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Three Steps Back

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As per my previous post, Dharla was moved to a boarding barn in the beginning of November. Unfortunately, due to a crazy, mixed-up schedule, she had to come back home ten days later for various vet & chiro appointments. These were appointments that had been scheduled previously, but had to be postponed until November. Since I wasn’t about to pay two trip changes (Really? A second charge to drive 2.5 miles to a second location?), I decided to ride her home. Naturally, once the appointments were over the weather wouldn’t cooperate for me to ride her the half hour ride back, so we lost a little over a week of training. Not a great start.

To say we didn’t start off on the right foot would be an understatement. Oh, she settled in OK the first time there, but it’s been one headache after another since she went back. I won’t go into the details here, but it should suffice to say that basic people skills and an attempt to make sure the customer is (somewhat) happy should be the core of any successful business. And when it’s not? Shit happens.

Dharla will be coming home after we get our fully paid month of training and board. We have nine days to “make up” but I’m not even sure if we’ll stay long enough to fulfill that. (Since I’ll ride her home, our departure is weather dependent.) My unhappiness at the barn has nothing to do with my trainer and it pains me that circumstances beyond her control will force us to move on. It ain’t her fault, but I’m too old to waste another minute of my time or spend another dime at a barn where there are so many glaring issues.

It isn’t always easy for me to recognize when something isn’t working.  Since I hate the idea of conflict, I’ll do just about anything to avoid it. But age highlights the fact that time is precious. More than ever I feel like  I don’t have the luxury of just waiting to see if issues will work themselves out. Nor am I willing to put up with circumstances that, two decades ago probably wouldn’t have bothered me a bit. Comfort. Safety. Camaraderie. Those things are important to me now and if they’re lacking … I’m gone.


Ready or Not

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We’ve spent the better part of the last two days prepping for the looming “historic” snow storm of 2015. We have batteries, candles, propane, gas for the tractor and snow blower and plenty of milk and bread. (?) It started snowing at 9:15 this morning and so far it looks like any other gray, mid-winter January day. That’s to say that at this point our storm of ‘epic proportions’ doesn’t have much bite. The weather channel has been peppering their forecast with words like ‘gravely dangerous’ and ‘life-threatening.’ I’m not exactly sure why, but perhaps we’ll find out as the night progresses? I’d think a better choice of words might be ‘inconvenient’ or ‘bothersome,’ but I suspect those words aren’t sensational enough to drive ratings.

So here we sit, waiting.

It’s cold.

It’s snowy.

It’s winter.

We’re bored.


That’s Gonna Leave A Mark

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(Dharla. Unblemished.)

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This is my horse Dharla. As Arabs go she’s not bad looking. Not show-stopping, drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s kinda cute in a girly sort of way. She was an adorable, make-you-want-to-squeal filly. I know this only because I saw pictures of her from when she was a baby. (I have a few baby photos somewhere, but I’m too lazy to look for them.) She was a very feminine little thing, full of pep and spunk, yet dainty. Four years ago when I was looking for another horse and went to see Dharla, I didn’t ask her breeders/owners to relay any antidotes about her “childhood.”  I kind of regret that now that I know Dharla better.

I noticed right off that (for an Arab) Dharla was well-reared. She was cooperative and well-mannered while being handled, groomed and led. She had no qualms about us, total strangers, walking into her stall and picking up each of her feet. She stood there quietly, attentive, yet untethered as my husband and I gently went over every inch of her body. We watched as Dharla was tacked up to be ridden. Again, she was compliant and calm. While I credit her trainer for much of Dharla’s quiet acceptance of this routine, I know it spoke of a horse that had been exposed to a great deal of variety over the course of her (still) young life. (Dharla was coming on age four that spring, which is considered quite young by Arab standards)

Dharla was born and raised on a local, high-quality Arab and Warmblood farm. The owners take part in every aspect of the breeding, foaling and rearing process of every foal and have a reputation for turning out some very lovely, highly successful show horses. That said, no matter how carefully one pours over pedigrees and bloodlines, sometimes a foal just doesn’t live up to expectations. While that was never said or implied, I have my suspicions Dharla was one of those foals. And I suspect her breeders knew this from fairly early-on, which only makes me respect them even more. Why? Because they didn’t just let Dharla slip through the cracks, like some breeders would.

