Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Officer and a Gentleman

2011 has been a pretty exhausting year for me. About this time last year my father was diagnosed with throat cancer. As the oldest of 3 girls, my role has been chief of care management and taxi driver. As "Number 1" (yes, this is what my father affectionately called me), this has meant taking Dad to all of his doctor appointments and managing his treatment schedule. I also have a demanding full-time job, and sometimes it was a real challenge trying to keep up; my boss has been very understanding. My youngest sister helps; even though she has a full time job and 5 kids I can count on her. My middle sister has not really been engaged with the family for years; her choice. She's busy with other things and would usually decline invitations, so we just stopped including her. Although she did participate in Dad's treatment schedule, she has not been that involved with the well-being of my father or mother on a regular basis for a long time.

As a retired Naval Officer, I know that Dad initially felt a bit embarrassed about how his illness was making him physically weak and dependent on others. Although I would offer to get one, he never used a wheel chair coming or going from the hospital; he always walked in and out, slow and a bit shaky but always on his own steam. He completed his 5 days a week for 7 weeks radiation treatment the 3rd week of September. The month of October wasn't bad; he was healing according to schedule. We had reached our goal of him having some of the turkey dinner I cooked at Thanksgiving. But, November the pain came back with a vengeance. He made sure that all the bills were paid, that my mother had a freezer full of prepared food, he purchased a couple of months of dog kibble and booked the snow plow to clear the driveway. Then he called 911. He was admitted on November 29th with breathing problems and wanting his pain brought under control.

My youngest sister and I fell into a routine; when I was with Dad, she was with Mom and when I was with Mom she was with Dad. Dad turned out to be very sensitive to opiates when it came to managing his pain and he dreamed out loud a lot. I asked him one time if he was getting any rest. His response was "Girl, I just don't know because I can't tell if I am awake or asleep!" :-) He was very popular in the Naval community. He knew when he had visitors even though he was in a haze and would always try to be a good host. Although asleep he was aware that I was there and he would tell me what needed to be done for Mom or around the house. Deep memories bubbled to the top regularly. Sometimes our sleep-talking conversations included his boyhood in Newfoundland; he would give me instructions about getting the boat docked, filleting cod and placing it on the flakes or telling me he wanted to have a lie-down at Chris's Cove, the place where he was born. He smiled in his sleep often. I am thankful that his dreams were happy and knowing that gave me comfort when he passed away on December 16th in his sleep.

Dad was a pretty cool guy; charming and kind, humourous, could tell a great story, admired by men and women. He lived his life his way and was devoted to my mother to the end. He was also fiercely loyal to family, friends and country. All my girlfriends had a crush on him. :-) It must have terrified him to have three daughters. I have been thinking of how he helped shaped me into the person I am today. Dad was a man of few words when it came to sharing life lessons, I'm sure it was because he didn't want to appear preachy or "commanding". But his life lessons still hold water today and over the next while, I will include one at the end my posts. They may not be originals to you but coming from him made them original to me. If I have a comment to add, it will be in italics.

I want to say thanks to my blogger friends for giving me a place to go when I needed a respite from my day-to-day challenges. I may not be commenting much, but I have been trying to keep up with what is going on in your blogging world. I can't emphasize enough how much of a de-stresser Gem has been, even when I had to reduce my visits to once a week. I think he played a very important part in helping me get through the last year. Nothing compares to horse therapy.

This is my last post for 2011, so best wishes for health and happiness to you and yours for 2012. I hope it's everything you imagine it to be. See you in the New Year!

Life Lesson: Approach others with kindness and a smile first.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prairie Horses

Bill C-322 has been reintroduced recently in Canada. If passed, it will stop the importation of horses for slaughter and exportation of horse meat for human consumption.

I find it timely that while this Bill is being presented to Parliament, a new permanent work of art featuring running horses has been installed just down the road from Canada's Parliament Buildings, on Sussex Drive outside the National Gallery of Canada. Our Prime Minister and our Governor General will have to pass this sculpture each time they leave their residences. I hope these beautiful images will have a positive impact on Bill C-322. :-)

Joe Fafard has fonder childhood memories of horses, which is why you can drive up Sussex Drive and see the Saskatchewan artist's running herd installed outside the National Gallery of Canada's main entrance. There are 11 horses, and they are beautiful and graceful, just like the ones Fafard remembers from so many years ago.

"When I was a kid, I went to a country school," Fafard said this week, sitting on a bench just inside the gallery, where he had come for one day to check on the installation. "In the wintertime a lot of farmers just turned out their horses on the prairie, and the school was on the prairie, so a herd of horses formed that lived on the snow, and ate the prairie grass through the snow. We could even, during class, observe a herd of horses of all types, of all colours. In the spring, the farmers would come and collect their horses."

That quote will not surprise anyone familiar with Fafard's work. Since he finished university in the 1960s, his art has been a testament to animals, nature, the environment and those farmers and country folk who are most closely in tune with the land around them.

Over the decades he has worked in clay and bronze and on paper - a recent sale of prints at Jean-Claude Bergeron Gallery in Ottawa was reportedly a great success - and, in later years, in steel.

His images of cows have become a sort of trademark, though the rest of the barnyard also gets its due. None are more spectacular, more purely invigorating to see, than his running horses.

The herd is laser-cut from sheets of steel and painted in earthy tones that, especially at this time of year, bring to mind the autumn leaves.


Each horse has its own pedestal outside the National Gallery, on an island of gravel (there'll be greenery come spring) next to the entrance ramp to the parking garage. Tens of thousands of people will pass daily, by foot or pedal or car, and perhaps take a moment to consider, as Fafard puts it, "a magnificent creature that has few needs, not like a human that has all kinds of needs."

The sculptures were purchased in 2007, with funding provided by patrons of the National Gallery Foundation. The horses' new home outdoors expands the gallery's sculpture park - the "precinct of beauty," as gallery director Marc Mayer recently labelled it.

Jim Hart's totem pole The Three Watchmen was erected two weeks ago where Sussex meets St. Patrick Street; Roxy Paine's bare, steel One Hundred Foot Line, stands nearer the Ottawa River; Louise Bourgeois' extraordinarily popular spider Maman is only metres away. It and Fafard's horses now flank both sides of the gallery's main en-trance.

