Horse Eating Hay Trolls

The neighbor’s hayed their field, and now there is a long line of round bales in the field where Midas and I ride–and there has never been round bales in that field for as long as we’ve been going there.

It’s been upwards of 10 years.

So obviously the new bales, which appeared out of no where, overnight, must be sentient horse eating trolls.

And Midas noticed them immediately.

By this point in our ride, we were cooling out. It was hot out. I was tired.

He went stiff, head up, snorting, I could feel the spin and run inside him even if he hadn’t succumbed. I knew that there was a solid chance we’d just be spinning our way through a field of gopher holes should I stay mounted and coax him over to face the trolls. (We normally ride around the edge, where there are no holes, but to do that we’d have to walk RIGHT NEXT TO THE TROLLS).

So, I retreated behind a treeline (cover from trolls) and dismounted. He’d been feeling good and peppy all day–finally sound after a spring battling thrush–so spooking might be half for the joy of feeling good. The other half being his guard-horse mentality–and the thought of gopher holes just really meant this was a monster best faced in hand. Mounted, there would be an additional layer of adrenaline. In hand, I could use my tiredness and lack of adrenaline to my favor, radiating calm at the prey animal bent on survival.

He pranced. He snorted. He stopped. He never tried to get away from me.

I strolled, stopped when he stopped, asked nicely to move again after a moment of assurance, or let him move in a nervous circle. Assured him verbally that these weren’t trolls. Finally got close enough that I could touch the bales, bang on their plastic, make noise.

He was skeptical still, but finally relaxed. We walked all the way around the line both ways–saw a few gopher holes.

With our scientific investigation satisfied, we walked allll the way back to a woodpile by the driveway so I could remount (another object we’d investigated thoroughly when it was first introduced) and I rode back to face the trolls.

Except they weren’t trolls anymore. Just hay bales.

We doodled peaceably around the field and went back to the barn for a nice cool shower.

*

I brought out the little white pony, Blue, for a walk in hand to see what he’d do with the trolls. It amused me that it took him several seconds longer to notice them than it had Midas, and he danced back and forth behind me like a tube behind a speedboat. I don’t think he stopped moving once of his own accord, just when I paused to assure him. Once we got to the bales, though, he accepted them much more quickly, and even walked across the half-blown tarp when I did. I hadn’t expected him to follow me (Midas hadn’t), just wanted to show that it wasn’t scary.

Horses are so different. Blue isn’t a dominant creature (unlike Midas, who is dominant and the horse who stands guard while the others nap), he’s somewhat nervous but quite trusting. He, too, never actually hit the end of the lead rope, though he was pretty worked up.

Granted, I didn’t try to keep him from dancing around. I let him have the rope he needed, which turned out to be not that much. I didn’t care if he danced around as long as he didn’t bolt. That was my approach with Midas, too.

It helps to focus on one thing at a time with horses. For investigating the trolls, they just needed to stay with me so I could show them everything was alright. They didn’t need to bury their emotions or instincts entirely, just use their brains enough to come with me.

Trolls vanquished.

*

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It’s time to listen

I normally stay out of serious discussion on the internet. I think it’s mostly a waste of time and energy. But I’ve been reading a lot of stories on the internet this past week about what it’s like being black in America today, and I wanted to make sure that anyone reading this who isn’t white, or wasn’t born in the United States of America, knows that I’m listening.

I grew up believing racism was a thing of the past—which I suppose is evidence enough that I am white. I was surrounded by international students most of my childhood due to my parents’ work and knew more about the tension between China and Taiwan than race tensions in the US. I thought because I loved the different tones of our skin and valued my friends of non-European appearance that everyone did. And since I am, in fact, white, I never saw racism because no one did it to me. It’s taken a long time for me to see the skin colors around me at all much less ponder the different experiences afforded each.

This week’s internet conversation reminds me of the #metoo movement in some ways.

Every woman knows what it’s like to be woman in a man’s world–even if, like me, you largely live in a safe bubble. Men just don’t. Unless they start listening.

Every black person knows what it’s like to be black in a white world. White people just don’t. Unless they start listening.

You can’t know what it’s like for someone who doesn’t look like you.

