Saturday, January 30, 2010

Miranda Comes To Stay For a While

There has been much activity - my older daughter's horse, Miranda, will be coming to stay with us at the barn tonight through at least the month of February. My daughter unexpectedly had the opportunity to go for the month to work in Wellington, Florida, for a trainer who is down there. So we've moved the hay that was being stored in the stall Miranda will be using, and set it up with bedding and water. We've also set up a water tank and heater in the paddock she'll be using for turnout, at least for now. If she only stays for a month, we probably won't integrate her into the mare herd. The footing - mostly ice - isn't suitable for an introduction right now anyway.

Miranda is an 11 year old Oldenburg mare (by Walldorf) - she actually looks a lot like him, especially her head, although she's a lot smaller - only about 15.3 hands. My daughter got her for free as a rescue when she was about to be euthanized - it's a fascinating story which you can follow if you go to this post first and then to the label cloud under "Miranda". Miranda is a pretty mare, and here are some photos of her from earlier this year:

It'll be fun to have her around, although unfortunately I doubt I'll get to ride her much with the winter weather we've been having, but who knows?, maybe spring will come early!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stuck Inside, Fritz Recovers and an Anniversary!

The horses are stuck inside today - the high is supposed to be 11F but the wind chills won't be any higher than -5F. It'll be noontime tomorrow before the wind chills get above zero. The wind is very sharp - I wore my face mask this morning to walk the dog (very briefly). The horses are very patient for the most part about being stall-bound. I'll go back a bit later to check on everybody and hand walk my three in the barn aisle.

Fritz had some sort of problem yesterday morning - something digestive although it didn't seem to be a colic of the normal type. When I got to the barn, he was agitated - he wouldn't eat his hay, and was alternately circling in his stall and weaving - standing and rocking his body from side to side, mixed in with head tossing and biting the air. He had good gut sounds. He passed some loose manure, but that didn't seem to make him feel any better. He's been having loose manure lately - not diarrhea, but just loose, and we're not sure what's causing that - there've been no changes in his feed. I spoke to Sugar's owner by phone - she covers for Fritz and Fred's owner who lives about an hour away. When he started pawing and looked like he might roll, I called Sugar's owner again and asked her to come walk him for a bit while I finished feeding. Fritz didn't get any breakfast. Fritz's owner called me and she asked me to give him 10cc of IM Banamine, which I did. By the time I got done feeding, he was interested in his hay and seemed back to normal, so I put him with Fred in a small paddock until his owner came out.

So far, it seems that he's made a full recovery - he was fine last night and again this morning, although he did have loose manure again for the farrier this morning. He is a very easily disturbed horse, although he's been pretty calm since he came back here - he apparently was very upset all the time at the last stable he was at - his owner thinks something was wrong there, and perhaps something reminded him of that. Who knows? We'll be keeping a close eye on him.

Oh - I just remembered - it's the first anniversary of my blog! There will be a small give-away to thank all my blogging friends - it's been fun to read about your adventures and learn from you, and I've certainly appreciated all your helpful comments and suggestions. The give away will include some horse treats, a few grooming tools and a book (if I can find a copy). If you'd like to be included in the drawing for the give-away, just leave a comment on this post to that effect before the end of the day Monday, February 1. Thanks for reading along!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Watts and Amps and Volts, Oh My!

We've been having trouble with some of our tank heaters. We use 1,500 watt aluminum sinking heaters, which should be drawing 12.5 amps, in our dry lot tanks. Due to the placement of the tanks and the electric box, we have to use extension cords to reach the tanks. Lately, when I go to inspect the tanks at morning turnout, often one or the other tank heaters has stopped working, with resulting ice (and associated swearing as I remove the ice). To restart the heater, I have to get down on my hands and knees - the outlet box is almost at ground level (don't get me started on what I'd like to do to the person who installed it that way) - and put my face almost down to the ground in order to see the GFI (ground fault interruptors) and reset them if necessary. Often, the GFI has not tripped but the heater has just stopped working, which presents a mystery. And then other times the GFI is tripped.

Sometimes it's the heater that has failed, and sometimes it's something else. Lately, we may be dealing with a loss of voltage - the outlets are a fair ways from the barn, which results in a loss of voltage, and since we're using extension cords, that reduces the voltage even further, which I've learned results in an increased amperage draw. So the heaters may not have sufficient voltage to operate properly. So tomorrow we're going to swap out the extension cords for ones with a heavier gauge, and also get extension cords that are shorter. We'll see if that makes a difference - I certainly hope so, as wrestling with water, heaters and extension cords when wind chills are below zero F isn't my idea of a good time!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Marginal At Best and the Ideal Barn

This morning the ice was amazingly even worse than yesterday - the surfaces were more glassy and the snow that we got - just a bit - didn't do anything to help. But the horses got out - very carefully - and are picking their way around their pastures. They seem to mostly be pretty sensible about it and careful as they walk. I particularly wanted to get them out as we're expecting some very cold weather Thursday and Friday with wind chills well below zero F, and it's possible the horses may have to stay in.

We also had a game of "water tank heater roulette" this morning - we've had one iffy tank heater for a bit and it finally conked out. (The geldings were being playful one day last week and pulled their heater out of the tank - it may have been damaged in the process.) We shifted some things around and every tank has a heater that works, although Charisma, who doesn't mind cold water, has a small floater that will keep at least the top part of her tank open. My (long-suffering) husband is on the search for two replacement heaters - we use the large circular sinking heaters - as our local feed store had none in stock.

* * * * * *

To deal with the winter blahs, I've been having fun designing, and drawing, the "barn of my dreams". I doubt I'll get it - I'm getting a bit old to take that all on, and it would be very expensive. But I can still dream! Yesterday morning, I sketched out the basic plan, and then my older daughter and I discussed it at lunch - it was fun and she had her own additions.

So, say you have 12 or so horses (that's the size of our existing barn), and our property, which is about 15-20 acres. And assume there's nothing on the property, no barn or outbuildings or fences, so you can start from scratch.

Now, for the barn itself - it's not fancy - no brick, or stone, or elaborate stuff - this is a barn designed for horses, not people. A nice steel Morton barn would be nice, with a center aisle (I'm fond of shed row barns but they're not ideal in our climate.). All the horses would be able to see their neighbors - vertical bars between stalls, and the feel would be airy and open. The horses would have V stall guards so they could stick their heads out, and the barn aisle would be extra wide and kept clear of tack trunks and equipment. I considered but rejected dutch doors to the outside - with the weather there'd be a lot of drafts, and getting outside doors open with snow and ice would be a problem. There would be a nice big tack room at the front, a separate feed room, a small heated office (the rest of the barn would be unheated for equine health) and a wash stall with cold and hot running water. The barn would have excellent ventilation (soffits and fans) and light. Every horse would have a large sliding window to the outside with a screen for summer and cross-ventilation. Stalls would a minimum 12x12, but preferably 12x15.

