Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Seasons Greetings


Merry christmas to all and to all a good night!


The Christmas tree was created by my son Richard. I hope all my readers, your families, and your animals are well and happy, and wish you all the best for the New Year. Thank you for reading my blog this year, and thank you to those whose blogs I have also enjoyed reading.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Dee grazing

These two videos show Dee at Wyndham the day before we moved her, and then the day after she arrived at Gorgeous Grazing. As you can see she is grazing quite happily in both videos. The only real difference is the noise of the motorway behind her in the Wyndham video, and the peace and quiet of the GG video.

I phoned Kim at GG today to hear how Dee was doing. She is now out with the herd. The first day Dee was turned out Kim was a little concerned because Dee was quite aggressive towards the inquisitive younger mares, kicking out at them. Fortunately no-one was injured and they have now learned that Dee doesn't like them to get too close. Kim says she is with the other horses in the field—not separate and isolated—so they have accepted her and she is feeling part of the group. Kim also says that she seems to have made friends with a mare called Blue. They are going to start a GG blog, so hopefully I shall be able to link to photographs of her soon.




Thank you for the supportive comments dear readers. And yes, Red does appear to be enjoying being the centre of our attention. I had a lovely ride in Coed y Wenallt on Friday. He was very well behaved. At first he seemed a little less confident than usual – but it has been a couple of months since he was hacked out on his own. He will soon get used to this I am sure, and his confidence in me will grow as well.

It is good for me that he has moved stable—as well as suiting Red—because I am not always noticing the absence of Dee in the stable next to him. The relief has kicked in a little more now, to displace the sadness somewhat: knowing I can now afford to keep them indefinitely, and feeling more rested physically after a weekend without stable chores. I do get a pang of anxiety now and then when the weather is wet or cold in the night and I think of Dee out in a field. I think it will be important for me to visit her next month to see that she is well and happy to ease my mind.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Settling in

Dee is safely settled in her new home. I was so proud of how she behaved from beginning to end. As I put on her tail bandage in preparation for the journey, she seemed to know that this meant something was happening. She stopped eating her haylage and became lively and interested in what was going on. She loaded onto the truck with minimal fuss – only needing a little encouragement from a bucket of feed. Once on, she was calm and made no fuss about being so close to another horse. I was a little worried about Red. He became upset when I took Dee to the truck. He kept calling for her, but there wasn't anything I could do for him as I had to go with Dee. (They told me today that he was fine and soon settled down.)

The journey was easy and uneventful. We stopped to unload Jess's horses at her place first. Dee—understandably—became a little restless when the other two mares were unloaded, and she was still on the truck, but I stroked her and talked to her and she quickly settled down again.

Unfortunately it was dark by the time we arrived at Gorgeous Grazing. This was not ideal and the decision had to be made as to which would be more acceptable for her: being turned out into a field she didn't know in the dark, but next to other horses; or being put into a stable on a yard she didn't know where there were no other horses. I decided on the former. I felt she would be happier being able to graze and stretch her legs near other horses. We were able to get her travel boots off and her turnout rug on while she was still on the truck. I led her down the ramp, paused while Kim removed her tail bandage, and then led her straight into the field. It seems to have been a good decision as she showed no sign of distress and quickly began to graze – in fact I think she was so thrilled to find such thick, long grass that she felt right at home. We kept her head collar on in case she became distressed and we had to catch her quickly. We then left Dee for an hour or so, returning to the field later to check her. She was grazing contentedly, so I took off her head collar and said goodnight to her.

Kim at Gorgeous Grazing is giving her hard feed every morning at the moment, as this is what she is used to, but we think she will not need it on top of haylage twice a day while there is still quite a lot of grass. All the horses will be given hard feed as soon as they need it. The following morning I went to see how she was. She didn't really want me too close at first – probably in case I was going to put her on a truck for 5 hours again – but soon let me stroke her. It wasn't a very nice morning in Cornwall on Tuesday: cold, foggy and a little drizzly; but Dee was warm and dry under her rug. I visited her again in the afternoon, and yesterday morning before I had to catch my train home. When I'd left her on Tuesday morning, she'd looked up as I went as if to check where I was, but yesterday she didn't even raise her head as I left the field. Dee has never been a demonstrative mare, so it is difficult to tell whether she feels lost or confused, but it did not appear so.

And me? All through the journey down in the truck I kept feeling I couldn't believe it was happening; am I really going to leave my beloved mare in a field 200 miles away with people I don't really know? The three days in Cornwall had a strange dream-like quality. I feel certain she will be content and well looked after. The field she is going to be in is huge – 20 acres – and she will be with 6 other mares of various ages and sizes. There are a few geldings in the field next to them. All the horses looked well and extremely calm, and it is so quiet and peaceful there. I know all this, but it is like leaving my child at boarding school. I'm so going to miss seeing her every day and have to stop torturing myself with thoughts of "what if she misses me or needs me and I'm not there?" 'What if' musings are always a complete waste of time because they are about an imagined or projected future and not about the present moment. As Dee seems so settled already, she will be out with her new friends by the end of the week.

Tears are very near the surface with me at the moment – especially writing this – but Kim is happy for me to phone as often as I like to ask how Dee is. It was strange being at Wyndham today with only Red to tend to, but he seemed pleased to see me at least. He's been moved to a different stable on the other side of the yard which I think he likes much better – he is next to his chums and more in the middle of things. Our previous stables were the two right at the farthest end, so there people did not walk past and say hello to him so much.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The last ride

Today we spent a long time at the stables. There was a lot of stuff to sort out in preparation for the new regime starting next week. Red will be on part livery, which means that I have to do everything for him for two days a week and the livery do everything for him for the other five. I will no longer need my feed bins as feed is included in the package, consequently I shall be giving up the little hut I have been using for storage. I am not sorry to lose the hut as it is becoming something of a liability. 'ö-Dzin put his foot through the floor last weekend and the roof is going to cave in any time soon. It already leaks quite badly. We've also brought Dee's tack home to vacate her space in the tack locker, and I've sold one of my storage cabinets as I will not need so much space. Red will also be moving to a new box, which I think he will quite like as he will be next door to one of his chums.

We went out for a ride through Coed-y-Wenallt in the glorious winter sunshine. It has been a lovely day – bright and sunny, and not too cold. We were happy that it was such a fine day for our last ride out together with both horses. Because the weather was so good, and both horses were happy and relaxed, we rode farther than we had intended. We decided to take our time today—even if it took all day—and simply spend as long as was necessary to enjoy our ride, complete our chores, and clear out the shed. It was nice to feel so relaxed and leisurely. The horses responded by being very slow and plodding to begin with, but did eventually liven up, especially when we met up with a few horses from Briwnant Trekking Centre and they wanted to tag along with them.

So tomorrow is the day of the big move. All preparations and arrangements are in place. My only concern is that Dee will play up on the truck, being so close to two horses. Hopefully a full net of haylage will keep her sweet. I shall be staying at a bed and breakfast for Monday and Tuesday and spending plenty of time with Dee on Tuesday to help her settle. I will try to blog as soon as possible on my return, with pictures of her new home. Please wish us luck for our journey.

The photograph was taken at the end of our last ride, on the track back up to the yard. 'ö-Dzin took it from Red's back, which is why the angle is a little odd.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Decisions

The decision has been reached and arrangements made to implement it. I don't know whether it is the best decision or the right decision, but it will leave us still owning both horses and able to cope with their expense and their care. Dee is going to an equine retirement home where she can live out the rest of her days in peaceful and beautiful countryside; Red is staying at Wyndham but on part livery which will be a lot less time and work for me. Hopefully I can start enjoying riding again rather than using up all my time and energy simple managing the food and waste production line.

