Saturday, June 28, 2014

Was there a problem, or are we big babies?

By Gayle Carline
Author and Horse-a-holic

I'm going to try to tell you a story without naming any names because I don't want to start a big old war with anyone who might or might not be guilty of anything. And truly, I don't think anyone is exactly in the wrong here.

Or are they?

A friend of mine is trying to get a pony from the West Coast to a new home on the East Coast. His current owner does not have time for him and the folks back east used to live out here, know and love the pony, and are looking for a companion for their horse (who also knows the pony).

They looked for a transport that would be a reasonable cost and found one. The pictures on the website looked fine, there were good reviews by satisfied customers, and the price seemed right (not too high but not suspiciously low). Everything was set, and we all (sadly) awaited the day when the pony would leave for his new home.

Then, after a day's delay, the trailer came.

The haulers had told the new owners that they had a new trailer. Technically, this was true. It was new to them. It was not new. It was, however, pretty substantial to be hauled by their truck, which is probably why they were delayed getting to the ranch. Their truck had broken down.

When the pony was led up the ramp, we found he was going to be next to a very feisty little mini, and at their next stop, they'd pick up yet four more ponies, and a Belgian. Their plan was to fit three ponies in one third, three ponies in another third, and the big horse in front.

At this point, it was noted that the trailer had panels "installed" across the width of it for the ponies. I'm using quotes because they weren't bolted or welded into place. They were held by wire and baling string. The pony had to be backed into his space, and although our horses don't have a lot of wiggle room in our slant-load, it just looked a little tight, especially when the driver put a gate across the entrance and, yes, wired the pony in.

My friend was alarmed. "How do you get the pony out if there's an emergency," she asked.

"That's what the wire cutters are for," the driver said.

She tried to calm the red light going off in her head. The haulers assured her that they stopped every night and got the horses out. Then, two sentences later, they said the pony they already had with them had kept them up all night because he was kicking the stall in the trailer while they were trying to sleep. They also told another story of hauling a horse no one knew was pregnant that foaled in the trailer in the middle of the night. Again, there was the question of whether the horses got out at night.

They pulled out of the driveway, and she kept thinking of the way those panels were pieced together and the fact that they were going to squeeze yet another pony into the space, and they were all wired in, and they had told her it might take as long as six days to get to the East Coast.

As they left, she called the East Coast folks and explained everything. By now, everyone was alarmed. They called the hauler and made them turn around and bring the pony back. Fortunately, even though it had been half-an-hour since the hauler pulled away, they were just down the street getting food.

The hauler was mad. So mad that he misjudged the gate and took his side mirror off on the fence. The East Coast folks are now out the deposit, and the West Coast friend has to find another hauler for the pony.

I truly believe the hauler thought it was all going to be fine and dandy. I also truly believe my friend was right to worry. We'll never know whether the pony would have gotten there safely. In the end, my friend listened to her gut.

What would you have done?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Summer Cat

Hi Everyone - Is it summer yet? I hope so, because I just released my newest work of short fiction, called The Summer Cat.

But wait, this one actually has horses in it! And a horseshoer. A very good horseshoer, who is also a very bad horseshoer. (But that is all I'll say about that.) Here's the official blurb:

When Spuds goes missing, Hannah's whole world comes crashing down, and an interloper who shows up only makes things worse. Can a faraway friend help find this special cat, or it is already too late?

Available world-wide as an eBook from Amazon, the price in the US is only $0.99 (and comparable elsewhere.) It's the third in my series of short fiction about people and their cats, including (so far) The Winter Kitten and The Springtime Cat. Each of these is stand-alone fiction, and they can be read in any order.

So for those of you who have read The Summer Cat (or will read it - it's a short read) I have a question. At the end of the story, should Hannah and her mom still use Joe Johns as their horseshoer?? What would you do?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Further Adventures With Water

                                               by Laura Crum

            This one is for those who wanted to hear about how my pool worked out over time. Those who are not interested in my little pond/natural swimming pool project had better click on the “X.” For those who haven’t read the back story, the first post is here and the second post is here.
            So it’s been almost two months since we completed the pool. And it’s been quite the saga. We had an initial couple of weeks of lovely play in the water. We even bought floating pool toys. They do not look very zen, but they are much fun to float on. As below.

