Friday, April 29, 2011

My Sure Sign of Spring

It's not in the eight-inch-deep mud, not in the sun-glinted  sheddings whisked away on the wind, not in the restive bits of play that the horses manage on such clumsy terrain. They are waiting too. They want to run and buck, twist and shift in the herd, have some space to move out wide open in themselves.

Work always defines the seasons for me, so I'm used to my calendar being skewed, out of sync with the year. Even the festival's rhythm has been altered this year, however. The grounds linger in doldrums, waiting to erupt into life. There was snow in the air just the other day, ceaseless rain before and after, all greyness the rest of the while. The park waits, poised to burst.

Sitting at my desk, watching the latest feral cat pace back and forth before my open door, I was thinking of days to come, feeling jittery within, seeming placid without. I should have been working, because this draggy winter has put me behind. We're none of us thinking of the festival yet, not with hail slurring like lava across the freeway. I don't have my game face on, haven't found my preseason war footing.

But today spring returned, carried on the sound of a plane whining in the sky, its engine humming and hesitating, first closer, then far away. It's the acrobat. This is the first day he's gone up to the sky, back after the long winter. I've grown accustomed to his practice, his looping and diving over and over again high in the sky. I listen for him like the sea and hear him all summer, especially in the dog days, practicing with a discipline I can only imagine. I was surprised to hear him today. The pilot is airborne again. Spring must be here to stay.

Poor Guy

He slipped on the pavement and lost his rider. Oh well, there were only two billion people watching from around the world. Who hasn't been embarrassed sometime in life? He was just fine. (And his rider was too.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Thing of Relief (Love the Taste of It)

On Thursday, Saxony had her second trim from our barefoot specialist. I'd waited eight weeks because Scout, along with my friend K's little Arab, Gambler, had been trimmed by M just five weeks ago and we're working to get them in sync for regular trims. Soon we'll all be together at one barn and M can settle into a routine with us.

Saxony daydreams during the trimming. I think that's because M is a farrier who easily inspires trust and relaxation in the horses. The first time she worked on them, she made an interesting comment while she was trimming Scout. "The horse needs to be with me," she said, at a moment when Scout was wheedling for carrots. I instantly knew what she meant, and it occurred to me that I'd never heard a farrier say that before. All three horses learned to stay with M during their first trims, and they settled right back into that place the other day. Saxony likes to keep her muzzle close to M's cheek, softly resting there.

One thing that I'd noticed since M's first visit was how well all three of the horses seemed to wear their trims and how neatly their hooves were growing out. There's been absurd weather during the interval. The horses have been standing in deep mud, frozen mud, water, hail, snow; they've had very few dry days, almost none of them consecutive. M was pleased with the new growth. She pointed out how Saxony's hooves are already beginning to find their own way to what they need/want to be. I'm looking forward to seeing how they respond to regular riding.

I feel such relief to have found M and to have recognized that she's a wonderful choice for the horses. I think I will be riding this year like I've never ridden before, and I feel good about supporting that by giving Saxony and Scout the best care I can. It just makes me feel really good. Not to mention that someone's beautiful eyes are clear, normal and healthy and her six-inch bridle path has almost grown out. I don't know how else to say it: The future tugs and I'm not resisting anymore.

See the tiny lock hanging next to the lead rope snap? I put it there when the barn owner asked me to mark Saxony's halter. That lock is very old, solid as steel, and keyed right to my heart, I love her so.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Three Brothers

Life is so big for housecats.

There was -- OMG -- a bird on the porch. The three wild-born brothers, Gimlet, Puzz and Mr. Suits, were transfixed. I love how they've lowered their ears to achieve invisibility. It doesn't work, but they don't know that. On the contrary, they believe. It was me who was invisible, actually, which is how I got this picture.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The B Sides

A Fearsome Beauty ~ The B Sides
And... inhale. I'm about to begin a second blog, private and by invitation only. It won't be everybody's cup of tea, but I think some of the subject matter will be familiar to those of us who are passionate to make and keep horses a core part of our lives. I hope to hear your stories too, because perspective is all and sometimes the truest compass can be found only in the wisdom of others. I know which way is forward, but I can get lost sometimes for the looking back.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you can leave your email address in the comments or contact me directly at for an invite to A Fearsome Beauty ~ The B Sides.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Horse Will Not Offer Suppleness

Just about a year ago, I wrote this post about a Steffen Peters clinic. I said I would never forget a remark he made to one of the participating riders, "Tension has nowhere to go in the un-supple horse," and I haven't. I said in the same post that I don't find clinics all that useful. Until yesterday. K and I watched a Peters clinic that offered such bounty, I feel we'll literally be better riders for having seen it.

In effect, Peters presented Part 2 of what I saw last year when he said, "The horse will not offer suppleness." It was a simple sentence, but its deeper meaning reverberated when applied to the second rider appearing in the clinic.