I am in danger of slipping into eternalism over the numerous convenient coincidences that have arisen around the decision to retire Dee to a place called Gorgeous Grazing in Cornwall. Eternalism is one of the four philosophical extremes that are denied by Buddhism. These four are eternalism, nihilism, monism and dualism. Eternalism maintains that all circumstances unfold according to an unchangeable plan or design, denying the emptiness of the possibility of change or chance. Nihilism maintains that all actions are empty of meaningful value. Monism distorts non-duality by asserting that ‘everything is one;’ in denial of apparent distinctions and compassionate connections. Dualism denies non-duality by declaring that emptiness and form are divided.

The young woman who has the two stables next to ours lives in Cornwall but is in Cardiff at university. She has her horses with her term time and takes them home for holidays. Her home in Cornwall is very close to Gorgeous Grazing. She is going home for Christmas on Monday and taking her two horses in her truck that holds three horses, and is happy to give us a ride. Extraordinary. To be eternalist about these coincidences would be to say: "It is meant to be." I'm just going to enjoy my good fortune and feel happy that I can also help a student by paying her diesel for the trip home.

What do I feel about all this? I'm relieved that things are decided. I am sad that I shall be losing my close daily contact with Dee. I am glad that I shall be able to ride more and work less. I am relieved that I shall have time to work on important projects again. I'm also pretty confused about what I feel and anxious about how things will be for Dee. I shall be staying in Cornwall with her for a few days to see that she is settling down well.

The photograph demonstrates quite how close to the motorway the horses are in this field. This is the mares' field at the moment and Dee doesn't like it very much. She gets quite upset if she has to be there on her own, whereas she was never concerned about being on her own for a while in the field she was in before. Over the past year they have been widening this stretch of the motorway. They have planted trees all along the edge, so it will be better when the trees mature.

Friday, 5 December 2008

And still pondering

It is strange only having occasional access to a computer. I currently have a backlog of 106 blog pages to read from my regular list on Google Reader, so I hope all my blog friends out there are well – I'll get to read your pages eventually.

This has been a busy week. Our retreat ended on Monday after five delightful days in the company of our splendid students. Yesterday we had a multifuel stove installed in our lounge. It is wonderful and I am enjoying being warm with less effort and greater convenience. As you can see the cats approve. The hearth used to be higher in the previous arrangement, so at the moment the tiles surrounding the fireplace do not go right down to the floor – another little job for us …

Last night was our Christmas meal with Wyndham Livery. Seventeen of us celebrated the festive season at a local hotel, with good food, good wine, and musical entertainment. 'ö-Dzin was the only man who joined in and he thoroughly enjoyed the company of so many ladies. Sally—the yard proprietor—is unfortunately suffering from an injured leg at the moment, having been trampled at the weekend by a horse who decided to jump off the horsebox ramp taking her with him. She was in good spirits nevertheless and danced as enthusiastically and magnificently from her seat as any of us on the dance floor.

Of course I am still thinking and thinking and thinking about what to do with the horses. I have not heard from SB at Liege Manor, and consequently my thinking has been going off in different directions with the extra time to ponder this week. Victoria wisely commented that I should not make a hasty decision, and I also thank LJB for suggesting that a third option may suggest itself and make the situation more fluid. And indeed a third possiblity has arisen. This is to retire Dee to an inexpensive grass livery and to keep Red where he is at Wyndham.

I have been remembering how Dee never really felt like my horse while she was on working livery, and I feel the same would happen to Red if we moved him to Liege Manor. It took Red a long time to settle at Wyndham as it was his second move in six months. I feel that we are now discovering the 'real' Red – the Red who feels safe, content, relaxed and happy with his life. This Red is a fine fellow – friendly, communicative, easy to ride, cooperative (mostly!) and entertaining. Everyone at the yard who has to deal with him has said how much easier he is. Do I really want to unsettle him again and jeopardise this by moving him – and to a yard where he would be ridden by different people everyday and be parted from the environment he has come to rely upon? I feel any chance of continuing with my natural horsemanship work would be lost if he were on working livery, and I am sure they would want to put him back in a bitted bridle.

Red becomes attached to horses and people, once he is settled and relaxed. He is becoming attached to us, which is reflected in his changed and lovely attitude to us now. He is certainly attached to some of the geldings. The other morning after our ride 'ö-Dzin turned Red out. Arriving in the field much later than the other geldings because of our ride, Red stood and called. After a few moments eight geldings came charging down the field to Red at full pelt, and then they all wandered back up to the top field together – the gang were back in town! He so often reminds me of an adolescent: playful and energetic, but occasionally a bit belligerent, and not always fully in control of where his feet are. I want to keep this Red.

Dee does not form attachments. She does not like to be on her own in the fields near the motorway, but she does not care which other horse is with her, and has not really made friends with any of the mares. She seemed to quite like being with Ash at Ridgway, but has shown no sign of missing this mare, and does not acknowledge her when we meet out on a ride. I guess she does recognise me as her ally, but do not feel she misses me at times I have to be away from her. Her priorities are most definitely comfort and food and if these are provided she is content. I do not share Victoria's confidence that I will one day get her to hack out alone, and I am not sure that I have the time or conducive circumstances available to me to be able to put in the sort of consistent effort of working with her to achieve this. So my musing are generally taking me in the direction of feeling that if Dee was moved to somewhere where she was well looked after and had no demands made upon her, she would be content.

We can both ride Red, we cannot both ride Dee. Red will hack out alone, Dee will not. Red will take a while to settle if we move him again, Dee is likely to settle more quickly. Red is becoming attached to us and to Wyndham, Dee is just Dee wherever she is. Good grief it is hard to make such choices.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Cold, crisp riding weather

My laptop has died and I am having to borrow 'ö-Dzin's, so my posts will probably be somewhat intermittent until I have a new computer.

We have just had a wonderful five day retreat with our students. We included in the retreat a couple of morning rides, as well as the daily chores of horse care. The weather has been bright and cold – perfect for walking and riding in Coed y Wenallt.

We have found it works best with the horses for us to ride out on them first, and then swap riders after a while once they are settled into being out and about. I watched Dee very carefully when one of our students mounted her and rode off. Dee was completely unperturbed. It did not bother her one iota that someone other than me was on her back – and someone who is not a very experienced rider. This has made me wonder whether I worry about her too much and whether regular exercise would actually be better for her than the infrequent riding she gets with me. As she is getting older—she's nineteen next year—I think it is important to keep her gently active. Perhaps the on/off style of exercise she experiences with me at Wyndham is not so good … or am I just trying to convince myself that working livery would be okay?

It is all academic at the moment anyway. SB of Liege Manor will be coming to look at Red sometime this week or the beginning of next week. If she feels he is suitable for Liege Manor then we shall move him there, and he will be on a month's trial to begin with. If they are happy with him and our connection with Liege Manor is established, then she may consider taking Dee as well at sometime in the future. I will look at that decision if that eventuality arises.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Still pondering

Thank you very much to my blog friend at Nuzzling Muzzles for sending me this bunch of flowers. It has brightened up my day.

We are still agonising over how to resolve the conflict of wanting to own horses but not really having the time or resources. The lady from Liege Manor is coming to look at Red next week. If we are able to move Red there, this will solve part of our difficulties. I talked to the proprietor about the possibility of also moving Dee if she is happy with Red, and she said this may also be possible. I feel strange about even thinking about this as a possibility. I have always said that I would never put Dee through having to cope with lots of different people working with her again. To contemplate moving her to a working livery feels like a betrayal of the commitment I made to her when I bought her.

It is true to say that Liege Manor is a very different establishment to Pontcanna stables. Liege Manor has an excellent reputation for tuition and care. I believe the horses' work is more varied and more interesting, and if we did move Dee there, she definitely would not be spending up to eighteen hours a day in a stable. But still it feels like a betrayal. I can't think about it anymore today. There is nothing that can be done until the lady has seen Red and said whether she'll take him, so I'll stop trying to live in the confusion and worry of 'what might be' and live in the present – nothing is going to happen or needs to be decided until next week. So I can relax into the moment and enjoy the horses for the next few days.

