Well, it must be the dead of winter, because I sure do not have any pretty pictures to share!
January 1 ~ The year starts with an intention to groom each horse well once-weekly in the warmth of the tack room. I start with Sparky, who often has dried manure between her legs and in her tail.
I believe in the value of New Year’s resolutions; even if they are the same year-after-year – weigh myself every morning; do something physical every day; eat healthy; spend time on my web site; spend quality time with my horses, husband, family and friends; interact with the greater community in some way; practice my piano; read and write. The goals are a little more specific than this. I don’t have to do everything every day but I design a grid to chart patterns of accomplishments.
Our young adult grandson, Zen, is visiting from New York. After high school, he ran off to the Big Apple to complete a degree in FILM at Brooklyn College. I have a photo of him at four or five; riding Stormy – the little red Morgan mare who lived her entire twenty-five years, from birth to death, with me. We would walk the park road with Stormy on a lead. When cars went by, he would say, “Let go, Grandma!” Then, he would shout to the passing car. “She’s my horse! She’s my horse!” Over twenty years ago.
January 4 ~ I place the Pilate ball in the middle of four barrels after morning feed; just to see if Ruby will mess with them.
And, return in the evening to find this.
Before heading back up to the house, I line the barrels parallel to the wall; and roll the ball between the barrels and the wall.
In the morning, I find the barrels still in a neat line; but the ball is very dead in the middle of the arena. That little pistol. I wonder whether, at the moment of death, the ball popped or just fizzled.
I spend the remainder of the day in the house, quietly cooking and visiting with Zen before we take him to the airport for his evening flight “home.” New York City is too far away.
January 5 ~ My first day on the treadmill. Yes, I am five days into the new year – you don’t have to tell me.
January 8 ~ A half-dozen of my old horse friends meet for brunch on the second Sunday of each month. Now that Marsha, has Lucy, her new paint mare, I invite her along. She is already unhappy with her beautiful, clean, and well-organized boarding stable. They have erected a temporary pipe-iron stall in the indoor arena to accommodate someone else; Lucy is in a small outside pen all day with a number of other horses and no hay and, for some reason, her hooves are tender. The owner is giving her a hard time about calling his vet or farrier. I give her Doc Lisa’s number.
January 10 ~ The weather turns warm. Temps rise into the low 40’s for two days and melts the outdoor pens enough that I can pick five barrows of newly-thawed manure. But, then, it rains and freezes; leaving the pens a sheet of ice. I lock the horses in the arena for two days. I feel badly, even though they have got it really good. Neighboring horses and horse owners would be jealous.
January 11 ~ I do little with the horses; but spend many hours building my website. In the evening, Gary and I drive to our state capitol to see “BEAUTIFUL,” the musical biography of Carole King. What a throwback! I would go on a driving tour across the entire nation to see it many more times! When I was young, married to my first husband, and EXTREMELY broke, I would vacuum our mobile home while singing, “The Earth Moves Under My Feet,” and “Natural Woman” way-too-out-loud. (My husband worked nights!) I still have that album, “Tapestry,” in my living room cabinet.
January 12 ~ Ruby decides to mess with the bitless bridles hanging near the saddle racks; so I dress her in Sara’s. I have to tug a bit to fit it over her ears but, once on, it fits quite nicely. Her first time bridled, albeit without a bit. Hmmm, without a bit…. What to do about that…. If I become incapacitated, and she becomes the ward of someone else, will they insist on a metal bit? Should I teach her to accept one? No. They are unnecessary. When people say they need a bit to control their horse, it is almost like they are boasting that they have “a lot of horse.” It does not have anything to do with power. If the horse trusts and cares for you, you can ride however you want and as rambunctiously as you want with a bitless bridle. And, if your horse does not trust and care for you, no amount of bit – long shanks, high ports, barb wire, whatever – is going to stop him if he decides to not play along.
I feed in the late afternoon because I will be heading off a political meeting. The back pen is still too icy; so I lock the girls in for a second night. Both my back trail slider and my front slider include red pipe-iron gates; so I leave the front slider open. They can at least look down the drive as cars pass by; and the neighbor’s yard light will shine a bit of night light in on them. When I return home from the meeting at eleven, I realize they won’t need a night light. The full moon is so bright that, if it were not cold and slippery, we could go trail riding.