"I feel really good," Fafard said, in that soft, unassuming voice, as he looked through the gallery's glass walls to the horses outside. "I hope that having people see something that gives them some awe for a fellow creature can translate into some care for the environment."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cas

Thoughts are with Cjay over at Artemis Areia. She has made the decision to say good-bye to her horse Cas. It's always heartbreaking to make this kind of decision. If you have a chance, please show her your support during this difficult time.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The nerve!.....

Apologies! I have been MIA due my father's ongoing health issues, mixed in with the usual family drama plus year end activities at work. I am slowly working towards getting caught up with what's going on with my blogger friends!

*****

Over the last 6 months, three horses where I board have been "nerved", the most recent was done last Thursday. I have read a little about it and attitudes seem to be that it is an alternative to provide a pain-free life for some horses. I am all for pain-free. But for some reason, making a body part permanently numb sort of makes me nervous.

Nerving is a surgical procedure where the nerves at the back of the foot are severed, so the horse looses sensation thus eliminating pain and making the horse "sound" again. This procedure is a sort of last resort to give your horse a pain-free life. However, there can be complications like the nerves regrowing and the pain returning or infection or the horse sustaining an injury but being unaware of it. Once this procedure is done, the horse's feet have to be check daily to make sure that there are no punctures. The horse can't really feel the terrain under his feet while on a trail ride or galloping across a field, so injury from tripping is very real. Obviously, it is a controversial procedure.


The three horses that have been nerved where I board are all competitive horses; one in reining and other two in barrels and games. These disciplines require a lot of sharp turns, circles and speed. These horses are between 8-11 years of age.

The owner of Horse #1 was new to riding 3 years ago and decided he wanted to take up reining. He bought #1, a trained and proven reining horse, but stopped regular lessons. He decided that he would take a few clinics to hone his riding skills. Early fall last year, #1 came up lame. My understanding is that it was thought that it was because his shoes had just been pulled, but as the heels started to decompress, severe thrush was discovered and treated. The thrush started to clear up, but lameness continued. X-rays were done. Nothing was found to be wrong. Lameness continued. Then there was a weird bout of colic. #1 was given a nerve block, which helped but he came up lame again. At this point, #1 had been on rest for about 7 months. More X-rays, nothing conclusive. Soon after, the decision was made to have him "nerved".

The owner of Horse #2 had participated in riding camps as a young teenager and her parents bought her #2. She took lessons in barrel racing and competed locally at fairs. #2 did come up lame a few times over the last 5 years and was eventually diagnosed with Navicular Syndrome. I know he has had nerve blocking in the past, but his owner decided to have him "nerved" a few months ago.


The 13-year old owner of Horse #3 has had him for 3 years. She competes in barrels and games at most of the local shows. #3 came up lame after a couple of early season shows and was on and off all summer. I am not sure of the different treatments #3 has undergone, but I was a bit surprised to find out that he was being "nerved".

These horses are so young! How did it get to the point where "nerving" was the only option? Wouldn't it make more sense to figure out what caused the lameness and stop doing it before it gets to the stage that nerving is required?

I don't know that much about lameness, but the reading that I have done points to riding an immature horse/bones, repetitive stress from aggressive training, not being balanced when riding circle patterns (one of my personal issues!!), and fatigue. So I wonder.....could it be that the riders didn't know how to "ride" their horses properly and have caused undue physical stress to the horse? Did the riders push their horses too hard? Is it the discipline? Poor foot maintenance, particularly the bad case of thrush in Horse #1? An unbalanced rider? Was a re-hab plan lacking when these horses first went lame?


In the book "Feet First" by Nic Barker and Sarah Braithwaite have this to say about navicular syndrome/caudal pain/deep digital flexor tendinitis: "Although 'navicular syndrome' is a widely used term, studies have shown that horses presenting with the pattern of lameness typical of 'navicular syndrome' only occasionally have damage to the navicular bone itself."....."The most recent studies confirm earlier research which proposed that damage to the navicular bone is the last stage of the degenerative process, only occurring after the deep digital flexor tendon and navicular bursa have become damaged and inflamed as a consequence of poor biomechanics and under-development of the fibro-cartilage in the back of the hoof." My theory is that the riders at my barn were not riding correctly and perhaps pushing their horses in repetitive patterns, causing strain and damage to soft tissue. They did not change the way they were riding, so lameness became chronic.


All of these horses are still sort of recovering. #1 has been ridden out on the trails and seems content to do so, but he must wear boots from now on. I am not sure if he will be competing next year. #2 was sent back out to the regular herd and problems arose when he kept kicking and nicking his now numb front feet with his back hooves. He has had one infection as a result of cuts and an abscess since his surgery in the summer. Although she is wrapping his front legs now, the owner is concerned how she is going to manage this in the winter. The surgery is still fresh for #3, but he is doing well. I will say that in the case on #1 and #3 they seem happier because they are pain-free.

I know the owners of #1, #2 and #3 and they absolutely love their horses. They did what they thought was best to improve the quality of their horse's life. I do find it sad that there is the possibility that their horse's lameness may have been preventable through better riding skills and foot maintenance. Now that I know a bit more about 'nerving' and lameness, it validates my plan to keep taking lessons and makes me even more determined to learn how to ride Gem correctly. I don't think Gem has to worry about me over-working him, but I am sure glad that my balance is improving. :-)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bling!

About a month ago while visiting ltd's blog, I noticed that his beautiful Canadian Horse, L, had on a lovely "necklace". ltd explained that L wears the necklace when they go out on the trails; the bells lets critters know that ltd and his gorgeous girl are coming through. Of course, I had to have one for my boy. :-) I asked ltd where he got it from and he pointed me to Zephyr Equine Gifts.

I immediately went to Zephyr's site. These "necklaces" are actually Rhythm Beads. As a training aid, it helps to remove distracting noises that might potentially spook a horse. In addition, the rhythm provides a focus on gaits and assists the coordination of rider movements. The soft jingle can also help calm a nervous horse or rider. As a safety aid, it lets hunters and wildlife know where you are. It appears that the Rhythm Beads may have started out as part of Native American culture, worn to protect both rider and horse from evil spirits and to provide courage. In a way, they continue to do that. :-)

My communication with Zephyr Equine Gifts couldn't have been more pleasant and helpful. Not only did I order one for my beautiful boy, I also ordered two extra Rhythm Beads as gifts. They arrived last week. The bells have a nice sound and the beads used are lovely and bright in colour.