I pass on the blog friend bouquet to David at Approaching Aro for his interesting articles about our Lineage;
to Cilla at Frontshoesonly where I so enjoy hearing about her journey with her mare Lizzie,
and to my oldest blogging friend whom I hope to meet one day – Victoria at Teachings of the Horse.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The inescapability of what is

Today we hit our lowest ebb. Red was so muddy that it took us an hour to groom him to even a reasonable level of presentability. Apparently he and a few of his mates had enjoyed a romp around the yard after breaking a fence down. His headcollar and leadrope are nowhere to be found and I shall have to buy new ones tomorrow, having improvised with an old headcollar of Dee's and several lengths of baling twine this evening.

When we had finished our chores this morning we were both exhausted – far too tired to ride; and riding is the point of the whole exercise, isn't it? 'ö-Dzin commented that it is a bit like spending a period of time knitting every day, only to find that it has been unravelled overnight and you have to start again. I added to this, that you have to go and buy the wool again as well! If our total involvement with the horses is putting feed in one end and carting away dung from the other end, there is simply no point in continuing. We have reached the end of the road, we just cannot continue like this.

I'm sorry if this sounds a little pathetic. I know that stable hands muck out half a dozen stalls every day, or more. But if it is your job, I think it is different. I still have my job to do after visiting the horses, and 3 - 4 hours a day is too much. I've still not fully recovered from my cold and the thought this morning of having to get up at dawn tomorrow to do it all over again was somewhat grim. We've tried every possble scenario to make it feasible and whichever way we do it, having one of them on full livery is the only comfortable solution and this is too expensive for us.

So, what is the solution – to enable us to return to enjoying our horses and having a manageable amount of work? Firstly we have put Red back on full livery from tomorrow. We cannot afford this in the long term, but it is an immediate relief and a short term solution. I can easily manage the work of Dee's care without 'ö-Dzin having to be involved. Secondly we have made enquiries about the possibility of Red going to a riding stables on working livery. Dee would stay where she is on part livery. The working livery would be on the same yard where our teachers keep their horses, so if it worked out it would also mean that we could ride with our Lamas occasionally, which would be marvellous. This yard is a high quality establishment where the horses are kept in spacious stalls, with regular turnout and varied work. They work two hours a day, six days a week. It is very different from Pontcanna, where Dee used to be on working livery. There the basic level of livery was three hours work a day, and in the winter she could spend up to eighteen hours a day in her stable. Only very occasionally would a lesson involve riding outside, and even then it might simply be circling in an outdoor arena. Hacks around the park were a rare treat. I would sell Red rather than put him on that sort of working livery, but we are very loathe to lose him as he is such a good horse for us. Recently a trekking centre has opened near to Wyndham, so I may enquire there, but I know nothing about them and would have to be sure Red would be looked after properly.

It may seem strange to split the horses in this way and it would be an end to our pleasant hacks around Coed y Wennallt. However to our reasoning it seems a good solution. I would never put Dee back on working livery, and she is too old anyway now that she is nearly nineteen. Although Dee and Red have stables next to each other, they do not interact at any time other than when we are riding, so we know they will not actually miss each other at all. We would very much like to keep Red, and having finally faced the fact that we cannot keep two horses at Wyndham, he is the more logical horse to move. There is a possibility that the lady from the livery yard may come and have a look at Red tomorrow. I hope she likes him and feels she could accept him on her yard so that this plan succeeds.

Everything would be so simple if we had ten acres of land outside our back door. I'm sure then the work would be manageable and I could organise it around my own schedule and for my own convenience. But this is never going to happen, so we have to work with the situation as it is as cheerfully and pragmatically as possible and with the welfare of the horses uppermost in our minds.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Dawn patrol

I'm back in the saddle – still rather sniffly but mostly better. Yesterday I rode Dee and this morning I rode Red. Dee is hard work in the arena. I think it is too reminiscent of her life at Pontcanna riding stables and she just switches off – I have to push her continually, which is no fun for either of us. It is such a shame she will not ride out to the Wenallt. I would happily never ask her to go in the arena again if she would hack out on her own. Red, however, was quite fun in the arena this morning. He was listening to me and energised. The first time I asked for canter he gave a little enthusiastic buck, which I found rather endearing.

One of the reasons I became so ill was because of the hard work at the stables – it is a bit of a pattern of mine: pushing myself too much physically and then getting ill. Ever since we moved back to Wyndham Livery in April we have been trying different ways of balancing the time/energy/money equation. First we tried Red on loan, but then that fell through; then we had Red on full livery and Dee on DIY – that was fine with regard to time and energy, but we couldn't afford it; then we tried me doing most of the work in the morning and 'ö-Dzin doing a little of the work in the evening – but this seemed to be exhausting for both of us and we both got ill. Since Wednesday— having put both horses on full livery for two days to give us a chance to recover—we have been trying the 'dawn patrol'.

It is a fine thing to arrive at the stables at dawn and be greeted by the snicker of your horses. We found we could complete our chores by 8.30 when 'ö-Dzin had to scoot off to work – it seemed the perfect solution. I could be home by 9 and have a full day to do everything else that is required. Our plan was that I wouldn't usually ride in the morning, but that we would ride a couple of times a week together in the arena in the evening, as the arena is lit. Unfortunately we hit a snag – neither horse could cope with being on their own for an hour or so before being joined by other horses. It is the policy at Wyndham that mares and geldings are turned out separately, so we couldn't just put them out together. The first time we left Dee out, but had to bring Red back in, but Dee was so clearly distressed by the prospect of being out there on her own for so long again on the second day, that we abandoned it. We have asked whether there is a field where we could put them out together in the morning, but Sally has said no because it would make pasture management too difficult. Our perfect plan is scuppered.

So although I am not having to work quite so hard and hence am not getting so exhausted, I haven't gained any time. The earliest that horses start to be turned out is about 9.30. It's generally after 10 before I can put both horses out, by which time there is usually some extra mucking out to do, and still the haynets to put up. I'm finding that I'm not able to finish at the stables until after 10.30 – so I am back to it taking 3½ - 4 hours. This is too huge a chunk out of my day – I simply cannot continue using this much time on the horses every day. I care a great deal for them both, but I do have a lot of other commitments that are being neglected because of this time factor, and there are many things I would like to be doing that there simply is not enough time to even start.

We are now at a loss as to where to go from here. We feel we have tried every possible approach.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Ill health

Thank you Jayne for enquiring after me – most kind. Dee and Red are fine, but I am ill. I was out of touch for a week because of the electricity problems and then I started to feel ill on Tuesday. I had hoped to be well enough to teach a workshop tomorrow (Saturday 15th), but unfortunately I'm still on the increasing symptoms side of the hill rather than the downhill slope to returned health. I'm sure I will be fine soon and will be posting enthusiastically again. Best wishes to you all until then.

I hope you like this—slightly blurry—image of Dee snoozing.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Powerless

I haven't been able to blog for a week because we have had a problem with our electricity. The engineer came last Wednesday to do a routine annual service on our water heater, and while checking its electrical connection, found a fault on the fusebox. He could not safely switch everything back on – having discovered the fault. So Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday we had no electricity at all. Of course, by Sod's Law, Thursday was the coldest day of the winter as yet. Fortunately we have a log fire in our lounge and had an ample supply of candles. Also—having been keen on camping in the past—we have a little gas stove and several LED lanterns and wind-up torches. So we managed well enough.