January 13 ~ Sunny and 25-degrees today – not bad. The tack room heater is sitting at a toasty fifty-degrees. I bring Ruby in for her morning grain and give her a soft brushing before cleaning and conditioning all four feet. She picks them up nicely without expecting a treat after each foot. Of course, she is busy eating her grain but, until recently, she would to turn her head from her grain to pick up the treat. Her hooves look good but the frogs are dry; and the frog of her club foot is particularly ratty. When we return to the arena, I open the back slider to find that the hay I put out before the freezing rain yesterday is thawed, and still a soft green. I can walk the area without slipping; so I let the horses out. Three of them head into the big east pen, but Zena goes off to the smaller pen. Sara soon joins her. I would like to think it is a moment of camaraderie; but I know Sara is just wondering whether Zena has better hay.
January 14 ~ My sixteen-year-old grand-niece, Emily, calls to say she needs a horse fix. She has three years of lessons under her belt from a stable south of here; but it was all just ring work. Over the past couple of years, I have had her on my trails a dozen times with Sara and Sparky but, other than sitting on her for ten minutes many months ago, this will the first time she rides Zena. The park road is icy; but we ride along the roadside toward a pine-filled field. The horses are surprisingly eager. Zena is pulling from behind to take the lead – with a bold Morgan trot through four inches of crunchy snow. I turn to ask Emily if she is fine with that; and catch her exhilarating smile. When we return, she immensely enjoys playing with Ruby. Emily is naturally comfortable around horses; and she is a blessing in my life.
In the evening, my sister – ten years my junior – asks me to spend the night. Her husband – fifty-nine and fit – is plagued with colon cancer. Despite his best efforts with chemotherapy, he is now well into hospice. My sister, who has three grown boys out of the house and two daughters still at home, is afraid of his dying during the night. I stay until six the next morning. In the quiet hours, I read, “Who Ever Heard of a Horse in the House?” by Jacqueline Tresl.
January 16 ~ Oh, horrible dribbles – it is thirty-degrees and rainy! I offer Sparky a good scrubbing before spending the entire day building my website.
January 21 ~ While the rest of the nation suffers unimaginably bad weather – snow storms and tornadoes – we are in an unimaginable thaw. It has been in the high thirties to near fifties for better than a week. I seize the opportunity to clean the once-frozen manure from the outside pens; before setting up a CD player in the arena, so we enjoy music during chores. Tonight, I bridle each horse and walk them to the brown mounting box. I slide on Sparky bareback and walk her once around the arena; and then repeat with Sara. It feels good to be up bareback – I don’t do that much any more. With Zena, I simply encourage her to willingly stand closer to the box. I put Sara’s bridle on Ruby; and stack the blue mounting steps on top of the wooden box; to be taller as I stand next to her. Reaching far over her back to give her treats, I lift my right leg and lay my knee on her back. I extend it as far as her spine, repeatedly; and she is fine with it. I do not attempt to stretch my foot up because that would be too precarious a balancing act.
January 22 ~ Today is the Sunday after Donald Trump is inaugurated as president. Yesterday was the international women’s march. Gary’s oldest boy marched with his wife in Ann Arbor. I drive to their home early this morning to feed their Haflinger and Shetland – Callie and Diamond – before heading out to my own barn. On the radio, the NPR commentator is interviewing a coordinator for a diversity awareness program. She asks the coordinator for a take-away comment as we move forward from this election. She responds that it is important that we start every individual relationship with trust – that we should trust anybody and everybody we meet unless and until they suggest that they are untrustworthy. She did not suggest that we throw common sense out the window; but what good advice this is for our relationships with our horses.
January 26 ~ It is cold, and I am doing very little with the horses; other than playing music while I pick the arena; and sitting with them for a little while in the evenings. Both Kim and Amy are out of town for a couple weeks; and I have trouble sticking to a schedule on my own – even when it is my own schedule. Yes, I know, I am sixty-four-years-old. You do not have to remind me that I should have grown up by now. This evening, though, after the horses finish their grain, I halter Ruby and lead her to the arena door. I give her a treat and ask her to walk with me to the end of the chute. I treat again, and ask her to walk to the hay rack. She is thinking twice now about whether she wants to comply. I treat and ask her to walk to the back of the pen. She prances a little at this point as we walk toward the gate to the west pen. That is about as much as she can handle. She turns and trots along the east side of the divider fence toward the barn. But, then, she stops and thinks; and turns to look at me. I still have her treat in my hand. She returns (good girl!) and takes the treat as I retrieve the lead and step into the west pen. She follows; but now she has reached her wonder limit, and canters away toward the barn. Again, she does not go all the way (good girl). She watches both the door to the arena and back toward me, as I walk up to meet her. Being careful not to catch a hoof if she decides to bunk-and-run, we walk into the arena together. That is enough for tonight. I realize that most horse owners would wonder why I have not just used force to teach her to lead – the butt rope or whatever. A few years back, I would have wondered the same thing. But, I am doing my best to shed my old training methods in order to raise Ruby with love and trust. It is not easy; and I am often filled with self-doubt. But, I truly believe my only crime is that I do not spend enough time in the barn; and with her.
