Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Boarders without borders

The boarder population here at Back Acres is an amazing bunch. Not only do they pay their board well and faithfully, they step up to the plate in ways which never cease to amaze.

Example: this past Thanksgiving I had the chance to celebrate the day with life-long friends whom I rarely see. I have known these people since I was nine years old - a large many-branched family with lots of cousins of about my own age. There are several family compounds, so to speak, and the one in question is in Sturbridge on a recently-acquired farm. I really, really wanted to go - so beginning in late September, I started trying to find Coverage. Seemed like it was fine: my right-hand person for morning chores - who lives locally - was willing to house sit so I was all set.

Er, not really. Upon checking in a few weeks prior to the holiday, everything had changed and her entire family was going to Boston to see the oldest daughter. So now what? My housemates? Also away to family in RI. I could't think of anyone else to ask, and had resigned myself to the bitter pill of being where the buck stops, when out of the blue - during a discussion of holiday plans - a boarder father volunteered to house sit and wade in for chores! His daughter has a horse here, and he thought it would be fun (!!) to bring the family and stay two days and a night on the farm. His daughter works here weekends anyway helping with chores, so it didn't seem like much of a stretch to him.

I was temporarily speechless - what a huge favor! That gesture only left the remaining coverage at issue - Wednesday morning chore help (since my regular would be gone by then), and additional help for the chore shifts while I was away. I wanted some backup for my house sitters, since there is an awful lot to cope with, inside and out. The daughter is a good little horsewoman but she is only twelve and I wasn't comfortable without another horse-savvy adult around.

More miracles ensued. A neighbor/boarder volunteered herself and her two kids to help me do Wednesday morning chores (which were more extensive than usual since my housemates were away), and yet another boarder volunteered to come on Thanksgiving evening to help lead the horses in. Another neighbor/boarder came Thursday morning and Friday morning to help do morning chores and set-up.

Help just boiled out of the woodwork. The instructions ran to three pages - between meds and feeding for the three inside dogs and four cats, the goats, the chickens, and all the special instructions for each horse, but everyone concentrated wonderfully and neither I nor the listed vets got any calls during my absence. You would think I was going to the Sahara for a month, but I was away for twenty-seven lovely hours and it felt like a week.

The above is only one example of boarders wading in to offer help on every level - with chores, with conversation, with observations and advice - they are wonderful, individually and as a group.

Life is good.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Horse, Bad Horse

Everyone knows the syndrome - this horse just doesn’t want to work, that horse is lazy and won’t frame up/go forward/take direction/calm down, whatever, yada, yada, yada. I suppose that sometimes this is true - I have a horse who has what can only be described as Attitude - but still, I wonder. Recently there have been so many instances here at BAF of horse behavior which, when looked at differently, were NOT a result of Bad Horse-ishness - the horse just could not do what was being asked.

Example: a dun mare who just wouldn’t go straight. She was used as a demo at the Open House in September, and turned out to have fairly significant spinal alignment problems which, when adjusted, helped a lot.

Example: an Andalusian semi-rescue horse ended up here after a series of life mishaps, informed - in part- by alleged Bad Horse behavior, such as being intransigent under saddle. He was also semi-starved when he got here, which guided quite a bit of his treatment at first. But even after he gained his weight back and light work was begun, he had real problems in moving, particularly in his hind end. It turned out he had serious and long-standing leaky gut syndrome which produced a whole host of seemingly unrelated physical and behavior problems - but once the diagnosis was made, were susceptible of remediation. He looks and acts like a different horse now.

Example: a large draft mare who, again, just couldn’t seem to get to self-carriage, to collect and go forward even after the most gentle and consistent of training - such that her most patient of owners began to think that she just didn’t want to work. Actually, after a recent very scary episode which we all thought was colic, it was discovered that she had suffered a bad “tying up” episode, instead. And that her breed is very susceptible genetically to this disease, which, guess what, produces the same symptoms as led to the suspicion of a Bad Horse stubborn refusal to go forward.

In each of these cases, I was the not-directly involved observer - and a lay person at that. But because I see now a lot of horses - and have seen many over the years - I can see patterns. I have yet to meet a horse who isn’t gentle, willing, and forgiving once they have the chance: once they are dealt with in terms they can understand, and once they have become comfortable in their bodies. Sometimes the bodily comfort isn’t possible right away, or at all, but I swear they know when we are trying to help. A recent eye injury here necessitated hot wet compresses twice a day, and the mare in question was more than cooperative. She stood calmly even when there was some discomfort, and seemed to know that this was necessary to relieve her pain and speed the healing. Her eye is just fine now, although it looked like a train wreck at the time: she is a Good Horse.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Well, well, well.

Very busy month or so since I last wrote here. Let’s see, my father died (which was a good thing, very good - the poor guy was very beat up by ill health and seriously not enjoying himself), four friends from Europe arrived for a month - two weeks of which were spent at the Farm, the main house well broke and was out of commission for two weeks, and oh yes, thirty inches of snow on Saturday two days ago. Lots of other things transpired as well, but those stand out.

The friends were great. One pair had visited before but not since 2008, and the other pair had never been here. I have become accustomed to the place - what I see around me are the tasks not done, mostly. These four pairs of foreign eyes helped me see all over again what I first saw - an amazing place. Beautiful house, perfectly situated and private, great equestrian physical plant, safe and lovely. Plus, the four of them pitched in beyond expectations - Pierre did all the minor electrical repairs which were beyond my scope but not to the level of requiring (if I could find one) a professional electrician to come in. Patrick mowed and weedwacked (he called it “strimming” because he is English) everything in sight - it took him days. Babette cooked from the garden at least once a day, and Valerie helped with evening chores every night (when she wasn’t also cooking). This was good, because of the well situation which coincided with their visit.

There are two wells here - an old one and a new one. The old one is 80 feet deep and the well original to the farm for the past few generations. It always flowed just fine in spite of how shallow it is, but in 2007 (a very dry summer) it began to sputter a bit. So I had another well dug across the street as a backup which then became the baseline well - it is 240 feet deep with a huge flow. By means of very deep ditches in every direction, water lines were put in to service the house and all the barns, including far-flung frost-free hydrants in the outlying pastures. A great system, which really beat the former task of hauling 400 feet of hose up the hill to the upper barn, connected to a spigot on the front of the house which if it weren’t buried in snow, was as often frozen as not. The water pressure at that point was so compromised that it took almost an hour to fill two 100 gallon water tubs.

So, life was good with the new well, plus it was engineered so that with the closing of one valve, the whole system could switch back to the old well, which would then water every locale in its turn. Great idea, since we have a generator and could run the old well in the event of a power outage. One contingency wasn’t planned for - a break in the underground water lines.

A few weeks ago, the well guys were going to come back to check on the new pressure tank, and next thing I knew there was a rapping on the door and I hurried with them to the new barn where the pressure tank was empty, the new deep well had drained dry so that the pump was sucking air, and water was gushing up around the outside hydrant and a new hole in the middle of a dry pasture walkway was also flowing. Also the hydrant in question came up out of the ground when pulled up with your hand - NOT a good sign. We flew to turn off the pump electricity and disconnect everything, then went to the basement to see about switching things over - but alas, the system could not work as planned since it was clear that water going anywhere but to the house and the cupola barn was just draining into the dirt in some secret underground place. So out came the hoses connected again to the front of the house, snaking hundreds of feet in every direction to reach the far horse tubs and into the new barn for daily bucket filling. What a complete pain! The only good news was that we had a backup well with good water (even though it hadn't been used in several years), and the break didn't happen in February. It took two weeks to coordinate both a backhoe and the well guys to dig where we thought the problem was, and mirabile dictu there it was. Fortunately we had sited the hydrant in a pickle barrel stuffed with insulation about four feet down, so it was easy for them to expose the trouble - which was that the lowest connector housing at the bottom of the hydrant had snapped right off, for pete’s sakes. No idea what caused it, unless the rogue water table had put enough stress on it to do the damage. It is fixed now, thank the lord, and I am newly appreciative of water which appears when you turn a faucet or lift a hydrant handle.

Also seriously appreciative that this was fixed last week before this weekend’s THIRTY INCHES OF SNOW, which appears to have put Plainfield on the national map for perhaps the first time ever. I will draw the veil of merciful oblivion over the events of the past two days (since whining doesn’t make good copy) except to rejoice in never having lost electrical power.