By Thursday evening we had the cooker and one socket, so we were able to plug in a few things to make life a bit easier. By Friday we had, in addition, the shower, hot water (bliss!), and the kitchen sockets. By the end of Saturday we had all the sockets throughout the house, but still no lights. This wasn't too much of a problem as we could plug lights in, so we insisted our plumber/electrician had Sunday off to spend with his family. We felt rather sorry for him – he turned up to do a one hour job and it has turned into a long-winded emergency. He has been having to cancel other jobs to give us priority. Today (Monday) he has got the lights in the lounge, dining room, office and hallway working, so we have assured him we can manage with things as they are now for as long as necessary—we can wash in hot water and keep warm, use all our usual appliances, and work in good light in the lounge. We have enjoyed 'camping' in our home, and snuggling up in front of the fire in a candlelit room.

It has been fun to have my life circumstances thrust me into the opportunity of experiencing that fresh, new feeling of appreciation, for something that I generally take for granted. I know that every moment-by-moment experience could always be this fresh and new, this appreciated, and have that 'for-the-first-time' feeling of wonder – if I was able to live in the moment and experience the Nature of Mind . . . if I could keep my sense fields open and avoid conceptual judgment immediately clicking in. Unfortunately I still continually slip back into my limited comfort zone, where everything is familiar, and understood within the terms of my own definitions and reference points. I find it strange that I cling to this blandness and actively miss the electricity of what is.

We succeeded in snapping another picture of Dee doing the flehmen response. This picture is actually from a video. I hadn't realised, but she wobbles her bottom lip around at the same time. I think she looks so funny. We weren't able to ride this weekend because everything was a bit chaotic, but hope that things will be a bit more normal next weekend.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Book tag

I'm picking up a book tag from The 7MSN Ranch blog. I so enjoy the photographs on Linda's blog. The rules of the book tag are as follows:

Grab the nearest book.
Open the book to page 56.
Find the fifth sentence.
Post the text of the next two to five sentences.
Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book or the intellectual one:
Pick the Closest.
Tag five people to do the same.

I'm going to follow her lead and leave the tag open to any reader who would like to join in.

The book next to me on the sofa where I'm sitting with my laptop is 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins – a book I am thoroughly enjoying at the moment.

So . . . page 56 . . . fifth sentence . . .

"Later in the evening, we heard them singing and playing duets, Mr Franklin piping high, Miss Rachel piping higher, and my lady, on the piano, following as it were over hedge and ditch, and seeing them safe through it in a manner most wonderful and pleasant to hear through the open windows, on the terrace at night. Later I went to Mr Franklin in the smoking-room, with the soda water and brandy, and found that Miss Rachel had put the Diamond clean out of his head."

I am enjoying reading more regularly now that the house is generally quieter with the boys living away from home. I am alternating a study book with a book simply for pleasure.

The rain has started to be heavy again in Wales with more worries about flooding, so we did not ride this morning. It seems that with the return to GMT from British Summer Time, winter has decided to exert itself. Nevertheless it is fine to sit in the lounge with an open fire after a dinner of roast pork. Good evening to you all.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Habits

We have been trying to capture a picture of Dee doing this for a long time. We have numerous blurry images of her ears or the view of the stable where her head was a moment ago, having just missed the opportunity. This is called the flehmen response and it is Dee's habit to perform this several times after a feed – I have never seen any of the other horses on the yard do it. It is quite an extraordinary sight.

I have been noticing habits and patterns recently, and noting how my daily routine touches other people's: the pigeon fancier who frees his pigeons to stretch their wings at about the time I set out for the stables . . . the lady walking her dog with a gammy leg and a waggy tail . . . the Rhiwbina Ramblers with trousers tucked into boots striding out on a Thursday morning . . . and also on a Thursday, several women leaving a community hall carrying large pilates balls. Our lives are so entwined and interdependant. We may think that we are the centre of our sphere of being (Sanskrit – mandala, Tibetan – kyil'khor) but our reality can be more enjoyable, creative and playful if we allow ourselves to be defined more by our periphery – by the people and circumstances we come across in our lives. If we open ourselves up to enjoying the dance of life around us, we have the opportunity to be less focused on the 'being-me' project which can dominate our lives and limit us.

Regular contact with horses is, in my opinion, particularly good for opening ourselves up to relaxing and appreciating our peripheral circumstances. There are chores that have to be completed, some of which I find physically quite demanding, but the pleasure I derive from the contact with our horses enables me to engage with these chores daily without any sense of resentment even when I'm exhausted. When riding I have to be aware of the horse's perception of the world as well as my own, the movement of her body and my flow with that, and relax into the horse/human interaction, which again loosens my fixation on self-focus. I feel most fortunate to have daily contact with my horses and for the benefits they give me as a human being.

I think Dee is appreciating having flax bedding again. She has clearly been lying down during the night. I am glad that she feels sufficiently comfortable and secure in her stable that she can relax so well.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Goodbye India

This picture shows the mare's field. The mare in the centre is called ‘India’ (Dee is on the left) and I thought it would be nice to post a picture of India as sadly she has now left the yard. She is owned by the lady who loaned Red for a few weeks, but J. has now taken her to another livery yard where she can live out day and night. India is a friendly, sweet mare and Dee seems fond of her – even though she bosses her around. Dee seems to like young horses and greys. I'm not sure how you would describe India’s markings, but they are most attractive.

I have mixed feelings about 24 hour turnout, after seeing my two horses through a winter under such a regime. I think if you have your own land so that you can easily have access to the horses twice a day to bring them in for feeding, and if they have proper field shelters, it is probably an ideal way for them to live. At the yard where my horses were living out day and night however, they were fed hay in the field twice a day and this seemed to be a very hit and miss affair – the dominant horses made sure they got enough and continually moved the more subservient horses on. Also the horses were always given hay in the same place and would congregate when they knew a hay feed was due, sometimes becoming a little agitated, so inevitably that part of the field became excessively churned up and muddy. Consequently Dee and Red were spending a long time every day standing in mud. Even though I fed them extra hard feed over the winter, and part of the livery charge included regular hard feeds, they both lost a lot of condition.

Now they are at Wyndham where the horses come in for the night through the winter, and I'm glad that this year they will not be out in all weather through the cold of the night once winter really starts to bite. They are always waiting at the gate, ready to come in; they have a warm stable and a comfortable bed; they have easy access to water; and their have their own net of haylage that they do not have to guard or compete for. They will have turnout rugs and stable rugs changed daily when it gets colder, but will be able to go further into the winter before they actually need to be rugged. I certainly am not rugging Dee yet, whereas I would feel I should rug her if she was out all night.

So farewell India. I hope the regime at your new yard offers the advantages of 24 hour turnout and avoids the disadvantages. I've been thinking about her a lot over the last few evenings, while it has been so cold after dark, and pouring with rain – it must be a bit of a shock for her suddenly being out in it all. I hope we shall meet J. and India riding in Coed y Wenallt occasionally.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Kittens

Wyndham Livery has kittens again – this is a fairly regular occurrence. This litter is a little unusual however. The kittens are exceptionally bold and friendly. Generally the kittens at Wyndham do not venture out of the barn until they are quite a bit bigger, but these five (yes there are 3 black and 2 ginger kittens in the picture) are explorers. They can be seen all over the yard and will climb up your leg for a bit of fuss if they get the chance. When returning to the yard after a hack, it is wise to have a good look at the track to check for kittens under your horse's hooves!

Sally always seems to find homes for the kittens because all the cats at Wyndham are so friendly. They keep the vermin away from the feed stores and entertain us as well.
I often find a cat curled up in the hay store when I go to fill Dee's haylage net. They also like to curl up on the piles of bedding.