            I saw a few mosquito wigglers, so bought a dozen mosquito fish and released them in the pool. Dragonflies showed up almost immediately. We began planting water plants. It was all pretty idyllic.

Eventually we managed to get the last of the water plants planted and at exactly that point the pool had its first algae bloom. Within 48 hours it went from clear and bright to murky, pea soup green. I do not exaggerate.
            Of course, we’d been warned that this would probably happen. It’s very common for new pools/ponds to experience this sort of thing before they get “in balance.” I was prepared, I thought. But it turns out that I wasn’t. Because seeing my brand new pool become a murky green swamp was very upsetting.
            The worst thing about this is there’s no simple, clear cut solution. Especially if one is not going to go the sterile, chlorinated route. Part of the reason is that there are several theories about  “algae bloom.” So I am now going to go into a rather boring discussion about algae, which will be complicated by the fact that I am no expert on the subject. But here goes.
            The kind of algae bloom that turns the water murky green is caused by single cell plankton type algae. It’s very common in a new pool, and is not the result of too much nitrate/nitrite/ammonia in the water, which is a problem that tends to happen later in the life of a pool, particularly if there are fish. These one cell plankton things proliferate early on, and the thinking seems to be that it takes awhile for the zooplankton (I think of these two as plant plankton and animal plankton) to establish themselves. Once the zooplankton become established they eat the plant plankton and the water clears. But sometimes the zooplankton die off and the water gets murky again. Nobody seems to really know why. There are many theories, and they often contradict each other.
            There are also lots of ways of dealing with an algae bloom. There are algaecides that will kill the algae and not hurt fish or water plants. But if you are trying to get a pool to be in balance, you don’t want to put poisons in it. Because the poisons would kill the water striders and the beneficial bacteria (and the zooplankton). You have to (gasp) wait patiently. It takes time. And this waiting is hard to do when the water is pea soup green.
            I tried the things that are said to be benign. Barley straw, adding beneficial bacteria, aerating the water, adding water from my established fish pond. I’m not sure if any of them helped. So I’m trying to be patient.

            Anyway, we now had murky green water, and we knew that it would take awhile to get in balance and (hopefully) be relatively clear again. Though probably never the pristine straight-from-the-tap clarity of its earliest moments.
            There was still much to enjoy about the pool—green though it was. The reflection of the full moon, for instance.

            The water lilies began to bloom. This is Splendida.

            This is Commanche.

            Several people asked about the landscaping that I planned to do around the pool, and I was hesitant to answer because, in fact, I don’t intend to do any landscaping. The pool is meant to look a bit stark, like a reservoir, or a pool in a quarry. It sits in the middle of my graveled courtyard, and I intended the edges to be bare stone. The softening plants are just the water plants—reeds, rushes, cat tails, iris and water lilies, which are planted in the plant area of the pond. I like the way it looks--sort of the middle ground between formal and natural approaches.

The water gets clearer and then murkier from time to time right now. I never really know why. But I continue to get in the pool on hot days. The green water doesn’t scare me. I honestly prefer it as is to chlorinated pool water. Overall, the clarity steadily improves. At times I can even see the floor again. Still, it has a green cast at all times. But then so do most lakes that I have known.
            There is always something new. Last week we heard (and eventually saw) a frog who has taken up residence. I have no idea how he got there.
            On a less pleasant note, I discovered that one of the water lilies I planted had leeches in its pot. But I’ve been told mosquito fish will eat leeches. So here’s hoping they do, and will.
            The mosquito fish themselves are proliferating at an alarming rate. I am going to have to import something that eats mosquito fish.
            It’s all a big experiment, as I said to begin with. I would strongly encourage anyone who wishes to attempt such a project to be sure that you want a project. The pool is rather like training a horse. There’s something new to deal with every day…sometimes delightful, sometimes less so. It’s a living thing—it’s always changing.
            I love sitting by the pool on warm afternoons. I bought a little sun umbrella and I sit under it and listen to the water trickling from the fountain and find that I feel completely at peace. Sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I just sit. When I get warm enough I go in the water, which cools me right off. And then I get on the floating lounge chair and float around for awhile. It’s amazingly relaxing. That is, it’s relaxing until my husband sneaks up behind me and does a cannon ball. He’s caught both our boy and me many times when we aren’t looking. We’re getting used to it now, but initially there was always a moment of shock when we were bombed.