One of the worst parts of adulthood has been discovering exactly how much racism is still a thing. It’s shocking and appalling, and it’s beyond being watched suspiciously in stores–it extends to dress codes designed to shame them for their spectacular hair. It is hatred, obvious and ugly. And it’s rules no one thought to change once they forgot why they were there.

Most of the time racism feels far away to me, that is my privilege, but in listening to the stories of black friends and acquaintances and total strangers who are now coming forward to share…I’m so sorry…I had no idea…And I’m so sorry I didn’t think to ask about it.

And thanks for spelling out how we can help. I’ve found out about a lot of cool Instagrammers, authors, and artists who I never knew existed before this week. I plan to keep listening.

I’ve put some links in this paragraph, mouse over the words to find them. I encourage you, especially my white readers, to read people’s stories. To listen to them. And to keep listening to them.

Not Your Momma’s History – historical reinactor

Twisted – book on the tangled history of Black Hair

Mulatto Meadows – bringing horses to under privileged communities

Here’s a snapshot of some books by black authors which are now on my TBR list:

I’m happy to have more recommendations! I know this is just a tiny smattering. Let me know in the comments who are your favorite minority voices–in books, art, fashion, science, equestrian sports, especially.

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strength training

I should look for a job conditioning someone’s expensive sporthorse, because I enjoy it. I enjoy walking up and down hills, trotting over hill and dale, all with a careful eye on building the strength and stamina of my mount.

This winter has been pretty wimpy, but one side benefit of that has meant more trot! The ground never got hard, and we’re probably going to have a drought this summer because there hasn’t really been any mud either.

We’ve been going up and down hills at walk and trot, mostly. I’ve taken delight in the 10 minute warm up and 10 min cool down (always observed this, but with renewed vigor as I follow Denny Emmerson’s writings), carefully warming up Midas’s muscles and then working them on the hills, then cooling them down again. Important at any age, but he’s in his 20’s.

We are outside the ring as much as we can manage.

We’ve also done some canter up hills, not a lot, but some.

I’ve worked twice in the ring this spring–I mean actually worked hard in the ring. There have been one or two other times when I didn’t have time for a proper ride so we did some bareback work while I dwelled on seat and legs.

And wouldn’t you know, that ring work was MUCH better. We’re straighter (it’s also been just me riding all winter, so that helps with his straightness, too), softer, and stronger in the right way. I’ve been deliberate about asking for softness, and then for shorter periods of time asking for self-carriage and roundness. (Rather than asking all the time and hoping desperately to get it now and then). Understanding that it takes physical strength to carry oneself makes a big difference.

All I have to do is think about me doing pilates and my approach to asking for such things changes dramatically. Midas not going around like a dressage pony has less to do with obstinance than fitness and know-how.

He gets fast when we introduce canter, like it simultaneously excites and frightens him, and if you let him, he’ll counter-bend and speed into the canter when he thinks you might want him to canter. So I focus on bending him the correct direction and not letting him zip, and then if we’re organized I’ll sigh, and say “Alright, go ahead” and he’ll usually pick up canter.

Sometimes I have say canter. Sometimes I don’t 😛

Sometimes I have to cue with my leg. Sometimes I don’t. 😛

But once we’re cantering, leg becomes essential.

He falls on his face a bit when he canters, so I have to sit back, lift my hands and apply lots of leg–not a kick or anything, but a steady pressure alllllll down the inside leg to remind his body which way to bend and to block his shoulder. If I’m too weak, he caves in and we lose our balance on the turns.

After all the hills, though, it’s easier to help him stay balanced.

We moved quickly through a bunch of different exercises last time I rode. A 10 minute walk on a long rein, then finishing with some bending, and leg yields, then trot–first at his pace with a long rein, then more organized and then finally collected for a little with bending. Then, canter.

You’ll laugh, but we cantered a time and a half around the arena left lead without falling apart, and that might be the first time that’s happened since I broke my foot.

When we changed direction, I let him canter without making him do figures at trot until he was bending properly, and it was a very unpretty and resistant canter where he DID NOT WANT TO BEND, so even though we made it around the ring it was disorganized and probably would have scared 13 year old me.