All hay and equipment storage would be in a separate building next to the barn, for reduction of dust and fire risk. There would be a large steel indoor arena with large windows at the top under the roof, and excellent footing. The sides of the indoor would have rooflines that extended outwards to form sheltered overhangs for the outside areas (dry lots) on either side. All gates would be properly braced and hung so opening and closing would be a cinch, and all gates would be 12' wide to facilitate equipment access.

The barn would have a cross-aisle that opened directly on each end into one-acre or so pastures on each side of the barn - these would make use of the shed rows created by the extended roofs of the indoor in inclement weather. These would serve as winter dry lots, and would also provide direct access to the pastures. Five or so pastures, each about one acre, would open out of each dry lot, and would be used in rotational grazing - smaller pastures work best for this. The exterior fencing would probably be 4-board wood, with electric tape used to subdivide the separate pastures, to make mowing easier. Since, when the horses were on pasture, all that would be needed would be to turn them out directly into the dry lot, leaving the gate to the correct pasture open, there would only need to be two outdoor water tanks, immediately adjacent to the barn to make water and electric line access as easy as could be.

The barn and indoor would be located at the center of the property, not the front, to make it possible to have pastures radiating out from the dry lots in all directions, again to facilitate turn out. Having to plow the driveway when it snowed would be outweighed by the labor savings involved in easy turnout and bring in. Also, the property would be such (ours is) that the highest point was in the center, allowing for proper drainage around the barn and from the dry lots - no pooling or ponding water in parking lot or dry lots. If there were a house, I see a small cape or cottage style house - nothing fancy.

The outdoor arena would have excellent drainage and footing, would be large, and could be along one side of the driveway into the property. The arena would be equipped with a wonderful and colorful assortment of jumps, as well as dressage letters (or the dressage letters could be in the indoor - my daughter says she doesn't want to have to move the jumps!). On the other side would be a large round pen, built with large wooden boards with little space between, for equine safety, and at least 6' tall - and of course it would have excellent footing. Scattered through a number of the pastures would be an assortment of cross country fences, including banks, logs and other natural obstacles.

All the pastures would have some natural shade - large individual trees or groves of trees. I can just see it - rolling pastures, shade trees, beautiful horses grazing.

Here's a rough sketch of the layout:

A girl can dream, can't she? Enjoy your January day, and may spring come soon!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Precision Leading

This morning was one of those mornings where all the leading work the horses get, every day, pays off. We still have a great deal of ice, although it's worse in the aisles and the approaches to the pastures than it is inside the pastures. In the pastures, there's enough manure scattered around, and enough exposed bits of frozen mud, that the horses can get around with some care. The challenge this morning was getting from the barn to the pastures. I took the horses one by one so we could travel very specific paths.

Both the mares and geldings had specific leading challenges to conquer. The mares had to lead along an aisle where the only safe path was immediately adjacent to a fenceline - the aisle's about 10 feet wide but the only safe area was the narrow strip, about 18" wide, that was all the way to the right. I asked each mare to follow in my footsteps, directly behind me, at just the speed we needed to go. We actually had to push through some standing weeds and small bushes to do it. When I'm leading this way, with my back to the horse and a loose lead, I don't do anything else to control them - as we started to go up the aisle, I directed each horse to follow me, and each horse did - they were all stars! No one crowded, if I had to stop, they stopped, and when we got to the gate they waited. The gate itself was a challenge - it would only open a narrow horse-width - it was blocked by some stuff that had melted and then refrozen yesterday. Each mare led carefully and precisely through this very narrow opening.

The geldings had a different challenge - they had to wait in a fairly icy area for me to open the gate, and due to how the gate opens and where the ice was inside the gate, I had to send each horse by me to almost the end of the 10' lead, where they had to stop without turning back towards me and wait for me to close the gate and walk to their head. Once again, they were a bunch of stars! I was even more delighted because this was a bunch of horses who got little or no turnout yesterday, so they were very eager to get out. They all listened, and we got the job done safely.

We're supposed to have temperatures just at or above freezing, and we're supposed to get a little bit of snow today and tonight - with luck the footing will improve a bit before tomorrow when we go back into the deep freeze.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rain and Ice

It's been warm - in the low 40s today - and the rain that we had overnight into this morning has ended. Much of the snow that was left has melted or been washed away, but in areas where the snow was packed down - particularly around the parking lot and the approaches to the paddocks and dry lots - there's a thick layer of solid ice, in many places with water on top - it's extremely hazardous and it's hard not to fall when walking - Sugar's owner has already fallen. The horses have only been able to barely get to one of the small paddocks closest to the barn by detouring through the outdoor wash stall, for a short bit of turnout. I'm not sure what conditions will be like tomorrow - temperatures will drop below freezing tonight and all the standing water isn't going anywhere. We are supposed to be getting a dusting of snow tomorrow, and if it sticks to the ice and roughs up the surface a bit, we may be OK. Or we may have to lay down a layer of manure and used pellets from the stalls to create a walkway - if the dry lots themselves are usable - the upper one is very flat and may be too icy to use. One nice thing is that the grassy area behind the barn is clear, and it is possible to get to it, which hasn't always been the case when we've had icy conditions, so lungeing may be possible even if turnout isn't. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Misty and Raw

This morning it isn't too cold - it's above freezing - but there's a sharp wind from the east, with drizzle and mist. We're supposed to get some rain this afternoon into tonight. The footing is much improved for the moment, which the horses and I are both pleased with.

I've been thinking a lot about how to change habits, in myself and horses, and if you're interested there are some thoughts in this post.

Have an excellent late-January day!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Slip Slidin' Away

This morning the horses and I slipped and slid (well, I did most of that - the horses did pretty well) to the turnouts. Even where it doesn't look like ice, where the snow is packed down it's almost as slippery. If the horses are slipping, I stay well clear as I'm leading, but since they were doing pretty well, several of the horses helped me out by letting me hang on to their necks. Most of them are pretty good about helping me out when I need it.

I wanted to mention a book I'm in the middle of reading, which I highly recommend - I'll do a more thorough commentary on it in another post once I'm done. The book is by Temple Grandin (with Catherine Johnson), and is called Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life For Animals. Temple Grandin is an amazing woman - she's autistic and has chronicled her story in Emergence: Labeled Autistic. She is a scientist specializing in the brain and animal behavior. Her insights into animals and how they perceive the world are very acute, and she believes that some of her insights are because she is autistic and her perceptual and emotional systems may be closer to those of animals.

