Friday, January 30, 2009

In other news...

The farrier will not be coming this weekend - darn it! Seems he'd rather be off attending the Black Hills Stock Show than bent over underneath a horse out in the cold. Go figure - LOL!

And I can't really say that I blame him. The annual stock show in Rapid City is a major Event, capital "E" and all, in this part of the country. It runs - this year - from Jan. 30th through Feb. 8th. There's (of course) the ranch rodeo and the ranch horse competitions, a banquet & ball, a western art show, a couple of sanctioned QH shows in addition to the (multiple breeds) cattle shows, the horse auction, the cattle auction, a poker tournament, a quilt show, a trade show, sheepdog trials....

There are the celebrity guests, including the Budweiser Clydesdales of commercial fame. And the classes and/or demonstrations ranging from ultrasound to quilting.

And did I mention the trade show? LOTS of things to drool over there.

So, as I said, I can't say I really blame the man for turning down the opportunity to stoop over in the cold and pick manure out of my ponies' feet. I'm kind of jealous, actually!

Friday Book Review: different worlds

I know what you're thinking - you're expecting a post about cowboys who become dressage riders, or draft horses who visit the circus. Nope, sorry.

This week you get fantasy. Not talking horses, either, but good, solid, real horse-type horses. I appreciate an author who can write animals well without making them into people. (Sure, 101 Dalmations was a great book, but was anyone else really disturbed by Disney's real-life version where they CGI'd the dog's mouths so that they talked?)

Janny Wurts writes well (not to mention copiously, and at length!), and a few of her series contain well-written animals in minor supporting roles. Then there's this week's book, where the survival of the main characters (and the fate of a kingdom) depends on the realiability, training and conditioning of six horses.

To Ride Hell's Chasm by Janny Wurts
A missing princess and a handful of strange deaths bring together two men, a mysterious foreigner and a rigidly focused captain of the royal guard. Caught in a vise of politics and diabolical plotting, the two men must decide whether to trust enough to stand together and face a nameless horror.

Gut-wrenching and powerful, this stand-alone novel drags the reader along on a desperate plunge to outrace the minions of hell itself. Human trust alone isn't enough - if the princess and her lone protector can't survive the treacherous rift known as Hell's Chasm, the kingdom will be irrevocably lost.

Their one chance at successful passage through the deadly warren rests on the sturdy shoulders of three teams of horses hand-picked and trained to compete in the kingdom's version of the Olympic horse trials. With shapeshifting demons hot on their heels, the terrain and its denizens, not to mention time, stacked against them, they can only go forward or die. (Possibly both). Failure means more than a kingdom will fall, but even success may cost some, or all, their lives.
I won't lie to you, not all the horses survive, and not all of them die nicely, which is awful. But the horses themselves are written wonderfully, and if you like a good epic fantasy adventure, and you haven't ever read any of Wurts books, I'd encourage you to give this one a try.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Bucket List

Yikes - I've been tagged! (Thanks, Jennifer!)

The Bucket List

*Place an X by all the things you've done and remove the X from the ones you have not then pass it on.

Things you have done during your lifetime.