There are tassels on back order that will complete the look. :-)

Of course, when I saw the pewter wolf pendant, I had to have it. :-)

Here's one of the gift Rhythm Beads....the bells are slightly larger on these.

I like the detail on the accent beads.

Gem had his on when we went for a trail ride on Sunday. There were chuckles and snorts when I led Gem out of the barn and into the front paddock. While Rhythm Beads are gaining in popularity in other riding disciplines, it appears that the reining community (at least here) hasn't really been exposed to them. What they feel is appropriate on a horse is very traditional and I guess putting "jewelry" on a horse is just not "cowboy". I explained to my two riding buddies the safety benefits and the calming aspects of the bells. They have experienced deer or wild turkeys spooking their horses out on the trails and they agreed that the bells made sense as a warning.

So out we went with the soft jingle adding to the ambiance of the trail ride. No one complained about them and I think they did have a calming effect for me. Gem wasn't bothered by the bells and didn't mind having something around his neck. So, beauty, music, calmness and safety...seems like a good combo to me. Of course, I will be a trendsetter at my barn.....once again ..... :-)

Monday, October 24, 2011

11 Years Young

I took the afternoon off on Friday and met Jean for a trail ride. As much as I was looking forward to the ride, I was also little apprehensive. We have had a lot of rain the last few days, sometimes torrential, followed by a lot of wind. It was going to be MUDDY. We got saddled up and out we went. Jean led the way initially, and I have to say that when I saw her small horse slipping and sliding, particularly in the forest, I was a wee bit nervous. I started thinking about how cold the mud was....and visualizing how I was going to be covered in it when Gem slipped and I came off....and how I was never going to be able to get the black mud stains out of my clothing...and.... WAIT!!! STOP!!! I gave my head a shake!! Not going to happen!!! I gave Gem lots of rein, he checked out where he was walking and.....he rocked it! There was a heart-stopping moment when Gem tripped over a rock hidden by leaves and went down to his knees, but he recovered nicely and so did I.

There was a swampy area that we just couldn't walk through, so we cut back up into the forest, into a less popular area. There were obstacles - mud, rocks, saplings, low branches - and at one point, we became sort of trapped. The recent high winds had taken down a bunch of branches and a large one now blocked our way. It was too tight to turn around, so I asked Gem to go forward and left it to him to decide what he needed to do. I trusted that he would get us through, and he did! He carefully picked his way over the branches and led us out.
* * * * *
Gem turned 11 on October 17th! I can't believe how times flies. Gem and I get teased a lot about his birth date. I am told that his birth was probably an "oops-ie". If that's the case, I am grateful for this particular mistake. :-) I posted a notice on the barn bulletin board asking that anyone interested in participating in a birthday trail ride be saddled up for 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Eleven of us went out! Four of those that went out were new boarders.

It was cloudy, but temps were decent. We walked through the brush, into the forest and across the open fields. For most of the ride, Gem and I and DH and his mom were leading. This was for two reasons; DH's mom knows all the trails and the trails that we took, particularly in the forest, needed to be wide/tall enough for Gem. :-) There is one incline that whether you are going up or going down, it can be a bit of a challenge. We are not talking a Man from Snowy River incline, but it's enough that it can unseat an unprepared rider. It's also rocky. DH's mom has had to coach/calm me up and down this incline on a couple of occasions. Sunday, DH started to slide down the incline and his mom opted to take him through the bush. I yelled a "slippery!" warning back to the others. I gave Gem rein and asked him to move forward, leaving the option open to go into the bush if he started to slip. Gem didn't hesitate and carefully picked his way through the rocks and down the slope. :-) DH's mom yelled "awesome!" when we got to the bottom. Another confidence/trust boosting incident for Gem and I.

Trail riding is what he did in his previous life. Coming to live with me and spending a great deal of time in a lesson environment was a huge adjustment for him. But, I think the fact that he has not become a bitter, grumpy horse because of this change in his lifestyle shows a great strength of character and work ethic ....oh, and how much patience he has! :-) There have been some frustrations in lesson, for sure. Sometimes I feel that I am never going to get it. But, it's important to me to learn how to communicate with him properly and I am looking forward to when we both understand how and why I am asking him to do things.

My confidence level is getting better all the time when it comes to trail riding. I now realize that Gem knows what he's doing. :-) There were a few times that we actually jogged ahead of everyone and we loped a bit! Crazy, eh?! Could he have known that the ride was in his honour?? His winter coat is coming in and he looks quite magnificent, if I do say so myself. :-) We were out for just over an hour. I gave my boy lots of loving and extra treats while I was untacking him. Then, my trail riding buddies and I met in the bunkhouse, which was nice and toasty warm; LA's mother had started up the wood stove while we were out. I served up carrot cake, chips, soft drinks and beer. It was a lovely way to get to know the new boarders and part of a lovely memory of Gem's birthday.

Pooped after a birthday trail ride.

Happy birthday, handsome Gem!! xoxo

Monday, October 17, 2011

Erin and Tonk

A friend sent this to me and I thought you might enjoy it, too. I have embedded the link to the interview below. How beautiful is Tonk??!!! :-)

The Equine-Human Bond: More Than Meets the Eye
A Tale of Courage, Inter-Species Communication & the Human-Animal Bond Published on October 14, 2011 by Lee Charles Kelley in My Puppy, My Self

"The phenomenon of thought-transference ... is so close to telepathy and can indeed without much violence be regarded as the same thing." —Sigmund Freud 1932.
David Letterman had an interesting guest on his show the other night, a horsewoman with a great story of courage: not only her courage, but her horse's as well. Her name is Erin Bolster. She's a guide at Swan Outfitters, operating near Flathead National Forest in Montana.

On July 30th of this year, Bolster—who's been riding since she was 4—was leading 8 horses and riders on a trail into the Montana wilderness. The riders included a family of 6, along with a California dad who'd brought his 8-year old son to Montana for his first riding experience.

They hadn't gotten far when Erin's mount Tonk—who's described as a possible Percheron mix, and was s rental horse, not owned by Erin or the outfitting company—stopped in his tracks. Erin knew instantly that Tonk sensed danger nearby.