As any of us know who work with animals, they do have emotions, and feelings, and the ability to think to a greater or lesser degree - and this isn't anthropomorphism at all - after all we're animals too with the same basic brain structure as all animals, with a larger pre-frontal cortex on top of it all. In my experience, people who deny that animals have emotions and feelings, and not just behaviors, need to believe that because of how they treat animals. Every great horseman and horsewoman is always asking themselves "how does the horse feel about this" as he or she does the work with the horse, and pays attention to "feel" of the horse. It isn't just about training in behaviors, or imposing one's will on the horse, it's about having the horse "with" you from the inside so that's there's a partnership in getting the work done. Anything else is just training the outside of the horse.

The book is firmly science-based, but is easy to read and completely enthralling, whether you have horses, dogs, cats or farm animals. There are separate chapters for each, with some pretty interesting facts and insights. A couple of things to whet your interest: did you know that wolves (dogs' closest relatives) do not live naturally in packs in the wild, but in small family groups, and that their relationships aren't usually about dominance? Did you know that cats can only be trained using positive reinforcement, not negative reinforcement or social reinforcement (praise) and that it's possible to train a cat using clicker training?

And The Journey is now up and running, if you're interested. Have a wonderful late January day!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Windy, With Sights, Sounds and Textures

This morning it's very windy - gusts to 30mph. Temperatures are supposed to just get up to freezing. A couple of posts ago, some questions were asked about blanketing, and there were some good answers in the comments. To me, blanketing is a question of wind and wet - horses don't do well in either without shelter, which we don't have in our pastures, since their coats lose their insulating value. And it's also a question of individual horses - some grow good coats, some don't, and some are just more or less sensitive to cold and wind. All horses need protection from getting wet to the skin, if temperatures are below 55-60F, in my opinion.

So this morning, due to the wind and a chance of freezing rain in the forecast, the horses got some light protection. I blanket all the horses (8) but mine as soon as I feed hay and make up the beet pulp, which soaks for 20 minutes, for Blackjack and Noble. I blanket my three horses when I turn them out, as I usually give them a quick grooming. We almost always take blankets off when the horses are stalled at night, to give them a rest from the pressure of the blanket and to give their coats a chance to refluff. It also gives us a chance to look over each horse to be sure they don't have an injury under the blanket or a skin condition starting, and to assess their weight and body condition. Although our barn is unheated and uninsulated, it does stay warmer than outside with the horses' body heat. The coldest it's ever gotten inside the barn in my experience was 8F, but that was with minus 20F temperatures with even colder wind chills outside. A couple of the horses wear fleece coolers overnight if it's bitterly cold. A horse is on the verge of being chilled if its coat is erect, and if the horse is shivering it's definitely chilled.

I've been working a lot lately at trying to be "in the moment", and to be fully present with whatever it is that I am doing - not thinking about something else. This morning was one of those delightful mornings when everything flowed, and I was really enjoying noticing all the sights, sounds and textures that surround me while I work. Even blanketing was delightful. I use the exact same sequence of movements to blanket every horse, and as I tossed every blanket up, it landed in exactly the correct place, and every bit of strapping was smooth and effortless. Sometimes I have other types of days - you know those ones where everything gets tangled and snarled and you trip, and drop things. But today was one of the good days.

Some things I noticed: Every horse's coat, in addition to having a different color and length, has a different texture, and they vary dramatically. Scout almost has a wiry coat, although it's not that thick or long. Fred and Blackjack are soft and fluffy. Dawn almost has peach fuzz. Maisie has almost a double coat, with long guard hairs. I almost think that if you put me in front of a horse, without colors and without any other way to identify the horse, I would be able to tell them apart just from the texture of their coats. It's sort of like the horses drinking yesterday - they are such individuals.

And each type of grain makes a completely different sound as you pour it into the feed buckets. And even draining the beet pulp was effortless - this is the hardest/worst feeding job next to rinsing out the beet pulp containers - I actually was enjoying the feeling of the warm water over my hand and the soft texture of the beet pulp/senior mix as I drained it, and it has a delicious smell. I love the different sounds each horse makes as it walks over the concrete floor on the way to turnout - many of them I could identify by sound. Dawn, for example, almost slaps her front feet down - it's very determined. I also like listening to the sequence of the footfalls, and noticing anything that is different in terms of rhythm or emphasis - this is one of the first ways I notice that a horse is slightly off before I even look.

And outside, I was quite taken by the textures and appearance of the ground. Our snow has packed down and compressed, and there are areas with ice showing through underneath, particularly in the walkways. It was as if there were different depths - snow on top and partially visible layers of ice, with an amazing textured look in different shades of gray. And on top of the snow layer, and mixed in all over, were bits of tan bedding from the horses' hooves and shreds of hay. It was like a composition in white, grey and tan - very beautiful!

I could go on and on - but that's enough! Please have a wonderful day!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

All Those Blogs

As some of you may have noticed, I have a whole family of blogs (on the side bar). A good question would be why so many? Another question might be how do I have time to keep them up? And, why do I bother and what's the point of it all? These are all very good questions. More than a year ago, I was looking for a retirement home for Lily and Norman, and stumbled across the Paradigm Farms blog - thanks, Melissa, this is all your fault! I thought, "hmm, that's interesting, maybe I could do that for fun". And that's where A Year With Horses came from. I just started writing, and it took on its own shape over time. It's interesting to me how that happens - I think each of us bloggers has a unique voice - each blog out there has a particular tone, style and feel - some of us write about daily activities, some have photos, some tell stories, etc. - I find the variety of voices and perspectives refreshing and enjoyable. It took me a while to figure out how I wanted A Year With Horses to be, and feel. I've done writing before, but somehow this is easier, and having an audience keeps me accountable in a way - I try to be honest, and to think about the reader's perspective. Through this blog, I've also been blessed to find a wonderful community of horse people, with their challenges and triumphs, and much to offer.

The other blogs arose because I have many other interests; I think of them as different but related aspects of my life and personality. The separate blogs have different purposes and points for me, and I also thought it would be easier for readers to pick and choose what they were interested in reading. In Our Own Backyard is close to my heart, but its style and function are still "settling down", and I've found it harder to write for. When I started it, I thought of it as an old-fashioned natural history - descriptions and observations of nature. But it's turned out to have lots of photography as I've learned more about that - photos giving a feel for the natural wonders I see in my own corner of the world every day. And I'm very interested in natural science, and ecology, and environmental policy and the impact our human activities have on the world around us, so it's about that, too. It's very much a work in progress.

CrazyVeggieLady is about cooking and food. I love eating, and cooking, and care a lot about those things, and try to be thoughtful about what I eat and why, which leads naturally to thinking and writing about food, nutrition and food policy. I'm also interested in the personal moral and economic choices involved in eating, and how people learn to eat and cook as children and adults. And yes, someday I'll learn how to take a decent photo of what I'm eating! And it'll also be about growing food, although that's a seasonal thing in this part of the world. This blog needs to become less about lists of what I eat and more about thinking about food and eating, but it's not there yet.