(X) Gone on a blind date
( ) Skipped school (Nope - I never have, honest.)
( X) watched someone die (Do horses count? I'm going to have to say yes.)
( X) Been to Canada
( ) Been to Mexico
( X ) Been to Florida
( ) Been to Hawaii
( X ) Been on a plane
( X ) Been lost
(X ) Gone to Washington , DC
( X )Swam in the ocean
( X ) Cried yourself to sleep
( X ) Played cops and robbers
( ) Recently colored with crayon
( ) Sang Karaoke
( X )Paid for a meal with coins only
( ) Been to the top of the St. Louis Arch
( X ) Done something you told yourself you wouldn't (That leftover chocolate cake WANTED me to eat it. It told me so.)
( ) Made prank phone calls
( ) Been down Bourbon St. in New Orleans
( X ) Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose & elsewhere
( X ) Caught a snowflake on your tongue
( ) Danced in the rain
( X ) Written a letter to Santa Claus
( ) Been kissed under the mistletoe
( X ) Watched the sunrise with someone
( X ) Blown bubbles
( X ) gone ice-skating
( X )Gone to the movies
( ) Been deep sea fishing
(\) Driven across the United States alone (How far is "across?"? I've done half, so I'll give my self half an X)
( ) Been in a hot air balloon
( ) Been sky diving (Jump out of a perfectly good plane? Ummm.... you must be kidding!)
( X ) Gone snowmobiling
( X )Lived in more than one country
( X ) Laid outside at night and admired the stars while listening to the crickets
( X ) Seen a falling star and made a wish
( X ) Enjoyed the beauty of Ole Faithful Geyser
( X ) Seen the Statue of Liberty
( ) Gone to the top of Seattle Space Needle
( )Been on a cruise
( X )Traveled by train
( ) Traveled by motorcycle
( X ) Been horse back riding
( ) Ridden on a San Francisco Trolley
(X) Been to Disneyland or Disney World
( ) Been to the top of an active volcano and seen hot lava
( ) Been in a rain forest
(X ) Seen whales in the ocean
(X) Been to Niagara Falls
(X) Ridden on an elephant
( ) Swam with dolphins

Now.... BrownEyed Cowgirls, and Denise over at Less is More, you're up :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Oh, I keep him in the bathtub."

Pony Girl's Monday Musing got me thinking, as her posts often do. Specifically, she was talking about her experiences catching up with old friends. Her description of the frequent reaction she gets when she mentions being a horse owner reminded me of this conversation....

Back before I was married, when I lived in a third floor, walk-up apartment downtown, the UPS guy - the regular, who has been known to spot me on Main Street having lunch and hand me whatever packages I might have in the truck - would schlep my boxes from Stateline Tack, Dover Saddlery, Valley Vet and wherever up the stairs (and sometimes back down, if they needed signing for).

One day, surprised to actually find me answering the door during the day, (and probably grateful that he didn't have to lug the large box containing a portable elecric fence kit back down the stairs) he asked did I actually have a horse, and getting an affirmative answer, where I kept him.

I don't know what possessed me, but I answered, "In the bathtub."

UPS guy, "Really?!" Peering around me into the living room where the four saddle racks were neatly lined up.

"Oh sure. Teaching him about the stairs was a bit of a challenge, but he's great about them now." Of course, I couldn't keep a straight face, and he's not a dim guy.

But maybe that's why he remembers me to hand packages to on Main Street....

What about you? Any interesting reactions from old friends or new acquaintances on finding you come attached to a large hairy beastie?

Of cats & other things

A couple people asked how the drop off kitten has been - he's as vocal as ever. Since all but one of the 10 still pictures I snapped ended up showing various bits of moving kitten, I finally resorted to video to keep up. As you can see, he doesn't hold still very well.
If you turn the sound up, you can hear him purring.

I took some horse pictures, too. But they ended up just plain ugly. Wrong light, weird poses - I think part of my problem was that the temperature outside was so cold the camera just didn't want to work on anything breathing.

Trees, on the other hand, hold still quite nicely. Do they breathe?
This is the tree Foxy likes to hide behind. I have a few more limbs to remove, but as you can see, they've started wearing a path around it now.

A friend on Facebook this morning was saying she wanted just one good blizzard yet this year - really? Wow... I'm ready for winter to be done - I'll even take mud & flies.

And does anyone have a good ice solution? I need to do something about the concrete like surface in the upper lot that's formed where the horses need to walk to get to the water tank.... They'd be fine if they wouldn't chase one another, but when they do it's like watching Horse-capades. Only more exciting...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Book Review: Oh, those problem horses...

It's not much of a secret - if it has horses in it or on it, I'll probably at least pick it up and look at it. More often than not, if "it" happens to be a book, it comes home with me. (Hey, paper horses are cheaper than the real thing.... sort of - lol!) But this week's book, I didn't even have to pay for. Bonus!

