Saturday, December 31, 2011

On to a New Year

I have been writing this blog since August of 2006, a year after Lena Rey Flo-wed into our lives. Every year I try to summarize the previous 12 months and set a few goals for myself and the horses, and every year they say "That's a great plan, now let's go off on this tangent because we'll all learn more."

Since plans with horses play out as they will, I'm not sure that's the tact I'll take this year, but in perusing that first year's set of posts, I came across this one. It is pre-Calabar by a year, hints at the start of an inkling for horse number two, and highlights what I was only beginning to understand about what a horse gives to you.

If I were to set a goal or two, it would be to remember what I wrote there when I'm feeling discouraged or am just feeling trapped in the office some nights.The other goal would be to just relax and ride more. Nothing more complicated than that, though I have some obstacles of my own making (mostly) to get over, through, around, under...well, you get the picture.

This year has presented me with some hurdles, of that there is no doubt.

The fall in April was a tough thing to work through--more on the mental side than on the physical side, though the latter was no picnic. I think I've gotten through the fear fairly well and managed to go since April with no more injuries. (That thunking sound you hear is me knocking wood.) I am ready to ride more and Calabar has always been ready to work with me when I get to the barn in time to saddle him and ride.

I just need to get there.

Work this year has also been a challenge. Not work per se, but the balancing of the professional responsibilities I have with the personal fulfillment I need from my "other" life. I have to examine, honestly, whether I'm using work as an excuse. Sometimes, I probably am. But other times I really don't know how I'll get it all done.

On the plus side, I'm writing a lot, including my own "regular" column (Spitting Sand--A Learner's Journey) for the local horse publication--Sonoma County Horse Journal--so that's pretty cool.

We also did our first clinic this fall, survived it, and are in fact planning number two at the end of January with the same instructor.

On a sad note, we lost two of our outdoor kitties to old age this year, but then we gained Oliver. Oliver has decided he is currently an outdoor cat but we think we'll win him over again when it really starts raining.

And now it is time for Steve and I to go out for New Year's Eve! This may be the first time we've ever done this, but after 11 years together, it seemed like a good time to try something new.

Happy New Year to you all! May 2012 bring you much joy and happiness, love and abundance.

p.s. No. I am not going to apologize for that incredibly bad play on words in the first sentence. It is a tribute to my dearly departed and  pun-tastic father who insisted he loved my writing. I miss you every day, Dad.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter ruminations

Winter is cold and dark. And I know that Californians such as myself are quite spoiled--we think 45 is cold. I've heard tell that in the Midwest, t-shirts come out in that type of weather.

Not so for us delicate flowers of the West Coast. I have at least four layers on by the time I get to the barn, and sometimes that's not enough for me. Delicate. Flower.

It has been dry and cold here of late. And dark. I get to the barn at 5:15 p.m. and I am fishing for my flashlight shortly thereafter.

My point to all of this is that my motivation to ride is not always as high as it should be. It does not help that I am still fighting the plague and every time I do some work with my pony, I end up snuffling and somewhat feverish. I have decided that since it doesn't seem to help to take it easy, I might as well do what I want even if I am too tired.

Of course, that means I haven't ridden my horse enough so that when I finally did ride him Tuesday night, my body asked me how much Ibuprofen I had on hand.  It's still asking. Good grief, where did my muscles go? I'm still doing my yoga! I'm still walking! "Yes, but you are not posting and you are not riding." THOSE muscles have had a hiatus and I am hearing about it. Painfully.

It does not help that I sit for a living. All those body parts have had 8 hours (plus) a day to sit and become seized. Like a motor. I can feel the resistance, like non-lubricated machinery grinding as it starts up.

Yep. That's my body right now.

The only way to make this better is ride more. (And get out of my chair during the day.)

At least we are on the uphill side of daylight time, now. Every day, a few more minutes of light.

Believe me, it counts.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Four years of OTTB madness

Thursday, December 22nd, marked four years since Calabar bounced into our lives. It is a little hard to believe, actually, and some days I feel like I've done a lot and some days I feel like I'm back at square one.

I guess if I'm still learning and he's still engaged and learning with me, we're in good shape.

Here is a shot of Calabar and Lena meeting for the first time. (And his tendon looks so much better now!!)