Baroquely Yours is about my exciting and sometimes difficult journey into music. Until very recently, I had almost no musical knowledge or training, but a few years ago I was somehow inspired to take up playing the recorder. I've learned an enormous amount since then and still have an enormous amount more to learn - it's a journey that will never end until I do, I expect. This blog is mostly very dry - just a record of what I'm practicing day to day, as well as thoughts on my progress as an amateur musician, how to practice and suchlike. Interestingly enough, having to write this down has made me more organized and accountable in my practicing. There will also be occasional thoughts on music I listen to or concerts I attend. My musical tastes are pretty eclectic - running from early music right up to today, both classical and popular, but the blog will mostly be about recorder and baroque music. I'm pretty happy with where this blog is right now.

The Reader's Closet is evolving - it started as a set of lists of what I was reading and wanted to read. I'm in the process of changing how I go about reading - I used to be an indiscriminate and omnivorous reader but I want to change that in order to enjoy my reading more and get more out of it at the same time, and it's very much a work in progress. The lists are now gone - I'm actually consciously not keeping lists, which is a challenge for me! It also has movie reviews, although I don't know that those really belong there, and that may change. I hope that this blog will change quite a bit as I change how I read, and think more about my reading, but I'm not completely sure where it's going yet - I'm hoping it will become less "squibby" and more thoughtful.

One Photo, One Quote and One Word are just for fun, and are occasional. I'm slowly developing my photography, and One Photo is for photos I find particularly pleasing or interesting. One Word is for odd and interesting words, and One Quote is things I stumble across that mean something to me.

Fear No Finance is a recent endeavor. I've had a number of prior careers, including in law and finance. Although I never went to business school, I'm a CFA (Certified Financial Analyst) (this involves at least three years of self study, and three 6-hour exams covering such topics as accounting, economics, investments, investment policy and such exotic stuff as derivatives, futures and options) and have learned some things about economics and how people in the financial industry think. I think a lot of what passes for financial and economic policy is wrong-headed, and sometimes just plain wrong, and academic economists sometimes mistake theory for real life. I also think the American public, and our children, are woefully under- and mis-educated about everything from basic financial concepts to how the economy works. I had the occasion a while ago to design and teach a very basic financial literacy course to 8th graders - based on brainstorming about what they wanted to learn - at a school my younger daughter was attending, and I have a strong interest in this aspect of education (and Breathe, if you're reading this, please e-mail me information about the financial literacy course you mentioned). This blog is an experiment in trying to communicate on this topic, and may very well evolve into something else.

And there's a new member of the blog family on the way - The Journey. This one isn't live yet, but I hope it will be soon. As some of you know from reading along, I'm at a very interesting inflection point in my life. My children are grown and are now both adults (although they're still circling the nest!), and I've been reexamining my life, interests and allocation of time and resources to figure out what is next. The Journey will be a very personal reflection on these topics, and will undoubtedly be a work that evolves. I've been mulling over the themes I think will shape the next stage of my life - Adventure and Creativity/Self-Expression - and what I need to do to allow them to flourish. The Journey will, I hope, be about my exploration of these topics, from the mundane to the philosophical.

Now, why do I do all this, and how do I have time? I'm retired (for now, although there may be other career-type activities in my future), which means that, after taking care of business - bills, errands, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the horses and animals, etc. - my time is my own. I'm really enjoying the writing of these blogs and it's causing me to think and leading me to some interesting places right now, and surprisingly, it actually doesn't take all that much time, and if at times it does that's because I find it a valuable way to develop my thinking. I'm one of those people whose thoughts aren't clarified in my own mind until I have to express them somehow to someone else, and these blogs allow me to do that. I appreciate having the opportunity to write, to have readers who quietly follow and also to hear from those of you who comment. We'll just have to see where this all leads!

Horses Drinking

It's a cold, gray day, with a strong wind from the east, and we're expecting some freezing rain later in the afternoon, so all the horses are in their rain sheets. To add to the parade of blankets (even though we didn't get to rain sheets in that post), Scout and Joe have new, lovely, Brookside rain sheets. Their coverage is good - the sides are nice and long, and the shoulder gussets are generous. I've had Brookside rain sheets myself in the past and have had good experience with them.

* * * * * *

While I was filling the water tanks this morning, a number of the horses came up, one at a time, to drink. I love how, although every horse has to do the same thing - make a tube with its lips to suck up the water - every horse has a personal drinking style of gestures, usually before drinking. Dawn always flaps her bottom lip (loudly) in the water several times as she's starting to drink. Sugar quivers her top lip before she drinks. Fritz delicately sticks his tongue out just the smallest bit. Fred often sloshes the water back and forth with his nose - sometimes the tank heater gets ejected in the process. Noble sticks his tongue out a long way and tastes the water before he drinks. When I was young, I had a horse that would drink by immersing his entire face almost up to the eyeballs in the water. And I love how some horses' ears flop back and forth in rhythm with their swallowing. I love all these little details about horses and their behavior.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

White and Blue, and a Request

It's a beautiful day - we're supposed to get up to about 30F, the sun is shining brightly, the sky is blue and a number of birds are singing. It's one of those blue and white days - the contrast between the sky and the white of the snow is amazing. It's a day where it seems you can see forever - the horizons, with winter trees, are very distinct. And the horses are starting to shed, a sure sign that spring will be here at some point. Maisie has been shedding for a bit, and Dawn just started to shed a little this morning. I guess it takes a long time to grow a beautiful, sleek summer coat!

(A special request - I'm looking for some help from my blogging friends in determining if what I'm writing on my finance blog is written in a way people can understand, and which is of some use to people who aren't finance professionals - if you would be willing to visit Fear No Finance for a moment, and tell me, even anonymously, if I'm on the right track or not with what I'm writing, even if you have no further interest in the topic - these posts take a lot of effort and it's hard for me to tell if it's taking a useful direction without feedback. Sorry to impose, and please feel free to ignore this request.)

Please enjoy your day (whether or not it includes horses)!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Joy of Senior Horses

Often when I leave the house in the early morning to walk to the barn to do morning feeding and turnout, my heart lifts. The barn in the morning is a place where I'm often deeply happy, being with the horses. One of my special pleasures in the morning is Noble. He usually nickers when I open the barn doors - he has a deep, demanding nicker. I open his door and put up his stall guard and he supervises my morning work with great interest. His sweet face and lovely curved ears gladden my heart. If you're new to this blog, here's a couple of pictures of Noble that I love (I believe the first one was taken by one of the other boarders):

Noble was my first horse when I got back into riding as an adult, when my children were small. I took some lessons on him, and as soon as I found out his owner wanted to sell him - he made her nervous because he's on the high-strung side - I knew he and and I were meant to be together. He was 17 when I got him. I couldn't have chosen better - he was responsive, forward and just a delight to ride and be around. He did have his quirks - he was occasionally spooky and hated being in the ring with lots of other horses moving at speed - but he was perfect for me. Even my non-horsey husband could easy groom and lunge him when I was out of town.