You may have noticed the LibraryThing images & links to all of the books tagged "horses" over on the right side of the screen. Well, here's a fun fact - LT is home to a group known as the Early Reviewers, and a list of free advance copies of all sorts of books. How it works is, publishers provide however many copies they feel they can spare, and LT readers sign up for the chance to read the books and review them. (Competition for some of the titles is pretty fierce, and the LT folks aren't saying how exactly they select each month's readers - but reading & reviewing on the site any of the ER books you're lucky enough to snag certainly doesn't hurt.)

(If the idea
of receiving free books
intrigues you,
you can learn more about LT HERE
And you too
can be an
Early Reviewer.)

This week's book was on December's Early Reviewer's list - I requested it, and was one of the lucky recipients. My copy arrived last week (and yes, dear it is the reason why I didn't get to the dry cleaners this weekend - sorry!).

A Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith
Kara Whittenbrook is a woman of many accomplishments, although she wouldn't say so. An heiress, semi-vegan, and holder of multiple degrees, she's always felt just a little different from her globe-trotting activist parents. When her parents die in a fiery plane crash, Kara finds that she was adopted as a newborn. Her birth parents are Mac Tolbert and Lily Akens. When Kara learns the pair live on a ranch in Florida, she reinvents herself as Karen Johnson and sets off to learn more about them, little dreaming what fate has in store.

Ben Thocco is a Florida Cracker, and darn proud of the fact. Part Seminole, owner of a struggling cattle ranch, Ben has a checkered past and a big heart. His ranch is home not only to Coon Racking Cracker horses, but also to a varied cast of special people, including his brother Joey, who has Downs Syndrome and a heart condition. Ben doesn't have time in his life for romance. But Lilly, Mac, a horse named Estrela, and a young woman named Karen just may make him change his mind.

There's a LOT going on in this story. Lots of characters, numerous subplots, and the ending is pretty much a foregone conclusion (it's happy, of course). In spite of the fact that a few of the subplots get lost along the way, and a few of the named characters aren't really fleshed out, I found myself liking this story a lot. Smith's books usually have a little more nail-biting suspense to them. In contrast, this one is more gentle, hopeful, and endearing. I really enjoyed it.
So, that's my LT review - for the non-horsey audience. But on the fictional equine end of things, Estrela the barrel-kicking, hat-stomping horse was part of what really made this book for me.
In spite of the fact that Cracker Horses sound like an odd sort of ground grain product for teething children, they appear to actually exist, and there's even a Florida Cracker Horse Association. (I kid you not!)
Sure, she's a bit over the top, and I wish all problem horses worked out their difficulties as easily (and ended up - spoiler alert - winning gigantic jackpots), but the description of the last-chance auction is true as they come, and Estela's cranky-contrary nature is a riot.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Spring? No, just January thaw :(

This week Mother Nature has given us South Dakotans a small taste of spring - and after -20's, it's that much more appreciated, let me tell you!

When I got to the farm my first job was to throw some hay to the crew, and then to shoo these two escapees back to their own side of the fence.This is the second time they've been in with the horses - not that the horses mind - but luckily it doesn't take much to get them back where they belong. Cute faces, but there's not much upstairs!

Speaking of cute.... This is Mama Kitty - so dubbed because when she first appeared at the farm she promptly proceeded to have a litter of kittens in the market lambs' feed bunk - a very bad spot for newborn kittens, as the lambs tend to dive into their alfalfa with all four hooves, no matter how loudly it squeaks. They really like to play king of the hill IN the feed bunk.

We moved the kittens. She moved them back. We moved them again. She moved them back. Ultimately and unfortunately, none of the kittens survived being jumped on by the lambs.

Mama Kitty is most happy when people stay at least one arm's length away. Preferably farther. So she was content to pose for her picture against the bale, as long as it involved me not touching her. Drop-off-kitten was also sunning, but he came running as soon as I stepped out of the truck, and wouldn't hold still to have his picture taken. Stinker! (Actually, literally he's a stinker at the moment - he's been sleeping in the barn with the sheep, and he's a little rank....)

