individuals and observing all their activities. 

One of my other blogs, A Year With Horses, is about life at the barn and horsekeeping.  This blog will be about my work with my horses: riding and groundwork.  I don't like the term "training" - to me, it implies that the horse is some sort of computer to be programmed.  My journey with horses involves trying to understand them and what they are trying to say to me as I work with them, so that we can work together more effectively.

The first few posts on this blog are almost the same as those on A Year With Horses, and my apologies to those who have already read them.  After the horses are introduced, later posts will be about my work with the horses.

Horses and Life

While I was growing up, I had horses.  Then I went to college and started working, and forgot horses for almost 20 years.  How can anyone forget part of their life?  Then I had two daughters, and found that they had inherited my "horse genes" - from before they could talk they wanted to see and be with horses.  One thing led to another - they started taking lessons, I started riding again, I got a lovely older horse, they started showing and we bought more horses, and so on.  Now we have 5 horses (or should I say, they have us), as well as a collection of other animals.

A number of years ago, we became tired of the horse showing scene, and of the way many trainers and riders treated their horses - which was the way we ourselves had been trained to treat them.  We were fortunate to stumble upon an amazing horseman, Mark Rashid, and rode in a number of his clinics.  His approach involves listening to what the horse is saying to you, and giving the horse your respect, not just expecting the horse to respect you (come to think of it, why should a horse respect you if you don't respect it and its thoughts and feelings?).  It isn't about "control", or "dominance", or "making" the horse do something.  It was a real eye opener - although I had ridden and been around horses for many years, I felt like a complete beginner.  So, this led to our moving our horses to a place where we could have them nearby (the barn is about 100 yards from my house) and have substantial involvement with how they are cared for and handled.

The place we live is a planned development, with about 360 homes clustered in groups on almost a square mile of land.  Almost 2/3 of the space is open and shared in common, and is slowly, with much volunteer and paid labor, being restored to an approximation of the native prairies that used to be here.  Many residents also have yards with substantial prairies instead of traditional landscaping.  We also have an organic farm next door with CSA subscriptions, and a community garden.

And then there's the stable.  It's in the center of the development, with many homes overlooking our pastures.  We have room for 12 horses (there are 11 right now), and 5 of them own me directly - the rest just rent me!  We have about 15 acres of fabulous pasture (kudos to our amazing pasture manager - one of the boarders who has advanced degrees in pasture management) on which we practice rotational grazing from May through the fall.  In the winter, we use round bales in two large dry lots.

Every morning before sunrise, 7 days a week, I go to the stable and feed all the horses and make up the next day's feed.  Six days a week (the owners do their own turnout on Sundays), I take all the horses to turnout - they're out from sunrise to late afternoon every day except when wind chills are below zero, there's too much ice, the heat index is too high, or severe weather is imminent.  I get to spend a lot of time being with the horses, experiencing them as individuals and observing all their activities.  Some of the summer pastures are as much as a quarter-mile from the barn, so my morning job can take up to 2 hours.  I also get to be in nature and see many marvelous things.  I can't say that every day is a delight (the recent morning when the air temperature was 20 F below with a wind chill of minus 45 comes to mind), but there are more moments of joy and delight than not.

I'm not sure what will end up in this blog - there will certainly be horses, horsekeeping and riding and training, and nature, but there may also be cooking, and perhaps even some knitting and reading lists.  Let me know what you think.