            And then it’s funny afterward.

            My husband makes BIG splash when he cannonballs.

            I am really enjoying the pool, but I think that a person who imagines that it is like a regular swimming pool, minus the chlorine and with a few plants added in, would be sorely disappointed in the reality. It’s more like having a farm pond. Every morning I go out and skim leaves and dead bugs off the surface and peer into the pool curiously. There’s always something to see, whether it is a new water lily (or a new bug), water that is clearer (or murkier) than the day before, or clouds whose reflections are far more intense than their actual forms in the sky. I find it very engaging in much the same way that I find the horses engaging.

            And speaking of horses, we continue to ride a couple of times a week and are also enjoying the summer with our horses. Here Sunny and Henry are ready to go…isn’t Sunny’s mane a thing of beauty?

            I love riding in the woods in the summertime. Happy Midsummer's Eve, everyone--a day late.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tricks of the Trade

                                               by Laura Crum

            There are things that I do differently from most other horse people I know. These things work for me. Most of them have dual motivation. I either think that they are better for the horses or I think they are easier for me and won’t hurt the horses. Sometimes both. The thing is that I have been doing these things for a long, long time (like twenty years) and I’m pretty sure they are fine choices, however odd or incorrect others may see them as being. So today I am going to share some of my tricks of the trade—in case they might help someone else have a happier life with horses.
            I want to start by saying that I don’t in the least need anyone else to agree with me. If you do things differently (and most people do) that is well and good. Secondly, I find that the labor saving aspect of my program is very important, not just for my benefit, but also for the horses’ benefit. I take care of five horses all by myself in the midst of a life that is very busy with other things. If the horse care was too time intensive, I would not be able to do it. So my five horses continue to have a good life here partly because I have arranged things such that horse care is not an unreasonable burden.
            AND—and this is very important—what I do works for me under my particular circumstances. I have light, sandy ground, and my corrals are very sheltered and laid out on a south facing slope. There is never a time when the horses do not have some not-muddy ground to stand and lie down on. We do not get snow here, or extreme temps—either high or low. Some of what I do probably would not work under other circumstances. So, with that caveat, here are my tricks.

            1) First of all, I don’t use stalls. Like all my rules, there are exceptions to this. When Henry was recovering from colic surgery, he had to live in a stall. When a horse gets an abscess in the wintertime (which has fortunately been very rare for me), said horse needs a dry stall. I have a shed that can be converted into a stall with some temporary panels and I can keep it clean and dry. But no horse that does not need confinement for medical reasons is ever put in a stall.
            I think the confinement of stalls is very bad for a horse’s health, and maintaining a stall in a reasonably clean fashion takes a LOT of time. It is win/win for both me and the horse to eliminate the stalls.
            I keep my horses in large corrals (averaging 40 by 150 feet)—one horse to a corral. They have pasture sheds they can go in and out of as they choose. The horses live there 24/7, free to move about as much as they please. The corrals look like this.

            2) I don’t turn horses out together in my corrals. A lot of people will argue about this. I have heard more silliness than I can shake a stick at along the lines of the idea that horses need to live in a herd situation. I totally disagree with this. Horses are happiest if they can see and touch other horses, yes. Horses do NOT need to be kicked by other horses. I cannot count to you the number of serious injuries/fatalities that I know about in horses that were turned out with other horses. It’s a very common problem.
            In my opinion the absolute WORST is keeping horses confined and separate from other horses during the night and then turning them out together during the day. This is a recipe for injuries, as far as I’m concerned. I only turn horses out together in a group when they are in a big field—several acres, and the horses will be staying together for a long time. As long as there are no super aggressive horses, this can work just fine.
            I have to add that I have kept horses in every way you can think of throughout my life. Turned out with other horses in a big pasture, turned out with other horses in large corrals, in stalls with turnout during the day…etc. I am quite familiar with the upside and downside of all these approaches. For me, my current system works best.