January 27 ~ Zena has been full of the dickens all week – running and bucking on her way in for evening feed every night. Truly not the Zena I know; but she is fitfully fun to watch. I wonder whether she is just feeling good; or whether she is considering a run for the number two position in my little herd. This evening, after graining and before haying, I walk Ruby in the indoor arena. But, we only make it down one long wall before she says this is not where she wants to go. And, she has no interest in standing quietly. So, I remove her halter and shoo her away. I drive her quietly until she wanders to the security of her stall.
January 28 – When I am almost done with chores this morning, Sparky comes back in from the outside pen, looking for a treat. I ask her to follow me untethered, and to circle me – once around for a treat; then twice; then three times. I decide not to try for four! As I leave the arena, she stands forlornly – but I’m off for a meeting. In the evening, Ruby is much better with her leading. She backs well in her stall, raises her head, and wiggles her nose profusely in anticipation of a treat. We stand, she a little impatiently, at the open stall door before we come out. We stand and look out the arena door into the darkening pens. We walk the short end of the arena; then down to the water tank. She does a little dancing around there; but not much. We walk to the trail door and look out. We walk to the center and make circles around the hay tubs. And, we return to the stall. Much, much better than yesterday! Colleen! Keep it up! Consistency is the key!
January 29 ~ What a wonderfully lovely morning! While the rest of the nation continues to be ravaged by rain, snow, mudslides, and floods, we receive the lightest sprinkling of overnight snow. I pick the arena while the horses eat their morning grain. In my effort to remain consistent, I finish with a Ruby walk. I gift each of the other girls a miniature Christmas candy cane before slipping Ruby’s halter over her head. I treat her and ask her to stand at her open stall door. She remains, almost quietly. After pointing at the trail gate and saying, “Let’s walk over there,” we walk from her stall all the way down to the far end of the arena. I treat her and, together, we scan the back property over the gate. We then return to the open slider to the chute, near her stall. She turns a circle to face back in, but I maneuver her until she is again facing out. With a pause and ponder after each treat, we walk to the end of the chute, treat; walk to the hay feeder, treat; walk to the back fence, treat; walk behind the mini-copse of box elders – where she is out of sight of the other horses – and to the back gate that separates the two pens; and we treat. This is where she broke loose from me the last time we tried this; and cantered back to the barn. But, I give her a second treat and begin to walk up the west pen to where I have scattered the hay piles. As Ruby takes a mouthful of hay, Showgirl calls from the neighbor’s yard. Ruby is standing quietly so I remove her halter. I tell her that I am going in to get her mom and that, if she wants to run in, to please not trample me on the way. She remains at her hay while I release the three remaining girls from their stalls. What a wonderful interaction. My my, the power of consistency.