As those of you who have been following along know, Noble, who will be 30 next May, has had some health issues that started (or should I say that I noticed - they were probably creeping up on us before that) last fall. Thanks to our wonderful chiropractor/vet, who also knows a lot about endocrinology, the mysteries have been solved. It turns out he was starting to be insulin resistant and also had low thyroid. He also had a possible dental issue that seems to be resolved for now. He's completely back to normal now - he picks up his feet easily and it doesn't hurt him to do so, he's feisty, opinionated and active, he's eating well and just seems to feel great.

We have several other senior horses in our barn - Fred, who is in his early 20s but has special issues in part due to having had Lyme, Joe, who is in his late 20s and Blackjack, who is somewhere in his 30s. All of them have faced challenges, but right now (knock on wood), they are all doing very well. This made me think about the value that older horses have - I think they're often undervalued in our horse cultures - and the challenges of taking care of them.

To me, older horses can be of such value. I remember all the children and teens at several of the barns I was at who had young show horses that were really too much horse for them and actually impaired their ability to learn and progress in their riding, much less form relationships with their horses. There was too much emphasis placed on winning in the show ring or pen and not enough on solid learning or having a horse that was appropriate to the child's or teen's skill level. So many of them would have benefitted from the chance to learn from an older, steady horse, so their own skills could develop and flourish with the instruction an older horse can provide. Older horses can also be great partners for adult beginners, or adults who need a steady, reliable horse to help them learn and build confidence (not that all older horses are steady and reliable!).

Older horses can also be wise, and some of that wisdom, if we're lucky, can cross over to us. They are often patient, and kind, and forgiving, and even helpful - all traits that I think many of us would like to develop in ourselves. They have a quiet authority and a dignity of their own. And their weathered faces are special too. But I've learned through experience that senior horses take special care to flourish and be happy and comfortable. Here are some things I've learned that are extra important when dealing with the senior horse - many of you probably know a lot more about this than I do, so please chime in - I'm still learning from our old horses.

I think the most important thing I've learned is that, until a final illness, it isn't inevitable that a senior horse will be thin, or worse emaciated, or unhappy, or listless, or uncomfortable. But to prevent these things, care is required in a number of areas:

Nutrition - As horses get older, their digestive systems change and they may need feed changes to stay healthy. If you have a senior horse at one of those barns whose feeding philosophy is "one scoop" of whatever it is, plus two flakes hay, for every horse, regardless of age, workload or condition, you're going to be in trouble with a senior horse. Senior horses, in addition to adequate high-quality forage, may need fewer available carbs, particularly if they're retired, and may need more easily digested foods. Some senior horses do well on adequate forage alone, but some need supplemental feed to maintain their weight. There are a number of quality senior horse feeds out there. And horses with dental issues may need to have their feed soaked, and may need a forage substitute such as beet pulp. I've found that unfortunately many vets know relatively little about equine nutrition and feeding - you may have to educate yourself (there are a series of guest posts from Paradigm Farms on equine nutrition - see the sidebar - that might be a good place to start) - there are some good books out there on caring for the senior horse.

Dental - Many senior horses have dental issues due either to poor dental care in their early years, or just due to advancing age. Dental problems aren't a death sentence unless they remain unaddressed. But it's also important to have a dentist who is sensitive to the issues of older horses - I've had personal experience of having older horses overfloated - since very old horses aren't really growing much if any tooth any more, a too smooth surface can make it very difficult for them to chew properly. Also, due to age, the cartilage in their jaw joints (TMJs) may be worn or almost non-existent - a dentist who is rough or who forces the jaw open too far can cause significant pain and damage. If a horse has missing teeth or other dental issues, feeding soaked feed and possibly a forage substitute may be essential to maintaining health.

Farrier care - Senior horses need good farrier care just like any other horse, but the farrier also has to be sensitive to the needs of the older horse. Some older horses can be a bit "teetery" with a foot off the ground, and some may have arthritis which makes holding their legs bent for a long time or in a position too far off the ground very uncomfortable. A good farrier will make allowances for this kind of thing and do everything possible to make the horse comfortable.

Movement and socialization - All horses need to move, but old horses need it more. The more they move, the more comfortable their joints will be. Some senior horses may benefit from aspirin or joint supplements. But some senior horses have trouble staying warm and may need to be stalled, or at least in a sheltered environment, to be comfortable. Horses need to socialize with others, but old horses may be at risk of being harassed by younger horses, or even kept away from food or water - sometimes older horses lose their rank in the herd.

Eyes - Some horses develop cataracts or other eye problems such as a partial loss of peripheral vision, which can make them more spooky. Uveitis can be an issue for some horses and may take preventative care to control.

Metabolic issues - Old horses, even if in proper weight, often have more trouble staying warm in cold weather and keeping cool in hot, humid weather. Blanketing may be necessary when it wasn't before, and shelter from the sun may be needed in the hottest weather. Many older horses can develop metabolic issues like insulin resistance (young horses can too, especially if they come from the race or show world where steroids may have been used) or low thyroid. I was surprised to learn that overall body soreness, or reluctance to pick up feet for cleaning, can be due to insulin resistance, and that a thin horse with a normal coat (not just a fat, cresty horse with a heavy coat and poor shedding) can be insulin resistant. I also was surprised to learn that "failure to thrive" can be due to low thyroid (not just getting fat as I thought).

I just love old horses - being with them, caring for them, grooming them, and even taking them for walks!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ice Fog and Ice Fans

This morning we awoke to ice fog, much heavier than yesterday. And overnight, ice fans had formed on many surfaces. It was an extraordinarily beautiful sight - one of the most beautiful days I've ever experienced. Here are a series of photos around the barn, showing this amazing phenomenon.

The gate to the arena:

A rolling cart:

A water hydrant:

An aisle gate:

Fence (the red dot is where we've marked a board for replacement):

Up the aisle:

For more pictures I took this morning, please visit here and here.

Please enjoy the beauty around you (including horses!)!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturday Portraits

We're having just at or above freezing days and below freezing nights, and although the snow is melting, the resulting ice isn't an improvement. It's particularly bad in high-traffic areas, such as aisles, gates and around water troughs. I'd love it if we'd have temperatures that would stay above freezing - not going to happen much this time of year - or else some (dare I say it?) snow. We're supposed to get a mix of rain and snow later this week - I'm not sure if that'll help or hurt, we'll have to see.