Instead, Dharla was raised exactly like every other foal born on this farm. She was handled often and given lots of opportunity to see and do new things as she grew up in the safety of a small herd of youngsters her own age. Bred as a Sport-horse prospect, Dharla was halter shown and graded as a yearling. (Her grades were very high!) This meant she got a little exposure to riding in a trailer and being in a show environment. When Dharla was old enough, she began the slow process of being trained to be ridden. Professional trainers do the early prep and backing of the youngsters on this farm, but as her training progressed one of the owners rode her too. Nothing in Dharla’s young life was any different than her more valuable relatives and companions.

There’s nothing really wrong with Dharla. It’s just that on a farm like this, babies that are going to grow up to be really outstanding prospects are earmarked from an early age. Dharla was a slow bloomer. That’s not unusual for an Arab, but when trying to run a profitable business one must determine where to invest the most time and money. Dharla had a sister (bred from the exact same parents, but born a year later), who had already proven herself more worthy of that investment. The sisters looked almost identical, but the similarities ended there. Twice I rode Dharla’s sister and I liked her a LOT, but she was priced out of my budget and she was way out of my league.  Besides, I wasn’t looking for a show prospect, I was looking for a future trail mount. (Although still on the market to the “right” buyer, Dharla’s sister has been retained by her breeders and has been extensively and successfully shown by them.)

Dharla has grown up to be a fine trail horse. Athletic and smart, she has just the right amount of common sense and self-preservation that makes her a good team player, but capable of independent thought when necessary. Translation? She’s not inclined to do stupid shit. Granted, at this stage of my life I’m not prone to take a lot of risks out on the trail, but occasionally we’ll run into a situation where I really need to rely on my horse to get the job done with no wiggle room for mistakes.  It’s times like that when I’ll look to my horse to help me make a decision and execute it, and it helps to know she’ll work with, not against me. Sometimes Dharla can be willful and stubborn. That’s the quirky side of her personality. But usually when the grit hits the fan I can count on her to do her job without a lot of extra drama. I value that.

All that said, it’s hard to understand how a horse that is apt to think clearly on the trail is so accident prone at home. I went out to feed early this morning and found Dharla sporting a big bald patch by her left eye. During the night she must have had a close encounter with a blunt object. The good news is that her eye is fine. (Phew!) Unfortunately, she looks like hell, and will continue to do so until the hair grows back. I know this only because this is a common occurrence for her and boo-boos are seldom a big surprise. For some odd reason Dharla has a tendency to like to throw her weight (and head) around.  I’m sure if her pasture-mates could talk they’d say Dharla can be hard to get along with. She’s seldom truly mean, but she’s known to be ornery and mercurial. I kind of get the feeling neither of the boys ever really know where they stand with her. She wants them nearby, but she doesn’t want them close. And that makes for some interesting dynamics. It’s a little like taking kids on a long car trip; eventually someone’s gonna get poked.

As Gilda Radner would say, “It’s always something!”

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(Baby Dharla. Photos not taken by me)


Gotcha

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In the world of dog rescue there’s an often-practiced way of celebrating the “birthday” of an animal whose date of birth is unknown. We commemorate their adoption date, or in certain cases a better term would be their  “Gotcha” day. Some of these adoptions are formal endeavors, with long, dragged-out protocols that include the filling out of page-long detailed forms, telephone interviews with every member of the family, calls to your vet and a handful of character references and a final home inspection visit that includes a meet-and-greet for household members and all current pets, after which (if you make the grade) you sign multiple documents whereby you must agree to relinquish the rescued animal should the rescue organization ever deem you unfit, and the exchange of a rapidly increasing amount of money.  (Yeah. Feel free to take a big deep breath and exhale s-l-o-w-l-y.) But other “adoptions” are precarious events where the animal in question barely gets out of a bad situation by the skin of their teeth and the adopter flys by the seat of their pants. They don’t get the luxury of knowing if the animal will be a great “fit” or not and if things fall apart no one has their back because oftentimes, all the parties involved are working in the red and flying blind. Which is how I’d like to think the term “Gotcha Day” was coined. It makes things sound a little more like Raiders of the Lost Ark than Lassie Come Home.