            3) I don’t pick up the manure in my large corrals. I clean it up with a tractor once or twice a year. Some folks will think this is awful. In twenty years I have not had one problem that could be attributed to this habit. It saves me an immense amount of time and work. I grew up on ranches where this was the way things were done, and I guess I just accept it. Works for me.

            4) I don’t pick feet. Lots of people are going to think this is awful. I never pick feet unless I think there is a problem. If I have a horse that appears to have a foot problem, I immediately pick all four feet and look for signs of thrush or a wedged rock or what-have-you. If I see signs of thrush or any other sort of foot problem, the feet are picked a couple of times a day and treated until the problem is gone. But in twenty years of keeping multiple horses here, I have had maybe two cases of thrush, and maybe three abscesses. I always watch carefully when the farrier trims my horses and ask if he sees any signs of a problem. For many, many years now the answer has always been, “No.” I have had virtually no soundness problems related to hoof care.  (Oh and all my horses are very mannerly about having their feet handled.)

            5) I don’t groom except when I ride. Once again, there are exceptions. I groom my horses when they are shedding. I groom my retired horses just to give them attention. But I feel no obligation to groom a horse for the sake of grooming. And again, I have had no problems due to this cause.

            6) I don’t feed grain or supplements. There are exceptions (again). The older horses get equine senior feed when they need it. By the time they are in their thirties they usually need a lot of it. All horses get trace mineral salt blocks. They get plenty of mixed grass alfalfa hay—the amount varies depending on the horse, and I can fine tune this, since I keep the horses in individual corrals. This keeps weight on most of my QHs quite nicely, including the ones that are working hard as team roping horses. They are shiny, healthy and long-lived overall. Again, works for me.

            7) I don’t walk in the corrals to feed. This is a funny one. I have worked on a lot of horse ranches. I have had to walk into a pasture full of young, half-broke horses more times than I can count, and distribute buckets of cubes into individual tubs as the horses vied for the chance to eat. I know how to establish boundaries and get the horses to respect my space and all that crap. I also think it’s a dumb battle to fight. I once had a really gentle reliable bay gelding (Burt) who simply could not help himself when it came to food aggression. Not just me, but a couple of very handy cowboys were unable to train this out of Burt. The solution was simply to feed from outside the fence. It taught me something. When I built my own place I made sure that all the horses were fed from feeders I could access from outside the corrals. No more walking through the mud and/or fighting a pointless battle with those horses who have the food aggression issue. (And by the way, I could ALWAYS drive Burt off his feed if I needed to—and there is no horse on my place that I cannot walk into the pen with as I’m feeding, or catch in the middle of a meal.) It just works better in so many ways if you don’t have to walk into the pen to feed. So much more enjoyable and relaxing for both human and horse. And I like to pick my battles. I don’t like to fight over nothing. Or get mud in my boots for no good reason.

            8) I feed three times a day. This is one thing I do that’s MORE labor intensive, not less. But I am usually able to arrange my schedule so that I can do this, and I think it’s really good for the horses’ overall health and happiness.

            9) I don’t do teeth unless I see a problem. Pretty much everyone is going to disagree with this. But here’s the deal. I have many times in my past had an older horse’s teeth done because the vet said it was needed only to have the horse seem uncomfortable chewing for not just a few weeks but for months afterwards. I began to be very wary about this. One day I asked a vet I really trusted what he thought about doing the teeth on older horses and he said, “If a horse in his teens or twenties seems to be doing well and shows no discomfort, it’s better to leave the teeth alone.” This totally validated my instincts and I have adhered to this principle ever since. When I buy a horse I have the teeth checked and get the vet’s opinion. If he/she says the teeth need work, I usually do it. After that I watch the horse. If all seems well that’s it, as long as the horse is past ten. I have several times noticed a horse seeming uncomfortable chewing and at that point I call the vet—the horse’s teeth inevitably need doing. And when they are done, the horse is better. This approach works well for me.

            10) I don’t do vaccinations on older horses unless I see a problem, such as a disease going around in our area for which there is an effective vaccination. I do/did vaccinate younger horses, especially when they are being hauled. All of my older horses have been vaccinated many times in their life—I think (and my vet agrees) that the downside of vaccination reactions/complications outweighs any potential benefit from giving the vaccines. And yes, there are serious potential problems/complications that can result from vaccines. My vet actually told me that he wished more of his clients with older horses would take my approach. If a horse is injured I give a tetanus booster. The one horse on our property who does get hauled to events (Wally’s Twister) gets yearly vaccinations.