January 30 ~ OMGoodness! I cannot get out of the barn this morning! I bring Ruby into the tack room for her morning grain – have not done this for a couple of weeks. So much for consistency. While she eats, I clean her feet and detangle her mane and tail. She does not want to pick her back feet up readily but, with minor asking, she complies. I do not treat her for any of her feet. I clip a couple inches off her forelock because I am tired of not being able to see her eyes. We return to the arena for our morning round; checking out the water tank at the far end of the arena, and walking to the trail gate before getting our first treat. We return to the chute gate; consider the outside; and return to the hay stall to pull out the hay barrow. Together, we roll it outside; spread the hay in various piles, and visit. I remove her halter and return to the barn to give each of the other girls a small candy cane before releasing them for the morning. I have kept up my old habit of asking them to back in their stall for a first treat and walk out of the stall and to me for their second. With the arena to myself, I spend ten minutes picking manure and rolling it up the plank and into the dumpster. I return to the tack room to fill afternoon grain buckets before heading up to the house; but Ruby appears and asks to come into the tack room. So, I re-halter and bring her in. She spends a few minutes finishing the pellets of grain she had left scattered on the rubber mats before turning to investigate the brushes on the window sill. There is a white supplement bucket sitting there, too. In it is a quart of detangler, a quart of spray shampoo, and a plastic bottle of hoof supplement. Ruby grasps the rim of the bucket in her teeth and lifts it over her head; as the contents fall out onto her head and hit the floor. It is no big deal to her! She wanders to the saddle racks and begins to pull pads off the saddles; so I put the thick red pad and one of the western saddles on her back. She is happy with that for a while but, because the pad is so thick, when she turns back to the brush shelf, the saddle falls to the floor. Neither the motion nor the noise fazes her. I pick up her lead and walk her back into the arena. As we stand in the door to the chute looking at the other horses, I hand her a treat. The hay and the horses are all in the west pen. We walk into the east pen and along the fence all the way to the back; through the narrow area between the tree copse and the fence; and to the open back gate between the pens. With the other horses in sight, she is as calm as a turtle; and shows no desire join them. We walk up the west pen and I remove her halter; depositing her with the other horses and the hay. But, as I return to the barn, she follows me! So, I put her halter on for a third time; and we walk the entire perimeter of the larger east pen. It is the first time she has agreed to do this with me. We walk to a manure pile that I left in the corner of the pen a couple weeks ago; and to the big tractor tire. I step in and out of the tire. She puts one foot in and gets a treat; a second and gets another treat. When I back up and ask her to walk all the way through, she does. It is a little cramped and she has to sort of hop out; and I give her a treat. I pull out my cell phone and ask her to do it a second time; hoping to get a video. But, she just wants to circle the tire and mess with the phone. So, we walk to the three tires; to the back of the east pen; and around into the west pen. I again deposit her with her mother; remove her halter and head to the barn. But, she follows me! I wave her away. At this point, Sparky follows, too. She must be figuring there must be some treats somewhere. I wonder whether I should try to walk Ruby around the OUTSIDE perimeter of the fence tomorrow.
January 31 ~ Two inches of new snow makes for a pretty morning. It is Sparky’s turn for a tack room groom. I rub under tail and back legs with cooking oil (yes, cooking oil) to soften the dried manure that plagues her. After cleaning her feet, she circles and circles and circles as I work the manure out of her tail and off her underside. She is not happy when I reach between her thighs but, then again, I guess I would not be either, if I did not understand the need. I spread the hay inside because I think too much will be wasted in the muddy pens. I am sure the girls would rather eat outside; but I am being practical. Before releasing them, I halter Ruby and stand around in her stall for minute or two. We step out and ponder whether we should walk in the arena or outside. Opting for outside, we walk to the end of the chute, treat, and stand around. Then, we walk to the tractor tire, treat, and stand around. She is being good and I decide to keep a good thing good. I point to the chute and suggest we walk back inside; where I return her to her stall and release the other horses. They munch while I pick last night’s droppings around them. I return to the tack room with the intention of filling the grain tubs for the afternoon and heading up to the house. But, Ruby follows me into the causeway. I tell her to wait while go into the tack room to I fill my pockets with treats. Returning, I halter her, close the small slider to the arena, and open the large slider to the west yard. She looks about, not sure what to make of the situation. But, I don’t see caution in her eyes, so I treat her and wait. She leads the walk to the fence and we stand gazing up toward the house. I treat her and ask where she might want to go. We wander a bit in a forty foot area before I point to a telephone pole in the middle of the area and suggest we walk there. I ask her to touch the pole and give her a treat. I am concerned that she could suddenly panic at the thought of being away from, and out of sight of, the others – and that always comes with the thought of a hooves flying. The fact is, aside from that bizarre horse-fly incident with Kim a year ago, she has never kicked her rear feet around a human; and she has not reared in ages. We return to the barn where she touches the closed arena slider. I take that as her request to join the others but, once we close the exterior slider and return to the group, she is not interested in leaving me. So, we walk into the chute and halfway down the west pen. I treat and we stand around. I tell her I am going to take her halter off; and ask her to lower her head. Then, I point to the barn and we walk back in together. I give everyone candy canes and head toward the tack room. Ruby follows me until I close the door in her sorry little face.
I end the month knowing I have spent substantial time with family and friends; participated in my NOW meeting; horse women’s breakfast; and my first local political meeting. I have made great strides on my new website. I began the month walking a mile at a time on the treadmill almost every morning; and have spent Gary-time at movies and playing cards – things we enjoy together. But, I have not touched my piano. All-in-all, it has been a very good month.