Rascal’s “adoption” (December 14, 2013) was somewhere in the middle: Not quite a full blown Rader’s situation, but not a Lassie story either. His owner was down-to-her-last-bale-of-hay desperate, but Rascal was in good health and condition. So I got there in the nick of time, but not a minute too soon. I don’t like to think of myself as an angel or even a Good Samaritan, but the truth of the matter is, this woman had reached out to our local horse community (on Facebook) more than once and nobody stepped forward to help. Nobody. Oh, there were several suggestions that covered everything from where she might be able to buy more hay (no funds) to warning that she should avoid offering him on a free lease (because the lessee would surely turn around and sell him to a kill buyer), but nobody said they’d take him. Not even temporarily. Nobody.

The picture she posted haunted me for days. Not because the horse looked abused or thin or sick. No, it wasn’t that. (Those make it easy to determine right v/s wrong!) The picture haunted me because this horse looked just like my husbands first horse, Beanie, whom we’d lost only a year prior. But I truly thought somebody (else) would step up to the plate and take this horse, and I was so sure of it that I didn’t call to inquire about his story until weeks passed and she posted again. I think it was at that moment that I realized I couldn’t sit and wait for somebody else to do the right thing. It was quite possible that I was “it,” the only person who would call. And so I did and the rest is history.

I’m not a hero. For the first few months I worried a lot that I’d made a horrible mistake. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop; for the horse to get sick or lame or mean and crazy or …. something. Instead, what I discovered restored my faith in people.  Rascal’s former owner never painted a false picture just to place him. Maybe I was just very lucky, but Rascal is every bit the exact horse his owner told me he would be; Kind, sweet, silly, wary, rascally. Yes, he is VERY rascally at times!

I won’t lie, there are days when I don’t relish having that “extra” horse to take care of and another mouth to feed, but 99% of the time I have no regrets. And yes, I still hold to my word that Rascal belongs to his prior owner and if that day ever comes that she can have him back, he’s hers. But I say that with less conviction now. I’d let him go, but now I know how she felt on that cold December day when she stood, tears streaming down her cheeks as she waved goodbye to Rascal. My heart would ache for a long, long time.

I’m a few days late, but Happy “Gotcha” Day little buddy!


The Resting Place

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Tia

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The horses are starting to realize the new barn is home. I’ve let them down back to graze a couple of times and after having to go down and lead them up the lane twice, they figured out how to get back to the new barn on their own. It’s not complicated, just different. In fact, they have to walk past the lane that leads up to the new barn in order to go to the old barn. It’s really just a matter of them understanding that the new barn is where the hay, water and shelter can be found now.

It seems they like to spend their nights under the pines. At first they avoided the wooded part of their new paddock, but they’ve gradually started to explore it a bit more on their own. I’m seeing signs that they’ve bedded down in the pine needles and both Dharla and Rascal have had oak leaves tangled in their tail and mane the last few mornings. When I was picking the pasture today I noticed several piles of manure in the woods. Apparently they like to lay right where Beanie and Tia were buried. At first that discovery seemed a bit creepy, but after some thought I came to the conclusion that dead horses probably don’t mind the company. When we were first thinking about including the burial ground in the paddock my husband was hesitant, but I didn’t think it all that strange. It’s one of the rare flat spots on our property and since it abuts the new barn it would be silly to exclude it from the paddock. With only a few suitable acres, every square inch of property that we can wrangle for turnout counts.

It’s been four years since both Bean & Tia died. The ground over their resting place has long since settled and were it not for the large flat stone that marks their grave you’d be hard pressed to know where they’re buried. Do our horses sense something we can’t? I don’t know, but I find it both strange and comforting that they’ve chosen this very spot in the woods to lay down. Their caramel-colored dropping mix with the long pine needles and I smile as I pick through their cozy slumber nest. In that moment I feel like we’re all together again, one big family.