First, because the next scheduled event was canceled and it was Peters' last clinic of the day, he really settled in and went much longer than he did last year. Both riders won for that, but we watchers also won when Peters decided to ride one of the horses himself.

As usual, both riders were lovely and gifted (so I'll say right now that just once I'd like to see Steffen Peters do a clinic with riders who aren't remotely close to FEI Grand Prix, see basic instruction from him instead of the delicate surgical adjustments he provides to high-level riders.)

Of course, the horses were lovely and gifted as well. Both were high and nervous over the terrible wind tossing the banners at one end of the coliseum. The first horse was a nice bay something-or-other well matched to his adept, petite rider. While Peters worked with them, the other rider warmed up her big red Oldenburg (I think), and that horse was very tense, very doubtful. Every now and then he would balk, spook or half-rear. His rider kept him moving as Peters worked with the bay.

After working with the first rider on the timing of aids and letting go of reliance on spurs, Peters coached her through canter pirouettes, reminding her all the way to keep her horse forward and up. (And I'll say here that both horses were often behind the vertical, sometimes neck-achingly behind the vertical, but that didn't draw comments from Peters, which I hope reflects more on my lack of knowledge as an observer than on his skill as a clinician.) The bay's rider was quiet and engaged throughout the session; she remained patient and steady when her horse lost his temper, backed up and reared several times.

The worried Oldenburg had been in warm-up about 40 minutes by the time Peters summoned them right into canter work. This huge horse seemed to contain within himself the very force of nature. He was a lofty horse with tremendous lift. His rider braced against him with locked elbows. Because her body was otherwise so relaxed, the rigidity of her arms was striking. Peters addressed that immediately, albeit indirectly. He was subtle, making choices that seemed to reveal a genuine reluctance to embarrass the rider. (And I was in awe of her, frankly. She was struggling with her tension in front of strangers and a world-famous instructor. I couldn't do it.)

It was interesting the moment Peters decided he wanted to ride the Oldenburg, as if by riding him, he'd be able to separate whose problems were whose. Of course, that's exactly what happened. Peters rode effortlessly and the monster gave him a gigantic, beautiful 15-minute ride, opening up and forward, displaying astonishing lift and range in his gaits. It was actually thrilling, but I wondered if his rider also saw it that way. I hoped she wasn't mangling herself along the lines of why can't I ride him like that, why doesn't he go like that for me, etc., etc., etc.

As soon she was back up on her big red powerhouse, Peters said, "The horse will not offer suppleness, you must ask him for it." I saw this as an example of the art of deflection at its finest. Instead of changing the rider's relationship with her horse, he meant to change the horse's relationship with her. By addressing the horse's tension, he spoke directly to her own. "Why so straight, why so straight?" he asked while she trotted a large circle. "Give him a little time. Trust him to give what you are asking for." Peters shifted the entire focus to the horse. I felt like all eyes were on the Oldenburg then, not his rider, not Peters. The heat was off and we were watching this fine horse gradually move into splendid self-carriage and collection under a rider who was more relaxed and open. In spontaneous delight, the audience offered applause.

By the end of the session, this brave rider had slipped back toward riding with locked elbows, which has probably become a habit by now, but she had felt a different horse beneath her and it was easy to see bright, bright light at the end of the tunnel for her. I will carry all that I saw, learned and felt during this fascinating Steffen Peters clinic right into the coming spring, and I know my horses will be better for it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sensing Ahead

Spring has been previewing around here for the last week or so, prompting me to wonder ahead.

My horses: the work, the rides. The rides. With my wondering comes, always, no matter how slight, the twitch of recognition of my fears, doubts and anxieties. The sense of it ripples through me, familiar as a muscle, makes me stretch my neck, wring out my shoulders. No matter the prospects, it lives. I'm used to it.

In Saxony, I have such possibility. In Scout, I have such history. I'm looking forward to being with both of them now, feeling like I'm ready to move into all of it, in part because of this really good post from Olly at her young new blog, It's Harder Than It Looks. I recognized so much of what she said; I'm used to so much of what she said. Somehow, realizing that has cast how I see my fears in a different light. They aren't as big as I imagine they are. I'm used to them and they have become old. It may be time to discard some of them. I think maybe I will.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cosequin ASU - The 90-Day Trial, Update 3

Tracking up, sure. What's the big deal?

Here's a picture of Saxony walking with K the other day, cooling down, eyes half closed. We'd just finished a 25-minute longeing session in the still-damp riding ring. Saxony burned a winter's store of energy at the end of the line; at times I felt I was wrangling a swordfish leaping high and powerful under the sun. I really wanted to let her go, but the gate and its posts were blown down in a blizzard and have yet to be repaired and the fencing is low enough in places that I fear she might sail over the rails in a moment of unplanned, entirely justified esprit.

I was celebrating even before we started to work, though. She tracks up now, well up. She did not have that range of motion when I bought her. She wasn't hampered, particularly, but neither did she reach. K followed us into the ring, watching Saxony's hoof prints overlapping in the sand. Honestly, we squealed like preteens over it.