I was able to get some good portraits today, not all of which degenerated into nose shots, before my camera's battery gave up the ghost - perhaps from the cold. So not all 11 horses got their pictures taken - Joe, Scout and Noble are missing from this batch.

Sugar had to come up close:

Misty looked very pretty today:

Dawn paused briefly in her eating to give me the once-over:

Maisie was displaying (ahem . . .) her wares to the geldings - I guess when there are no stallions around geldings will just have to do (that's Fritz on the right in the second photo):

Fritz and Fred frequently hang out together:

Fred has a very sweet face:

Fred has a good goat beard going, and I got a tongue too just by chance:

Fred probably has the worst feet in the barn, but at least they're pretty with their stripes:

Little Blackjack, our oldest resident - he's somewhere in his 30s - is doing well this winter - he's eating well and maintaining his weight:

Charisma's hard to photograph - she's more interested in eating than anything else - I only got some fragments, including the last photo of a sturdy Morgan hoof:

Enjoy your weekend, and may it include horses!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Right Horses?

Golden the Pony Girl asked a good question yesterday in the comments to my post - "What are you looking for in a horse at this stage? . . . Both of these horses seem like high maintenance rides . . . are either of these mares the partner you need . . .?" I guess the answer to this is that they are the horses I have, today, and I want to work with what I have even if it isn't ideal. I'm no longer in the business of trading horses, and each of the horses have their own characteristics that make me unwilling to pass them along. There also seems to be a strong possibility that they are the horses I need today, in order to take my horsemanship forward and continue learning. Sometimes I miss the days of "just get on and ride", but mostly I find the adventure we're on exciting. I also need to think more about how to bring out the best in these horses by being creative in what we do and how we go about it.

Now as to why I keep them. Maisie is a beautiful horse, bred to be a competition hunter. But she's not reliably sound - she needs regular chiropractic and she has long, low pasterns with weak suspensories - she's an accident waiting to happen - she's already had a low suspensory injury once. Because she's so pretty, if I sold her she'd end up back in the show ring, and she likely wouldn't last long from a soundness point of view, and you know where that leads. I've had her since 2002, and she deserves better than that - she is a sweet, kind horse. I would retire her before I would sell her. She's the horse of mine that I've had the hardest time developing a real connection with - she knows me and is mostly glad to see me (it took us a long time to get to this point), but the real bond is missing and we need to see if we can develop that. There are lots of things we can do besides riding that may help with this - I've always thought of her as my "riding horse" but perhaps my perspective needs to change.

Dawn is my younger daughter's horse, and is her "soul horse" - I could never sell Dawn as she has a special place in my family. We've had Dawn since 2001. My daughter, who's just started college, may never live in a place where she can have Dawn near her, so she's now "mine". I've also quickly begun to develop a strong bond with her, and I think she's very special - she has personality plus and great intelligence and determination. She also is a challenging horse to work with, and does not take well to coercion or rough handling - I can't imagine her being passed along to others. If I can keep working with her, I think she may develop into that special partner I am looking for. We've already made a lot of progress on her attention and relaxation, and that encourages me to think we can go a lot farther.

Neither horse is one I can just get on and ride, and I do miss that - Noble, and Promise, were horses like that, and those were the horses I needed then as I got back into riding as an adult. And Breathe had a very insightful comment yesterday: ". . . we pressure ourselves right out of Joy, sometimes . . ." I'm working every day now on learning to see where the joy is in my life, including my life with horses, and I think that "just get on and ride" may not be where the joy's going to be for me at this point in my horse life. While we're taking our winter break, I'll be thinking more about those things, trying to discern the right path for us to take.

Please enjoy your winter day! - the colors and light are lovely this time of year.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blanket Freedom Day and Taking Horses Out of Training

It's supposed to warm up today to the mid-30sF, and this weather is supposed to hold through at least early next week. It's pretty windy today, and wind chills won't get out of the 20s, but we're having a blanket freedom day for the first time in a long time. That is, except for the Fragile Few, who are still wearing theirs. Much joy in the horse world, with much rolling in the snow. Even the Fragile Few might be able to go coatless this afternoon.

I've decided to stop worrying about whether Maisie and Dawn get any training for now. They both are at a point where, without consistent work, we're not going to make much progress. Just doing an occasional day here and there as the weather and footing permit isn't going to get us anywhere. With Dawn, I need to be able to work her fully, and reliably, at least 4 or 5 days a week to continue her progress. She's actually a lot calmer and more responsive, even on the lead, as a result of the work we've already done. I think when we can get back into work in the spring, when I can consistently have the arena to work in, that she'll make good progress.

Maisie on the other hand is becoming more and more excitable and even spooky. I suspect that this is the result of all the chiropractic and dental work we've had done - it's an odd thing, but sometimes as the horse feels better and can move more comfortably, they feel so good that they become harder to ride and handle. My older daughter is also finding this to be the case with her mare Miranda, who used to be dead as a doornail to ride but is now very agile and spooky. Maisie is also . . . how can I say this without being insulting . . . not the brightest bulb. She's a very sweet mare, but is a slow learner and easily becomes frustrated. You have to insist on good manners with her and also teach her things in very small increments, or else she becomes frustrated because she doesn't understand and gets upset and quits listening. She's also big and very forward, and has been known to buck when she's frustrated or over-excited.

Dawn is so smart that it's almost scary - when you have her attention she learns very quickly - the trick with her is that she tends to worry about getting things right (although that's starting to go away the more I've worked with her) and she tends to anticipate, or even overdo things in an attempt to be correct. I'm probably more of a temperamental match with Dawn, and recently I've found her easier to work with than Maisie. Dawn is catlike in her agility and physical capabilities, and has the ability to do huge bucks, has a history of spooking and bolting on the trail, and in her past used to rear a lot when she was over-pressured, although thankfully the rearing seems to have almost entirely disappeared.

Sometimes I wonder about working with these horses - they're certainly not the horses I'd have chosen at this stage of my riding life, although Maisie used to be pretty good on the trail and I think that Dawn and I might end up being a good match. I'm not getting any younger - I'm in my late 50s - or more agile, and my reaction time is not what it used to be. I used to be able to ride my way through pretty much anything, but I doubt that's the case anymore, and even if I could, I'd rather not. I know pretty much what work needs to be done with each horse, although I'm certainly far from an expert - the issue is more my own will to get it done and perseverance in carrying the work forward in a systematic way.

For now I don't have to decide what I'm going to do with either horse. Every day I will be working with them a little bit with our leading and grooming, in any event. We'll probably also do some more clicker training for fun. I'm also going to be thinking hard about what other activities I enjoy now, or could enjoy in the future, with horses, that might or might not involve riding.

I expect when spring rolls around that I'll be pretty interested in continuing serious, systematic work with both horses. It'll be nice to have a period to think and reflect, without feeling guilty or worried that our work is not advancing. Sometimes I've found that a break like this can be energizing, or can result in changes of perspective.