Talking of bedding . . . I've decided to put Dee back on flax rather than the Woody Pet bedding. Woody Pet consists of pellets of highly compacted wood, and is great with regard to absorbency, but it does not look make a comfortable bed. It does not seem possible to get it to make a thick and soft bed. As the nights get colder, I would like to think that Dee has warm and comfortable bedding to snuggle into. We have already put Red back onto flax because his stable seemed to be especially messy with the Woody Pet, and is better with the flax. Woody Pet may be good summer bedding – we can decide on that next spring.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Glorious October sunshine


We have had two wonderful rides this weekend. The weather is extraordinary – warmer than it was in July. We are so happy to have been able to take advantage of this and get out into the woods on Saturday and Sunday. Both Dee and Red were well behaved. They seem really settled at the moment – content and well.

Yesterday we rode back from Coed y Wenallt along the road again, but this turned out to be a tense experience from the bottom of Rhiwbina Hill to Wenallt Road. The last time we rode this way was a Sunday and there was very little traffic. We had forgotten that it would be so much busier on a Saturday. Dee was really very good for a horse that tends to be nervous. She spooked at a bus's air brakes, and at a car engine suddenly revving behind her (why are some car drivers so stupid about horses?), but otherwise kept to a steady walk. We do not think we shall ride down that particular stretch of road on a Saturday again however.

Today we were joined on our ride by one of the other horse owners at the yard, on her nine year old mare. This meant that we rode a little farther, and at times a little faster, than usual. Red seemed a bit confused at first about having another horse with us, and was reluctant to step out for the first part of the ride. He wanted to be behind Dee, but then kept getting too close, or tried to be beside her when it was too narrow for two horses. It was surprising to see him less confident that usual. Sandy – the mare – and her owner were considerate that we were not used to riding fast, but as we started up the track into Fforest Fawr it was clear that Sandy wanted a canter, so we let them go for it. It was great to experience Dee stretching and cantering at a free and enthusiastic pace. Usually when we canter I take the lead as 'ö-Dzin is a little uncertain still about cantering, but at the front Dee's canter is stilted. It was lovely to just relax and enjoy her enjoyment. Red was also quite lively about it and we all had an exhilarating spurt to the top of the hill.

Monday, 6 October 2008

A strange ride

We’ve had a busy weekend and so only managed to ride on Saturday morning. The horses seemed keen to go out despite the cold, drizzly weather. We rode into Coed y Wenallt in misty rain. The wood was quiet – probably because of the weather – and had an extraordinary atmosphere about it. It was not only quiet in the sense of being free of the usual sounds of walkers and dogs, it felt hushed – almost as if holding its breath or paused in time. Somehow the woodland felt exceptionally ancient on Saturday. As we rode along the trail I felt that we could have been any two horseriders from any period of history. I would not have felt surprised to have met a traveler in a long cloak or a peasant from times gone by.

The fallen tree in the picture has been lying a long time. We call this point on the trail ‘The Trees Graveyard’. Usually the bark shines silver in the sudden clearing, exposed to the daylight – but that day the tree bones look grey and dull, saturated by the fine rain.

Dee was rather tense for the first part of the ride – it was a little like sitting on a coiled spring. Fortunately she is not a horse that bolts and keeps running, so I know from experience that the worse I should expect is a sudden spin on the spot and a few paces of canter in the wrong direction. In fact she has actually never done this on a hack – only in the arena – and I was confident that she would most likely rather be going forward with Red than going home alone. I practised deep breathing, trying to focus my energy into the area of my navel, so that I would relax and communicate this to Dee, rather than becoming anxious myself. Red – as usual – continued at his steady pace, relaxed and unperturbed.

It was quite a while into the ride before I had any idea of what might be worrying Dee. She kept looking round and I felt she was hearing something I could not hear. However eventually I did start to perceive dog noises. As we arrived at the left turn on the trail that leads down to the stream we saw a man coming up from there with two dogs, both of which were pulling a lot and yelping as he held them by their collars. We rode on rather than going down to the stream in case it was the horses that was exciting the dogs. We continued to hear barking and yelping noises for a little while, but Dee started to relax now that we had seen the dogs. We did not go much further and turned round to head for home.

The wood was now silent again, with all sounds of the dogs having ceased, and we peacefully continued homeward. We met a walker coming towards us. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought it might have been the man we had seen with the dogs. Unusually for a walker on the trail he did not greet us or make eye contact. Then the strangest thought popped into my head – that he had been the man with the dogs, and that he had killed them and left them somewhere in the undergrowth. I’m not usually prone to morbid thoughts, and I don't know why I should imagine such a violent scenario, but there was something strange about the atmosphere of the wood that day.

Dee was completely relaxed and normal riding home, with all the tension of the earlier part of the ride having dissolved. I shall never know the truth of the situation, but I think I will always remember the strange atmosphere of that ride.

Friday, 3 October 2008

R.I.P.

I find myself still feeling quite distressed at the demise of the guinea pig. Why is that? Why do I dwell on his final, painful day as a memory, rather than on his whole lifetime of happy memories? There is a guinea pig shaped hole in my life, and that hole—that emptiness— is uncomfortable. Emptiness is uncomfortable. There is nothing we can do with emptiness except let it be as it is. We find it preferable to indulge the memories around the hole because we can do something with them – they have a form that can be manipulated, felt, potentised. I hurt, therefore I am.

Memory: in the winter we would bring the guinea pig into the house when it was too cold for him to live outside. Every time I opened the fridge he would squeak at me, because he knew there was food in the fridge.

Perhaps you are thinking that I should ‘get a grip’. He was only a little guinea pig, called Tsi-tsi Pagpo (Mouse-pig) – not a significant existence in the great scheme of things. Yet my response to his loss and my indulgence in the memory of his final hours is an example of how we live our whole lives, clinging to the form of them and trying to ignore the emptiness of them. When emptiness arises we try to fill that hole as quickly as possible with a new form. I am finding it useful to meditate on the free-fall of my habitual indulgence in avoiding emptiness that is still potent despite having been a meditation practitioner for over 25 years.

Memory: occasionally the guinea pig would escape his run in the garden because it had been placed on an uneven patch of grass. One of the cats would come into the house and meow at us until we took notice. We would then find the other cat sitting next to Tsi-tsi Pagpo, keeping guard, until we came to return him to the safety of the run. Both cats seemed to understand that the guinea pig was part of the family, and not food, and he seemed to know that they were not a threat to him.

Writing this post is my final indulgence in feeling the edges around the hole of our guinea pig’s loss. I will allow myself to become comfortable with the reality of the emptiness of the guinea pig shaped hole in my life. I will not mourn a projected future that included him, but has never existed. I will not dwell on a remembered past that is no more. If happy memories of him arise, I will enjoy them and then let them dissolve. When thoughts of the pain of his final hours arise, I will feel sorry for them, and then let them dissolve.

I wish I had a photograph of him to put up with this post, but find that I do not. I thought I might put up a picture of my purple toe, but then decided you probably didn’t want to see that. So here is a picture of one of Tsi-tsi Pagpo’s feline guardian angels instead.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

One of those days

Today has been ‘one of those days’. I was a bit late getting to the stables because our guinea pig was ill and I had to attend to him a little before I left the house. Consequently the horses were a little put out at receiving their breakfast half and hour later than the other horses. Dee was quite muddy so I gave her a more thorough groom than usual and it was clearly all taking too long because she nipped me on the bum. This is the first time she has ever done this – I think she’s learned it from Red. It was not a serious bite, but still made me jump. She was impatient at the field gate as well, trying to pull away from me and out of her halter before I’d undone it. I had to be quite firm with her to get her to stand and wait.

