Too Close For Comfort

It was a very windy day. I’d been awakened in the middle of the night by the North wind howling through the trees. It rarely builds overnight, so I knew it would be rough the next day. By late morning my mother went to see if conditions were any better for putting horses out back (we have several trees that are risky when winds are this high). She texted me that it was a dust bowl out back, so she decided not to put horses out yet. I pictured wisps of dust being kicked up by the tires of the golf cart, that is until I looked out the window. I could not even see the back of the property for the screen of particles in the air. Opening the door confirmed what I feared – that was not dust, it was smoke! My mother cannot smell, so was not aware that the murky screen was far more sinister than dust.

I immediately went out back to track down the source of the smoke. From our back field it appeared to be two doors down at a friend’s house. My mother heard sirens, but we could not see any fire trucks. We jumped into our golf cart and headed out to see if we could help our friend.

As we got to the road we could see that the fire was past our friend’s house, but very close. We picked up our next door neighbor and headed over to see how our friend was doing. By this time fire engines were coming from both ends of the road and neighbor’s were out in the street keeping wary eyes on the encroaching smoke.

The “dust bowl”

We arrived at our friend’s property but there was no sign of him. From behind their house we got our first look at what was going on. The fire was encompassing at least four different properties, including the properties directly North and West of our friend’s property. The North wind blew the thick black smoke straight at us, making it hard to breath. I felt the burn of ash blowing into my eyes. We all determined that by then the firemen were well located to guard our friend’s property, and they did not seem to be home, so we went back.

After dropping off our neighbor we returned to our barn. The horses were clearly distressed by the smoke and noises, with frequent vocalizations echoing through the barn. Coffee and Chase were perfectly positioned to watch the situation unfolding and Chase was too upset to eat. We gave everyone some higher value food to distract them and it seemed to work. While we were settling the horses I heard our neighbor yell that their field was on fire.

The smoke plume growing behind our barn

I ran behind the barn and could see our neighbor grabbing a hose to attack the fire that had started. We quickly turned on our arena sprinklers should we need to move the horses out of the barn to a safer location. Our neighbors were soon joined by sharp-sighted fire fighters, and I then noticed that there was now a truck on the property we’d visited earlier. Had the fire spread to that property, too? I could not see clearly, but took comfort in the fact that the firefighters were there looking over our friend’s property.

We decided it was a good time to do a run around the back of the property to check for our own potential hot spots. As we toured around the back we could see that we were now surrounded by fire trucks stationed on every property around us. The column of smoke was still thick and black, but seemed to be contained to the same general area. As we circled back to the barn I could see that the hot spot at our neighbor’s was out and being monitored. That was all reassuring, until I rounded a corner and saw a rising column behind our barn.

My first thought was that I was seeing a dust devil being kicked up by the howling winds. But I quickly realized that it was not moving and was growing more steady as we approached. The column of smoke was coming from Noble’s paddock! I dropped my mother at the back of the barn to grab the hose while I sped to the front to turn it on. I hurried to the back to help feed the hose into Noble’s paddock. He’d run to the end of his paddock, clearing our path to attack the dried manure that was smoldering.

As my mother sprayed down the smoldering pile, I heard a voice. “Is someone there?” Looking around the corner I saw three fire fighters leaning over the fence. They’d seen the column of smoke and came to help. “We’ve got it,” I said. “Running water on it and it seems to be going out.” They replied, “Good job! Keep it up!”

We soon could see fire trucks positioned on properties on all sides of us

At that moment I realized another fire fighter was on our side of the fence, coming to check out the smoke. When he saw it was under control, he scanned the rest of the property looking for other signs of hot spots. He gave his colleagues and “All clear!” then turned to us. “Just keep checking the rest of the day,” he said, “They can pop up at any time.” “Will do!”

When we felt the smoldering pile was sufficiently doused, we moved back through the stall with Noble close on our heels. He’d very wisely moved outside when the smoke started outside his stall, but clearly was looking for comfort from the day’s trauma. His actions contradicted the common wisdom that horses would want to stay in their stalls for safety in the case of a fire. The smoke was just outside his stall door, yet he fled to the end of his paddock, in the open air and past the smoke.

It was another hour before the main column of smoke reduced to a mere whisper. Reports are that a large building burned down, and photos show a large pile of debris that must have fed the fire for all the hours it lasted. We spent the afternoon making periodic tours of the property. No more columns of smoke appeared on or near our property. The fire trucks eventually dwindled, but a few still remained as it got dark.

As the smoke died, Noble moved closer to us, keeping an ear turned to the fire fighter checking out our back field.

