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


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


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 'รถ-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


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.