Then she heard the sound of branches breaking and underbush crashing, followed by the sight of a young male deer, running for his life, directly toward the riding party. Because of a hard winter, the bears in the area had been more active than usual. So Erin wasn't surprised to see a huge grizzly coming after the deer. The young buck ran straight to the group, grazed Tonk's shoulder with his horns, frightening Tonk, then he veered away.

Seven of the horses—including the California dad's mount—turned and galloped back in the direction of the barn. The deer, perhaps feeling that there's "safety in numbers," followed suit. But Scout, the horse carrying the man's son, stepped back at a 90 degree angle to the trail.

The bear immediately switched from chasing the deer to going after Scout. Bolster said that Tonk wanted to follow the main group back to the barn. But she dug in her heels, forcing Tonk, through her strength of will, into a spot between Scout, the boy, and the charging bear.

The boy—who'd never ridden a horse before—was having difficulty staying on Scout. Bolster knew that if she was going to save the boy's life, she had to convince Tonk to stand his ground. Somehow, miraculously, she did just that. She got Tonk to square off and face the bear. Tonk wanted to turn and run but Bolster held firm. Then, once Tonk was facing the bear, Bolster was able to do something even more amazing. She got Tonk to charge at the bear!

The grizzly was no fool. He knew the easiest way to his next meal was to circle around the bigger horse and go after the smaller horse and boy. Bolster wasn't going to let that happen either. She wheeled Tonk around to charge at the bear again. "Nothing in my body was going to let that little boy get hurt by that bear," she told a reporter for Spokane Washington's Spokesman Review. "That wasn't an option."

After three attempts, and three instances of Bolster and her horse charging the bear, he turned tail and ran back into the brush. The boy and both horses were in shock. But they were all alive and well.

The studio audience cheered at various points of the story during Erin Bolster's appearance on Letterman. I did a little cheering myself, as I watched from my spot on the couch. Even Dave felt his eyes getting a little misty when he thought about what an amazing horse Tonk was, and what an amazingly courageous and level-headed woman Erin Bolster is.

Since I normally write about dogs, you might be wondering why I've chosen to tell this tale. It has to do with the bond that develops between humans and animals, and how that bond deepens our ability to communicate in a way that doesn't involve language, training, or conditioning. As Erin Bolster said, "No amount of training could keep a horse from running away from a 750-pound bear charging at him."

So what was it that kept Tonk on track, willing to face that bear?

First of all, it was Bolster's courage; it had to be. Secondly, it was Tonk's trust in her. And finally, it probably involved a form of communication that can't be explained empirically, through the lens of Western science, which brings us back to what Freud suspected about telepathy.

"One is led to a suspicion that this is the original, archaic method of communication between individuals and that in the course of phylogenetic evolution it has been replaced by the better method of giving information with the help of signals which are picked up by the sense organs. But the older method might have persisted in the background and still be able to put itself into effect under certain conditions." [Freud, "Dreams and Occultism," in J. Stracey (Ed.) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth, 1964, 53, 54.]

The relationship between a horse and a good rider develops over time. The human and animal move together with a certain rhythm, sort of like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Many dog owners experience this same phenomenon with their dogs. I know I have.

Psychologist William Roll writes, "The human self is not restricted to the body studied by physiology and behavioral psychology. The experienced self is a larger self, a ‘long body,' to use a Native American metaphor, that includes significant other people, places, and objects."

On her blog, Zen poet Genine Lentine discusses this idea of the "long body." "When you pick up the phone just as your friend is calling, that’s The Long Body. Or when you are five and dream your grandmother has died and your mother delivers this news to you the next morning."

Telepathy is a daily occurence, one that we're mostly unaware of. The problem with university studies is that they're looking for mental telepathy when it doesn't exist. The word telepathy comes from the Greek for "distant feeling," which suggests that it's a body state, not a mental one.

So in order to study the telepathic connection between dog and owner, or horse and rider, we need to focus our attention on synchronous firing of neurons in the limbic systems of both species, or perhaps the millions of neurons located in the solar plexus, often referred to as "the second brain." Or, since dogs communicate via pictures, the visual cortex. [1]

Horses communicate via pictures too. And I would venture to say that this may have been the primary reason Tonk was able to do what Erin Bolster wanted, despite his terror. She probably had a clear vision in her mind of the two of them successfully scaring the grizzly off. As long as she held that image, Tonk was willing to do whatever she asked.

This process works both ways; animals send us pictures as well. A dachshund named Noodles often stays with me. He's a picky eater; I'll sometimes put his food down, he'll come over, sniff it, then go take a nap. So I was a bit surprised the other day—while working at my computer (as Noodles napped under a blanket on my couch)—that I had a sudden image of Noodles happily eating his dinner.
I turned around to find Noodles not napping at all, but staring at me.

"You want your dinner now?" I asked.

He jumped down, then followed me happily to the kitchen where I put down his provender and he scarfed it up.

Movies, TV shows like Lassie, and even some scientists, tell us that dogs communicate with yips, barks, whines, etc., that are analogous to human language. I don't think that's true at all. Yes, dogs may resort to such measures, but I think they only do that when their owners ignore the telepathic signals they're already sending.

By the way, since her ordeal, Erin Bolster bought Tonk from the stable that was renting him out each summer to Swan Outfitters. Tonk is her horse now, and probably will be forever.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Here's Mud in Your Eye....

First, I want to thank Mare at Simply Horse Crazy for giving me a Lovely Blog Award. Thank you!!!! Mare and her horse Missy are a dynamic duo. If you haven’t checked out Mare’s blog before, I urge you to do so. :-)
* * * *
The past two weeks have been AMAZING weather-wise. Temps have been around the 23C mark and it’s been sunny. It has been perfect riding weather. This is my favourite time of year to ride. Not too hot, not too cold, no bugs and the trails are beautiful.
My friend, Jean has been easing me out on the trails when we have managed to get together outside of lessons and I have reconnected with another boarder (DH’s mom) who is an avid trail rider. Her and I have managed to get together the last three Sundays. To refresh your memory, DH is Gem’s turnout buddy and he is the leader. It’s actually quite hilarious to see a 14.3hh gelding push around a 16.0hh horse. I used to ride regularly with CA on Sundays, but she prefers the arena environment. As long time readers know, my ultimate goal is to trail ride comfortably and safely. Who knows....maybe trailer somewhere with friends and feel confident on new trails. Now that Jean has helped me with my trail riding confidence this past summer (baby steps!), I am fortunate to have found DH’s mom available to hit the trails on weekends. I have had as many trail rides in the last few months as I did all last year!