Here is Lena being moonie-eyed over her new neighbor. That has mostly worn off, but they are still pretty attached to each other. We are an odd little herd, that's for sure.

There is even a video of Devon riding him the day I decided he would be mine on this post from December 2007.

Four years ago, I got the best gift ever--a fuzzy, brown Thoroughbred mirror. Little did I know the ups and downs--some literal--that we would experience. Do I regret any of it? Maybe some of the fear, but since it's all been part of the learning experience, I can't even regret that.

Through it all, I have learned more about myself as I've learned more about Calabar.

"Mom. They is on backwards, duh."

I'm still learning to breathe. I'm still learning to ride. I'm still learning to trust my horse and he's still learning to trust me. I've even learned which way the antlers go, though not until after this year's photo shoot. 

Learning I don't have all the answers has been the best gift of all.

Happy Christmas to all of you out there. May your holidays be full of joy and love, family and furry folks.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Outdoor arena

One of the goals from my fear series was to ride in the outdoor arena, a place that has been kinda scary for me for a long time. Though I wanted to end up there to do a little work today, it was not my intention to start there with a horse that hasn't been worked enough over the last two weeks.

I was derailed.

Neither Steve or I have recovered from the dumb germ, yet, and it's been two weeks. The horses have not gotten out enough and are understandably a bit on the wild side. I had worked Bar last night so he wasn't completely fresh, but the bounce was still very evident.

Normally, he and I would go into the round pen and dance around before we went into the indoor--let alone the outdoor--arena. However, the round pen was in use and I had already saddled up my big, bouncy horse.

Lena and Steve were in the outdoor arena and were having quite a raucous ride. The horse waiting for Peter in the round pen was reacting to the echoes that bounce into the indoor arena from the outdoor arena by bucking and snorting.

Calabar reacted to both of them. How can 1200 pounds levitate? I don't actually know the physics involved, but I have witnessed it. In person. Recently.

And yet.

I needed to do this. I didn't need to gallop, I didn't need to do anything complicated. I just needed to get on and ride in the outdoor arena. Bar needed me to ride in the outdoor arena, too. He didn't know it, but he did.

And we did okay. We walked--bouncy, bouncy, bouncy--me feeling his front feet as they moved zoomily (yes, zoomily) forward. Poing, poing, poing. I was doing well. Feet down, sitting solid in the saddle, trying not to curl forward, trying to move with the big brown spring under my butt.

We stayed at a walk. I'd love it if I could tell you I threw my hands in the air and galloped courageously around the arena, but .. no. I did handle a spook and a spin, though, as well as a high level of Thoroughbred energy. Poing, poing, poing.

"What are those??!!" "Those are bike riders on the bike path down below us." "Okay. Iwillbelievetheyarenotdemonsifyousayso." "They are not demons." "K.Fine."

Poing, poing, poing.

I knew he wanted to run. I even wanted to let him run. I just wasn't ready. Luckily, he agreed to me not being ready and to listened to me. Okay, maybe not luckily but because he and I have done a LOT of work together. Either way, we have made an agreement.

I sang in the saddle, mainly because it helped me breathe. Breathing is good, it helps me relax and not tighten every muscle in my body--a very counter-productive thing to do while riding.

I am glad we are at a place where he doesn't just do what he wants to do, a place where he is taking care of me. I want to get to the place where I can let him do some of what he wants to do rather than what he knows I feel safe doing. I want to run him out there, I do.

Baby steps, baby steps.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Oliver has braved the outdoors

Ollie on the retaining wall, blending with the forest.

Actually, Oliver appears to prefer the outdoors.

For the past couple of days, Ollie-pants (as I lovingly call him) has paced back and forth from the kitchen to the den to the living room, sometimes staring out the back door at the other cats. This usually coincides with feeding time, but he has been known to just stare rather longingly out the door at times, too.

Up until yesterday, he did not actually choose to venture out when the door was opened for him. Yesterday, he ventured.

He did a tour of the deck and the back patio before heading down the side and then under the house. Sigh.

I know it looks dark, but this was at about 7 a.m. Friday morning

I think I called Steve five times during the day, pretending it was for other reasons but really just to see if Ollie had come out again. Alas, every time I asked the answer was still no. All day and through the night I worried. But I also knew Ollie had bonded with us, or at least with the regular tasty food we offered, and figured that the house really represented a giant version of the hassock he'd hidden under for a week before venturing out into the rest of the house.