Cats aside, I had intended to actually throw a leg across Sunny today, but it wasn't to be. I ended up doing some pruning instead. Poor Foxy - of the across the fence adventures in December - is bottom mare. She gets chased a lot. Her usual evasion is to scoot around behind this big old tree that stands in the lower lot. Over the years it's turned into almost an umbrella, which is great for shade in the summer, but since it's also fairly close to the fence on one side, it makes squeezing past difficult if you're say, being chased for sport.

So today I dug a bow saw out of the barn, and tackled some of the hanging down limbs. I can definitely feel my arms at the moment, but I managed to get most of worst limbs trimmed up to an acceptable level. Now Foxy can escape around the tree rather than being run into it when she's evading menacing teeth.

After that, I got them all de-mudded again, which took a while. One thing about spring, even mock spring, it sure is WET. And dirty - LOL. I basically stripped when I walked in the door on getting home. Between rescuing a stuck sheep and hauling the trimmed branches over to throw across the fence, my jeans were wet nearly to the knees with mud & manure, and I had hay in places better left unmentioned. (Although that's normal, and at least hay doesn't smell bad!)

Still, it was absolutely wonderful to get chores done in a sweatshirt & tank top. And mud washes off, right?!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From The Westerner: The Original SUV

Okay, you really need to check this out: The Westerner: The Original SUV

Have to wonder what most folks would actually do *grin*

A napping kind of day

Yesterday was gorgeous. You can't beat South Dakota when the weather's fine, and yesterday certainly qualified, especially for January. Life, as it often does, scotched my afternoon plans, (isn't there a saying that life's what happens while you're making plans?) in that I didn't actually get to spend as much time with the ponies as I wanted, but I did get out to the farm in the daylight at least, and with a few minutes to spare for enjoying.

It was nearly 40', no wind, and lots of sun - just lovely. In spite of all the clamor and commotion sweeping the nation as Obama took his oath of office, the ponies were completely undisturbed.

When I pulled up and parked G was moving ewe-new lamb pairs & trios - lots of twins this year, as always - from barn to barn, and the baa-ing and bleating was echoing off the buildings. Outside, the market lambs were bolting crazily about in their lot in celebration of whatever sheep celebrate, and the older new lambs were hopping here and there, anxious mommas close behind.

The horses were unfazed by that noise, either.

Thunder was stretched out flat, sunning, and three of the others were curled up like dogs, noses resting just barely to the ground. Two more were perfect four-poster-ponies, eyes hazy and ears lax enjoying the afternoon warmth. The remaining two were picking half-heartedly at the hay bale, hipshot and lazy. I almost hated to interrupt their afternoon siesta. And I wish I'd remembered to tuck the camera in my pocket.

I had two whole hours before I had to get home and changed and back to work, and I figured I might as well enjoy them.

Since it takes an hour to grain and spread hay when I hurry, I had 60 whole minutes of time to play. It would have been great to grab Sunny and make tracks through some of the virgin pasture snow, and maybe tomorrow, when I will have the whole afternoon, I'll do just that.

But they all needed brushing - especially the ones who'd been laying down - and and de-haying (they get hay in the ODDEST places) and I wanted to get the lot raked while everything was still a bit softer and easier to move.

By the time I'd spread hay and brushed two, I'd shed my winter jacket and gloves, and was down to just my sweatshirt & vest. What a treat!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Book Review: back to Reference World

I've been fictionally focused for a while. My how-tos for horse owners books have been gathering dust (and thankfully, so have the vet books), so this week I thought it might be time to get back to basics.

I've found that as with most topics, anytime I read a new nonfiction horse book I learn something new. Whether it's presented in a way I hadn't thought about, I encounter a new topic, or I have a new frame of reference that makes whatever stands out relevant to me, there's at least some crumb of information that makes me go....Hmmmmm.... hadn't thought of that.