Life is good.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back Acres Farm Open House - September 24, 2011

The Open House took place here at Back Acres Farm last Saturday and I was very pleased. The weather cooperated, thank God, since the forecast was not great. Present were old faces and new - and the demonstrations were just excellent. Wendy Bryant worked her dental magic on several horses - her magic consisted not only in technical expertise but in persuading the horses in question to cooperate. They were tranquil and accommodating and at times, it almost looked as though dentist and patient were dancing together. Wendy's e-mail is if any of you want to contact her.

Dr. Kevin Landau, the demo vet, arrived during Wendy’s time slot and it was very nice to see them consulting together on horse teeth and general health issues. Kevin had insights about the relationship between overall health issues and proper mouth care, and also plenty of interest in Wendy’s technical savvy and experience, since vet schools were long delinquent in teaching much about it. It was nice to see the two professionals collaborating, with no pride of place or expertise...just sensible people talking together about the best possible outcome for their horse patients regardless of who could provide it.

Kevin’s demo was just as good. He is a former western medicine vet with a large animal practice who has re-focused his practice to only alternative care. He demonstrated muscle testing as a diagnostic tool, acupuncture and acupressure, and cold laser techniques. He used many attendees to demonstrate the muscle testing, and the crowd was riveted. Two horses were used as demos, and everyone could see the befores and afters of diagnosis and some basic treatments, and the explanations were simply put and very effective. Kevin is also extremely knowledgeable in Chinese medicine and the efficacy of nutritional healing (both in primary foods and in supplements). It was great to have the opportunity to ask him so many questions without being conscious of the time and his need to get to his next appointment - it was very relaxed. For more information about Kevin, check out

The afternoon began with the horse dancing demonstration. Bonnitta Roy brought her Arab stallion Kemancho who was a complete pip. He gave an impressive demonstration of stallion posture and pride, whizzing around the ring looking as noble as a picture - tail and head up, trumpeting for joy (or for mares..whatever). He settled down after a bit, and Bonnie put on some music and began showing how even a distracted horse could be persuaded to twirl and dance in circles around her as she circled herself forwards and backwards. It was lovely - and for a more in-depth idea of what Bonnie does, here is a cite to an article about them.

The next demonstration was Farah DeJohnette and her horse Mercury - a large and impressive horse with high energy. Farah did liberty work with him at first - showing a horse focused on his human even though unrestrained and in a strange place with lots of new smells and sounds. He showed his form over a jump at liberty several times. Then Farah put a bareback pad on and a bitless bridle, and demonstrated his dressage moves achieved without the traditional equipment aides, and then finally took off the bridle all together and rode him in a neck strap over the jump and through some short dressage patterns, talking all the while about what was possible with soft, connected riding techniques. It was quite impressive, particularly since it was obvious that Mercury is not an easy horse, but one who is very, very connected to his human.

One of Farah’s students then did a demo with her horse - she is a young person whose pony used to be quite difficult. She free-longed him in several directions at various gaits and then over poles using just hand signals and a wand - there was a clear bond between them which was lovely to see.

The last event was with a Morgan gelding who had applied for the clinic portion of the day, as a horse who was difficult for his owner. He had a history of biting, and being unresponsive to leading (e.g. dragging his owner around): I understood that his behavior was often problematic and occasionally dangerous. The horse came in and went in circles for the first few minutes - head up high and turned to the outside - not a horse who was comfortable on any level. Farah sat and watched him for a bit, to assess him, and then began to have what she calls a “conversation” - minimal interactions to see what the horse (by means of his body language and his responsiveness to her - or lack of it ) had to say. It was evident that he had no desire or perhaps even capacity for connection at that point. So Farah began establishing the means for connection - getting his attention, setting up some boundaries, inviting him in. It was all very quiet - the loudest sound was a plastic bag tied to the end of a longe-whip, the noise of which she used to send him away when he was disrespectful of her personal space. There were no restraints, no yanking, no raised voices, but by the end of the hour he had volunteered to walk next to her at a respectful distance in any direction, and was willing to leave food in a dish unless she gave permission for him to approach and have some. And if she asked him to leave the dish and walk with her again, he did. He head was down, his eye was soft, and he was altogether a different guy. His owner practiced with him a bit what had been demonstrated, and was thrilled with the difference. It was really a very graphic illustration of what can be accomplished with tact and connected riding techniques. Farah’s website is full of information and videos of this work - you can find it at

So I would say the day was a great success - we had hoped to demonstrate the benefits to horse and rider of a variety of holistic techniques and approaches, and I think we did!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Times of Plenty

Fall is the very best time of the year, in my opinion. The air is perfect, the light is perfect, the color of everything (sky, grass, trees) is clear and burnished. The first smell of wood smoke is - let’s face it - magical. I have had a fire going for a few days, as the tactile analog of comfort food. So nice to come into a room with a fire, I think. The dogs agree.

Second cutting came in yesterday - as usual, a miracle. I didn’t know for sure if it could be cut at all until the day before. We had over twenty-one inches of rain between Irene and the aftermath, and there was standing water in that field not too long ago. I was hoping for four days of drying, since the dew stays late and arrives early in the afternoon and the days are so much shorter, but I had to make due with three (since it is raining AGAIN today) and the hay seems fine anyway. By the end of the day yesterday the dried grass had that nice crackle when you picked it up and the bales were beautiful. We will need to be careful when we feed it - it is horse fudge (or worse) and they would gorge on the bright green-ness of it, if allowed. And, typically, I had no idea how I would get the bales into the barns until the 11th hour when help just showed up. These bales were heavy enough that I was extremely grateful for the assistance. It turns out that my back still has some limitations on how much weight I can throw, and 50-60 pound bales exceed it.

It was a little bit of a scramble this morning to find sheets to fit the horses which need protection - my blanket collection was still at the cleaners but the rain was so cold I didn’t want to send horses out without some portable shelter, at least. It was a hoot fitting a 75" rain sheet to a rather large Hanoverian but we managed. All these horses’ own sheets, of course, were tidily put away at their owners’ homes until needed

I am also pretty psyched about the open house this coming Saturday (details on Facebook and the webpage). It is a good excuse to get everything cleaned up and tidy which is this week’s job. Recently, however, the large water pressure tank failed and it was an interesting exercise to get it changed out this past Monday. It was originally installed in the new barn feed room on a pedestal, and boarded up in place after being seriously insulated - since it gets quite cold out there. It is the main tank for the houses and all the barns, so when the wooden walls began showing suspicious wetness underneath the tank it was time to Take Note. Thank the lord it was still under warrantee - but the repair made quite a mess. The cloaking boards are still off in order for the underneath and floor to dry out and I am really hoping to get it back together before Saturday. Doesn’t make a good impression to have boards and screws lying around a tack room.

See you on Saturday, I hope!

Thursday, September 1, 2011


It’s been an interesting week, what with one thing and another. The weather predictions were so awful as of last Friday on, that all I could do was make lists....containers (in and out) to fill with water, remove the arena dressage letters, put away porch flowers, close all the barn windows, not to mention turning the new barn into a water-proof bunker, etc. etc. The bunker prep was endless - bales and sandbags, measuring tarps to fit, running sump-pump hose so that the doors would close over it, extension cords, trench and swale digging with the tractor bucket, and on and on. Plus what to do about bracing the big barn doors against the wind? Their surface area is considerable, but if one side were braced adequately, then the other could be closed against it. Probably. Bringing the tractor inside would not work since then two horses would be blocked into their stalls by the length of it, and chores would be even more of a drag. I finally settled on a pallet topped with several hundred pounds of feed as a brace - it worked a treat. We had five extra horses on a sanctuary basis, as well - everybody fit, thank goodness. Always room for one more.

Sunday was pretty bad, I must say, although it did not, as usual, live up to its press. Still, the winds were severe - the harshest test yet of the barn roofs and general construction. I was very happy that everything survived without any damage at all. Nothing tore, bent, ripped or broke. The insurance companies should be paying me, for pete’s sakes. The water was quite a show - a river running down the street, and others gushing through the pastures. My neighbor Cam had cleared away detritus from the main culvert draining the back yard’s water around the cupola barn, and when I peeked at it midday the water coming out of it was impressive. Similarly the trench dug uphill from the new barn was full, full, full of rushing water - all of which would have ended up in the barn. It was quite gratifying to have everything work in the way intended. Only one tree down, and one huge branch elsewhere, and each had the consideration to fall harmlessly on to clear ground. They didn’t even mess the fencing.