I worried, but it turns out Ollie has it all under control.

Then this morning, as I was starting to wake up, I heard Steve say hello to Ollie. Not call Ollie, like we'd both been doing, but say hello. I opened my eyes, looked out at the retaining wall I can see from our bedroom windows, and there was Ollie. Long, lean, and ready for breakfast.

We could not convince him to come in the house again, but he seems to be holding his own with the rest of our weird little cat herd. He watched me do yoga through the door this morning, but didn't want to come in when I was done and offered.

It has to be his decision, and  I think he will get there with time--it just may take a little while and some very studious observation of how this whole in-and-outdoor cat thing works in real life. I'm hoping Elmer will be helpful in this endeavor. We will see.

In the meantime, he is doing a fine job of proving he has a place here. He blends into the forest like he was born here and faces down the other cats with calm, quiet resolve. In other words, he is largely unimpressed with their bluster.

Welcome to the forest, Ollie. It is a good home.

The holidays approach

I have to confess that I'm not much for the commercial hype of the season. It may be that shopping is one of my least favorite activities--unless it's for new boots or tack--and then only if I have the money to spend. I know. Totally bad for the economy, right? Too bad.

I try (not that I always succeed) to treat my family nicely all year and not save it all up for some arbitrary season so that the holidays do not become drowned in obligation and annoyance at said obligation.

But dressing up the horses for a holiday photo shoot? That is right up my alley. Unfortunately, it was not up their alley, but we got some nice photos nonetheless.


 This may be one of my most favorite shots of Calabar ever taken. Thanks to Katie for capturing it.

Just a neat artistic shot, also taken by Katie.

I am holding the antlers on his head. He is unimpressed. 

 Katie likes this shot because it looks like she made Forrest do this on purpose. I'll never tell.

We did get a group shot or two, here's one.

Me and my fuzzy mirror.

 Calabar and Jess, posing.

Katie and Forrest posing.

Lena Rey, feeling left out of the posing. Poor Lena.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

And if nothing else convinces you...

Is this how you want your tax dollars spent? According to this post on Forbes:
No funding has been earmarked for the inspections in the appropriations bill and the estimated $5 million price tag will be paid by U.S. taxpayers even though all the meat will be exported to foreign markets. This will take away from funding for vital food assistance, food safety and education programs on which many U.S. families rely.
The slaughter industry is broken. BROKEN. It is bad enough for cows and other meat animals, let alone horses. In our quest to have cheap meat, we have supported mass-production where animals are crammed together on feed lots and then shipped to places where they are "humanely" slaughtered. That leads to disease and the antibiotics and such that go into preventing disease from spreading in close-in populations. 

That is somewhat more regulated than the horse industry. As the post on Forbes points out, there is no way to regulate what has been injected into your average pleasure horse, let alone race horses.

The other thing that we as humans (even those outside the horse community) needs to think about is how to approach what we eat. Eat local. Raise your own if you can. I can't--no land and nowhere near enough freezer space--but I can make good meat choices and Steve and have made a commitment to do that as much as possible. My friend Tom raises two cows every year to split with three other families. Why? "I know what goes in them that way," he says.

The other thing is that little karma thing. I know, I know. So West Sonoma County of me to bring it up, right? But if the last thing your dinner remembers is terror, how much of that leaks like poison into the meat you're eating? And how much of that energy gets transferred with every bite of that steak?

I may not get all of this right, but I can try to change my little corner of the world. That's a start and an easy bite for most of us to take. Pun so very absolutely intended.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Be a part of the solution

This is exactly (EXACTLY) what I was talking about in my earlier posts when I said we, the horse industry, need to take responsibility for our own.

This article in Forbes (thank you to Natalie at Retired Racehorse for posting) shows that the Thoroughbred racing industry is making progress by starting to support and partner with the myriad of Thoroughbred adoption/retraining organizations out there. It is a start, and even baby steps get us closer.

If the racing industry can do it, so can the rest of us.

Following up

This article on NPR does a good job of condensing and crystallizing some of the points I tried to make in my earlier post about the challenges around horse slaughter. (Yes, I know my thoughts are not original, but they have simmered for so long, they needed an out.)