I see a dramatically extended range of motion in Saxony's walk and trot and an evenness, smoothness and uniformity in the rise and fall of her hips. Before the Cosequin ASU, her right hip did not lift with the stride as fluidly as the left. Her resistance to picking up the left lead has changed, too. She counter-cantered circling to the left, but she also found the left lead and settled in to it from time to time, which reveals a new willingness to push off with her right hind. K still sees a tiny hitch there, but only in the canter. We agreed that basic suppling gymnastics and muscle-strengthening work could erase it.

I think Cosequin ASU has been a complete success. I'll keep her on it while we work up to a regular riding schedule, but I'll be tempted to stop it for the summer months to see whether she still needs it or not. It might have been the perfect thing to bring her back to soundness, but may not be required beyond that. I'll look to my vet for advice about it after putting Saxony through her paces during the spring barn call.

Watching her circle around me, I saw a beautiful, balanced, easy trot, effortless really, like she could go for miles and miles. But she couldn't go for miles, of course not. She was tired after having bucked and played in both directions and then done a work session of 10 minutes walk/trot, walk/halt, trot/canter, etc., each way. Therefore, her sleepy cool-down walk with K, which I took way too many pictures of.

Because I will have to learn to see past her winsomeness to focus on working with her. I get so drawn in by her expressive face, I end up standing there slack jawed, all tasks forgotten.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crazy Pinto Filly, German Version

Here's a girl working with her own crazy pinto filly. Same age, same colors, different country, different generation. She's got one thing over me, though. She's wearing a helmet. I never did. And it looks like she might have gotten a boy out of it, too.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Silkwood is a movie that has stayed with me ever since I saw it in 1983. Meryl Streep portrayed Karen Silkwood, a blue-collar whistle-blower whose groundbreaking efforts to improve worker safety at an American nuclear fuel production plant may have cost her her life. The film also cast Cher in a breakout role that proved she could really act. Silkwood was a good movie, but it has lingered in my mind for all these years because of a single  line of dialogue.

Kurt Russell plays Drew, Karen Silkwood's live-in boyfriend and plant co-worker. Though he grudgingly believes in her cause, he's also terrified of the price he fears she may have to pay for her stubborn activism; he wants her to let it go. When she refuses to stop, they quarrel bitterly. He tells her, "Don't give me a problem I can't solve." I understood exactly what he was saying, and I thought of his words today when I read about the live animal key chains being sold in China.

What is wrong with we human beings?

These are the moments when I think it would be easier if my head just exploded. Because there is no place to keep a story like this once I have read it, but I can't forget it, either. I cannot, cannot, imagine being a person who would buy one of these things knowing full well that the living animal sealed within would eventually die. Don't they know what a living thing is?

For now, I guess this journal is where I'll park such a wretched story, if only to keep it out of my head.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


...belong exclusively to fat white ponies, I suspect.

This gentleman powerfully deployed classic X-ray vision. Indeed, I felt his laser-like scrutiny all the while I fumbled with my camera.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mind the Gap

I had the strangest sense of distance from the horses. Last week I went to Philly with H.G. for a few days. We visited friends, the kind of friends it always seems wrong to be separated from, so easily do we come back together. Naturally, given time, conversation inevitably turns to us moving there or them moving here or all of us moving to some Switzerland of our own making. Neutrality offered in the face of the enemies of our dreams, or something like that. Money enough, time enough, space enough, vision enough. Guts enough, too.

Travel like this makes it easy to imagine that other life. Led by the hand through a captivating city, food, drink and shelter provided, all seems easy, all seems possible. I got really drawn into the sales pitch this time, I did. But for a carriage horse here and there, the horses fell away. It's like I imagined my life without them. Not "like." I did. In fact, I imagined my life without my life. No bills, no work, no stresses, because none of that pertains when we are guests in others' lives.

Back we came and on Wednesday I went out to do the P.M. chores. Winter is skulking away, but its tail is long this year and drags in my way. I stepped from one semi-frozen muddy hillock to another, making my way across the dry lots, noting the horses as I went. Bay, dark seal brown, chestnut, light grey, dark bay, black.

I had to tip, scrub and refill the water tanks. I started with the one shared between lots 2 and 3. While I worked, Dark Bay stepped up behind me, lipping at my jacket. Black whirled away from him in impatience. Chestnut and Grey watched me through sleepy eyelids. The tap at tank 2 is slow running. I pumped the handle and settled in to wait. It was peaceful. They were just horses. I knew them, but I wasn't connected to them. Strange. Like I went too far away and returned trapped on another side.

But the environment began to take over. Horses in their world cast a spell on watchers like me. My, my, someone has grown rather portly this winter:

She stood whiffling at me, Scout, content in her swaddling, slack-lipped and patient, not as mud-encrusted as she could have been, calling me back.