Lots of time indoors, during the weather. I spent quite a bit of time with my cats and dogs, all flopped around me as I laid on the couch watching the branches whip around. My little long-haired Manx cat Henna is such a hoot. She has her schedule, by which you can set your clock. Mornings when I open up the main house, she races at speed through the door as if putting one over on me, then comes skulking back for a scratch and some kibble. Some kitty speedway follows - the Run of Joy engaged in by several cats and the mid-size dog. Then when I am drinking my coffee on the couch, there is the royal ascent to the couch back, where she stretches out, purring, for some more petting. Then as I go out for chores, there comes the day time nap on my bed, and late afternoon twining about my ankles. The evening rituals are also set in stone - their little cat dishes must contain certain elements (yogurt and two kind of wet plus some raw hamburger) to qualify as acceptable. I have a lot of fun with this little pack.

Cleanup after the storm wasn’t too bad - Monday morning took three people three hours, and then Tuesday and Wednesday meant branch and stick cleanup and some tractor work. I am mindful of the open house coming up on September 24th and excited to have the “public” here to see how nice it is (if I do say so myself). Of course that means serious grooming - even more serious than usual - having three main barns plus the house is the same sort of housekeeping challenge that Candy Spelling use to face (although I imagine she had help). And I can’t stand scraggly pastures - of which there are about 15 acres. So, lots to do. See you then!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stream of Consciousness

Things have been quiet for a while, save for the daily minutia of horse and farm care. Phyllis the chicken is getting fairly vague - we find her at a distance from the coop now looking faintly bewildered as though she neither knows how she got there, nor how to get back. She has become so teeny - even with her feather topknot (she is a Polish Crested) she weighs about the same as a stick of butter. Fortunately the other hens don’t pick on her (is that where the expression came from? “Peck” morphed into “pick”?).

Another chicken incident took place a few weeks ago. A woman stopped by to ask about the farm, and in getting out of her car took the dog out on the leash, presumably to pee. It slipped the leash and took off after the chickens, killing one. I was out doing errands, but my housemate reported hearing hysterical screaming - from the woman, of course, and presumably from the chicken who wasn’t taking the event too well. I came home just after the melee, finding my housemate holding a black plastic bag with The Remains, talking earnestly to the woman who was still crying. I felt terrible for her - it wasn’t even her dog (she was dog-sitting) and she was beyond mortified. We carried on with the tour, talking about possibilities for horsing around, but I don’t think she will be back even though I assured her repeatedly that accidents happen and I wasn’t upset (it was an old chicken). The memories are likely too painful...

There is a happy health outcome here. My old standardbred Spirit had been doing poorly for a while - appetite off, weight loss, stiff in his movements, seemingly a bit depressed. The thought occurred to compare him with another horse here who had had many of the same symptoms for quite a long time which we never could seem to address. Then she spiked a horrific fever along with some leg swelling, and the vet recommended doxycycline, as the probabilities were that this was a tick-borne affliction. Sure enough, her fever and swellings went away, but then so did ALL her other long-term symptoms - her appetite came back, her chronic scratches went away, her coat got glossy, she was much less stiff, and she became much, much happier. Conclusion - she had had a low level infection the whole time (though her blood work came back negative, apparently as it often does.) Our wonderful vet examined Spirit and agreed to the two-week course of doxy, and sure enough, he is responding. His symptoms were much less drastic, but I was unwilling to let him get any sicker before acting on my suspicions. Compared to the valleys, Plainfield has almost no ticks and fleas but they are around enough to cause the occasional problem.

We are hunkered in against the weather for the next several days - severe thunderstorms today and of course the hurricane aftermath predicted for Sunday. There have been several heavy storms in the last week. Last Friday I was driving home from a day in RI seeing my aged father, when I hit the serious hail and flooding 20 minutes from home and of course I was frantic. It seems as though I can’t leave for more than two hours in any safety, for pete’s sakes. There was somebody here at the farm, as always, but since I wasn’t here personally to get the horses and goats in out of the weather I was a mess of worry in the car. All other cars were pulled over, but I plowed on towards home, to arrive to the glad sight of everyone tucked into their stalls and dry and safe.

The drainage swales are being deepened as we speak to keep the water away from the barns, and I will be filling all water tubs on Sunday morning against a power outage. Plenty of feed in the barrels and hay in the barn - life is good.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Horse stories - the distant past

After freshman year’s frenzy had settled down, I pursued and secured a man named David as my boyfriend. David was willing to make his new shiksa girlfriend happy, and since we were now living on an old farm outside our university town, this meant buying me a horse. It is difficult to really comprehend just how clueless I was with regard to the horse plan. Since my childhood, I had always managed to find my way to the back of a horse, but in each case the horse had been tended by someone else. I had never done any feeding, or mucking, or advance purchasing of supplies. The shortcomings of this background did not suggest themselves to me, however, and I found a horse dealer about 20 miles from the farm. We visited the dealer, and there he was. A large, black, bony, truculent, ewe-necked, and overbearing animal - instantly named Hieronymus - who was my dream come true. Age? Didn’t ask. Condition? He was walking around - good enough. Price? $125.00, cash. David meekly handed over the payment, and I made arrangements to ride Hieronymus back to the farm, since it never occurred to me that most people used a trailer to take delivery. It also did not occur to me that I hadn’t ridden much for several years, that my beater of a saddle might not fit the horse, or that perhaps he was neither in condition for that length of ride - nor safe with the bridges and road hazards between the sale barn and the farm. I confidently arrived to collect Hieronymus, David drove away, and there I was. Completely alone with a horse who - unsurprisingly - wasn’t very interested in being saddled or ridden. Within the first five minutes, his head had flown up and hit me in the face as I tried to mount. Blood, swelling, and crossed eyes, and we hadn’t even left the yard yet. Having no choice, I persevered, and many, many hours later I was three-quarters of the way back to the farm, slumped over the pommel in a haze of pain and fatigue. Finally a car drew alongside with David and friends inside, looking for me. I remember actually falling off the horse and being driven home. I did not notice how Hieronymus got back, but I found him in a straight stall the next day, when I eased painfully out of bed, barely able to walk or see.

In spite of this inauspicious beginning, our relationship prospered. The farm barn was dilapidated (and felt haunted), but I dragged old cow stanchions together to make a makeshift run-in stall, There was rudimentary fencing in the weedy pasture, and Hieronymus seemed comfortable enough, once I bought a book on what to feed him. We went riding often, and he didn’t throw me (although he did throw some friends). Our life together was good....until one classic dark and rainy night...

I had gone out to the barn after dinner to see how he was doing, but he wasn’t inside. I didn’t think much about it since I figured he was out in the pasture, but as I left the barn, I heard a uneven clopping noise and Hieronymus loomed out of the night from the wrong side of the barn. He was limping and cut and bleeding, and I could not imagine what had happened. After leading him haltingly back into the barn, I hurried into the house to call the vet and get some disinfectant. And as I was dialing, the front door swung open and there stood a state cop. Oh man, I thought - my horse is a complete mess, and now we’re getting busted...anything else? Remember that this was the 60s: there were - ahem - substances on every surface. Instead of reading out my rights, however, the cop asked how my horse was? My jaw dropped - how kind of him to inquire, I thought - and I replied that actually he wasn’t so good and I was trying to call the vet.

As I later learned, the pasture fence had sagged in the rain and Hieronymus stepped over it into the road. Meanwhile, a traveling salesman was driving slowly along and naturally failed to see the black horse in the moonless and drizzling dark, and hit him. Hieronymus reared up and came down on top of the car - still invisible except for the iridescent purple of his coronary bands (daubed with gentian violet just above the hoof line against an infection) - and these purple appendages bludgeoned in the windshield, roof, hood, and side-mirror, reducing the poor driver to incoherent terror. Hieronymus finally disengaged himself and staggered off into the night, and the salesman crept to the nearest phone and called the police. The car was totaled, and my father’s homeowner’s carrier eventually and indignantly cancelled his policy, stating as a reason their disinclination to be responsible for daughters’ horses.