I would not personally eat horse meat (I find it a little surreal that the NPR story is on their Food Blog), and I agree whole-heartedly that--as it is practiced--horse slaughter is a horrible process. But at the risk of repeating myself, the issue is not black and white and it is not easily solved. (To see my personal opinion, scroll back a couple articles on the blog--I really don't think I could write that all out again.)

Sarah, over at Miles on Miles, also reiterated the very valid--and hopefully hugely deterrent--argument that we put some nasty stuff in our horses to keep them healthy or to relieve pain in performance horses.

I originally had a paragraph that talked specifically about that, but as I restructured my article, it ended up  not being relevant to the point I decided was important--if only to me--so I cut it out.

She's absolutely right, of course, and if it makes one less person decide eating horse meat is a bad idea, I'll keep shouting it from the roof tops, too. Less demand will hopefully also lead to less supply, if only because the profit motive will be removed or at least diminished.

It still means we have to deal with the supply issue as a whole, and until we get our arms around that, we will have a horse slaughter dilemma in this country.

The elusive Ollie-cat is on the move

Oliver is taking his time settling in, but he is getting there. Considering all the trauma we know about, and some we can surmise from his behavior, I'd say he's doing exceptionally well. He still mostly likes to be somewhere safe where he can see everything happening--under the hassock, back behind the kitchen table, or under the piano in the den--but the last two mornings, he was sitting on the sofa when we got up and didn't disappear when we came into the room.

We are making progress!

Then this morning, he made overtures to Elmer. They've been eating side by side for several days now, nobody trying to eat anyone else's food, no hissing, fairly good behavior all things considered. So after a cheese snack for both, Elmer was sitting staring out the back door pretending not to notice Ollie when Ollie came up quietly and sniffed the end of Elmer's tail. Elmer promptly hissed and batted at Ollie, but didn't connect. We told Elmer that wasn't allowed, but didn't put him out until he asked. I have no idea how cat discipline works, but he huffed outside with only mildly ruffled feathers. Since we introduced Ollie into Elmer's territory, it's only fair to let them work things out to some extent and not punish Elmer for no doubt being a little peeved at the status change.

That apparently awakened Ollie's curiosity about the other cats and the great outdoors because he is now roaming around the available parts of the house (kitchen, living room, bathroom, and den) very restlessly. I think he is bored. Bored enough to to have paced back and forth to the back door six times in the last fifteen minutes, meowing loudly the whole time.

I know he wants out, but we want to be sure he knows this is where he is supposed to come back to first. I think we are close, though, and maybe within a week or so he can romp under the trees and sniff out slugs in the yard.

The pictures I've taken are not great because we are inside, it's winter, and Ollie is frequently under things. That requires the flash which leads to demon-eyed cat pictures. His eyes are truly lovely, deep coppery brown, like in this picture from the friend who initially rescued him, but I'm posting some of mine anyway so you can see he really is living here. He has not learned from Bar and Lena that if you just pose quickly, the photo session will end much more rapidly.

 Ollie under the hassock with his blankie

Ollie under the table

Ollie in the open in the kitchen

As I finish up this post, he has braved the sofa next to Steve and is curled up in a purring ball snoozing away. Progress indeed. You will always be as safe as we can make you here, Ollie. Welcome.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Where has you been?

And does you has carrots to make up for so many days of neglect?

I did have carrots and (barely) enough energy for a good romp in the round pen.

Good to see my pony again for sure. Now back to the sofa.

Friday, December 02, 2011

That issue, you know the one

Horse slaughter as it exists is a horrible, inhumane, cruel and horrid industry. It is also a convenient scapegoat--a symptom of another, deeper problem in the horse industry. We have too many unwanted horses in this country and not enough people taking responsibility for them.

Let's be clear, the bill recently signed by our president allows the horse slaughter industry to resume production DOMESTICALLY. Within U.S Borders. Horses are still being slaughtered in North America, specifically in Mexico and Canada. They are still headed for slaughter, they just have to travel further to get there.

But horse slaughter is still just the symptom, folks. The problem is there are unwanted horses in the United States. Lots of unwanted horses. And with human nature being what it is, if there is a way to take someone else's misfortune and make a profit, humans will do that. To deny that is to turn a blind eye to reality and dealing with the symptom merely pushes the problem down the road. Until we face head to head and--as a whole community--take responsibility for the number of horses out there, the problem will not go away and the market will have supply that meets the demand.