Most of the horses where I board are Quarter Horses that are around 15.0hh, with a couple of Arabians and Paints thrown in for good measure. While there are quite a number of open fields to wander around in, some of the more interesting terrain means going through some bushy areas or (my favourite) the forest. The paths through these areas are clearly for smaller horses. I can't tell you how many times I had to duck to get under branches or push saplings aside as we wondered through the brush, when no one else had a problem. Could all this bending and stretching and reaching actually be helping my balance???? Geez, I hope so!!! Sometimes the paths get so narrow, I have to pin my legs against Gem to avoid getting my knees bonked by trees.


DH and his mom have no problem negotiating the trails; they are both "petite" shall we say, while the gy-normous black beast and his proportionally sized rider tried to keep up without loosing an eye. You see, when your horse is 5 inches taller than just about every other horse on the place and you are tallish (5'7"), you have a whole different set of obstacles to deal with than other riders when out on the trails. Branches that clear the tops of other rider's heads hit you at face level. Trail openings that accommodate 900 lb. horses can be a tight squeeze for a ~1200 lb horse. A challenge, but one that I am up for! :-)

So here's the thing. My horse has a certain kind of quiet strength that allows us to maneuver through the herd when we come upon them in the forest without being challenged. He does not spook when the wild turkeys fly out of a bush and he only shows interest and not fear when the golfers next door yell suddenly. I can ride him in the arena during thunderstorms. Loud machinery noise, doesn't blink an eyelash. His weakness?.....Gem does NOT like mud! He may have had a bad experience in his previous life, or maybe it’s because he actually sinks quite deep in the mud because of his size (and my additional weight-whaaaa!!). Whatever the reason, he panics a bit. He will do just about anything to avoid mud.

Me: Gem, it's just mud. It's wet dirt.
Gem: I will walk in it and never come out.
Me: We will come out, I guarantee it!
Gem: You have eyes in the front of your head. What do you know. I see everything. There are demons in there that will grab my ankles and pull me under.
Me: Pleeeese....
Gem: You are embarrassing yourself by begging. Ain't going to happen.
Me: Sigh.

This can be a little nerve-wracking when we are on the trails. He will rush through it and push his way around the horse in front. Or he tries to take me through the bushes to avoid the mud all together; thank goodness I wear safety goggles when I trail ride!! So the first time DH's mom took us through a swampy area, my heart started to pound. I tried to tell her that Gem didn't like mud, but she told me to give him some rein, so he could lower his head and see the mud, sit square in the saddle and relax. I did as told. Gem was hesitant, but when he saw his fearless leader DH walk through it, he did too!! Now, I am not going to say that Gem was 100% calm walking through the mud…he still high-stepped trying not to get his feet dirty….but he did not RESIST going in the mud. Yay! Since that ride, DH’s mom has us going through muddy areas every ride and each time my anxiety has dissipated a little more and so has Gem’s. I am hoping that by the time winter rolls in, we will have beaten the horse-eating mud demons down completely!


I have not come off the trail rides unscathed, though. Monday, I suffered a trail riding injury...No, not as bad as the two times I was catapulted in the air by Gem! :-) There we were, in the forest, winding our way through a very narrow, rocky path. As we followed DH and his mom, I leaned to the right to avoid a branch, right into the stub of a broken branch on another tree. Gem was fast-walking down a slight incline at the time and the stub went into my upper arm and caught my blouse, ripping the sleeve open to my elbow. It hurt! I quickly checked to see if skin was broken (no), but a bruise was already welling up.


The bruise is now about an inch wide, 4 inches long and is a lovely purple black colour. Oh, well. Makes for interesting conversation. Cripes, I am going to miss that blouse though!!

What was I thinking....?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lovely Blog Award!!



Look what Grey Horse Matters gave me! What a fabulous way to start our long Thanksgiving weekend! Grey Horse Matters has been a blogger friend of mine since I first started blogging and I appreciate her support the last couple of years. The deal is that I pass the award on to fifteen other blogs and tell seven things about myself. So many have already been recognized, so I am going to limit my choices to blogs that are newer to me. Check them out!

I apologize for the formatting. For some reason I can't get it sorted out.

My Equestrian World







Allhorsestuff

Living a Dream


Hmmm, seven things about me.....
  1. I stopped colouring my hair in May. I used to have black hair, which I lightened to dark brown. It will take about a year to grow out, but I am already excited about the pewter colour that is coming through.
  2. I hate bad table manners. I have a hard time sitting across from someone if they don't eat in a civilized manner.
  3. I love movies, old and new, and can actually spend a whole day on the sofa watching one after another. Shhh, don't tell anyone but I actually like western themed movies. Some of my favourites are Lonesome Dove, Dances with Wolves, Legends of the Fall, Hidalgo, 3:10 to Yuma and Appaloosa.
  4. I am actually stronger than I look. :-)
  5. Laughing is one of my favourite activities.
  6. I prefer muscle cars to sports cars.
  7. Halloween is right around the corner. Some of the costumes I have worn over the years include Scarlett O'Hara, Magenta (Rocky Horror Picture Show), Friar Tuck, Elvira, a flamenco dancer, Goth girl, Anne Boleyn, Dolly Parton, Robin Hood and will be (hopefully) going as Dame Edna to a party this year.
Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian blogger friends!










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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Big Redux

Jean contacted the Clyde breeder soon after we met them at the fairAfter a few email exchanges, Saturday was the day to go and meet the whole family.  :-)  I met Jean and her mother early Saturday morning.  It was the first cold day of the season and the sun was absent, but the weather did not dampen our mood....we were excited.

The purpose of the visit was to see the horses in their natural living environment and meet some of the yearlings, the three mares that are carrying foals and the stallions.  The idea of buying a baby is becoming more appealing to Jean.  She would know her horse from the beginning and can work with the breeder in training the horse for riding (they have a couple of Clydes that they ride).   However, if the perfect adult Clyde became available and the timing was right she would consider it. 