Returning to Red I started to get him ready for turning out. He wasn’t keen on having his feet picked out first, and wouldn’t stand still or give me his feet. How did I ever imagine that this horse was a good candidate for hoof boots … After failing to get at his hooves, and with him looking at me as if to say: ‘So what are you going to do about it?’ in a smug sort of way, I decided to try an idea that occurred to me after reading a post about resistance on Carolyn Resnick’s blog. I so often find her blog helpful. Red wanted to move rather than stand and have his feet picked, so every time he moved rather than giving me his foot, I walked him in circles. I made no big deal about his refusal to co-operate, I just walking him in a circle three times every time he either moved, or stamped his foot down half way through the process. This worked well apart from one time he stamped his foot onto my big toe. Ouch. I now have a painful toe that is swollen and gradually turning black. It was not deliberate on his part however – I just let my foot get in the way. On the whole the method worked and I was able to pick out his feet with the minimum of difficulty. He caught on more quickly than I expected, as sometimes he seems to be quite a daft horse. I only had to repeat the circling a few times before he decided to stand and give me his hoof. I’m really pleased that I now have a way of improving this daily interaction.

The next thing to work on with Red is standing at the mounting block …

I rode Red on Monday for the first time in months. It was quite a challenge for me to get up on his back. I don’t know why I avoid riding him as he is at his best when being ridden. He was well behaved and responsive. I carried a whip because he has been a bit naughty and nappy with ’ö-Dzin a few times, and he respected that. I think because he bullies me a bit on the ground, I have become nervous of getting on him. We had a nice ride – a little work in the arena and then a short hack into Coed y Wenallt. Hopefully I will not be so nervous about riding him in the future.

I returned home to a guinea pig that looked even more poorly, and so took him to the vet. Sadly his condition was beyond hope and I had to let the vet euthanise him. Poor little chap. Only a day ago he was skipping around his run as usual. I shall miss him. He was the last remnant of our sons’ childhood pets. At one point we had a whole herd of guinea pigs, but he was the last and there will be no more.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Weekend rides




What Flower
Are You?

Over at Nuzzling Muzzles there is a link to this fun quiz. Turns out I’m a canna.

We’ve had a great weekend with the horses, hacking out yesterday and today. Red was no trouble to get ready, although he did mess about a bit for mounting. Yesterday he was a bit naughty for the first half hour or so – kept trying to head for home – but eventually settled down. Today he was much better behaved.

We rode straight up Wenallt Road to the entrance to the Wenallt horse trail this morning – a steep climb up the road for the first part and then a few steep downhill parts at the beginning of the trail. Dee coped with the climb pretty well and didn’t need to stop. Hopefully this means she is getting a little fitter now that we are managing to ride more often. Red was slipping badly on the dusty, stony, downhill tracks – much more so that he ever has before when barefoot or wearing the Boa boots.

Yesterday was cool and cloudy first thing, and the sun didn’t break through until about midday. Today was much brighter earlier and has become quite warm. We are having a marvelous September here in Wales. The sunshine has such a gentle, kindly feel about it at this time of the year, in contrast to the harsh extremity of summer sun – not that we saw any of that this year! Arriving at the stables at about 9 a.m. both mornings, the pastures were glistening with dew. In a few weeks time this silver sparkle will be a crunchy, crystalline frost icing the grass, and there will be a bite in the air, so I’m glad we are able to enjoy and take advantage of this the late warm weather.

I hope you like the picture of Dee’s magnificent tail.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Red is shod

It’s been a busy week and I’ve been feeling pretty tired, so I have not done as much with the horses this week as I had hoped. I lunged Red on Tuesday. He was pretty good, except for when one of the stable hands went past the arena leading a horse for turnout. Then he completely forgot I was there. I had to walk him in circles until he stopped neighing and settled down again. He’s dangerous when I lose his attention that totally – he doesn’t notice where I am and I could easily get barged while he is so agitated.

He was also good in the stable letting me pick his feet easily, but the next day he wouldn’t let me near his feet at all. I’d taken Dee down to her field first – well it was her turn – and so he was all roused up to be turned out. He is such an impatient horse. When I take him out first, Dee just waits quietly until it is her turn. But Red paces around the stable, kicks the door and neighs continually.

This morning I rode Dee and practised the ‘work at the happy end of the arena, rest at the spooky end’ routine, which again worked like a charm. She’ also getting very good at neck reining. I hardly have to give her any cues to turn, and to halt, although she still takes a bit of coaxing to back up for me.

I feel a bit of traitor to the barefoot cause today because I’ve had Red shod on his front feet. I would have loved to have succeeded with the Boa boots, but Red isn’t the right temperament for putting something like that on his feet without intensive, committed perseverance, and unfortunately I’m not in a position to be able to give it that. The boots are great – it’s Red that’s the problem. Though to be fair to him, his feet are unusually wide, which means the boots do not slip on as easily as they would on a more usual hoof that is longer than it is wide. At least now getting Red ready can return to being a calm and easy task.

I’d like to end this post with a plug for two blogs and a website. Our sons have each started a blog. Daniel’s is about starting university and can be found at hyper-star.blogspot.com Richard’s is about all manner of things and can be found at kiml42.blogspot.com.

The website I would like to mention is that of the Peace Mala organisation. This charity was founded by a Welsh woman, Pam Evans, to promote tolerance, respect and understanding among people of all races and religions. I was invited to attend their youth awards ceremony last week as a representative of my Buddhist Lineage. It was a delightful event and I think Pam is a remarkable woman. I particularly enjoyed the Nepalese children’s dance.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Barefoot and boot issues

We’ve had an interesting and eventful day. We went to the stables quite early to ride. Everything went well until we came to put on Red’s Boa boots. He refused to co-operate and it took us ages to get them on his feet. Once they were on he was absolutely fine and we were able to set out. Surprisingly Dee took the lead and strode out at a good pace. She continued in this confident manner at the lead, right down the track, up the road, and into Wenallt Wood. Extraordinary!

Both horses were quite lively – and then we found out why as we heard the sound of a hunting horn. The killing of foxes by hunting with dogs is now illegal in the UK, but several local hunts still ride out with dogs following a scent trail. Dee and Red must have been aware of the hunt a long time before we heard the first sound of the hunting horn. To add to their liveliness, we encountered a dog that thought it amusing to snap at Red’s heels. Red bucked a little kicking out at the dog, but fortunately it then ran off, back to the owner who was not keeping it under control. It was a good job it didn’t snap at Dee as I’m sure she would have really kicked it.

We had nearly got to the point where we intended to turn round, when it became clear that the hunt was getting nearer. We did not particularly want to get caught up with a bunch of unknown and excited horses so we decided to head back. We usually trot a few times on the way back, but at the first trot Red – now in front – decided that a canter would be more enjoyable. ’ö-Dzin is still not very confident about cantering in the Wenallt because the trail is rather twisting and there are quite a number of low overhanding branches. I followed calling out to him reminders for how to bring Red back to a slower pace, but realised that my speed was spuring Red on rather than helping, so I slowed Dee to a walk. ’ö-Dzin then quickly brought Red under control and he settled back to a walk. We had a couple of other impromptu canters on the way home when the hunting horn sounded again, but had no trouble slowing them both. This is invaluable experience for ’ö-Dzin and has increased his confidence considerably. It was rather enjoyable to be riding such lively mounts, but we would not wish it for every ride.

Back at the yard, we had almost as much trouble getting the Boa boots off Red’s feet as we had done getting them on him, and sadly we have decided we’ll have to give up on having Red barefoot. With limited time it is no good spending a third of our riding time getting the boots on and off. If we had our own land, a round pen, and the unlimited opportunity to work with Red as much as possible, I would persevere with teaching him to accept having the boots put on. But at livery it is difficult to work with a horse intensely and exactly how one would want to. He is not a horse that is naturally co-operative. I would have lunged him today and alternated working him with trying to put the boots on, over and over, until having the boots on seemed like the preferable option, but the arena was not available as someone was having a lesson. I suppose we could have taken him out without the boots, but this would have felt unkind as he had definitely become a little footsore on our stony tracks while he was on loan. We could have given in and not ridden this morning, but that would not have left a very useful imprint on Red. Not being land owners there are always compromises that we have to make in the routine of our horses’ care. Wyndham Livery offers the best we can expect of a livery yard. I think it will be better for us and for Red that we can get ready quickly, quietly and calmly when going for a ride, rather than having a big battle. So although ideally I would like to keep him barefoot, pragmatically it is better for us all if he is shod on his front feet. He is due to see the farrier on Thursday.