We in the horse industry--owners, breeders, business people--need to step up and take this problem on within our own circle of influence, not keep blaming the slaughter industry for cleaning up our mess. Talking about what is in horses, trying to wean people off it as a delicacy is a good tactic--reduced demand leads to decreased profit for the killer-buyer and the lure is less, but it will always be there for some people. Just as there are still going to be unwanted horses in this country because we make too many of them and we are not all good at taking responsibility for each and every one that gallops through our lives.

Unwanted horses

Oh yes, they exist. Hard for any little girl longing for a horse to believe, but it's true. The rescue groups have been hammered since the recession started and they do an amazing and admirable job of finding homes for a lot of horses. But even they can't home every horse out there and I've seen some really nasty vitriol spewed at rescues that made the choice to euthanize a horse they deemed unadoptable. And those horses are out there. Look at your barn. Really look. How many horses are tended every day? How many horses haven't seen their owner for months?

We have an old Belgian mare in our pasture that has never been ridden, possibly never even had a halter on. She lives out there and eats, but she's not ridable. What if her owners stopped paying her bills? Luckily, Peter would probably just let her stay since she maintains her weight without additional feed, but what if she got sick? What if she wasn't at a barn where the barn owner would simply call the vet and have her euthanized? What would her fate be then? What about a family who has to make the choice between feeding their children or feeding their horse?

There is no easy answer to any of these questions. Is starving a horse more humane than sending it to auction, possibly to slaughter? Would I do it, no. But I know I have options. Good, bad, right, or wrong--desperate people don't always see those options. Our job in the community is to be sure their horses have those options.

Horses as food

Horses are raised in the U.S. as pets, companions, competitors. They are smart (most of the time), playful, and delightful creatures. And we make too darn many of them. The backyard breeders, the various breed industries, the race industry, all of us--in breeding for perfection, we've worsened the gene pool and filled the auction houses with the results. Sometimes those imperfect horses are still someone's dream come true. And sometimes they are not. The downturn in the economy has swelled the corrals at horse rescue organizations across the country to bursting. And--like it or not, and I don't--the ban on slaughter in this country has actually made the situation worse.

Would I eat Calabar? Gah, no. Not unless we had a Donner Party situation going on and I'm not even sure I could then. (Likely, I'd let myself die and he'd eat me to survive and wouldn't that be ironic.) But I have the luxury of landing squarely in the "Friends not food" corner when it comes to horses. Yes, horses are a luxury item, as much as it doesn't seem that way when you are knee deep in mud and poop. That gives me a different perspective, and gives me the ability to see horses as different beasts than cows and to realize the practices used to slaughter cows don't work for horses. We are supremely lucky and blessed that our horses do not stand between us and the survival of our families, that they are in fact lovely parts of our family--not potential food sources. On the flip side, there are those that view horse meat as a delicacy. Our job, our responsibility as horse owners, is to shut down the slaughter industry from within. Providing people with a special food delight simply because we aren't tending to our own is not acceptable.

In this country, we raise cows to be food. We should be doing it in a more humane and sustainable way, but they are raised for food or food production. There is a spark in a horse's eye that I just don't see in cows, sheep, or oysters. (Okay, so oysters don't have eyes, but you know what I mean.) I won't eat octopus, either, because they have proven to be problem solvers which leads me to believe there is more going on there than you realize. But would I begrudge a rancher the choice to eat one of his own horses if that were his decision? Nope. Does that make me inconsistent? Possibly. Will I ever be a vegetarian? Not likely. Would I eat my own horse? I think I answered that as best I can in the light of our current circumstances.

But what else can we do? They can't all be released into the wild and they won't all be adopted. Period. Heck, there really isn't enough space for the real wild horses we do have, but that is another soap box for another day. Today is about those of us in the horse industry putting on our big person pants and figuring out a solution for the real problem. What do we do with all these horses? How many Thoroughbreds are born each year and how many wash out on the track a mere two to three years later? They don't even have to wash out on the track to end up in the slaughter house--Secretariat's own brother was hours away from oblivion when he was rescued. No, horses just have to end up in a situation where no one knows or cares where they are.