The Mr. and Mrs. met us as we pulled into the lane, along with their son and daughter.  What a lovely family!  So pleasant and welcoming.  We walked down the lane a bit and met the mares.  Initially, they were grazing but when Mrs. called them, they walked over to the gate.  Jean went through the gate and waited for them to come to her.   They were very courteous....curious, but courteous.


Hello, nice to meet you.
Oh, you brought a hostess gift!  Yummy!




























































What struck me about these big ladies is that you could see gentle wisdom behind their eyes.There was one mare that took a shine to Jean.  Sure, treats were involved initially at the meet and greet, but after the treats were gone, she just followed Jean around like a puppy dog. 











The turnout areas were large and clear of scrub weeds and rocks.  Lots of space to kick up large heels.  :-)   The trees around the parameter of the field provide shelter.  The horses are left out 24/7 unless there is freezing rain.    Then they are brought into the barn.

Now it was time to meet Stallion 1.  He has been part of the family for 8 years, purchased as a yearling. I have to say that I had a preconceived idea of a stallion; unpredictable, wild, untouchable, fire-breathing, relegated to a small paddock out of sight.  So, when Mr. and Mrs. invited us into Stallion 1's field, we were surprised.  In fact, I was a bit nervous.  However,  I wasn't so nervous that I didn't turn my video on.  :-)  Check it out.....

video

Stallion 1 was galloping right for me, but I didn't move.   My heart was thumping a bit, I admit.  :-)  Jean and her mom got a bit of a fright when he veered.

Mr. and Mrs. handle their horses a lot.  Having them socialized is important not only from a resale perspective, but from a showing perspective.  You can't have a spooky 2,000 lbs horse in the show ring.  So while Stallion 1 was eating his treat, Mr. stood behind him and untangled his tail which was full of burrs. 

Next we went into the barn to see the babies.  The stalls were twice the size of normal stalls.  We were allowed into each of the stalls and encouraged to rub and touch the youngsters, which were around 7 months old.  There was only one almost nipping incident, but other than that they were better behaved than a lot of the horses at my barn.  :-)

Does this tail make my butt look big?
Mr. showed us the saddle he uses when he rides Clydes.  I forgot to take a picture of it.  It's a Western saddle with two stirrups on the left side.  One is the regular fender/stirrup combo and the other, placed behind it, almost looks English with a very long leather strap and metal stirrup attached.  Because of the potential torque on the horse's back when you use the long stirrup, someone has to be on the right side of the horse pushing down on the stirrup to make sure the saddle doesn't move when you mount.  Once you are up, you hook the long stirrup to the back of the saddle so it's out of the way. 

Stallion 2's stall was in amongst the babies.  Stallion 2 has shoes on for showing, so he is in a stall for the time being or in a small paddock.   I was actually scratching Stallion 2's chin and ears for a while before Mr. mentioned that he was a stallion.  Again, another preconceived idea about stallions being untouchable blown out of the water.  Stallion 2 was a big schnook!  Every time I stopped rubbing, he would lean into the bars.  I asked Jean's mom to take my place so I could get a pic.

Schnook alert!
I realized that I was not at all nervous around these horses.  Perhaps it was because I am (finally!) used to Gem's size and even though these horses out-weigh him by +400 lbs and are 6-8 inches taller, it didn't seem that big a deal to me.   The Mr. and Mrs. love their horses and it's evident; the horses are calm and friendly.  Being around these gentle giants was almost soothing and like time was standing still.  But, time wasn't standing still and after a couple of hours of visiting, it was time to go.  We were invited back any time.   On the drive home, Jean said that she was happy with what she saw and believes that she has found her Clyde connection.   I am glad that she has found her connection and that her dream is within reach.  I am glad that I was able to sample the Clyde magic....geez, I hope Jean invites me to go with her for another visit soon!








Monday, September 26, 2011

Cavalia!!!!

What a great weekend!!! The weather was friggin' amazing!!! It was sunny and hovering around the 24C mark.  Saw my boy on Friday and Sunday.

Saturday I went to see Cavalia. Cavalia is a production put on the by same people that brought us Cirque du Soleil. Amazing, fantastic, unbelievable, beautiful, enchanting, gorgeous are just a few of the words I would use to describe this show.....those and O.M.G.

I went with Jean, her mother and CA. CA was the only one that had seen Cavalia before, but this show was the newer Cavalia 2, so none of use knew what to expect. Having seen Cirque du Soleil many years ago, I knew the music would be great and the sets visually beautiful and engaging.

The show is done in a tent set up . I am not sure how many people the theatre held, but it couldn't have been more than 3000 people??? The small group made it very intimate. There was no "nose bleed" section. :-) Our seats were in the 2nd row!!! Cameras were not allowed, so the pictures that you see below were taken from reviews of the first production of Cavalia that I found on the Internet.

The smaller tents in the back are actually the stables.

It's hard to describe the new stage layout. It was maybe 150 feet across, with quite a steep hill at the back of the stage and level at the front. It was covered in black large grain sand, sort of volcanic looking. Sheer curtains with scenes painted on them combined with lights were the backdrops for the different acts. Musicians and singers were located on either side of the stage, one level up.

Imagine my surprise when Arabians, Andalusians, Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas and a CANADIAN came galloping out at the beginning of the show. I guess I was expecting matching horses like the RCMP Musical Ride or the Lipizzaners. Their handlers had been waiting in the middle of the stage and the horses galloped around them in a large circle, eventually slowing down to find their specific handler. They then followed their handler in a synchronized sort of dance; no halter, not lead rope, no treats. It was beautiful. Jean started to get teary eyed. :-)


There was an Andalusian horse that just didn't want to participate in one act and kept trotting out of line and wondering about. No one stopped him. They simply worked around him and eventually convinced him through gentle persuasion to participate. There was some stallion attitude evident on more than one occasion. Ears pinned, the odd little kick. But these displays did not detract from the performance. In fact, in my mind they enhanced it. It showed that these horses are still able to be horses even if they are in a show.

 This video is of Cavalia I


The sets were stunning and an engineering and lighting marvel.  According to CA, this performance is much different from Cavalia I.   The sets changed from desert to jungle, through the different seasons and on to fantasy seamlessly. The horses and performers would enter the stage either from the sides or come up over the hill at the back of the stage, making the whole experience 3 dimensional. The music was also wonderful and really set the mood of each Act. The horses did not perform "tricks". Their involvement was more of an enhancement to the acrobatic moves performed by their handlers, while at the same time, the handlers were enhancing the beauty of the horses. The horses moved in a natural and free way.  When the horses were being ridden with a saddle, they were either bitless or had snaffle bits. The custom saddles used were a mix of Western and English; the seat and padding were like English, but the stirrups and a horn were Western.  I can't be 100% certain, but it looked like all were shod. 