Please enjoy your day, and may it include horses!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Calm, and Good and Bad Smells

It's a nice winter day - the high's supposed to reach about 25F, and there's only a little bit of wind. Every horse walked calmly away from the gate at turnout - it's that kind of day.

I somehow started thinking about the good and bad smells I encounter at the barn, and around horses. My favorite smells would have to be:

Good, fresh hay

The subtle grassy smells of the pastures in high summer - the smell of a freshly mown pasture is wonderful too and more intense

Sun-warmed horse fur

Some grains


Manure - I think I like the smell because it's associated with horses.

My least favorite smells are:

That funky, too-ripe-cheese smell of thrush

Ammonia - we're lucky the pelleted bedding we use eliminates most of this odor. I believe, although I can't prove it, that the stall of a horse that has a metabolic disorder smells different, and not good.

Moldy hay - just plain nasty even if there's only a little bit of mold

Some supplements smell really bad to me.

Chemical fly and mosquito repellents - they smell as toxic as they are.

The smell of blood - but if you have enough blood around to smell it you've got other problems. I also hate the taste of blood, but fortunately that isn't (usually) a barn experience - I wouldn't make a good vampire!

* * * * * *

Breathe over at HorseCentric has a nice post that links to a number of her favorite posts from the past by a number of horse bloggers (I'm partial because she lists one of mine that I had almost forgotten about).

Enjoy your day, and may it include horses!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back to Normal and Lily and Norman Pay a Virtual Visit

It's back to normal January weather - a high of about 25F, some sun, some wind but not too much, and the horses and I are happy about it. We're back to a normal day in turnout, and we're happy about that too. All the horses were very well-behaved when I led and turned out, and only two left the gate at a speed greater than a walk - Maisie who cantered off, and Noble, who trotted away. Everyone else ambled. Sugar led through the gate with no problems (she was excessively excited yesterday, as I mentioned in my post) and Fred was fine (yesterday he did his "I can act like a nut if I feel like it" - he's a big goof - and got away from Sugar's owner who was leading him and did some running up and down the long aisle next to the pastures, to the great excitement of the other horses). Maisie had been a little fussy while I was grooming her before turnout, and we had one of those "I'm so sorry you just happened accidentally to run your muzzle into my sharp, pointed finger that just happened to be there" occasion after an attempted head-butt.

Thanks to Melissa from Paradigm Farms, Lily and Norman the pony paid a virtual visit over the weekend - here they are enjoying a little snowfall in Tennessee. I like the big snowflakes in the Lily picture!

They are both wearing Rhino turnout blankets of the type I described in my recent blanket post - these are several years old and are holding up OK although they've needed some repairs - I'd describe them as medium weight and medium to good durability.

Scout got new a new turnout blanket, which you can see in Jill's post - it's a Turtleneck, and I really like how it fits and stays in position - the fit in the neck and shoulders is particularly good.

Enjoy your Monday, and may it include horses!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cold But Beautiful, With Wild Horses

This morning it was -1F with a wind chill of -10F when I went to the barn - I drove again. By the time I got home it was up to 6F with a wind chill of -7F. Bright sun, though, and it was beautiful. As the sun rose, there were some scattered clouds to the east, and the colors were extraordinary - roses, peaches and pale yellows.

I turned my horses out while we were doing stalls, and Sugar's owner turned out Sugar and Misty, as well as Fred and Fritz. Many of the horses were crazed. Maisie bolted from the gate when I let her go, and ran to the round bale. Then she saw something outside the pasture that she thought was spooky, and proceeded to run loops around the pasture, with her tail flagged - if it hadn't been for the tailflap on her blanket, I think her tail would have been straight up! In all the years I've had Maisie, no matter how crazed she's been, I've never seen her flag her tail - I guess today was special.

Sugar's owner took out Sugar and Misty, and when she let Sugar into the pasture, Sugar did an all-four-feet-off-the-ground flying leap through the gate opening - I wish I'd had a photo - but at least didn't run into her owner in the process. I took Misty and moved her back from the gate area so Sugar's owner could work this through. We're very careful to maintain Sugar's leading training, as she came to us a number of years ago with some very dangerous leading behaviors that were partly fear-based. She's been very good for the most part since her retraining, but we make sure she never looses ground by being very particular about how she leads. So Sugar had to go through the gate probably 10 times, interspersed with some standing around and head-down work, before she held it together sufficiently to count as a success. When her owner let her go, she galloped off bucking.

Dawn, on the other hand was very good at turnout - she even walked from the gate, and when I brought her back in, she was well-behaved even though Noble was galloping down the fence line next to us. But we did have to have a conversation about a manners issue. While I was filling water tanks, I noticed that Dawn's neck cover had come partially loose and her blanket had shifted somewhat to one side. Since I was just standing there watching the tank fill, I went out to adjust her blanket. She doesn't like this, and so when I tried, she would pin her ears and move away from me - I didn't appreciate this. So I walked back to the gate, got her halter, haltered her and adjusted the blanket, no problems. I took her halter and started to walk away. I could see her shadow on the snow, lunging in my general direction. I think she was actually going after Misty, but Dawn has been known to look sweet when you're facing her and then pin and even make biting gestures behind your back, without making contact - she can be a little sly about this. But even if she was only going for Misty, I didn't appreciate that when I was so close - I don't care about horse-on-horse aggression when I'm not in the vicinity, but if I'm leading a horse or among the loose horses I don't tolerate it. The job of all my horses is to stay out of my personal space unless I approach or invite them in, to not show aggression to or crowd a horse I have on the lead, and to take account of where I am at all times.

So when I saw the moving shadow, I immediately turned around and took the lead and swung it to have Dawn move away at my direction. We did this around the round bale a couple of times - she was very annoyed and did a bunch of kickouts, until I moved her away from the bale and kept her there for a moment. Then I let her go back to the bale, and approached and gave her a face rub to let her know we were on good terms again.

Noble was very eager to get out, and very full of himself. When I let him go, he galloped from the gate at a pretty good clip for an old guy, doing some nice lead changes on the way. When he was younger, up until his mid-20s, he was probably the fastest horse at the barn and loved to gallop. He's slowed down a little but he's still pretty spry. He continued cantering around a bit, herding Fred and kicking up his heels a little from time to time. It's great to see him feeling good again!

After we were done with stalls, we brought the horses back in. After lunch, I'll go back and give them a little more turnout - by then the wind chills might be above zero.

Have a wonderful Sunday, and may it include horses!

Sunday Stills: Two Favorites

Here are my two favorite photos from 2009. The first one is of our mare Dawn with our wonderful chiropractor - I like the sharp contrast, and the composition, and the paired eyes which are completely absorbed in, and concentrating on, what is happening:

The second photo is from the Letter T post - I like the abstract form and the monochrome background:

To enjoy more photos, please visit Sunday Stills.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mostly OT - What's Your Theme?