Our responsibility

Horses are not cars. I could sell my Miata tomorrow and be glad I had it and not really care where it went and if someone didn't change its oil regularly. (Mostly, anyway.) If for some unforeseen and horrible reason I could not care for Calabar any more (and believe me, I would do anything--ANYTHING--to prevent that), I would never lose sight of where he went. Never. They'd probably have me arrested as a stalker, actually. Lena has the same bargain from me, as does Forrest. They are my responsibility to take care of and watch over until I can no longer do so or until they pass on to the next realm.

My other responsibility is to not add to the population, no matter what a delightful and well-bred mare I have. Lena has beautiful confirmation and is a truly striking horse. Her bloodlines are fantastic in the world of Cutting, despite the fact that she outgrew her calling by nearly two hands. Don't get me wrong, I get tempted sometimes. But that's one more thing I choose not to do, one more being I don't have to be responsible for tending, caring for, and finding a home if I can't do that anymore.

That is the deal, in my mind. We as a community have the responsibility to make good choices for these glorious beings we have brought into our lives--either by buying or breeding or adopting. They cannot make those decisions themselves. Sometimes their owners can't make those decisions themselves. The horse community needs to step up and fix what is in our own house and that is what will ultimately shut down the horse slaughter industry. Not laws, not regulations, not horse rescues. You. Me. Us.

I've seen what we can do when we put our minds to it. We just have to put our minds to the right thing. The horse slaughter industry exists for a reason. Let's remove that reason. There can be no profit if there is simply no supply to meet the demand. We owe it to these glorious creatures that allow us to fly without wings. We owe it to ourselves.

And finally

I have hesitated for years to address this issue here, offer any opinions on Facebook, etc., because I know it's a heated issue and I grew up a soother, a balancer of great emotions. In other words, controversy is my anathema and I want everyone to see the other side. That is not always possible, so I hope I have done a good job of expressing my opinion and the things I consider are part of the real issue.

If you don't agree with my opinions, that is your right. I just ask that any comments made be civil and on topic. Thank you for reading.

I'm bored, therefore I blog

Me, bored, pre-crud. Me bored with the crud is too scary to post.

Having been hit by the crud this week, there has not been much riding and yesterday there was not much but sleeping (and snoring) going on.

Today is a little better--bored is better than comatose. I might even shower. In a minute. Or two.

Steve just left to go tend the horses. Sigh. I'm hoping Calabar remembers me when I get back to the barn this weekend. That was WHEN, not IF.

In case you were all curious, I do not get sick often and I do not do sick very well. It makes me very, very grumpy. Illness makes me feel as if my body has betrayed me somehow and I find that rude. Yes. I do know I'm human. I just like to pretend I'm superhuman most of the time.

In the meantime, I've been perusing some of my favorite blogs by some of my favorite folks.

Natalie at Retired Racehorse is always a good read. I hear there's a book in the works. Maybe.

Susan over at Off-Track Thoroughbreds is great, too--highlighting the things our fabulous OTTBs can do after the last finish line has been crossed. Who knew that the War Horse story had an OTTB link? Susan did.

And little did I know that post about a horse named Jaguar Hope would lead me to another blog I follow, From Racehorse to Showhorse.

And let's not forget Miles on Miles where Sarah does a fine job of describing her journey with Miles (who very likely walked past Calabar at GGF at least once), but has now rescued her first horse and is working with her, too.

But lest you think I am only focused on ex-racehorse blogs, there are a couple others I like.

Kate at A Year with Horses always has an interesting tale to tell and very often tricks I can use with both my sparkly horses.

A Tale of Two Buckskins almost always makes me smile, and not just because of Dave's often-colorful turns of phrase. Some of his trail rides are downright spectacular.

Grey Horse Matters deals with the trials and tribulations of riding for us slightly more mature folks. She also has a spotty horse with a big, blue eye.

I've also recently discovered Geek with a Horse which appeals to me for several reasons. One, who doesn't love a big draft horse? And two, I live with a software developer learning to be a horseman. I myself am not quite that geeky, but since I just replaced the RAM in my own laptop, I have a little geek cred of my own to stand on.

 Reading today, but tomorrow.. tomorrow will hopefully be another story.