Few things are as sobering as disaster on your doorstep. The fire burned a total of five acres – a small amount by comparison to many of our wildfires, but double the size of our property. I have no doubt I will see my neighbor out mowing his field this weekend, and I will be finding ways to deal with every bunch of dried grass the horses have dealt with. I was comforted by the response and attention of the fire fighters. We even had a tanker helicopter ready to do a drop if needed. But this incident has me looking at ways to make all of our property more accessible to the trucks.

The responses of the animals were interesting to note. Although disturbed by the smoke and activity, our horses were nonetheless responsive to us in positive ways. It gives me confidence that we stand a chance of handling such situations with minimal danger to all. The dogs were further from the activity, but nonetheless disturbed. When my mother went to the house for supplies, they all wanted to go inside and did not want to come out again. Clearly we will need to plan that they will need luring, if not carrying, from the house should we have to evacuate.

We’ve all heard it – whether for hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, or other natural disasters – have a plan! I’ve had a plan I’ve been working on in my head. Today was proof that we need to do more to solidify the plan, to the extent we can. Hopefully you already have such a plan.

Be good to your horses – and stay safe out there!

Lia

What remained of Noble’s smoldering poo pile
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Thoughts on ‘Heart’ Horses

If you were a horse crazy kid, as I was (and remain in my heart) you likely read many of the same books I did while growing up. Most of us have fallen in love with some story of that special bond between a horse and human. We have fantasized about having that gallop down the beach, as in The Black Stallion, creating a bond no other human will have with that special horse. Life with horses tends not to fit so easily into those childhood fantasies, but if you are very lucky in a lifetime of horses there will be the one or two special ones who rise above the rest in your heart. I have not known a horseman who does not refer to at least one horse who has a special place in their heart. We often hear people refer to these as “heart horses”. What really makes a heart horse? And is it a healthy perspective to have with regard to our equine companions? Here are one horseman’s thoughts.

I was inspired to write this piece by a rant I recently read. The author was taking issue with anyone referring to any horse as their “heart horse”. The implication was that by having a “heart horse” you are somehow shorting every other horse you may interact with. She chastised that every horse you interact with deserves all the best you can give. In this post she seemed to be falling into the age old “you can’t have favorites” mindset. I’ve had the pleasure or working with well over 100 horses in my life, so far. With rare exception (I can think of only one) I felt affection for all of them. Every one of them got the best that I could offer, for whatever time they were in my life. Yet there is no doubt that some rose to levels in my heart that others could not reach.

My first fantasy books were the Billy and Blaze series. I dreamed of having adventures with my very own Blaze.

For those, like that author, who take issue with this idea I ask: do you feel the exact same way about all of your friends? Is every single person in your life just as special to you? If you are able to be honest, the answer has to be “no”. Yet, I hope, you are kind to those you consider friends and will help when and where you can. You can care about many other beings while still holding those who are truly special to you closer to your heart. We (again, I hope) love our significant others and our children more than the friend we meet for wine and a movie every Saturday. Yet we can also love that friend.

But is it ‘healthy’ to have that sort of bond with a horse? There are definitely those schools of thought that having deep affection for a horse makes for an unhealthy relationship. Top of those are any schools that still believe in the dominance (aka “Alpha Mare”) theory. For those believers, trying to be friends with your horse is dangerous – and having a romantic idea about some special bond just makes you a fool. Some will be downright derogatory to their listeners over this topic. I do not agree with the theory, and definitely dislike any approach that belittles people – but experience has shown that there is a grain of truth to the sentiment.

Ben was my Blaze – a horse of a lifetime. One of the dominance crowd once said he would kill me some day. Far from it – he literally saved my life more than once.

I once worked with a mare who had been rescued by a woman with just such a fantasy about a storybook bond. She desperately wanted the mare to be her best friend and plied her with carrots and sweet talk. By the time I was approached about working with the mare she’d become known as the grump of the barn. Her ears were always back and her expression glum. Every day, when I was scheduled to work her, the owner would show up with a two pound bag of carrots that would be gone by the time she left. Her presence made the mare grouchy, and she would typically move away from the woman when approached.

Try as I might, I could not convince the woman that her approach was the opposite of what would make the mare comfortable. Her feather light touch seemed to annoy the mare, and her posture most resembled that of someone trying to sneak up on a chicken before trying to grab it – soft step, slightly crouchy, and cooing as she’d go. I never saw the mare look favorably upon the woman (only upon the carrots), but to the day the mare died the woman insisted that she was her best friend. During the time I worked with the mare she became chipper, always greeting me with a whinny and seemed to enjoy the activities we did together. I was sad for her that I could never get her owner to see her for who she was, not the fantasy horse the woman read about as a child.

