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 w-bryant@comcast.net 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 http://www.landauvet.com/about.htm

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 http://fdhorsetraining.com/

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 backacresfarm.com 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!