Change

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Hibiscus

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It’s easy to tell it’s almost full-fledged fall. I get three distinct reminders:

 

  1. The horses start shedding their summer coats
  2. The dinner plate-size hibiscus burst into bloom
  3. The skunks make their dusk or dawn presence known

Twice in the last week I’ve been jarred out of sleep by the pungent scent of Peppy LePew wafting through my open bedroom window.  The first time it happened I could hear the low rumble of Gus growling in his crate. Gus typically doesn’t make a peep during the night, but his highly tuned nose put him on full alert. The scent wasn’t too horribly strong, but there was no mistaking that a skunk had wandered across our property. When this happens in the spring it’s usually the young skunks who don’t have full control over their scent glands yet. But when it happens in the fall it’s more likely a full-fledged adult, which is a little more worrisome. It’s been years since I’ve had a dog get skunked, but it’s something you never forget. The smell that you usually associate with a skunk meandering through the area is nothing like the full force stench of them using their smell for defense. It’s got to be one of the most gagging, God-awful, eye-watering smells on earth. And it’s dangerous too. The dog who got skunked took a close-range shot to the face and I’m still not convinced that didn’t contribute to his blindness just a year or two later. With that episode in mind I’m not taking any chances. At the first indication that a skunk might be nearby the dogs get leashed and walked and there’s no running about freely until we’re sure the coast is clear. The pups are a little put out by that, but it’s far better than the alternative!

There are other signs of the approaching fall. The hummingbird feeder has transitioned from a dull roar to the occasional passer-by. We’re on the migration route so I’ll continue to fill the feeder until a couple of days pass with no visitors. The cardinals are getting very vocal. I’m not sure why because they’re here all summer, but every fall they become more active and noticeable. Could it be one of their food staples has come into season and they get more competitive over that? I don’t know, but I enjoy seeing the colorful pairs. Crickets are louder. I always end up with a few that get into my basement looking for what, I’m not sure! And the days have grown noticeably shorter. Our mornings stay dark now until almost 6:30 and the late afternoon sun slips over the ridge across the road by a little after 7 PM. The changing of seasons happens so fast that if I didn’t have nature to remind me I might miss it altogether.


Friends

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Bullet & Rascal

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I’m attending another funeral this morning. I’ve lost count of how many this makes in the last 18 months. This time a very dear friend of my mother-in-law died. I can’t remember a time when this woman wasn’t helping someone or doing something for someone else. She was one of the sweetest, most selfless ladies I’ve ever known, and a very beloved friend to mom. I know how hard it is for my mother-in-law to lose another close friend. I’m lucky to say I count a few of my friends as true sisters to me. And my own sisters are always there for me too. I can’t imagine my life without any of them, yet every time I go to one of these funerals I get a sharp reminder that the clock ticks for all.

In the hallway of one of my childhood homes there used to hang a small plaque that said:

This is the day the Lord has made.

We shall rejoice and be glad in it! 

As a child I used to ponder the meaning of that plaque. Nobody ever explained it to me and I didn’t know the verse was scripture. But I know that now. And with each passing year I feel the urgency of those words with a greater understanding.

Get out there and make the best of your day today. Rejoice in it and be glad you are alive to experience whatever your day brings. And here’s to friends who always have your back, no matter what.


Recovery

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Hazer

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His Royal Highness is feeling much better and is back to his humorless dictatorship over CurTale Farm. All is right with the world again. For now, anyway.


Buckskin Tattoos

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Bullet

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The bane of any buckskin: their dark skin. Especially if they’re a big old buttinski. Bully can’t keep his head out of places it shouldn’t be, and as a result he always has some kind of dark tattoo on his face. It’ll get better, fill in with time. But a few weeks (or days) later he’ll be sporting the remnants of another dark patch somewhere.

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Picture Stories

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I generally don’t use my blog to comment about stories posted on the Internet (by others), but today I read something that touched a personal nerve. Assumptions. We all make them from time to time. Even in a world that puts such a high priority on not judging. However, I find it more than ironic (and  bit hypocritical, too) that some of the same people who berate others for judging don’t try to check their own assumptions.

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I remember the comments I read after the first time I saw this photo, comments from people of all walks of life. Most of the comments were critical and sarcastic, but the most scathing remarks came from fitness fanatics. They ranted about how ironic it was that a fitness facility would install an escalator, and that perfectly healthy people would use it (as opposed to the stairs) when going to (or from) an exercise facility. Now I’m no an angel, but my first thought was a little different. I approached this picture from a handicapped point of view. I thought about the scores of people who’ve had hip replacements, knee surgery, back surgery and various injuries and broken bones, who need access to a gym to continue their rehab or fitness regime. When I mentioned that point, most people chastised me, pointing out that neither of the people on the escalator LOOKED handicapped. Ah. The old appearances and assumptions game. So apparently we’re told we shouldn’t judge others, but it’s OK to make assumptions about people based on how they look!