The rest of the day has been spent in preparations for our sons moving into their Halls of Residence tomorrow. Life is going to be very different for us all after tomorrow.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Good progress

I started this post on Tuesday but then my computer crashed. Turns out it is only a problem with the power lead, so I can use my computer as long as I don’t move it until the new power lead arrives. Thank heavens blogspot autosaves.

Wyndham Livery has just changed over to their winter routine. This means that the horses are in during the night and out during the day. I have decided to change over with them, so I am now going up to the stables in the morning rather than in the afternoon. This seems to be working very well. Although it is a bit of a struggle for me getting out of the house so early, I find that once I get there I have more energy that I used to have going up in the afternoons. Consequently since we returned from our holiday, we have ridden out together (Sunday morning), I’ve lunged Red twice (Monday and today), and ridden Dee in the arena (Tuesday). The new arrangement means ’ö-Dzin will only see the horses at the weekend and I have to do everything for the horses on my own weekdays, but it was going to become increasingly difficult dealing with the horses in the evening as the nights draw in. Also there will be few evenings left now when it is still light enough to ride out in the evening at the time ’ö-Dzin could get there from work.

Red was really hard work to lunge on Monday. He wouldn’t listen to me and stopped everytime he found himself near the gate. I had to really get on his case, cracking the lunge whip behind him and and placing my body in a position to push him on. Afterwards I did some walking and stopping, and backing. Back at his stable, I picked out his feet and took him out to the field after his feed. As he is on full livery I am not obliged to pick out his feet, feed him or turn him out, but I like to have as much contact with him as possible whilst still having enough energy left to give to Dee. I've tended to avoid turning him out and have left it to the livery staff to do, but felt this was not helping our relationship improve.

Lunging Red this morning was quite different – loads better. He was listening to me more and I was keeping his attention. I had to be a lot less firm with him and was able to give a lot more praise. Leading, stopping and backing after the lunging was all easy. I was so proud of him. Back at the stable he was less pushy and didn’t try to bite me, and I felt relaxed and confident taking him out to his field. I so hope this is the turning point for us and we can start to get along well without him pushing me around and intimidating me, so I don’t have to be so tough with him.

I got on well riding Dee in the arena on Tuesday and am looking forward to riding her tomorrow. I tried a suggestion from Carolyn Resnick’s blog. This was to work her quite hard in the part of the arena in which she feels confident, and use the scary, spooky part for relaxing time. So after a little warming up time where as usual she refused to go down to the spooky end of the arena, I made her trot and trot in the upper end. After three rounds of trot at the upper end, I asked for walk as we approached the scary end and loosened the rein. She lowered her head and walked around the bottom of the arena. I did this four times, twice on each rein, and sure enough she happily went right into the bottom end of the arena without any hesitation because she knew that this meant relaxing time. Amazing and so simple! I’ll do this again with her tomorrow and hopefully this will be an end of silliness about the far end of the arena. If she does start spooking and refusing to go there again, I now have a technique to work with it. Thank you Carolyn.

Dee was also really good on our ride on Sunday. I wondered whether a bit more roadwork occasionally, when we are with bombproof Red, would build up her confidence about walking up the road, with the aim of increasing the possibility of taking her out on her own. So we rode a circular route, through the Wenallt, across the stream and out onto the road by Rhiwbina Farm, and then down the road home. This route involved going over two motorway bridges and a fairly busy road for a short distance. Dee is not bothered by traffic – it is all the odd things in people’s gardens, drain grids, roadwork cones and things like that which frighten her. She took it all in her stride with Red with her. Occasionally something made her snort and swing out a little, but that was all.

I am so delighted with my horses this week – and with myself! I hope things continue to go so well and that the wonderful September sunshine continues till the end of the month.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

On holiday

Thank you to my blogsphere friends for your concern about the floods. Fortunately the weather has changed again and is actually quite dry and sunny at the moment, so the floods have receded.

It may have been unnecessarily paranoid of me, but I decided not to mention on my blog that I would be away for a week. We've all spent a delightful week in Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro), staying in a cottage in the heart of Tenby (Dinbych y Pysgod).

It may be our last family holiday together as both our sons start university in two weeks time. Daniel, our elder son, will be studying ‘Creative and Professional Writing’ at Glamorgan, and Richard is doing his foundation year for a degree in ‘Electrical and Electronic Engineering’ at Cardiff. Although they have both chosen local universities, they will be living in Halls of Residence for their first year of study, so my life is going to be quite different very soon.

It is time to go and see how the horses are after their week of full livery. Hopefully we shall ride tomorrow. I hope you enjoy the holiday photos. Dinbych y Pysgod – Little Fort of the Fishes – is such a pretty name. It is a shame it has been anglicised to ‘Tenby’. We stayed in the little blue cottage. The picture of the stormy sea was taken from the headland above St Govan’s chapel – an extraordinary and ancient chapel set into the cliff-face.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Floods

The weather is getting serious here in Cardiff. I'm starting to feel as though I'm living on Ferenginar! The River Taff has burst its banks. The first picture shows the cycle path – now part of the river. 'ö-Dzin cycles home from work along this path most days. For parts of it today he was wading in two feet of water.

The second picture shows a view across the river and into the park. The area beyond the line of trees is the park, with rugby and football pitches. A way beyond these is Pontcanna riding stables – where Dee came from. I hope the horses are okay.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Stormy weather

This is just a quick blog as I have not been able to write anything for a few days. Last week we were away again on retreat – this time with our students. It was a delightful retreat, in Cornwall, South West England, though not very good planning to have two week long retreats in the same month.

It is good now to be back into the routine of caring for the horses again. We had a nice ride on Sunday with our friend – who can be seen riding Red in the photograph. This was his second outing in his Boa boots (he doesn’t need them on in the arena) and he was much more confident than on the first ride. We tried trotting this time and he was absolutely fine and the boots were completely secure on his feet. Next time I’m hoping we’ll manage a longer ride, and perhaps try splashing through the stream, and a canter, to see how the boots cope with that.

The weather here in Wales is quite extraordinary at the moment. It is as if we have all the seasons in one day – or even in the course of a single hour. One moment it will be bright, hot sunshine, and then torrential rain the next. One moment it is warm and calm, and then cold and windy the next. At times it feels like we are well into Autumn already, but then the sun comes out and it is as if summer is not quite spent after all. I cannot remember the weather ever before being quite so extreme in its changeability. Yes the weather in Wales can often be quite changeable over the day, but these changes are so sudden and so extreme. Despite there being so much rain so often, it is quite stimulating and I am quite enjoying this weather – although it can be difficult to know what to wear!

Friday, 22 August 2008

These boots are made for walking



This evening Red had his first outing in his new hoof boots. He was pretty good as we put them on and didn’t seem at all perturbed. I let him have a good look at them first and let him hear the click click noise that the dial makes as you tighten them. They were easy to put on, though he was not too keen on keeping his left foot still while I tightened the boot up.

We set off down the lane. As we reached the end of the tarmac part and moved onto the rough, stony track he became reluctant and started to move more gingerly, but then he gradually relaxed and started to stride out more purposefully once he realised that his feet were not going to feel every stone. He hesitated in the same way at the entrance to the horse trail, and once again at the stony track on the way home. But he realised he was comfortable more quickly each time. He was definitely much happier and more sure footed throughout the ride, and I don’t think it will take many outings before he starts to look forward to having his boots put on.