            11) I firmly believe that too much forced exercise--particularly circles, whether lunged or ridden, and particularly loping in circles—is just as detrimental to a horse’s long term soundness and thus his longevity, as not enough exercise. Confined horses need to be exercised, yes. But those constant circles are very hard on horses, both mentally and physically.

            12) All my buildings and fences that the horses interact with are built of metal—as far as the horses can reach. I use pipe panels for fencing and the pasture sheds have metal uprights. This is one of the smartest choices I ever made. It saves an incredible amount of time and money not to be dealing with wooden fences and buildings. Many horses chew wood, and even if you don’t have a wood-chewing horse on your place, wooden fences and buildings deteriorate over the years.

            So there you are—a dozen tricks of the trade that make my life with horses better for both me and my horses. These are practices I’ve come to after forty years of horsekeeping. Again, nobody needs to agree with me, but if any of my little ways helps another horse person, well, that’s a good thing.

            You may ask how I came to these beliefs/way of doing things. The answer is careful observation, and trial and error over a lot of years. For the first twenty years of my horse keeping life I religiously picked feet every time I got a horse out. And then I started keeping my horses together with my friend Wally. Wally never picked feet unless there was an obvious problem. And what do you know? His horses didn’t get thrush or other foot issues. I was getting older and that hoof picking wasn’t my back’s favorite thing. I decided I’d give Wally’s approach a try. If I had started to have thrush issues or any other foot issues, I would have gone back to the hoof picking. But it turns out I never did. Lesson learned.
            Most of my other “rules” came about in a similar way. I once did things the way most horse people that I knew did them. I gave the recommended vaccinations to all my horses, I fed whatever supplements the vets were currently keen on, I loped lots of circles on my horses…etc. It was only after many years of paying attention to what I saw, both in my own horses and in other people’s horses, that I came to these conclusions. So far these practices are working very well for me. I would encourage others not so much to follow my ideas, but rather to think for yourself. Just because people around you do it one way does not mean that this is the best way for you.
            Here is an example of what I mean. When I was in my twenties, all the vets recommended straight alfalfa hay as a “perfect diet” and also recommended we supplement with wheat bran to “prevent colic.” And I faithfully did this, as did most of my horse owning friends. Nowadays almost no one thinks straight alfalfa is a good diet, and wheat bran is said to contribute to stones. See why I don’t jump on whatever feed bandwagon is fashionable at the moment?

            I want to add that in my lifetime of owning horses I have never lost a horse who was younger than 20. I realize that this is partly luck. But I have had several horses who made it into their thirties, and I think my track record as a horse-keeper is pretty good. So, though you may not agree with my practices, you might want to recognize that they don’t seem to be doing any harm to the horses I care for. But please feel free to argue with me, or provide some tips of your own in the comments. I’m always open to hearing other points of view, and I learn a lot that way.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Taj Mahal of Horse Barns

So NOT my Barn
By Alison Hart

How fancy does a barn have to be?  Laura wrote about a good barn cleaning session and showed some pictures of her set up that works for a California horse keeper. Her horses (and Laura) are content and healthy with the arrangement. Environment plays a huge part in how horses are housed and kept, but I must confess the simpler the better for me.

Here in Virginia my horses can graze almost year round--I fed about twenty bales last winter, and only because we had so much snow. Run in shelter with access to several large pastures that I rotate works beautifully.

Barn aka Shop
We also have a nice barn that is perfect for summer with large fans to keep the flies away (the biggest problem here.) However, it was recently taken over by my son and husband and turned into a shop. They left me two stalls, but with a giant lift (you gotta be a car person), dismantled vehicles and many tool boxes and carts, it was not hospitable for horses (or me.)   I didn't mind that much--they needed a place to work, and the horses were often across the street at the neighbors, but something needed to be done to make it more practical for me.