It was 5F with a wind chill of -10F this morning when I went to the barn - I drove, after the dog got her (very brief) walk. I turned my horses out while we were cleaning their stalls, and thought they might want back in when I was done. I went out and whistled for them - they come running if they want in - but, no, they were content to stay out so there they are. When I got back to the house it was up to 8F with a wind chill of -4F. I'm not here this afternoon, but Sugar's owner will check on them later and bring anyone in who looks cold.

As the sun was rising, there was a bank of clouds to the east that kept the sunlight from breaking through, and the light was somewhat hazy and muted. The drifts of snow were a beautiful very slightly bluish-grey hue, with the slightest hint of lavender, and ever little bump and ridge had soft shadowings - I with I could have taken some pictures but it was too cold to take my gloves off outside and I doubt if I could have captured the subtle color and shadings.

* * * * * *

Now, on to the OT portion of this post. I could have put this on my book blog, but there is some relevance to life in general, so I put it here instead. I occasionally will pick up and read a self-help book for fun, but rarely find that they have much to offer. They're usually variations on the same themes, are often impractically complex to follow or maintain, and are often badly written. There have been a few that I've found really good. I read David Allen's Getting Things Done a number of years ago and still use a number of his systems, especially the daily/monthly folder system and his ways of managing to-dos, to keep myself organized - his way of doing things is straightforward and easy to maintain. I really wish I had discovered this book when I was still working (I've been retired for about 10 years) - I think it would have made an even greater difference to me then.

Recently, I started reading a new book - SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck, by Julie Morgenstern. You might think from the title that this is one of those "declutter" books, and in part it is, but there's some interesting stuff in there and the approach is a bit different and I think more thoughtful. The writing style of the book is a bit annoying - typical self-help style - but if you get past that the concepts are useful. The book is particularly directed at people who are at turning points in their lives - people who are becoming empty nesters (that would be me), getting divorced, changing jobs or thinking about changing jobs or careers, retiring, getting out of school, or who are just plain feeling stuck in their lives - feeling like things aren't right and that they need to change but just not finding their way to good solutions. The book focuses on three areas - physical environment and clutter, time commitments - to dos and obligations we feel we have to ourselves and others, and habits (including those mindless time-wasters) that may be interfering with our ability to get things done or move forward.

There are scads of self-help books that talk about organizing, decluttering, downsizing and changing bad habits. Where this book is different is that it says, first, that you can't free up space and time in your life by just throwing stuff away, reducing to-dos and commitments or trying to change habits - you have to understand what valid needs of yours your existing behaviors meet in order to change. If you declutter without knowing what that was about for you, pretty soon everything will be cluttered back up again. The objective is, instead of beating yourself up for your current situation or habits, to find more effective ways of addressing your needs that don't just put you back in the same situation. And some of those objects, time commitments and habits may in fact be "treasures" that should be retained in some form. That's good stuff, and the examples of real people and their stories are very interesting and in some cases personally helpful (to me).

But the second difference was the one that really interested me. The book says that, in order to effectively "unstick" yourself, you have to have in mind what your "theme" for you life going forward is to be (not to say that this can't be changed as you move forward) - that's why the book is particularly relevant to people at times of life change. A theme is not an activity or a particular job, it's an overarching concept. If you have a theme, then every choice you make, to retain or toss an object, to retain or eliminate/pass off/reduce a time commitment or change a habit, is taken because it frees up mental and physical space for you to develop your new (or existing) theme. Sometimes, particularly for people at points of life change, much of what we have - possessions, time commitments and habits - are related to old themes which were once valid but no longer are. If you have an idea of what your theme is, you then have a context in which to make decisions about what to keep and what to toss, and what to change about how your life is constructed.

I've been thinking about this a lot. There was an odd coincidence this week with the passing of my former colleague. I attended his visitation and memorial service this week, and met up again with most of my former work colleagues. These were people who were once a central part of my life - we worked very closely as a small team - but most of whom I haven't seen or been in touch with for almost 10 years since I retired. Although I was glad to see them and appreciated the chance to catch up, seeing them made me realize how completely done I was with that phase of my life.

Looking back, my life theme before my retirement almost 10 years ago was Achievement - I was the ultimate Type A high achiever - driven and focussed on success and recognition. When I retired, and up until now, my themes were Responsibility - to my family, particularly as my children completed their growing-up - and Security - getting my financial matters in shape to make sure I could survive as a retired person, and appreciating what I have in my home, neighborhood (and barn!). I've been thinking about the theme for the next phase of my life as my children leave home for good, and it's pretty clear to me that I want the themes to be Adventure and Creativity/Self-Expression. Now that I'm beginning to understand that, I'm in a better position to look at my possessions, time commitments and habits in light of those themes.

So, what's your theme? And, if you're at a point of life change, what was your old theme and what will the new one be?

Enjoy your weekend, and may it include horses!

Friday, January 8, 2010

More Snow Photos

For more photos of our snowy day, in addition to the ones in the prior post, please visit here and here.

Snow Horses

Well, we got our snow. Here are the manure buckets outside the barn door:

The horses were very excited to get out into the snow. Noble had a good roll, chased Fred around the round bale and showed his snowy face:

The mares had the most fun. Dawn sniffed the air, and off she went!

Maisie got into the dance:

Dawn was on a roll:

Misty briefly got in on the act:

I particularly like this shot of Dawn passing in front of Misty:

Dawn finally settled down and stared for a moment off into the distance:

Maisie was excited again for a moment, and then showed off her snowy muzzle:

Dawn flopped down for a roll, and when she got up, did her "move now" face:

After everything settled down, I did some impromptu scary object work with Dawn. We haven't been doing much work lately due to the weather, and this was a perfect opportunity - she'd had a chance to work off her energy and would be more able to concentrate, and she was completely unconstrained, which was perfect for what I wanted to do. I had taken my camera out to the pastures in a big Zip-loc bag, which was in my pocket. I took the bag out, crinkled it - Dawn was alarmed, much snorting and blowing, although interested, too - and put the camera inside the bag. Then, holding it against my body, I approached Dawn until I was just slightly too close for her comfort and she started to move off. I immediately turned my body sideways to her to reduce the pressure. She was then willing to try to approach. As she was creeping up on me, if she started to have doubts and turn away, I would turn sideways or even take a step away from her (to "draw" her a bit). Finally, I was able to hold the bag out towards her. Then I was able to click with my tongue and treat her for closer and closer approaches. The last time she put her nose within inches of the bag, and got her last click and treat. It was a good place to stop - next time I'll bet she's willing to touch the bag.

Whatever your weather, enjoy it if you can, and may your day include horses!