Dee seems to have made a friend of J’s new mare. When ’ö-Dzin turned her out Indi whinnied and trotted straight down to Dee. Dee was happy to share the same patch of grass with her and they even engaged in some mutual grooming. This is so delightful and such a change from the mare who would not allow other horses near her.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Hoof boots

I have taken the plunge today and bought Red a pair of hoof boots. His feet felt very hot on Monday after our long ride on Sunday, and although he did not seem uncomfortable and was not lame, I was a little concerned. It is so wet at the moment that his feet are softer than usual. His hooves are almost round and quite large, so after a long night of research on the web I chose Boa boots. I liked the look of the Old Mac boots, but they do not make them big enough for Red. The other option was an Easyboot, but they are reported as a little more tricky to put on. I’m hoping they’ll arrive tomorrow or the next day on express delivery.

The arena was unusually clear today, with all the jumps stacked away. I took advantage of this – dodging showers as well – to take Red in there for some join up and halting groundwork. I find him intimidating on the ground because he pushes me around, so I need to work with him to build up respect and a relationship. I worked with him at liberty walking around together and halting periodically. Whenever he stepped ahead of me when we halted I made him back up. Gradually he improved, stopping by me instead of pushing ahead of me. He wandered off only twice. When he did, I drove him on round the arena until he stopped and looked at me, and then I turned to allow him to join up again. It was a good session and a good start. I wish I had access to a round pen. Although it is a fairly small arena, it is still a little too large for some groundwork and not really any good at all when it has several jumps dotted around it – so I was lucky today.

There was no way I could give Dee her feed – as I went up there on my own today – without Red being aware that I had done so. So Dee had to wait for her feed until I had worked with Red. She was not impressed with this and was very moody with me even after I had fed her, and also kept sticking her head out of the stall to pull a face at Red. When Sally took him out to the field for me, Dee settled down and decided to appreciate my full attention, a groom and a chat as we wandered down to her field. I also checked her over thoroughly yesterday and today after our long ride on Sunday – especially as it was the first time she had hacked out for four weeks. Her back was fine - no sign of any return of the swelling or pain that she had experienced 18 months ago that led to the vet warning we may have to retire her. Far from harming her back, the treeeless saddle seems to have contributed to curing it.

PS The photo shows my friend on Red who came with us on the ride on Sunday. Also good news – the horse that had strangles has returned three negative swabs and will be back in his stall tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Sunday hack

Today Red became our horse fully again, so to celebrate we went out on a long ride. We rode the first part of the Wenallt trail, through the Ganol, into Fforest Fawr, and then back through the Ganol and the Wenallt – nearly 3 hours riding. We have a friend staying with us so she rode Red for the first half of the ride and ’ö-Dzin rode him for the second half. Red was a little stubborn with our friend – seeing if he could get away with turning for home a few times – but eventually settled down. I think his feet may be a little softer than usual as well, because of all the wet weather, so we shall definitely be buying some boots to help him out during this rainy time. Thank you Victoria for the suggestion of Old Mac boots. I had heard that they were good and will probably try this type.

It may be a little anthropomorphic of me, but I felt Red was glad to be back with us. When I was adjusting his bridle he was really affectionate, nuzzling into me, resting his head. I stroked his lovely soft muzzle and he almost closed his eyes with contentment – it was a special, gentle moment. His bridle needed a lot of adjusting – it looked as though it had been used with the chin strap done up over the top of the cross-under pieces. This is a big mistake because it means that the cross-under straps cannot release and loosen after you have applied pressure on the reins. Cross-under bridles do need to be adjusted correctly and do not function if put on or used incorrectly – perhaps this is why some people do not get on well with them.

If I had had any doubts about my treeless saddles after reading recent negative comments about them on other blogs, they were allayed today. After a ride of this length that included some steep hills and awkward horse access points to the trails, Dee and Red would have had very sweaty backs and noticeable saddle pressure marks from their treed saddles. When we took the saddles off them both today, the only sweat marks were under their bellies from the girths, and there were absolutely no pressure marks on their backs – in fact you wouldn't have been able to tell that they had had saddles on their backs. I believe these treeless saddles distribute the weight of the rider so effectively, that as long as a sufficiently well padded numnah is used to avoid direct contact of the saddle with the line of the spine, they actually apply less pressure to a horse’s back. With a treed saddle, the weight is inevitably focused on the outline of the tree, and in particular the prongs that go down onto the shoulder.

It has been a magical day. Amazingly it didn’t rain at all while we were riding, although it rained in the morning and is raining again now. We are so glad we have decided to keep Red. Dee was friendly with him and they seemed glad to be riding out together again. All feels well with the world – happy horses and happy riders. I am experiencing that delightful, mellow, warm glow of being a little tired after exercise, but relaxing into the pleasure of a successful and enjoyable day.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Bitless, treeless, barefoot

At last I have been able to ride Dee this week. We had a session in the arena and she was very well behaved and responsive. I am looking forward to riding regularly again now, and also to having more contact with Red again.

I have been interested in reading White Horse Pilgrim’s comments about bitless bridles and treeless saddles. I enjoy his blog and respect and value his expertise gained from long experience (much longer experience than mine I must say). However we do differ in our opinions about these two issues. I have had good results with both my horses with bitless bridles. Dee was a riding school horse and so probably suffered at the hands of inexperienced and inept riders, hence it is perhaps not surprising that she responded well to being free of the bit. She is a strong personality however and rather spooky, so it is worth comment that she is easier to control without a bit and no longer tries to take control. I think she is just so much more relaxed without a bit, that she listens more to me and doesn't panic so easily.

Red is a different personality – quite docile and very safe, but stubborn and willful at times. He will try it on with inexperienced riders – he once took ’ö-Dzin into a hedge – but we have not found there to be less possibility of taking control with the cross-under style bitless bridle than there was when he was in a bit. The cross-under (Dr Cook style) bridle does need a slightly different approach. Firstly it is necessary to ride with less contact than is usually taught in English style riding, and if the rider needs to assert control with the reins, a pull on alternate reins is more effective than on both at the same time. It is also essential that the bridle is correctly fitted fairly low on the face,

I have a friend who happily rides her excitable part Arab mare in one of these bridles – in fact it was she who first introduced me to the Dr Cook style bridle. I was using an English hackamore before then.

With regard to treeless saddles, I cannot pretend to have any expertise in this area. I love my treeless saddles and my horses are comfortable and well in them. But they are not working a great deal or being ridden long and hard, so I am not a good sample by which to judge the saddles’ performance. When I was researching treeless saddles prior to trying one, I discovered an account that said trees were first introduced into saddles in order to have somewhere to hang stirrups. Stirrups enabled less-than-expert riders to become effective warriors in the saddle so that the Mongolians could increase the size of their armies for mounted combat. This would suggest that the introduction of a tree was for the benefit of the rider, not the horse. I have no idea whether this is true or not. However I have a friend in Finland who runs a riding stables of 30 horses. Their horses are ridden in felt pads – what we might call bareback pads in the UK. They have always been worked in these soft felt saddles with no ill effect – and these are small horses carrying adults of all sizes.

On a different subject, I finding it interesting that although White Horse Pilgrim clearly is not convinced about bitless and treeless, he is an advocate of barefoot horses. At my yard I have received no negative feedback about my horses being in treeless saddles and bitless bridles, but quite a lot about Red being barefoot. A number of people do not think I will be able to continue with this indefinitely and keep Red sound. He has been barefoot now for 10 months and has never been lame. His feet are tough and in good shape. One thing that is most noticeable about bare feet (Dee is barefoot also on her hind feet) is that the hooves stay clean – mud and stones do not get stuck in the feet so that they hardly need picking out, whereas Dee often has quite clogged front shod feet with stones wedged in that can be difficult to remove. I'm sure the fact that barefoot hooves naturally stay cleaner must be to the horse’s benefit.

I expect the debate about these different approaches will continue ad infinitum. I would be delighted to hear other people’s comments or experience of the bitless, treeless and barefoot approaches.