I do believe that we can get ourselves so lost in the fantasy we want to live that we lose sight of the horse as an individual – with needs, preferences, and individual personalities. Having that special bond with a particular horse is not something you can conjure. Just as with human relationships, it can be complicated. In the case of your horse, you may choose him but he doesn’t have that same option. Even if you do everything “right” he just may not be ‘that into you’. And even if he really does bond, as Noble has with me, his idea of the relationship may not match your fantasy.

In the case of Noble, he has set very clear parameters around how engaged he’s willing to be – and at 17.1 hands and 1600 pounds he has every ability to do so. As much as he is bonded to me, and as much as I care about him, this relationship will never likely reach “heart horse” status. Not because he won’t do what I want, but because there is little we can do together. It is through shared development, shared experiences, shared celebrations, and overcoming challenges together that the bond takes on that “heart horse” level.

Noble has set very definite limits on what he’s willing to engage in and for how long (about 5 minutes)

This leads me to my other issue with the “heart horse” idea – that people put too much into it. When you reach that level it is most certainly an amazing feeling. But you can have a lot of fun without you and your horse falling in love with each other. I have loved many horses over the decades, but only two have truly reached that level that I consider a “heart horse” – or, to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite dog trainers and behavioral scientists, my “soul horse”. For some it can feel like failure if they don’t reach that level in their relationship. As with the woman I described above, they may strive too hard to conjure that relationship and end up making it impossible. Just as we cannot force the kind of human relationships we have (that always ends badly), we cannot predict or force the relationship with our horse.

So, where does that leave us? As with all relationships that are important to us, we should make sure we are listening to the other party. We have our wishes and desires, and they have theirs. In the case of the horse, you hold the position of power. It is incumbent upon you to not abuse that position, and to work all the harder to ensure that you give the horse enough voice to let you know how they are feeling. That may not always yield the answer you want to hear. All you can do is make the best relationship possible. Your horse may end up just an ’employee’, though hopefully one who does not resent the work. He may become a ‘buddy’. I have met those for whom just being a casual acquaintance with their horse, no other demands made, is all they need or want. My best advice is do what you can to create a relationship that meets both of your needs. Enjoy what you have – not everyone you meet turns into the love of your life, but you enjoy friends just the same. But if you just so happen to reach that level of the relationship that truly feels like you have a “heart horse” then don’t let anyone tell you it is a bad thing. Embrace it and feel blessed!

Be good to your horses!

Lia

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Dreams Die Slowly

Preface: I wrote this piece last summer when my Mustang, Chase, was injured for a second time. I intended to post it on one of the blogs, but filed it away instead. Since reviving this site I’ve decided to share it in the hope that it will resonate with someone else who might be struggling. Sometimes things that seem inconsequential can feel personally profound.

Something changed in me this year. For many it will seem petty in this current world of crises and woe; but for me it is at the core of who I have been throughout my living memory. For the first time in my remembered life I cannot imagine myself on a horse. This is not to say that I do not want to ride, or that I haven’t sat on a horse four or five times this year. I specifically cannot conjure an image of myself seated in the saddle when I am not actually there. I cannot remember what it feels like to ride, I cannot visualize even a fantasy so familiar as galloping along the beach. I can imagine horses, but I cannot place myself in the saddle.

For some who struggle with visualization, this may seem a small issue.  I have always had a rich imagination and a strong ability to visualize.  As a child I imagined myself in all sorts of horse adventures.  I could feel that first ride on the Black Stallion, or sail over those obstacles on The Pie.  Once I had horses to actually ride, I would think about my next lesson and I could feel what it would be like.  When I began competing, it came naturally to imagine riding that Dressage test or course of fences and being able to feel it before it happened.  Even as I went through a period, in mid-life, when I was focused on my job and not actively riding, I would still visualize what it had been like to ride a pirouette or jump an oxer.  Now I cannot even visualize my last ride.

I know how this happened.  It is the result of a dream that has been dying a slow death over this past decade.  It started as a plan to return to the competition world.  The dream was not to achieve great accolades, but rather to just develop enough of a reputation to return to teaching.  In my small way, I wanted to help keep the flame of classical horsemanship alive.  I wanted to help others understand their horses better.  It was a plan with a long view.  My goal was to have a small string of schoolmaster horses when I retired from my job and start teaching as my main post-retirement activity.  Through a series of catastrophic injuries, theirs and mine, my two trained horses were retired before I could even get them off the property.