Aside from being pestered by the insurance adjuster, I wasn’t too upset by all the legal aftermath, being mainly concerned with my horse. He healed up fairly well except for a wound on his heel which just wouldn’t close. After two months, I was forced to conclude that expert help was needed, and decided to take him to the world-renowned equine facility at Cornell. I had to rent a rackety single horse trailer with a clamp bumper hitch, and was able to borrow a lard-bottomed family station-wagon to pull it - unconscious of any need for tiresome calculations as to the ability of the weary engine to pull a loaded trailer. The next shipping task involved pictures I had seen of trailered horses with neat bandages around their legs. I didn’t know why this was done, but it seemed the thing to do when visiting a world-renowned horse facility...etc, etc. So I tore up an old white bed sheet and carefully wrapped each leg in strips of cotton sheeting, fastened with a large safety pin. The ensemble was completed by a frayed dingy cotton lead rope. Once all these preparations were concluded, I and my reluctant house-mate Tom slowly ground our way through the hilly Finger Lakes roads to our appointment with veterinary destiny.

We eventually pulled in to the large animal area at Cornell and parked. We looked out the window, and observed with apprehension the spectacle of sleek, shining horses with soft, clean summer blankets tippy-tapping on glistening hooves over glossy tiles. Tom and I got out slowly, lifted down the rear ramp of the trailer, and out slouched Hieronymus, bed sheets trailing in long lines behind his legs, scruffy and derelict at the end of his unraveling rope. Complete silence, except for the sound of Tom slinking away from this scene of Olympian humiliation. The only comment I can remember was from one young vet who asked if I had EVER picked out my horse’s feet. He stayed there for a month - his teeth needed floating, his gut needed worming, his feet needed trimming, plus there was that heel injury - the list was formidable. I thought that quite honestly, they should have paid ME for the otherwise-unobtainable experience they got through working on him. Cornell didn’t see it that way, however, and the bill came to $85.00 which was my complete summer’s earnings for that year.

Hieronymus lived with me for perhaps another year after that - rolling uninhibitedly in the newly planted organic vegetable garden, running through five strands of barbed wire to make friends with a passing horse and rider, and throwing off the occasional friend who had assured me that OF COURSE they could ride. David and I finally went to see Ralph the Guru - an actual guru whose advice was legendary - and asked him what to do with this horse. I adored the horse, but it was just one thing after another with him. Ralph said I should get rid of my horse - that if things were right, then they were easy. I went home after this consultation, and stayed up very late, sitting on the front porch overlooking Hieronymus’ pasture and weeping in the moonlight at the idea of giving him up. The thing about Ralph was, he never gave advice unless asked, but he was always right.

So, within the week I found a farm with horses owned by a man who really liked Hieronymus’ looks, and wanted to take him. The man arrived with a trailer, efficiently loaded my horse up and drove him away. I went to visit once: I saw Hieronymus off in the distance, contentedly herding around a group of other horses, completely indifferent to my presence. His new owner was quite happy with him, and had re-named him Lucky.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

HEY!! That’s it is..

That time of year again - and the saga continues. I have a personal hay field which has been cut and baled by a neighbor for years. I never know from one season to the next whether or not his services will be available, and it is not as though there is a lot of local competition for the privilege of doing it. The ideal cutting week (3rd week of June) came and went this year - the weather was not terribly cooperative and the person in question was simply not around. I began getting more and more troubled about what to do - it is a six acre field which contributes quite a bit to my annual needs, plus if it weren’t cut, then what? There would be no second cutting (although the bobolinks would be happy - their fledglings would have a rare chance to survive the haying season). Should I just brush hog it? Geez, how wasteful. Plus I had given the town permission to plant sugar maple saplings along the perimeter, to support the initiative of replacing the ancient (and decaying) sugar maples which line the major roads in Plainfield. Not only are they beautiful, but they have long contributed sap to the maple sugar houses in town. Now, however, new trees must be twenty feet back from the road (unlike the originals which are almost IN the road in many cases) so two sides of my field perimeter are dotted with these little trees and their support stakes - kind of an obstacle course for someone trying to cut.

Finally I broke down and begged another neighbor to help. He is among the busier humans on the planet, and I had no great hope that he would be able, but mirabile dictu he agreed, and so it happened. I never saw such a good job in my life. He cut between each little tree so cleanly that it looked like he used scissors, for pete’s sakes. And into the corners. And around the electric pole. It was beautiful to see. He tettered and tettered for several days - and then, the fell clutch of circumstance intervened and an unpredicted tiny micro-burst cell of rain came through. It poured buckets at his house, making puddles and rivulets, and he and his wife were in fits of worry and upset. So much so that they actually drove to my field to assess the damage, the dears, only to find that barely four miles away it had hardly drizzled. Kind of a heavy dew, no more. It was a miracle. The hay was perhaps a touch more brown than it would have been, but it was just fine. The horses (who constitute the acid test) like it very much.

Here’s the pisser. I had gotten (paid for) between six and eight hundred bales off that field for many years. This year - and there is no less hay - I got four hundred....

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Investment Opportunity

It has come to me that - in the future event when I have extra money - I should invest in companies which make applesauce and molasses. Horse people will know instantly why this is so - it is only remarkable that it has taken this long for me to reach the conclusion. Right now, for example, I am making noticeably more trips to the dump for my recyclables, since the dang boxes are overflowing with empty applesauce and molasses jars. And it never seems to be the ponies which need it - it is always the HUGE horses with their high dosages of icky and unpalatable powders which need the spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. Well, more like a quart. And it is a good thing we use many times the recommended number of fly predators - even though flies also love the stuff there just aren’t that many flies around, even in the heat.

Hay is a more difficult subject this year - I am practicing my mantra, to wit: If you don’t worry, then you won’t need to worry. Kind of esoteric, but it makes sense to me. And in the reaches of the night when things can be dark on every level, the mantra is handy. I certainly have enough in the barns for quite a while, but my comfort is in having them quite full by now and alas, it has not happened. The field which was to have suppled a huge quantity of my needs was cut a day late, in its 20 acre entirety, in spite of the fact that everyone (including the farmer) knew that weather was coming in. Sure enough, only a few hundred bales were possible, and I would not buy half of it since it was not dry enough, The rest of the cut hay was soaked, and then soaked again and again. Totally ruined. They don’t call it the heartbreak of farming for nothing - what a waste. The sodden rows are still there, silent in their mute reproach to bad luck and sad judgement every time I drive by.

The rain is making for extraordinary growth this year, though. The gardens are leaping out of the ground, and are very beautiful. And the pastures are bearing up nicely, I must say. There is still plenty of grass for everyone, and each morning the horses are in a good mood and hustle themselves out to their Happy Places - it is cute.

I am happy that the growth is so lush and beautiful for another reason, as well. We are planning an Open House here at Back Acres on Sept. 24th, and as I am a houseproud owner, it matters tremendously to me that the place look nice. And so it will - the grass will still be green at this rate, and the flowers thriving. Details of the event are in the new Mass. Horse and on the Back Acres Farm Facebook page - hope to see you then!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Lead, feed, muck, mow. That about describes it - funny how an entire life can be characterized so briefly and crisply. The devil is in the details, as my neighbor told me today. In my case, the total substance is contained in the details.

Leading is a joy - my favorite culminating activity, especially in the mornings. Before leading them to their turnouts, I greet the horses one by one - ask them how their night was, admire their bed-head telling me that they were down or down flat, as the case may be. I check their buckets and feed areas to see what they did and how they liked it, etc. All of them are lovely to see, and they are certainly glad to see me because of the next activity which is the feeding part. There is a small current hiccup in the normal schedule, however. One horse needs a syringe of medicine first thing, and she really doesn’t like it. She actually pinches her little horse lips together tightly in an effort to keep the syringe tip out. She is the nicest of mares, and I just hate to subject her to it, but there is no help - even though the glop is mixed with as much molasses as I can fit. It will be over soon, thank goodness, but you can’t tell her that. The rest in this barn must wait for their food while I dose her, since it would be even ruder for her to have to listen to them munching and banging their feed bins around while she stoically endures The Syringe. Now it is time for everyone’s favorite thing - the rattle of a handful of hay stretcher pellets for a porky little pony, the slithery sound of crimped oats and barley for the Oldenburgs, the perfumy older horse sweet feed for the retired Standardbred, and a small amount of sweet feed for the patient mare, since it’s the only thing she likes as a med chaser. Once fed, then they get their bonnets and their head-wear and their sprays and life is good - time to go out.