To be perfectly honest, I also thought about a few other scenarios regarding this photo. I wondered if the city or town had certain zoning regulations about how business must manage traffic flow, safety and accessibility. I know most gyms are swamped by crowds of members during certain, high-traffic times of the day. Perhaps escalators were installed to comply with a specific zoning criteria the facility had to meet? I also thought back to those days in my own lifting career when I trained to absolute failure and inhalation. There were many times when I left the gym and found myself nearly incapable of operating the clutch on my standard car. Would I have chosen to use an escalator some of those days? You betcha! With no hesitation, shame, or loss of pride I might add! My ego simply isn’t that big.

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So today’s photo that gave me pause was this:

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The comments about this photo were scorching. Lots of  angst and hate toward everything from SUV drivers/owners to bad park jobs and vehicular dings obtained at parking lots. Now I’m no stranger to parking arrogance or vehicle dings, but I don’t particularly like ostracizing people for their choice of vehicle. While I might not choose to drive a big SUV myself, I like having the right to pick the vehicle that suits my needs. Therefore, I don’t think all  SUV drivers or owners are the “bad guys” any more than I think all hybrid drivers are raging liberals and nerds. I think most people are a lot like me: they drive what they like or (sometimes) what they need.

Upon further inspection, I noticed a tag hanging from the rear view mirror on the windshield. My first impression of this photo instantly changed. Was that a handicap tag? If so, that would totally change my interpretation of this picture. I have a handicap parking tag. I don’t always use it, but when I do, I can’t help but notice the vehicles and the people parked around me. First of all, let me say that handicap people (or their drivers) drive all kinds of different vehicles. Sometimes the vehicle is specifically designed to transport the handicapped, while other times the handicapped person is a passenger in the driver’s car. I’ve seen vans and trucks that that have been fit with lift kits to transport several wheelchairs, and station wagons and hatchbacks with walkers and wheelchairs stashed in the trunk. Handicapped parking spaces are extra wide so doors that swing open can be opened all the way and wheelchairs can be wheeled alongside the vehicle to ease the transition in and out. Lucky is the handicapped person who has a vehicle that has been customized with a lift kit for their chair. More often than not, the elderly and temporarily handicapped (think: trauma, critically ill) must make do with grossly inadequate substitutes. Many have to improvise on the fly.

Handicapped people come in all shapes and sizes. Some wear their handicap on their sleeve, meaning, you can tell just by looking at them that they have a handicap. But some (like me) don’t look impaired. In fact, I work very hard not to show my disability. And even though I have a perfectly legal handicapped parking tag, I’ve had perfect strangers come up to me and point out that I’ve parked in a handicapped parking space. Um yes, I know, and  I’m legally entitled to park there. I have to submit a signed medical form to the DMV every four years for the right to park in a handicapped parking space. Not to mention that I often forgo the handicapped space on days when I think I can manage OK. In my state, there are so many people who have handicapped tags that you’re lucky if you can even score one. I know the average person thinks there’s tons of spaces devoted to the handicapped, but  they just have no clue how much need there is and how every year the need is growing for more. Handicapped spaces are based on the overall number of parking spaces in a given parking area, not by estimates based on need. I remember when my father-in-law was in the hospital dying and I was taking my 84 year-old, severely arthritic mother-in-law to visit him daily. Seldom could we find a handicapped parking space in the parking garage, despite what seemed like plenty of handicapped spaces. It was enormously frustrating, getting her in and out of that facility every day.

The vehicle in the photo looks like it might be a Humvee. So what? Handicapped people have been known to be passengers in all sorts of vehicles. My niece’s future husband drives a Humvee. Should that exempt him from parking his vehicle in a handicapped parking space if I’m a passenger in it? No. If I had a wheelchair should he park in a manner that allows safe access and prevents his vehicle or the wheelchair from dinging the cars parked next to it? Of course not!

Let’s not make assumptions, folks. There’s enough shame in this world without having to carry chalk in our purse to draw signs around a vehicle on those occasions when we think (maybe) someone has over-stepped the boundaries or broken the rules. Do you know the whole story behind everything? Probably not! And who cares! If a certain situation forces you to park a little further out of the way then embrace the exercise and don’t let it get your panties in a wad!