I changed tack, focused our breath on trot, doing figures, relying as much as I could on leg rather than hands, so I could encourage softness from him. Once we were organized, I let him canter again and it was MUCH improved, and I didn’t make him go more than once around.

I gave him a long rein immediately upon coming back to it–before he could pull, even–but kept leg on so he knew he wasn’t to walk–his trot was loose and not zippy, he was clearly quite pleased.

Once we got down toward the “canter corner” he sped up, despite my gentle whoas, and picked up canter. I decided I didn’t care. He picked up the correct lead, and I didn’t feel like spending the next however long fighting with him about that corner. I kept up the gentle whoas, but offered him no other help with his canter. He cantered up the side and returned to a dignified trot of his own accord, shockingly organized, actually, and I insisted he keep trotting because that’s what I had asked. In the “canter corner” he again ignored my gentle whoa and picked up canter, but only went a couple strides before coming back. As if he was tired, and also might have just realized he wasn’t listening to me. The next time he didn’t even speed up at all. The whole thing was on a long rein, I did almost nothing, and he figured out all on his own that maybe he should pay attention to my gentle cues like he does when we’re walking.

Also, we cantered on a long rein, and he actually did an OK job. We’ve both made good progress.

*

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gouache, coasters, and summers on the porch

Paint is funny. Colors come from mostly the same selection of sources, what changes is the binder. And that binder makes SO MUCH difference. Gouache is more opaque than watercolor, but shares some of my favorite features in that you can wet and reuse after its dried. This piece, the rearing rose gray, is me trying to get a better grasp on layering and start to mess with mixing wet paint again. With my watercolors, I have gotten so absorbed in my many little trays that I forget to mix the colors while they are wet. (Can you tell the horse is free-hand with no reference picture? I can :-P). I appreciate the way white gouache behaves. Makes dapples easy.

And yes, that circle was done with a coaster.

This particular coaster set belonged to my grandparents. It’s woven wicker inside wood. It was the outdoor coaster set which we used on the screened porch. After we made our sandwiches with deli meat and filled our plates with chips (a treat!) we’d take our soda (also a treat) out to the porch and eat on the blue stained furniture while we talked and watched the birds at the feeders. They had a lot of bird feeders. Thistle, sunflower, peanut butter, suet, and of course sugar water for the humming birds. My grandfather had built an elaborate baffle (or three) to keep the squirrels off. He also had a heated birdbath for the winter and every year asked for birdseed for Christmas. We’d easily spend hours watching the local wildlife–and there was plenty–besides a bazillion song birds there were the rabbits, squirrels, doves and fox.

Every time I use one of those coasters to draw a circle–or keep a drink from leaving stains–I think of those lazy summer days. A lot of my early fiction writing was on that porch, too, thanks to the advent of laptop computers. I cherished that time. Soaked it up like a sponge, and look at the memories with gentle fondness. I try not to wish to return to the past…but I would go back there.

Someday, I want a screened porch in the shade of my own. While I have invited quite a lot of wildlife onto my deck by attempting to maintain a container garden, it’s not quite the same. My kitchen, sadly, is not arranged for me to sit and watch the bird feeder.

*

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Nice Things

There is a new boarder at Midas’s barn, a pretty gray Percheron type mare named Evie.

Midas has literally paid no attention to her in the month she’s been living on the property–she was in a paddock by herself, and all the geldings were turned out in a field that didn’t share a fence–but they could see each other clearly.

They’ve met over the fence in hand.

This week, she was turned out with one of the geldings, Wellie, and the others were all put in other paddocks in pairs.

This time, about halfway through our ride, Midas suddenly seemed to realize that he’d left Wellie and Evie unchaperoned. And he was distressed. He wanted to go back. He wanted to stare at them.

It took a good bit of gentle insistence to prevail upon him to pay attention, so of course I teased him mercilessly for his jealous behavior.

The real question is: Would he react this way if Evie had been turned out with anyone else? Is he jealous because Wellie was turned out with her, or because anyone was? He doesn’t care about Wellie being with him or alone, or with one of the other geldings. So is he getting studly in his old age, or does he just really not like Wellie to have nice things???

I want to know.

For science.

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