Friday, December 24, 2010

Work it, Baby....Speak to the Camera.....

I am ready. I am excited. I have made all my donations to various animal rescue and wildlife groups. I did a whole bunch of wrapping last night. I braved traffic yesterday and picked up the last of my gifts and a few groceries.

I dropped off gifts for LA and her family last Sunday when I was out at the stables. I handed out hand-made chocolate candy canes to the young ladies and men who help around the place and left a bottle of wine for my farrier with LA. One of the people I ride with has no family locally and mentioned in casual conversation that he did not receive any gifts from his I left a little something in his car for him to open on Christmas morning. He was quite touched. I love this time of year!!! :-)

Today, I went to the stables. I haven't spent much time with Gem over the last couple of weeks and I was looking forward to seeing him. I was the only one there. Perfect. I brought my camera and some holiday lights, determined to get some great festive shots of my boy to include in this post. What I wanted was a few head shots of Gem, with the holiday lights incorporated in the background somehow. He has no fear of the flash, so I was looking forward to getting many pictures of my beautiful boy. Here are the results of our photo session:

These are the lights...they really are quite bright....really...they are...

This is Gem's butt as he turned away from me when I tried to position him....

This is Gem looking at the lights and saying to himself "no way"....

Then I come up with this brilliant idea to put him in his stall and take the picture from the inside, hoping that the darkness of the aisle way would enhance the lights.

Here's Gem saying, "no, I am not moving any closer to those stupid lights"....

"Nope, I'm not going over there....."

"Hey, I think there's a piece of hay over there!....."

Geez, some models can be so difficult!!! Oh well, I hope you get the gist of what I was attempting to accomplish.

Gem and I hope that your holiday season is what you envisioned it to be. Be safe, enjoy your family and friends, have a blast and best wishes for the New Year!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Every morning, I sit at the kitchen table and have my first cup of coffee while I glance over the newspaper. My seat at the table faces out our patio door into the back yard and I can see the field over our hedge. I initially picked this seat when we moved into this house 15 years ago, because I was able to watch the dogs when they were outside, making sure they didn't get into too much mischief (those of you who have terriers know what I am talking about!). In the spring and summer, I can enjoy looking at my garden, in the fall my mornings are filled with the gorgeous yellow, red and orange of the trees in the field, and in winter, this seat now allows me to enjoy the birds at the 3 feeders I have set up.

Every morning, between 7:20 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., hundreds of crows fly over my house and across the field to an unknown destination. Sometimes a few of them will sit in our trees and torment the dogs (and humans!) with their cawing and gesturing. This morning ritual fascinates me and I have, over the years, asked people who live in outlying towns if they know the secret place where the crows hang out during the day. No one does. This morning was particularly magical; the crows were flying through a light snow and it looked like diamonds were floating down against their dark wings.

I really like crows. They are actually one of my favourite birds. They share my favourites listing with Cardinals. Chickadees and Goldfinches. As a young person I never really paid much attention to crows. Like a large portion of the population, I guess I was subconsciously buying into the historical bad press that crows and ravens represented nasty (actually any black bird or black animal gets a bad rap).

Many years ago, I worked on the ground floor of an office building, looking out on to a greenspace with some trees. Very nice. One day, I happened to notice two crows outside my window. It was hard not to notice; one was screeching at the other. I thought they were fighting over food because the slightly larger crow had a piece of bread in its mouth. She would let the other crow hop over to her and then she would fly about 10 feet, very low to the ground leaving the other crow screeching at her. This went on and on, with the slightly smaller crow hopping all over the grass chasing the crow with the bread. Initially, I thought was some sort of cruel game. She started flying a little further away, and eventually the smaller crow started flapping his wings and flying a few feet. It dawned on me; she was trying to teach her youngster how to fly!! I watched this lesson for about 20 minutes. Eventually she got her youngster to fly up to the lower branch of one of the trees and gave him the bread. They sat there for a while and then she flew off low to the ground, with her youngster right behind her. After that incident, I looked at crows with different eyes. How can a bird this loving and responsible towards its young, have such a bad reputation?

Crows are smart and are problem solvers. I personally have seen a family of crows working as a team trying to figure out how to open a snap-lid garbage can. :-) They live a long time and mate for life. If one of the mates dies, the other will remain single forever. They mature slowly and live in family groups, with the youngsters helping raise the newer chicks. What I witnessed when I saw the mother teaching the youngster to fly was just another day in the life of raising their young. I think it's part of human nature to focus on the negative; yes, crows and ravens are opportunistic and will feed on garbage, other birds' eggs and crops. But, they also eat crop-damaging bugs and rodents and help keep other small wildlife populations in check . In nature it's all about balance. Crows actually share a lot in common with another one of my favourites, coyotes. You can find out more about crows here.

That day so many years ago when I watched the mother crow reward her youngster for his effort has stayed with me. It changed the way I look at the wildlife around me. There aren't many crows around the stables, but when I do see them I smile and know that they are helping the barn cats keep the rodent and insect population in check . Cats and crows seem to get along. Perhaps they understand that they are working together. I think the crows around the stables also enjoy observing what we are doing as we work around or ride our horses; we're sort of like their TV. :-)

If you are disappointed that this post was not about my adventures with Gem, I apologize! :-) I haven't been able to ride for the past week due to weather. But, I hope the next time you see a crow, you think of their intelligence, how majestic they are, their sense of family, how important community is to them and how mysterious they are. Crows, in my book, are very cool.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tween to Teen

My soon-to-be 13-year old niece spent the weekend with me. I always love spending time with her. She is the only girl in a set of triplets. I was my sister's birth partner for the triplets; her husband had to stay home with the other two girls! My Niece and I had a connection from day one. We just clicked. She is the quietest in the family and my sister admits that sometimes My Niece gets "forgotten" in amongst the ruckus that the other kids make. My Niece said to me one time that she just liked being with me.... and for that I am grateful. :-) We get together every few months for a nice weekend visit.