I suggested, and my husband agreed, that we add outside doors and a mall feed/ tack room. That way, the horses and I did not need to clomp through the car parts. All it took was money (what doesn't?) but my husband was feeling slightly guilty about pushing us out, so we came up with our version of the Taj Mahal of horse barns.

On the outside wall of the barn, an overhang was built with two bays and a middle 'room.'  The far left bay would be for the tractor. The right bay would be a loafing shed and entrance into two stalls.  This arrangement is so much better than before when the horses had to be led down a middle aisle into the barn. The tack/feed room will be steps away so when I get older, it will be easier to saddle up and ride as well as do chores.  A small amount of hay will still be kept in the main barn in the loft.

On the left is a photo of the almost-finished version. So cute and practical! The stall doors are dutch, so the horses can look outside as well as keep an eye on all the car work. The fans will still blow in summer and the overhang will protect the area from most bad weather.  I wish we had done this twenty years ago when we first built. The doors need painting and there's some trim work, but those projects can be easily tackled.

Not fancy, but perfect for me and my two coach-potato horses.

What is your version of a 'fancy barn.'  What would you like that you don't have? What do you love about your own set-up?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Images From the Belmont Stakes

Well, we had to go to the Belmont Stakes this year. It really wasn't negotiable, was it?

What we actually thought of Belmont Park on one of its most crowded days in recent history was another story (and the focus of a blog post here) but hey, we gave it a shot. And no matter how crazy Belmont Park was, I still managed to capture a few images of a what remains a very photogenic place to watch horses run very fast.

Fashion Plate before the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes, for three-year-old fillies. 
Sweet Whiskey before the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes. She'd come in second behind Sweet Reason.

Calvin at the paddock, with those ivy-covered Belmont walls in the background.

The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance had a large set-up, which included green screen photographs with California Chrome, plus these I SUPPORT OTTBS bracelets for free. 
A gorgeous TAA Thoroughbred Incentive Program ribbon decorates a drab steel support in the grandstand.
Quotes from Todd Pletcher and Mark Taylor at the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance booth.
The other racecourse. We saw this sign walking to the Queens Village train station, after it was evident we weren't going to catch a train anytime soon at the Belmont Park station.
 And so ended our Belmont adventure. It was a little too full of boozing college students to really be enjoyable, putting the Belmont on par with those combination drinking holidays/horse races Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.

In other news, Ambition, my eventing novel, has been out since May 20th, and the reviews have been stellar. Jane Badger, best known for her pony book site, reviewed Ambition here, saying "In Jules Natalie Keller Reinert has created a barbed-wire heroine."

At the Equine Insider, where there is also a lovely review, I gave a 5 Questions interview, talking about writing equestrian novels and training horses.

And at Horse Junkies United, the reviewer calls for a sequel (and she's not the first!). I never planned a sequel for Ambition, but this review makes me consider the possibility.

Ambition is available on Amazon,, Kobo, and iTunes, with a paperback available by mid-June.

And Alex and Alexander fans have something to look forward to: I'm well into Turning For Home, the next novel in the series, and we should see it available before autumn!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Minor Revelation

                                    by Laura Crum

            So the other day I had a revelation. Or a possible revelation. It was my birthday, actually. And my one wish for my birthday was to have my husband and son and our friend/boarder, Wally, help me clean out my barn. The barn was a total mess, crowded with twenty years accumulation of old, broken, useless horse junk. I am not a neat horse housekeeper. The idea of cleaning the barn up had become very daunting to me (there was so much old, moldy junk), but the mess bothered me every single day. So when I was asked what I wanted for my birthday, I quickly scanned through the notions of outings, meals, presents…etc and came up with the one thing that really resonated for me. I wanted a clean barn. So that’s what we did.
            I am sure glad I had help, because I never would have made it through the process alone. You would not believe how many rats and mice were hiding in the rotten old bits of tack and the feed bags I forgot to throw out. Not to mention the rusting, broken feeders…etc. There were plenty of black widow spiders, too. But my intrepid helpers were not afraid, and all the junk got cleaned up and hauled away.
            My barn is just a pole barn—it was built to store feed and shelter a vehicle—there is a shed in the back that I can turn into a box stall when I need one. All useful tack resides in the horse trailer, because this barn is no place for tack—everything gets dusty in the summer and moldy in the winter. My goal was to get the junk removed and to be able to park the truck inside once more. And this goal was accomplished—as you see below.