I LOVED the show. What impressed me was that these horses were relaxed and having fun. It was gentle.  On more than one occasion, at the end of an act, they stood looking at the audience, ears up eyes bright.  In fact, I think some of their bouncy kick-up-my-heels behaviour while performing was a direct response to our happiness. :-) Here's a holy-crap-did-I-just-see-that? moment:  An acrobat, riding a horse, got out of his saddle, went underneath the horse and out the other side and back into the saddle....AT A GALLOP! I don't know how he didn't get clocked in the head!


During one act, there were 34 horses on stage. 34 horses!  Incredible. One scene that actually got me choked up a bit was when they filled the bottom of the stage with water and the horses galloped around free, up the hill, back down and through the water. Stunning.

We were pumped when we left the tent.   We were so excited we were talking over each other.  :-)    So, there are no if, ands, or buts about it.  You have to go!   You just have to!  It will inspire you and only enhance your relationship with your horse.  :-)  Boy, I want to have that connection with Gem!!  I want to be able to run beside him without a lead....OK, OK...maybe not run, but at least jog.  :-)





Friday, September 23, 2011

Bear

My thoughts are with 50+ Horses today. She has made the decision to say good-bye to her beautiful Belgian horse, Bear. It is always tough to make this type of decision. If you have a minute, please show her your support.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Big

On Saturday, Jean and I went to a regional fair. Jean has always wanted to own a Clydesdale and we specifically went to see the big horses. It is difficult to find a Clyde breeder around our part of the country and our goal was to check out the names on the trailers and mark down the farm names of horses Jean liked. The competitions that we watched were based on age and conformation - I am not sure what that type of competition this is called. The day couldn't have been nicer, even if it started a bit chilly. At 9:30 a.m., we were huddled with our coffee sitting on a very cold metal bleacher.

We walked around the back of the show barn to watch the horses being unloaded. Some of the trailers were massive!! Some looked like homes and trailers combined, with pushed out windows and living space expansions. Holy crap!

Some of the tack required.


Belgian waiting to be unloaded.

The tails of the draft horses are docked when they are about 2 years of age. :-( Apparently this is for hygienic reasons. My understanding is that they are also shod before they hit the two year mark. Their feet are almost square and their shoes are specialized.

First group up was the 2011 babies. :-) OMG, they were so cute! All legs! They kept nickering to each other. You could almost hear them saying "What the heck is going on?" "Who are you?"

2011 Clydesdales - notice the different colours!

Each age group started with Belgians, then Percherons followed by the Clydes. I was surprised at how many different colour variations there were in each breed. Each horse was looked over by the judge, then had to trot to the end of the paddock and back. Even the younger horses had presence! So majestic. Jean, of course, was oooh-ing and awwww-ing throughout the competition. :-)

Some of the younger horses were a bit flighty, understandably. They were being spooked by the noises and smells from the midway and the announcer at the other ring. See the little stick/crop in the handler's hand in the picture below? It is used to make the horse keep its head up or it is used to tap the horse on the leg to improve how the horse is standing.

Even as youngsters, these horses are big and can be a handful (see above). One 2009 Clyde was upset. The more agitated she got, the more her handler pulled on her halter, which had a chain under her chin, and waving that crop in her face (WTH??). The more he pulled, the more pain she was in and the more she wanted to get away from him. He was also standing directly in front of her, which I thought was unsafe. Well, she started to rear. This man just kept pulling harder on the halter and waving that crop in her face. She eventually reared and struck out, hitting the man on his forehead with her shod hoof. The sound was sickening, like a watermelon being hit with a hammer. He went down, blood a-gushing. He was helped off the field and loaded into an ambulance. Another handler stood in for him and continued showing this young horse. Interestingly, as soon as the horse got away from her original handler, she calmed right down and was not a problem. In fact, she placed first.

2009 Percheron


2008 Percheron. What a difference in size one year to the next!

Check out the size of the feet on these Belgians!



Early in the afternoon, I left Jean sitting in the stands. I told her I was going to see if I could get in the show barn and take some pictures. On my way there, I noticed a young man waiting to show. He was very polite and willing to share his knowledge. Did you know that draft horses don't have a long life? When they hit the 20 year old mark, they are "old". When I told him I had a Canadian, he said that he had a Canadian/QH cross that was his trail horse - one of the best horses he ever had. :-) She was purchased at 20-years of age as a family horse, and she passed away last year at 32 years.

This is one of his family's Clydes. Isn't she gorgeous? She is a 2-year old and is "his" horse. See the decorations in her mane? He braided her hair, then fed cheese cloth through it and attached the decorations. Cool, eh?

2-year old's feet compared to a 17-year old's. :-)

As we chatted, it came about that his family breeds Clydes and their farm is located only 30 minutes away!! I told him about Jean's dream and he very kindly said to bring her over to the barn after he had finished this last competition and he would show her some of his horses. How wonderful!! I went back and told Jean. She was so excited!

We met him, and his parents, in the barn. I was impressed that immediately after he introduced us to his parents, the young man watered and fed his horse before he came and talked to us. They were a nice family; warm and funny. They obviously loved their horses and provided all sorts of information. They also didn't look at Jean like she had antenna growing out of her head when she told them she wanted to have a Clyde as a pleasure ride. Jean is not ready yet, but will be in two years. The young man's mother said that if they couldn't provide the right horse for her, they would help her find one through their Clyde connections. How nice is that??!

In spite of their young age, the horses they brought to the show were fine being touched and handled. They didn't mind having their feet picked up. I think that is an indication of the care that they are receiving. Both Jean and I were in awe of how big these horses are. Being in their presence was pretty amazing. I could completely understand how Jean would want to ride one of these giants. As a matter of fact, Jean was quite smitten with a little 2011 roan baby they had shown that day. Yep, I am thinking that Jean may have a roan Clyde gelding in her future..... :-)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Operation Yellow Ribbon

I was pulling into my parking space underneath my office building when I heard the news flash on the radio that a plane had hit one of the World Trade towers. A while later, I heard about the 2nd crash. It didn’t really register in my brain what was going on. Busy with deadlines and meetings for the rest of the day, I got caught up in my own world. It wasn’t until I got home and sat in front of the television with My Husband that I saw what had happened. When I saw the towers collapse, I burst into tears. Such a terrible, terrible tragedy. One that has changed forever how I view the world.