I downsized the dream to borrowing my mother’s horse for the occasional clinic or local show.  He was our only rideable horse at the time.  Not as far along as my retired horses, he is a lovely little Appaloosa who would not outdo the fancy warmbloods but would give me a chance to show my style of training.  Awards would not be the goal, but there was hope that I could still eventually attract a few people who would want to learn.  A series of serious injuries to both of us left me with one string of six months riding as the only result in eight years.

Realizing that two of us sharing one horse was not practical, I realigned the dream again. I would look for a nice horse who was broke enough for both of us to ride. When both horses were sound, we’d be able to return to trail riding – something we’d missed for many years. If one of the horses was injured, we’d still have another for us to ride in the interim. With luck I could attend the occasional clinic to get myself out there. I had a lovely warmblood colt growing up, so the future could have more promise – but another riding horse would give me a chance to stay in the game until that day happened. So, I found a lovely Paint mare who turned out to have a little talent as well. I imagined developing her in Working Equitation, a discipline more suited to her than Dressage, and one I’d wanted to try.

Again, a series of injuries to each of us made the training stop and go to the point that I had only three rides on her in total. Now, I’m struggling to keep her sound enough to enjoy time out in the field – any thought of ever riding her again is gone. As for the young warmblood, he became the challenge of a lifetime of working with challenging horses. With me not able to ride any seasoned horses, it was unthinkable that I would start him under saddle – and two of the three horses I’ve sent out to be started by someone else came back disasters, so that was not an option. There is no longer any thought that he will be suited for even clinics, let alone competing.

Roxie on one of the few rides we had before things went wrong

Last year it was time to reset the dream once again. By then all thought that I would ever teach again was buried. I just wanted to ride. Forget clinics or shows, I just wanted to sit in the saddle and walk through fields and forests. So, I set out to find a Steady-Eddie that would allow me and my mother to return to the trail. I found what seemed the perfect candidate online – except that my “15.3 hand dead-broke family friendly ranch horse” (as advertised) turned out to be a 15.1 hand shut-down barely broke Mustang. I was facing another retraining project. However, as we lived and worked with this horse, there was a glimmer of hope. He came out of his shell and had a lovely personality. It turned out that he also had a fair amount of talent – lovely gaits and a natural ability for jumping. Sure, he was small, but the idea of clinics and shows, just for fun, came back into view. I could envision him reaching upper-level training, just for fun, and maybe doing some Working Equitation after all. The dream got a small reboot and upgrade.

Then he got hurt while turned out. Two months off, but it seemed to not be major. The injury healed, we slowly started back to work and all seemed well. Then he came back in from the field with a repeat injury on the same leg. It was the decade-long pattern continuing! And that’s when it happened – I stopped being able to imagine myself in the saddle. I’ve tried several times to will it to happen (something I never had to work at before), but it will not come. Even as I am now slowly bringing the Mustang back to work, I cannot imagine ever sitting in the saddle again.

Chase in between injuries

What I puzzle over is not how it happened – that has been a result of the slow passing of each dream.  What I struggle to understand is what it means.  Have I given up?  I don’t feel like I have.  I still want to ride, even as I no longer feel hope for a future of more than the occasional ride.  Is my subconscious protecting me?  Perhaps there is simply a block on any more imagining of being in the saddle so the disappointment becomes diminished?  Whether you believe in God, the Fates, Karma, or some other guiding force, it is hard not to feel as if someone is trying to send me a message.  Maybe this is just the final “Forget about it!” since I have not taken any of the numerous hints over the decade?  As implausible as this last option sounds, my mind cannot help wandering there and wondering.

I will likely still plod forward working with Chase, once he’s healed. We will be starting from scratch with a long road ahead, so a lot can happen – good and bad. But hope clings to life long after dreams have died. Even those facing far more dire challenges will say they have hope. It is that flame, however tiny, that keeps us alive.

Afterward: Seven months have passed since I wrote this piece. I no longer have to imagine sitting in the saddle again, as I am now riding most days. Progress is slow, having lost most of the last year and still working on gaining the trust of my Mustang, Chase – but there is progress. I have indeed stopped dreaming and I cannot imagine anything beyond where we are at this current moment. Perhaps a mixed blessing? Maybe the dreams will return someday, in some form. For now, I am just enjoying what I have, which is an amazing bond with a very special horse. More about him in a future post.

Be good to your horses!