Of course, part of being with me includes being at the stables. When I first started lessons a couple of years ago, My Niece would patiently sit and watch, sometimes in freezing weather. She didn't complain then and she doesn't now. Her "reward" was to help me groom my school horse (strangely, GM did not try to take a chunk out of her) and on one occasion, she actually got to sit on GM. She was over the moon. On the way home from lesson, she would tell me how I did and how I looked better from the last time. :-)

So, when Gem came into my life she was very excited. We went out and bought her proper paddock boots and a helmet. I enrolled her in a couple of riding camps, which she loved. She knows how to groom (except for feet-that will come), she can clean tack and sweep up. To keep her busy while I ride, she videos my performance, or lack thereof. :-) When I have completed my routine, My Niece "cools" Gem down for me. ;-) Up she gets on Gem, as if it's nothing to get on a 16.0hh horse, and I walk her around, holding the bridle. Gem likes young people and is especially kind and patient when he has one on is back. This was our usual routine up until this past August.

Last August was a turning point with Gem, My Niece and for me. I hadn't spent a weekend with her for a few months and we were both anxious to get out to the stables. After I completed my ride, My Niece donned her helmet and got up on Gem. She looked different this time. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.....then she asked me to lengthen the stirrups for her. Good grief. That's what it was. She's taller...she's more mature looking....she's....growing up!!! I did as she asked and started walking her around. It hit me hard that the person on my horse was no longer a little girl. After a few steps, I asked her if it would be OK if I didn't hold the bridle. She was fine with that. :-) I continued walking beside her and Gem and gave her a refresher on keeping her heels down, how to whoa, and how to use her legs. We walked around for about 5 minutes. Then, I stepped away from her and asked her to walk to the fence, turn Gem around and come back.....and, she did. Gem was pretty good with interpreting her requests. I walked further and further away from her and each time she communicated to Gem what I asked her to do. Then.....she asked if she could trot.....gulp.

Of course, I said "sure!" My heart was pounding as I walked away from her to the other end of the paddock. She fell off of one of the school horses during summer camp, so she knew what it felt like and yet still asked to trot Gem. I admired her fearlessness. As I stood at the far end of the paddock and reminded her what she needed to do, I gave her my biggest smile and encouraged her on. You know what? She did it! Not once, not twice, but three times, up and down the paddock. Gem was fantastic.

So yesterday, after I finished my ride, My Niece got on Gem to cool him down. Again, we went through a bit of a refresher. She is pretty balanced, in spite of having to be reminded to keep her heels down (I think I was reminded a ba-zillion times!!) and she needs to improve her tension on the reins, but she got Gem up to a sitting trot a couple of times and was satisfied with her ride. It was a good afternoon.

So, My Niece is no longer "little" and is starting to show her independence and her confidence. In fact, she told me that she could have ridden Gem over the past year without me holding on the the bridle, but she thought that it made me feel better to hang on to it. :-) When she rides; she is in the moment and I admire that. The first few times I rode Gem, I was terrified. I love how Gem is so patient with her and I am glad that he is a good teacher. Seeing him with My Niece makes my heart swell and I really appreciate seeing this side of his personality. Perhaps Gem and My Niece will have an ongoing relationship through her (and his) teen years. I can only hope.

I have discovered, through instructing My Niece, that I have actually retained what I have been taught in my lessons! Isn't that great?! Now.... if I could just execute what I have been taught....easier said then done!!! :-)

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Here you go, Kristen!!

This post is for Kristen over at Sweet Horse's Breath. :-) About a week ago, we were "chatting" over at Sarah's blog (Miles on Miles). Sarah's dogs were having some skin irritation issues and I mentioned that my sister makes her hound dogs a special stew. Kristen asked for the recipe, but I thought I would post it in case anyone else was interested. I am actually glad that I now have this recipe....I was dependent on my sister giving me some of hers. :-)

So, Kristen....all the way from Africa (my sister is traveling) you go!

"Here is the dog stew recipe with rough estimates of quantities:

base: 1 small turnip (or half a large one) 1 sweet potato, 2 small white potatoes, 1 parsnip, 1 celery stalk options:
  • 1 cup of meat of your choice cubed (I prefer to choose meats that are considered traditional for my breed -- you can google to find one, mine came from Animal Wellness magazine)
  • 2 or 3 additional veggie options (I either use up the veggies in my fridge or use the frozen California mix -- cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, but green beans are also excellent. There are some veggies not suitable to dogs, so google Animal Wellness to find out which ones).
Other ingredients:
  • fresh rosemary (promotes good heart health)
  • garlic (helps with the immune system)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
Put everything in a slow cooker and cook on high for 3 to 3.5 hours. If you are worried about your dog's weight, then remove the root veggies -- sweet and white potatoes and the turnip and add brown rice afterward (I tend to store the brown rice separately because it tends to 'spoil' when mixed and stored with the stew for more than a day or two)."

I am telling you, this stuff smells delish when it's cooking! My sister separates the stew into weekly portions and freezes what she's not using. Mix a couple of heaping tablespoons of this stuff with a good kibble and your dogs will never leave you!!!