Mucking isn’t so bad - I have great help seven days a week, and they do a dandy job. Bleach and clean the tubs? Yes ma’am. Move hay? Why, certainly. Muck the sacrifice area? You bet. And so on - I would adopt them all.

The mowing, alas, is my job. The big tractor has a brush hog for pasture tending, and there is good news and bad news with regard to this tractor. The good news is that it runs on waste vegetable oil during the summer, and that is also the bad news. I had one day last week to finish mowing the pastures before more rain, and the dang thing quit before I was 20 minutes into it. Cursing, I nursed a coughing, sputtering and powerless machine up the hill to my mechanic neighbor who is already swamped with work. I was the LAST person he wanted to see, limping into his yard with my tractor, but he is a civil man and a good neighbor and agreed to take a look. Sure enough, it was a plugged fuel filter from the oil. I got a lecture on at least mixing diesel into it, which I received with meekness, but then we figured out it is much cheaper and just as effective to simply change the filter once a month. So I went out and bought four filters, which should see me through. In the meantime while it was still at the neighbor's, I mowed the pastures with the lawn tractor which is a tough little thing but not really built for lush field work. I actually apologized out loud to it many times while ramming through tall weeds, listening to the poor thing struggle and spit smoke from the effort. I felt the need to bear down, however, because of ticks...not that we have many. It is rare to find one at this altitude (along with dogs have never worn collars since we moved here). But one is too many and tall grass only encourages them....and honest to god it is a jungle out there with the recent weather.

Doesn't seem like much, but these sorts of events and activities fill all the hours of the day. The wise person once was asked by a student - "What shall I do to attain enlightenment?” “Chop wood and carry water”. “And after I have attained it?” “Chop wood and carry water.” My own mantra has become the one I started with above - it carries everything within its words.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Today, at least, spring is finally here. The horses are very funny with it - full of beans and joie de legumes. It has been a bit dicey trying to pace their exposure to the new grass, since the recent and continous heavy rains mean I have had to pull them off the pasture several times since the wet makes the ground cover very fragile. They sulk. Now that it’s nice again, I am encountering meaningful stares and pregnant nickerings about the timing of gate openings to the grass. And it’s not so easy getting them back in again, I can tell you. Horses are very cheap dates - I can’t imagine a human being so exhilarated about a patch of green stems, unless he or she is a golf course manager.

The newest little wrinkle is a morning (mourning?) dove who has built a nest in the topmost part of the indoor arena. Good choice for the bird, not so hot for the horses and riders. My housemate took his computer out there to emit raptor cries, in an attempt to get her/them to relocate, but no joy. It was pretty funny - such a 21st century approach to animal pest management. Anyway, since the nest is 35 feet in the air through a thicket of rafters and struts, we have decided to look at it as a learning and teaching opportunity, since there is no way to remove it. Hopefully the young ones will be hatched and fledged in short order and there will be a number of bird-flapping-proofed horses to show for it. Plus it’s now dry enough to use the outdoor arena.

Happy spring!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Recent events

Yes, it’s been a long time again since the last post. Always with the excuses, you say. But really, this time it’s a good one! Two weeks ago Saturday I was out early for chores, since I had four people arriving for Easter weekend, and twelve people sitting down to dinner on Easter Sunday. My mental list was scrolling down, setting forth all the things which needed doing after chores - the table, the cleaning, the cooking prep, the flowers, etc., etc. Also, it was snowing, for Pete’s sakes, and there was already two inches on the ground. So I was resigned to Long Chores, including blanketing everyone and I was therefor out early to get a jump on it. My first stop was a calm, nice, quite large horse whom I had blanketed many times before. I threw the sheet over, and didn’t get it on at first since he is pretty big. So, while he was eating his breakfast, I tried again, more forcefully. So forcefully that the tummy straps flew over his back and hit the stall window with a clatter, startling him. He jumped a bit, and hit me, so that I staggered at speed toward the opposite wall and after hitting it I fell, really really badly. So badly, in fact, that I couldn’t get up. I laid there like a bug on its back in the pee and poo, whimpering and hoping to heaven the agitated horse (still with his sheet half on) wouldn’t step on me. Which he didn’t, god bless him. But it was quite a long time before I could move enough to turn over and crawl out backwards, and then I laid on my back again in the barn aisle for another long time, still whimpering, before I could struggle up and into the house where my housemate finally found me.

So, let’s go visit Penn and play hospice!! Not only could I not greet my guests later that day, I couldn’t do anything at all. Not vacuum, not set the table, not walk at all, in fact. I had to be carried to the table for the meal, I got stuck on the toilet. This episode opened whole new horizons of incapacity for me. If people wished to visit me, they had to pay court to me on the couch in the living room, where I laid in state like a French demi-mondaine (sp?) in her salon, issuing Vicoden-informed nuggets of wisdom and wit. The weekend was a hoot, I must say. After that, not so much - many days on the couch not able to either sit or stand without quite a bit of discomfort. The miracle is nothing was broken or fractured, nothing is bulging or compressed. I am very, very lucky. People came in almost every day to minister to me - in particular an osteopath and a body worker who helped quite a bit. I am walking now, though I still can't sit much - but today's personal best was that I changed and washed all my bed linens! Doesn't sound like much, but it is, actually. I am reminded of a comment by the later Christoper Reeve who remarked (after his paralysis) that he really missed things like rummaging in the silverware drawer....

The cool things about this episode are several:

One: it has long been my conviction that without me personally involved in most everything, general collapse would ensue. Not so!! Help - competent help - boiled out of the woodwork, taking care of not only daily routine chores and water tub cleaning and hay moving, but also scooping the kitty boxes, loading a new toilet paper roll, feeding the dogs and cats, getting in food..... The list of things I couldn’t do was endless, and someone was always there to help. Neighbors I barely knew contacted me to see what they could do for me.

Two: my personal speed level has always been very fast. (Note: I have always thought that personal speed compatibility was the greatest single indicator of success in couples. A person who walks/thinks/reacts/talks at a significantly different speed than their partner will not last with him or her.) Now, my speed is slow. I am starting to do things, but at a very different rate, and in a different way. I must think out beforehand how it will work, and what I need to set up by way of tools, etc. It affords me quite a bit more psychic space, which I find both interesting and rewarding. I don't know how long it will be before I am fully recovered, but's fine. The horses continue calm and content, masked against flies, grazing happily - it's good.

Moral - it’s an ill wind that blows no good? That’ll do.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chicken tales

Things are quiet here - aside from the mess-stress. Spring always does that - it may be the season of hope in the suburbs, but in the country it means full realization of how much there is now to do, since the gentle and misdirecting snow blanket is gone. At least the chickens are laying in full spate now - between six and twelve a day. Quite a few for a household which doesn’t eat many eggs at the moment...though the dogs enjoy their evening egg w/kibble meal selection.

I love chickens - they do have personality but they certainly lack intelligence. This does not bother them at all - so much to do, so little time...endlessly self-important clucking about doing hardly anything at all, day after day. Here is a chicken tale - this actually happened.

We had a Black Australorp hen one year who developed a crop impaction. The crop is the little pouch behind the beak where the food hangs for a bit and gets ground up before making its way to the stomach (as I understand it). The openings from one place to the next are pretty small and blockages can occur. The hen’s crop distended to the point where it was dragging her little head down and the other hens were beginning to pick on her. A call was put in to U-Conn’s Ag department, and an officious official listened to the issue and then instructed us to “whirl” her. We said we needed more to go on - he became impatient. “Just what I said! Take the chicken by the legs, dangle her at 6:00, whirl her around in a complete vertical circle, and jerk to a sudden stop back at 6:00! The centrifigal force will pop the obstruction out!” And that was that - we were introduced to a new Term of Art concerning chickens - Whirling. And so we did - we whirled that poor chicken twice a day for days. Lots of stuff came out her little beak, but her crop impaction did not improve.