For the safety of other U.S. citizens, shortly after the 2nd plane hit, air space was shut down in North America. Canada did not hesitate to accept air traffic bound for U.S. destinations. These flights were rerouted to mostly military airports in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba. This was done to remove potentially destructive airplanes to locations where they could be contained in a controlled setting and deactivated if necessary. One of the airports that accepted international flights bound for the U.S. was Gander, Newfoundland.

Gander International Airport played a big part in Operation Yellow Ribbon. It’s a small airport, and I believe is usually used as a refueling stop for international flights. However, on September 11, 2001 the residents of Gander accepted close to 40 transatlantic flights, more than any other Canadian airport, originally meant to land at different locations in the U.S. Over 6,500 people had to stay in Gander for days, waiting for airspace to be reopened.

The residents of Gander jumped into action and food was prepared, buildings and homes were made ready to accept guests and even entertainment was organized to help weary travelers from dozens of countries pass the time. They not only opened their homes but their hearts.  Lufthansa has an airbus named Gander/Halifax as a thank you to both cities.  :-)



At a time when our southern and international neighbours needed us, Canada did not hesitate to step up.  This is a sad anniversary and my thoughts are with the families that lost someone precious to them on that day.  This anniversary also reminds me of how very proud I am to be Canadian.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Barrels + Rocks = Smile

I had an extended long weekend.  The weather has (thankfully) started to cool down a bit.  Flies are still bad though.  Gem’s turnout has rocky areas and he has chips and chunks out of his hooves from stamping his feet.  I can’t keep up with the bot fly eggs (gross) on his front legs.  I scrape off as much as I can without causing him injury and the next time I see him it’s back to square one.  Sigh.

Sunday was actually a good ride.  I was alone at the stables so I had the front paddock to myself.  I had my Nano turned up and all was well with the world.  My singing did manage to frighten a few pigeons that were hanging about, but my beautiful boy is getting used to my performances so he didn’t mind.   A few songs that were particularly well paced for jogging/trotting were Midnight Rambler and Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones, Billy Jean by Michael Jackson and Cold Shot by Stevie Ray Vaughan  



A barrel was set up at the far end of the paddock about 8 feet in from the fence and in the middle.  Two cones were set up across from each other at the other end, 8 feet in from the fence and about 8 feet apart.   Initially, I used the cones and barrel to help with turning Gem using neck reining, at a walk.   Perhaps it was the music, perhaps it was because I was relaxed…I don't know..... but I got brave.  :-)  I did the turns at a jog and then upped the ante to a lope!  We loped to the barrel, slowed down to a jog to go around it and then loped back.  Ya-hoo!  Gem was enjoying himself.   We both actually worked up a bit of a sweat.  The bugs were crazy and I think that was his encouragement to keep moving.  In fact, he kept kicking at his belly every time we stopped and when I dismounted, I found and pulled off this blood sucking bastage bug that had anchored itself to the tender inside of his back leg.  He was obviously relieved.

Monday the barn was crowded!  The weather was iffy, so most of us ended up in the arena.  The Young Ladies were loping their horses through upright poles, doing lead changes as they went through each pole.  Sigh.  It was beautiful to watch.  Such balance – horse and rider!  Gem and I decided to give it a go….but at a jog.  :-)  He’s actually quite good at zig zagging through the poles and I can see this becoming a fun exercise in the future for side passing.  We managed to join in on a group lope a couple of times.  It’s so funny…Gem feels the need to catch up with the horse in front of him and “eeeeeeeeeasy” was a reminder a couple of times to slow it down.  Perhaps he thinks he’s a Thoroughbred…:-)

Tuesday's ride was…well…weird.  Instead of standing still while I was tacking up, Gem would move away from the brush or I would have to ask a couple of times for him to lift his feet for cleaning.  It had rained Monday night, quite hard, and the paddock was wet mushy sand.  The breeze was lovely though, and I decided to ride outside.  Gem would not stand still next to the mounting block.  It took a few tries to convince him to “stand” still to allow me to get on.  Walking was fine, but he protested when I asked him for a jog....again and again.... Even when we were jogging, he showed his disdain by shaking his head or slowing down and resisting starting up again.  Then he started reaching around and nipping at the air near my foot.  WTH??!  OK....perhaps he's getting bit again....

 I dismounted and checked him all over for bugs.  Nada.  I checked under his girth, under the saddle blankets for burrs.  Nada.  I took him back to the mounting block and got back on.  He resisted everything I asked.  It was at the point that I though, "Geez, I wonder if he's sore?"  I walked him around the paddock a few times and then dismounted. His rhythm did not seem unbalanced to me, but to be honest, with the paddock being so muddy how could I be sure?  His legs looked fine to me; no swelling, sensitivity or heat.  Feet were clean.  I am not sure what else it could be other than he may have been a little muscle sore.  Being ridden 3 days in a row, which included some loping and lots of turns, may have made him stiff.....I know I was!  Could that be it?   Or maybe he just didn't want to work!  We all have days like that. :-)  I gave him a nice bath and let him graze for a bit.  With the exception of Gem's chomping, it was very quiet.  Every once in a while an aggressive Blue Jay could be heard.

After his beautification, I turned him out. I had brought my own spade and started digging some of the offending rocks out in his turnout area.  He and DH hung around, watching and sniffing the rocks that I dug up.  I managed to remove quite a few rocks, but it will take forever to get rid of all of them.  I may not have had a good workout riding, but I sure did digging up rocks!  Who would have thought that being in the sun pulling rocks out of dirt and manure, and breaking a newly manicured nail in the process, would leave a person with such a sense of accomplishment.  :- )  Later on, I met up with co-workers at a restaurant for dinner.  It was a business event, not a social one really.  Every once in a while when the table talk would become too technical/boring for me, I would look down at my broken nail and my thoughts would wander to the afternoon.... and I would smile.

What was I thinking....?