            The barn cleaning was very satisfying to me, but it didn’t produce the revelation. I already knew that a reasonably tidy barn would feel very good. No, the revelation happened afterward. Because after the barn was nice and tidy (by my admittedly not-very-high standards, anyway), I sat down in my chair in the barnyard, in the shade of an oak tree, and just contemplated things for an hour.

            I had already fed the horses lunch and they were puttering around, as horses do. We’d been down there all day working, but not paying much attention to them, so they were resigned to the notion that I wasn’t going to get them out. Thus they ignored me, sitting there quietly in my chair, and I just watched them doing their own things.
            This was, when I came to think about it, unusual. My horses tend to notice the moment I approach the barnyard and come to their gates, nickering plaintively. “Me, get me.” The message is plain.
            Usually when I go down there I am either feeding, or I get a horse out to turn him loose to graze, or brush him, or ride him. At times, in fact, I avoid going near the barn because I don’t have time (or inclination) to interact with the horses and I feel guilty ignoring their pleas to be got out. So sitting quietly in my chair watching them while they appeared unaware of me—I think they had pretty much forgotten I was even there—was kind of a novelty.
            I keep my horses in big corrals (they average 40 feet by 150 feet)—one horse to a corral. They have pasture sheds they can go in and out of at their choosing—there is room for them to run and buck and play—and they do. Every horse has at least one horse that he can touch and play with through the fence—and they all can see each other. I feed them three times a day—a mixed grass/alfalfa—which gives them something to pick at most of the time. And here’s the thing. I often wonder if they are happy.
I think we horse owners have all wondered if our horses are happy. I used to think my horses would be happiest turned out in a big pasture—and then for almost twenty years I did keep horses this way, and I spent a lot of time with them. To my surprise they often looked just as bored as horses in corrals. They grazed when they wanted, yes, but this worked out to be about three main sessions a day, just the way I feed my horses in their corrals. The rest of the time they stood around idly swishing at flies and looking, well, bored.
            But on this day, watching my horses stand companionably with their buddies, switching their tails, one hind leg cocked, I saw it differently. Because here I sat in my chair, idly doing nothing, and I’m sure that if anyone was there to see me (which there wasn’t) I might have looked bored. But I wasn’t. I was absolutely content. And thus it finally dawned on me that maybe my horses were perfectly content, too.
            Horses sleep on average only two hours a day. So perhaps these long hours of idling, pleasantly relaxed, are what they need, what they crave. Maybe the boredom I’d projected onto them had been only a manifestation of my own restless spirit. I somehow thought they needed to be grazing, or running around, or interacting with each other, or they didn’t “look happy.” But maybe I was wrong about that.
            If I was happy, sitting quietly in my chair, doing nothing, maybe they were happy, too. Maybe horse happiness doesn’t look like what I supposed. Maybe a full belly, water to drink, space to move around and run if you want, soft ground to lie on and roll on, and other horses for company is really enough. My horses like attention, and so they lobby for me to get them out when they see me. But in this moment, when they weren’t thinking about me, they looked pretty darn content.
            So I’m chewing on this awhile. I’m sure that some of you have contemplated this subject as well…wondering if your horse seemed happy. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Downs and Ups

                                                by Laura Crum

            Well, this blog post has gotten a little convoluted. I wrote it a week ago and it started out just like the title sounds. First I whined a bit about the negative stuff in my life, and then I described the stuff that brings me joy (with photos). I reread the post a couple of days later and the whining sounded irritating, even to me. So I deleted that part. But then the post sounded very Pollyannish—all roses and sunshine, as if my life were one long idyll. Which it isn’t.
At this point I began to contemplate the larger issue (I have a habit of this). Was it better to be truthful about the downs, or just express gratitude about the ups? Not only in blog posts and facebook posts, but in conversations with friends and loved ones…etc. I thought about how I view others. I don’t care for those who do nothing but whine, but neither do I care for those who seem to have their heads buried in the sand and refuse to acknowledge reality. I do not admire the Pollyanna mentality.
So I rewrote the post again, adding back in some of the negative stuff I had deleted. I tried to make it as honest as I could. I also found a few more positive things that I’d forgotten to acknowledge the first time. What you see below is the result. I’d like to ask how you feel about this. Do you like the notion about being truthful about life’s ups and downs? Or would you prefer this post if I’d eliminated the whining and stuck to the gratitude (and the pretty photos)? I’m really interested in this topic in an overall sense. Is honestly and openly acknowledging the negatives a good thing or not? I know we all have our share of negative feelings. Even the best of us “pace restlessly between longing and gratitude,” as my friend Elizabeth Speth so eloquently put it (Mostlybeautifulthings). What is the best approach to that which brings you down—not just in blogging, but in life?
Anyway, here is what I ended up with—I would love to hear your thoughts.