As a last resort, I begged a visiting vet (who has sworn me to anonymity in his fear of mid-night chicken emergency calls) to please conduct the only other remedy according to the chicken book, which was surgery. After a silent moment he said he would try, if we could find him a chicken diagram and a scalpel, since he was not in the business of chicken medicine. So I photocopied an outline diagram of a chicken with an arrow pointing to the crop area, and went to my housemate to ask for a new exacto-knife. I found him talking to a stranger out in the woodshop, and asking permission to interrupt I got the exacto-knife but fussed out loud about the lack of an anaesthetic. “Don’t need any”, the stranger blared authoritatively. “Birds have no neural net in their breast area.” I stared at him - “No offence, but who the hell are you, and how do you know this?" I asked. I was informed huffily that he performed cardio-thoracic surgery on pigeons for a living - slit their little fronts open to insert instruments before throwing them into a wind tunnel. There was no come-back to that information, I must say - it was a genuine Monty Python moment.

The next critical moment arrived with the vet, who had one of those little Dr. Ben Casey circular lights strapped to his forehead (apparently left over from vet school) and a quantity of blue fluid in a tupperware tray to sterilize the exacto-knife and the curved upholstery needle we had found to sew her up again. We arranged ourselves in the barn tackroom with the chicken settled on my lap on her back, her little feet sticking out in front of her: the vet leaned over and nervously made a cut. Not much happened - this crop was wicked rubbery and resistant to penetration. He tried harder - in fact, began sawing. At once the three of us reeled back (we were accompanied by a horse trainer who happened by). The stench was overpowering - fluids spurted out of the aperture, and fibers emerged. He sawed again, and what came to light was a fist-sized ball of felted fibers, so matted and disgusting that there was never any hope of the chicken breaking it down. The opening had to be considerably enlarged in order to get this thing out, since it wouldn’t really compress. Finally the mass was out, and there was a great empty flapping pouch on her little chest. I was reeking by this point from the blood and ick, but the hen was composedly setting there as if she was on a picnic - making little crooning hen noises and interestedly looking around - she didn’t seem to notice anything unusual (see sentence above about chicken intelligence).

Now it was time to sew her up, but neither the vet nor the helper had their glasses on, and they couldn’t manage the thread the damn needle to save their lives - it was interminable. After fits and starts the stitching was done, and the hen placed a little cage while we all three stood around and looked at her to see what would happen. We were all sagged and wrung out, but she was hungry!! So I cooked her up some oatmeal gruel and she recovered just wasn't long before she started laying eggs again. The vet was back the next week to take pictures of his surgical triumph, and I think he has dined out on the story many times. The final episode was a bit sad - a year later her crop swelled again, so we whirled her and she had a heart attack and died. Couldn’t take any more, I expect. The moral - even if you count your chickens well after they are hatched, there is no certainty in this world.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Secret Life of Things

It’s been a while since I wrote - I was away with a group of old friends helping to clean out the family home of another recently dead old friend. The two of us who were executors only had one week, and the task was overwhelming. The parents - along with our recent friend their son - were artists, and there was - on top of a lifetime of regular stuff - a serious collection of art and art supplies. Three of the canvases were designated for a museum, but the rest was to be divied up among friends and then gone through and sorted out for either a secure storage area for remaining friends, or to charity, or to an estate agent. My job was the artwork - and it was just everywhere. Framed works were hung and piled everywhere upstairs and in the basement, and also in an enormous flat filing cabinet of perhaps twelve very large drawers. This was filled with work dating back to the parent’s art school days and early life work. As an example, one drawer alone held ten or so oil portraits - unframed and stacked one on the next. They were just lovely, of complete strangers to me, but fine work that I couldn’t imagine throwing away. There was a similar stack of watercolors - really very, very nice art. Fortunately, as to these pieces, I was able to reason with the estate agent, proposing that if he framed and matted them he could sell them, since they were good art. He seemed to agree - I hope so. And I swear the art supplies (destined for a local school classroom) were spawning in the walls.

And the art was just a patch on the contents of the house - furniture, appliances, tableware, dishes, electronics, books, clothes, rugs, bedding, toiltries, a pantry full of food, on and on. The normal destinations for this sort of thing were not available - the house was in the Hamptons on Long Island and the several charitable organizations contacted “did not go to that zip code”. Seven of us worked dawn to dusk packing and finding destinations - but in the meantime, we talked quite a bit about the nature of things and the laws which govern their existence.

My conviction of many years is that there are invisible eddies and currents along which the secret life of things is conducted - having not much to do with what we humans think of as control over the situation. Here is an example: many years ago I was walking through a Cambridge (MA) residential neighborhood, and I found a right hand sheepskin mitten. My size. I picked it up, since it was in great shape. A week later, I was walking on the downtown Boston waterfront, and found a left hand sheepskin mitten. My size. So now I had a set which was warm and my favorite and I used them happily for several years together with a lovely wool knit cap from Scotland. The mittens were always stored in the cap when not in use and put in the exact same place. One day all three of them simply left - no forwarding address. I didn’t lose them - they left - for whatever reasons govern the actions of things. The above is but one personal example of this phenomenon - I have many more.

And when it comes to a houseful of things, it is interesting to watch both how their accumulation and dispersal take place. Regarding dispersal - some seemed to leave with reluctance (it took many tries to get them out the door), and others simply flew out, all happy about the next chapter. You really have to wonder who is in charge - all of us were groaning under the burden of so many things and kept observing how as SOON as we got home we would begin cleaning out our own stuff since it was just hell to visit on our heirs/agents/whoever this task of dealing with so many objects. Yet as far as accumulation goes they keep coming into our lives of their own accord - I don’t even SHOP for pete’s sakes and my house is crammed. It is much harder to keep them out than let them in - don't you think?

And let’s not even go there about the barns......

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Almost Spring at Back Acres Farm

The last narrative on March 3 talked about taking a young horse for surgery in Rheinbeck, NY., and how the owner was beyond anxious for the horse - feeling like a horrible father subjecting his trusting dependent to elective surgery which would make no sense to the horse, etc. The story got a lot more interesting, actually. The boarder got several urgent phone messages from the vet the next day - unfortunately when he couldn’t take the calls - and the messages were simply scary - “Call me NOW”, and “Please call immediately”. The boarder instantly leaped to the worst conclusion, of course - the horse was dead. Actually what happened was that the surgery began as planned - to do a standing surgery in stocks to remove the undescended testicle under local anaesthesia - but the horse could not be safely sedated enough to tolerate the stocks. So Plan B was implemented - that of general anesthesia (less desirable because draft horses apparently don’t do very well with it). They began the surgery, located the missing testicle and attempted to draw it out, and it wouldn’t come. So in went the little camera to see what was up, and there was a TWENTY POUND TUMOR in there, tangled up in the doings. So large, in fact, that the fluid with which it was filled had to be drained out before the tumor could be removed. A routine surgery turned into a five hour surgery under general anesthesia - not at ALL what was planned for. And it was a plain miracle that this enormous tumor, attached at one end to a sort of cord, had not wrapped around a bowel yet. Which would certainly have happened soon, and when it did it would have looked like a very serious colic episode and/or bowel obstruction. This in turn would have meant a horse in agony having to be trailered for a minimum of two hours on an emergency basis, rather than what did happen. It seemed clear to us that the horse’s Higher Power was yanking on his human’s Higher Power’s sleeve, saying DAD, get me some help, please! It’s the only thing that explained the boarder’s weird rush to surgery for his horse, in spite of the fact that he actually did not want to castrate him.

The upshot is that the horse had to spend a week in the hospital with pretty serious incisions to deal with, and now needs up to two months of absolute stall rest at home. He is tucked in to the new barn with an outside window and his best friend next to him by day....the window between the stalls has had its bars removed so they can play Face - which they do. At night his other friend is next door, and it’s working pretty well. The incisions look really good, and a full recovery seems quite likely: what a satisfactory outcome, calloo, callay!!

Other than that - gosh it’s muddy. My weekday barn help has the happy facility of liking to play with water - so there are little berms and swales snaking around all the barns sending water here and draining it there, in a mostly successful attempt to keep the water out and away. Every year we tweak things more and the barns are less at risk - even this year, the watery incursions have been minimal. Life is good.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Video from our Playshop on Liberty Dancing with Bonnitta Roy

Here's a short video clip from the recent Playshop we hosted with Bonnitta Roy and the Horses at Alderlore on Liberty Dancing. It's a really fun way to connect with your horse on the ground and a creative way to introduce Dressage Principals to your horse before you go to mounted work.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Early March Tales from Plainfield and Back Acres Farm

It’s been a busy week around here. On Sunday there was a mini-clinic with Bonnitta Roy, who teaches "dancing" with horses, using liberty work principles and human body language. The session was filmed and will reportedly be seen at some point on her website at   Other sessions are posted there - so cool to watch. It was quite something to see - lovely, in fact.  Even though the weather was cold, the participants were highly enthusiastic, and there will be a follow-up clinic scheduled soon.