Lia

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From the Ashes

I shuttered this blog when Facebook, in all its algorithmic wisdom caught my site up in its COVID debacle in Spring of 2020. I had the bad luck to post something about my experience with supply chain during the pandemic on the very night that the algorithm swept up every site that mentioned COVID-19, including major outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Reuters. While the major commercial outlets were reinstated, Facebook has been unwilling to respond to us little folk. So, I closed this blog and opened a new one, The Literate Equine.

A lot has happened over the ensuing time. The new blog was going well. I focused on educational topics and posted book reviews of works old and new. Life with the horses was much bumpier.

Coffee was off most of the past year – chronic hoof abscess and two injuries. Noble made good if slow progress in late 2020, then went into full rebellion earlier last year and has continued that position. I’ve been struggling to get Roxie sound for nearly three years without lasting success. In all of that I made the questionable decision to add another horse – a tale in itself!

Unfortunately, with all of that going on I’ve found my motivation to write waned. So the other blog sadly went idle as well.

Recently I have been pondering what to do with the two sites. With all that has been going on with the horses, and some changes we’re working on with their care, I would like to share some of their journey. This was not the purpose of The Literate Equine, but was exactly what this site was created for. So, I have made the decision to resurrect Horse Crazy Again, in spite of the Facebook ban. Traffic has continued on this site even though it has been idle for two years. Hopefully with some activity that will continue, while I look for other venues through which I can share the posts.

Many thanks to those who have followed this blog over the years! Hopefully some of the posts planned for the future will continue to be of interest. If you haven’t checked it out yet, be sure to make a side trip over to The Literate Equine to see if there is anything there that resonates. I will be focusing on this site, initially, but hope to return to the other one later this year. As always …

Be good to your horses!

Lia

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Moving On

I have been contemplating reworking my blog, shifting the focus slightly, doing a face lift, etc., for a little while.  In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, my blog post on the subject was caught up in the Facebook spam incident – where their filters were set so tight that even sites like the New York Times and Washington Post were blocked.  Unfortunately, lacking the clout of those vaunted publications, my blog site was not restored to the acceptable list.  Numerous reports that I believed the blocking to be erroneous fell on deaf ears – likely falling into a technological black hole.

At an impasse with the technology giant, a key path for sharing my posts, I was not sure where to go next.  It was my mother who suggested just starting a new blog.  Since I’d been contemplating refurbishing this one, why not just start fresh?  So, that’s what I started working on.  The Literate Equine was born.

Nash's faceIn the midst of crafting the new site, we had to say goodbye to Nash.  He took a sudden turn that seemed to be either neurological or pain driven.  We knew that at 26 time could be waning, as the aging process was speeding up – but this came rather suddenly.  As part of grieving I wanted to share his story, which forced me to take the new site live before I was ready.  Oh well, it will grow over time.

I will be keeping this site up for the foreseeable future.  I still get hits even on some very old posts.  Over time there are posts here that I will transition to the new site.  I will still give updates on my little herd, but will be focusing mainly on the educational side and will be including reviews of equestrian books.  If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, please do check out my new one!

Hope you are all healthy.

Lia

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Perspective

wp-15859249388916026702687889724382.jpgWhere my neighbor sees unkempt weeds, I see a meadow that provides shelter and food for the many wild things that share our property.

Where a friend sees a messy floor, I see happy dogs playing and chewing up bags and boxes that cost me nothing.

Where someone else sees a dead tree, I see a snag that provides perches for birds who want a clear view of their surroundings.

Where my neighbor sees a pile of composting horse manure, I see rich nutrients for the garden that feeds me, as well as a ‘diner’ for birds, and a playground for my dog.

Where some horse people see wasted years in a six year old gelding who has not yet been ridden, I see a journey with a challenging horse that has resulted in a bond that those critics will likely never experience.

In this challenging time, it is important to keep things in perspective.  Perhaps this is a time to actually reassess our own perspectives on everything.  Life is messy.  My place, by many people’s standards, is messy.  Yet, where others see problems, I see joy.  Joy in the birds that sing all around me.  Joy in the puppies that play at my feet.  Joy in the horse who trots up to greet me, and now happily joins me in our ‘work’ together.

Short of a tragedy, if something makes you unhappy, annoyed, or generally displeased – it is not really about that thing, but about your perspective.  Try changing your perspective, and perhaps you too will find joy in the messiness of life!

Stay well!

Lia

(Apologies to anyone for whom this is a duplicate.  Facebook has blocked my blog, as I dared to write about the virus that shall not be named; so this was originally posted on my mother’s blog so I could share on FB.  I am contemplating how to move forward, given the FB limitation … more to come.)

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