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 www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=190466440975840 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.