Two new horses arrived this week - a Hanoverian/TB mare belonging to a neighbor who needs one to two months of care, and a lovely Percheron/Trakehner cross from down South. We are dealing with the usual integration scrambles - keeping everyone calm, identifying optimal turnout and pasture buddies (or not) in this season with its footing from hell, making sure health and safety issues are taken care of as best we can.  I find myself wondering if new children in a day care situation are required to come with vet and vaccine certificates? I never had a kid, so don’t know the protocols - but friends with children seem to accept with both irritation and equanimity the fact that the children (and they) are routinely sick throughout the year by reason of the germs the kids bring home from school.

Yesterday a boarder and I drove to Rheinbeck, NY to the equine hospital there to take a young draft for cryptorchid/castration surgery. The owner had hoped to avoid it by waiting for the other testicle to descend, since abdominal surgery is by definition invasive and carries potential dangers, but the time had come. The hospital was lovely - very clean - and the vet-surgeon was beyond helpful and attentive. A white board was soon COVERED with diagrams as to the different possibilities including the up- and downsides of each  approach.  Informed consent was certainly an option after he was through explaining.  But the outing was tough on the horse and tough on the owner:   the young horse had been trailer-trained but never taken anywhere so far away (on bad roads), and then he was upset by a strange environment. The owner felt as if he had betrayed his horse-friend who trusted him in getting on the trailer, and now the horse - who wasn’t even sick - was going to have a difficult couple of days, and wouldn’t understand why. A real conundrum for any male horse owner - we talked quite a bit about it on the way home. Any castration is nasty for the horse - no way around it. This one, of course, was more medically indicated since apparently an undescended testicle has a much higher liklihood of becoming cancerous - so the surgery was probably indicated in any case. Still....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More late winter at Back Acres Farm

Let’s see - what’s new. Alas, not much - unless more snow counts. I wish we had gotten even more, actually, since it would cover the ice better. And speaking of snow, one of the adopted horses went down in the snow last week. He is a very old, very large draft cross who has little strength left in his hind quarters and a blown-out hock and continuous trouble getting to his feet once he goes down to roll.  He is usually pretty smart about this - choosing to roll so that his hind end is uphill such that he gets a gravity assist in getting back up.

This time, however, he rolled into the deep snow pack at the bottom of the hill, and could not get up. I first observed this situation out the kitchen window while noticing my house mate with a shovel busily working around a horse head located much lower to the ground than usual. I went out to see, and he was trying to lower the horse’s front end to help him up, but to no avail. A number of us gathered to try and push the old guy’s body at least over his hind feet (which were out to the side) but this also did not work since he seemingly weighs as much as a small car. And he was now swivelled against the fencing with his front feet sunk deeply into the snow bank, and getting more and more exhausted from his efforts.

I think this is one of the hardest things about winter and horses - an exhausted horse down outside, late in the day, with the temperature dropping. The last time this happened (to this same horse) it was two winters ago and he was down on a sheet of ice. We piled manure around him to try to give him traction, we pulled, we pushed, it was late Sunday afternoon with a blizzard on the way. I drove around the town trying to find someone with a large enough tractor to lift him up from his ribcage, and finally found a neighbor who was willing to come over.  Hours later, via industrial strapping around his mid-section chained to the tractor bucket, he was up. It was a very upsetting experience for everyone, even though the good outcome prevailed.

This time, I thought I would try using my own tractor before tugging on the neighbor’s sleeve again - it’s a fair distance through freezing cold air to ask him to come. God bless my little John Deere - even though it’s only 23 horse I was able to dig out the snow bank to reach the horse, and then gently snug the padded bucket edge under the horse’s hind end - and then lift the bucket. Hallelujah - it worked - the front legs were so buried he couldn’t slide forward off the bucket, and then he was up. Shaky, but up. My house mate and I actually raised our hands and eyes to heaven in thanksgiving, and I gave my heroic little tractor a lot of pats as well.  I love that thing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Late winter at Back Acres Farm

My housemate has a morning ritual of counting down the days to spring, via the front hall blackboard. There are little chalk-drawn flowers, and a slowly lessening number of days until that blessed event. I don’t have the heart to point out that 30-odd days until Spring lands us in the middle of March - called the cruelest month for good reason. Still nasty cold and offering only mud season to look forward to. Of course a good perspective is to remember a few years ago after the 2008 ice storm. I was not very upset about the damage during January and February, since I couldn’t really see it. Then March came, and the melt revealed the extent of the devastation to trees and fields and fences, and I reeled back, totally overwhelmed. There was no place to which to avert my eyes, since the mess was 360 degrees - everywhere. It seemed that even if I hired every chain saw in Plainfield I didn’t have a prayer. Yada-yada-yada. Of course it got cleaned up, though it took about a year and a half.

And so far this year, we only have snow - and, er, ice - oh yeah. We are spreading shavings and stall leavings on it for traction, but nonetheless leading is done at a snail’s pace. I swear these horses are so plugged in. I talk to each of them in turn, reminding them that slow and steady wins the race and no fooling around, please - it’s not safe. And danged if they don’t listen. We take our time over the slippery bits, chatting and stopping as needed, and they get to their day turnout or night stalls all cheerful and ready for hay and water and whatever. Nice.

One of the cool things about owning this place is that I get a lot of choice over what happens here, and lots can happen since a Farm upside is that it is pretty large. One of the Back Acres trainers has organized a clinic for the 27th - a Complete Spontaneous Liberty Dancing clinic with Bonnita Roy who draws inspiration from Klaus Hempfling, Carolyn Resnick, and Karen Rolfe. I did not know what this meant at first, but apparently it involves using body language to create "dance steps" with your horse, utilizing basic natural dressage movements at liberty.  It sounds wonderful - I am looking forward to seeing it.  The link is for anyone who wants to read more about it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More tales from Plainfield and Back Acres Farm

I am just back from Denver, visiting with an old friend who has spent quite a bit of time here in Plainfield at Back Acres Farm, Mark Seidler. He lived here, in fact, for several months this summer. I did not know at the time, and perhaps he did not either, that he was dying of cancer back then. But so it transpired, and three of us (friends for 45 years+) went out to Denver to spend time with him before he goes. It was a terrific time, albeit surreal. He is very unsentimental about his leave-taking, which is an enormous relief. No one has to pretend that there is no elephant in the room. He speaks naturally about when he is dead, and is spending his remaining time taking care of his estate arrangements (in which he is involving his friends) and doing what he can with the people around him. We had a party for him one evening which would have been a wake except he was there, we had a brunch, we took him for his last drive in the mountains, we talked current events, movies, art and philosophy, and we rubbed his feet a lot. He is painfully thin and can’t eat anything at all, but is still himself - still interested in everything around him and still capable of laughing. The guy is an inspiration - I hope I face my own death with as much courage and equanimity.

Things are good at Back Acres Farm, as well. There are two new boarders - a lovely quarter horse and a lovely Hanovarian (this last a refugee from the collapsed barn in Southampton). Both were very gentlemanly and well-mannered, even on the first day when everything was strange. Turn-out is a bear, of course, since the snow pack is so deep that venturing into it traps even the largest horses’ legs. We carved out areas in several fields with the tractor for the new guys to stand in, but the Hanovarian’s response to his new turnout was to LEAP into the snow pack and head towards the ladies in the next pasture over, who - of course - were trotting back and forth as seductively as they ever could. The poor guy got stuck, of course, and his owner (fortunately very light weight) had to tiptoe over the ice crust and coax him back. This morning the love-light was back in his eyes but he seems to be a smart fellow who is capable of learning - he only looked at them longingly and did not try it again.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tales from Plainfield and Back Acres Farm

Terrible news about a barn/arena roof collapsing in Southampton. I am trying to feel the owner’s pain - though I am sure my imagination comes way short of what he must actually be feeling. Thank god no horses were hurt - I have spent my own share of sleepless nights during bad weather twitching with worry for the same reason. The newer barns at Back Acres were built with heavy snow loads in mind - very steep pitch on the indoor arena since the roof is so large. The cupola barn was built as a replacement barn and has the steepest pitch of all - the old barn nearly collapsed from the snow load, as well as being afflicted by frequent flooding in the spring.