 There are times I feel sad. There are times I feel pissed off. I don’t tolerate injustice meekly. My family has gone through a tough year. Some of the adversity that befell us was nobody’s fault. Just fate, I guess. Health issues and the like of that. Nothing anybody could have done to prevent it. But some of the problems were quite preventable. They were caused directly by poor behavior on the part of people we trusted, that we thought were our friends. The hurt and bitterness from such a betrayal of trust lasts a long time. I do my best to let go, forgive, and move on. But there is no denying that anger, like a bright flame, burns in my heart from time to time when I am reminded of how false these friends were.
            There you see my downs. I acknowledge them. I don’t see any point in hiding from reality behind some kind of pretense that “it’s all good.” Paradoxically, it is truth that sets me free. Because I can feel the downs I can also feel the ups. Each and every day my main emotion is joy and gratitude. I have a good life and I know it. It is so because I actively create it that way, as do my husband and son. We are, all three of us, very good at appreciating the beauty around us and choosing to create more beauty in engaging ways. The world can hurt us, yes. But it cannot make us unaware of how lovely our life is.
            There are times when my faith in humanity in general is pretty low. But there is no day when my trust in the glory of the natural world ever falters. There is no day when I do not find much to delight me here on my property. My sense of connection to what is good and true and beautiful remains intact. My ability to make choices that make me happy is a very real part of me. And I can readily see that my husband and son are the same. We know how to tell the truth—both to ourselves and to other people-- and we know how to see the truth. I have a feeling this may not make us comfortable people for much of the world to hang out with. But I, at least, am willing to pay the price of rejection by those folks in order to have the delight of connection with the reality of plants and animals, wind and water, stone and sky. I honestly do not think this sort of connection is possible without a spirit that can recognize and acknowledge truth and respond in kind.
            I am so grateful for my husband and son and the lovely place where we live and the animals and plants who share our home. I am also very grateful for the good people in our lives—of which there are many. Both real life friends and internet friends. Not one day goes by that a friend doesn’t make me smile. And one of the greatest recent gifts I’ve discovered is the pleasure of seeing snapshots of other beautiful lives on the internet.
            So today I want to go through a little exercise in gratitude and sharing. I know, I’ve done this before. But it makes me happy to dwell on the beauty around me, and some of you have said that you like my photo posts. Perhaps these pictures will make a few people smile.
            Here are some shots of the life that gives me so much joy. (All of these photos were taken in the last couple of weeks.)
            Our new little pool is a real gift on hot days.

            Every single day when I walk down to my barnyard, I smile to see my horses. Here Sunny is on the “tree tie” to be groomed while Gunner and Henry play “bite face” in the background.

            The greenhouse is producing more vegetables and salad than we can eat. We do not buy these things any more. I am so grateful to have healthy food that we raise ourselves.

            The vegetable garden is just coming into full production also.

            My husband begins making tacos with veggies that all came from the greenhouse and garden and beef from our own grass fed steers—and a whisky sour for the cook.

            My son and I ride together once or twice a week. It makes me very happy that we can still share this activity on our good horses, now that my boy is thirteen--just as we have been sharing it since he was a baby.

            The world we ride through is beautiful.

 My son and his 26 year old Henry enjoy the coolness of the redwood forest on a hot day.

            My husband is a piper and every year on Memorial Day he plays his pipes at the old Soquel cemetery to honor the veterans.

            I see spotted fawns out my window.

            There are butterflies. What more can I say?