Early on, after our first horrific flooding episode, we were fortunate to have our new neighbors streaming over to help us get the barn drained.  Good thing, since I was recovering from surgery and my then-husband only had one arm. I remember going to buy new shavings to replace the bedding lost to water, and having the store manager tell us "Oh yes, my barn floods every year, too". We asked how long that had been going on, and he reckoned since about the 1780's or so. We asked how come the situation had not been fixed yet? He said, "Well, in the spring it’s flooded, in the summer it’s dry and not a problem, in the fall we are too busy, and in the winter it’s frozen",  in a matter-of-fact way as if illuminating the obvious to not-very-bright people.

Anyway, liquid water is certainly not the problem now. I am wondering where we are going to put the remaining snow this winter, if it carries on arriving. We are keeping the parking lot plowed well enough, but its dimensions are dwindling. This morning in the tackroom, three of us were discussing what to do about the next weather-related thing, and as one - we raised a cheer for New England weather. Not for sissies.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

From Christian at Back Acres Farm

One of my favorite moments to spend with my horses is at night. Cold winter nights. Balmy summer nights. Every night before hitting the bed (and I hardly ever go to sleep much before midnight), I head out to let my old Gambler (30 y/o retired Clyde-cross, ex-policehorse) out of his separate mini-paddock where he spends some 8+ hours a day by himself to have enough time to eat his grain and hay without everyone else stealing his much needed nourishment. I check on the herd, and give them all another flake of hay (much welcome in these long frigid nights). I walk up to my mare Lili, she meets me half way. Her whiskers touch my face. A soft nicker, almost imperceptible under her steamy breath. We stand in silence for a few moments, contemplating the starry sky, the majestic sillouettes of the ancient maple trees that border the pasture. Do you want some hay? We march up to the barn through two feet of snow. The night envelops us, slows everything down, and makes the interaction with the horses sweeter and more tender than at other times of the day. The snow leaves even the most moonless nights bright. But before the snow started falling, it was pitch black during new moon. I would just stand out under the stars until my eyes adjusted to the darkness. At first I thought I'd never be able to see a thing, but then my vision slowly opens like a photograph developing in the chemical. Bit by bit I begin to make out a shape. Is this Destry over there? Is it a tree? The tree begins to move toward me. It is Destry. We move carefully, tentatively. We cannot be as sure about the world as we are during the day time. I sit with them for a while and listen to the sound of their teeth grinding the hay, occasionally they blow their nostrils: the sound of a horse at ease, simple happiness. As I listen to them eat in the dark, I think: there is nothing that could make me feel more at home. Out under the sheltering sky, the sound and smell of eating hay. It is like a faint memory of something I once was. By the time I leave them for the rest of the night, I laugh at my initial temptation of bringing a flashlight. I would have deprived myself of this magical moment when the world slowly emerges from utter darkness around me. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tales from Plainfield and Back Acres Farm

Another week, another eight inches of snow. The horses are funny with it - particularly the big ones. The snow is so deep out in the pastures that they are reluctant to wade through it, seemingly because they fear getting their legs stuck. I try and put the hay a little further outside the trompled area every day, in order to increase the size of their walking "area". The disinclination to step into the snow is so strong, however, that it takes a while for hay-hunger to overcome it. I actually hired a snowmobile to come a few days ago to try and pack down an area in the pastures, but it was a waste of time. Even the weight of the machine wasn’t enough to make a real difference, and then it snowed another eight inches on top.

I walked up the hill to the upper barn last night to check on a horse with a tummy-ache, and the sky was startling in its beauty. Utterly clear, and stars everywhere - as bright as ice chips. Winter is very quiet, and winter at night even more so. The horse seemed better - her eye was bright and she was quietly eating her hay, so I was reassured that she would have a good night. The dogs were delirious with the unexpected walk, and whizzed around in circles up and down the road. My youngest dog does the Run of Joy which is very funny to watch - seriously fast with his tongue and tail streaming behind him, just for the sheer pleasure of it. In the snow, it is even funnier, since he has extremely short legs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tales from Plainfield and Back Acres Farm

January 24, 2011

Last Thursday the Plainfield What-Nots (a venerable ladies group dating from war-brides after WWII) had a Caribbean dinner. Very nice spread, and lots of tropical drinks. As the hostess said, if it hasn’t got rum in it, I’m not interested. We laughed a lot and got silly, and tried to decide what to spend our $600 kitty on.  As Town Moderator, I suggested a new Moderator’s podium since it is so low I have to hunch at Town Meeting - it is undignified. Unsurprisingly, no one voted for this. It looks as though we will more likely look into funding a local cabinet-maker to build a display case for the library, since there is an historic doll collection which needs restoration and then proper quarters.

Some of the town ladies put on a dinner Saturday night, and a few of us Farm people went. What a hoot!! Jake the Farm Intern had a fun time, since there were a group of Americorp kids there, and he got to hang out with people his own age, which was quite a treat for him. (He is an extremely cheap date). It’s all volunteer - the host ladies provided roast pork and roast beef, and the townspeople provided the rest of the side dishes - all sorts of vegetables and some soup and toothsome breads and rice dishes. Around fifty people sat down - we sat with some people I did not know and was glad to meet, since I had been passing the woman’s house for years and recently noticed that a series of cute sheds had sprouted up, housing goats. We had a good goat chat - I myself have a history of goats and it’s always fun to compare goat-notes. We just got two more here at the Farm, since - although they are annoying at times - there is nothing better for keeping weedy stone walls and odd corners free of unsightly weeds and scrub saplings. After the dinner there was a musical event upstairs at the Town Hall - I will let merciful oblivion temper my report on it, except to say that effort should be honored.

The cold has been severe. I wrestle with issues of horse comfort and safety, as I do every year at this time. Single or double blanket? What to do about blanket rips when it’s little too cold to take them off and send them out for repair - but the hanging bits constitute Xmas in July for bored pasture mates? How to keep water tubs clean when they are sunk in the snow? Fences shorting out, water tub heaters at issue, frozen’s all part of the life and thank goodness it’s only this cold three months a year. All the animals seem good, thank the lord - anxious to be out, and then anxious to be in again. They make me laugh. Lily the Appy mare (who had an eye trauma of mysterious origins in December and spent a week in the hospital) seems completely cured except that very bright light on the snow seems to bother the eye a little bit. We both got very tired of frozen meds and fingers in her eye, so I recently decided to leave her in peace since all discernable symptoms were gone. The vet will re-check at some point and tell me if there is anything left in the deep recesses. That event was interesting - the soundest horse on the planet - who had not even been footsore in ten years - came up with an eye injury for which there was no explanation. There was nothing protruding in her stall, no infection, no surface or adjacent laceration or bruising, just a trashed eyeball as if some Stooge had poked her with a blunt finger. We still don’t know what caused it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekly entries about life in Plainfield, centered at Back Acres Equine Facility.

I will start by saying that Plainfield is the best place I have ever lived. It is almost invisible from the outside - when you drive through town, there doesn’t seem to be anything there. Two stop signs, Mr. Tire, a few town buildings, and that’s it. You would think that living here would be the most boring thing in the world, and I can tell you that after living on three continents and in a number of major cities, it is the most rewarding place of all to be. Not to mention, clean air, clean water, clean soil.
The farm was found the first day looking - the second place we two couples saw, and an offer was put in that night. As Ralph the Guru used to say, "If it’s right, it’s easy". That part, at least, was easy.
The farmhouse is a two family house, part very old and part very new - the old part has had only nine owners previous to me. The energy is of a place where people worked hard but were calm and kind to each other - no evidence of nastiness in the feeling of the house - just safety. It’s nice. The surrounding land (about 80 acres) also seems to have its own energy - and definitely seems to like horses. I have found it odd over the past 12 years at how easily horses and horse activities show up, as opposed to any other. The feeling is much more of stewardship regarding a pre-existing point of attraction, rather than creating something out of whole cloth.
It is also true that when horses show up here (as many, many have since the beginning), that their shoulders seem to drop. Don’t know whether it’s the underlying energetic, the lack of traffic, the orientation of the humans, the good amount of space - probably a combination. But it’s nice to see them take a deep breath and relax. Very gratifying.