In today's book, it was the brief section on choke (p.63) that clicked a lightbulb in my head. Choke occurs when a horse's esophagus is blocked - usually by food. It features symptoms such as coughing, retching with the head & neck extended, and sometimes mucus & food being expelled from the horse's nose. If it's as painful to experience as it is to watch, it HURTS. An incident this last fall that involved several of the horses, pelleted feed, and a call to the (unfortunately unavailable) horse vet was, I think, choke and not gas colic as the vet speculated at the time.... In any case, today's book is:

Seasons of the Horse: a practical guide to year-round equine care by Jackie Budd
This solid guide to horse care poses questions for consideration and presents various options for those who are new to horse keeping, or are considering undertaking horse ownership for the first time. Although it is probably intended more for novice horse owners, it has a lot of useful information for experienced horse folks, as well, and would probably be a profitable read for young adults and their parents before jumping in to the horse-owning pool.

Although definitely British in origin - Budd is an equestrian journalist, trainer & professional competitor in Southern Wales - there are lots of references to common practices in the United States, as well. Treatment of each topic isn't overly detailed, and may prompt additional questions you'll need to follow up elsewhere. This isn't a fluffy, cutesy, let's dress our ponies up in matching pink leggings type of book. Sober and serious, but still interesting, this is an excellent first stop on the way to owning your first horse.
One quibble I do have with the book concerns the illustrations. While the majority are great, the full page spread that opens Chapter 11 would definitely get the photographer highlighted on FHOTD for child endangerment. A grinning, shorts clad little girl is parked on the back of a halterless grazing horse with not an adult near by (except the one taking the picture, I guess).

Both horse & child appear quite content - but it's probably not the safest situation. (Although hey, I was once that little girl - okay, not THAT little girl, but you know what I mean - and I survived.) There are also lots of helmetless riders pictured - plenty with proper headwear, too, though - and a couple of other no-nos that didn't hit the cutting room floor are scattered here and there.

But on the whole, it's a useful, practical text that lives up to the promise in the title. Given the recent (2007) publication date, this one is probably going to be a fairly easy find, if you're interested in tracking it down.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lambs eat oats

Well, not this little guy - at least not yet. I'll get some better pictures in a day or so when it's warmer - I didn't want to get too close & disturb the mamas. The lambs were all tucked up against the ewes, staying as cozy & warm as they could. And who could blame them! I can't say I'd appreciate being born in this kind of weather.

How to get a round bale moved*...

When I first moved to South Dakota almost 11 years ago I was newly out of grad school and looking forward to living somewhere for longer than 2 years. I wanted a place of my own and a horse, a barn, a couple of cats to chase mice, and a dog or so for company and feet warming.

Nine years later
I'd accomplished...

the horse part.

Sunny has always lived on the farm where he was born. I initially bought Sunny from J with the expectation of paying pasture rent until I found a place, but one thing led to another. I ended up earning his keep at the farm with vaccinations, worming, halter-training lessons for the babies, fence fixing, and various other horse chores.
J loves her horses - but she'd be the first to admit that she's more comfortable looking at them than looking after them. She's still working on the confidence it takes to handle them through the mundane stuff, but she's getting there.
Summers, the horses have good pasture and don't require daily feeding. In the winter, feeding duty has always fallen to J's husband. G handles the farmer duties on the farm. But his interests are more with cloven-hooved critters that go "BAaaaaaa" and "Mooo."
G's take on equines: Horses eat grass that sheep and cows could eat. They require different fences, different hay, you can't eat them, and they're demanding (hoof-trimming, vaccinations, worming, halter training, weaning, good grief!). They also don't sell very well when you want fewer of them.
But in spite of his preference for more marketable livestock, G's generally been a good sport about the additional work the horses require. He's always moved bales and dumped grain into feeders as necessary, leaving the remainder of the horse-related activities to J and me.

I'm ashamed to say,
I don't know how to run the tractor.
(But I fully intend to learn
When we find our own place
and there's one to be run.)
The big round bales have, therefore, always been hostage to G and his schedule. I can grain, but in the winter, horses need hay. Lots of hay. And they haven't always had it quite as promptly as a (fussy horse) person would like.

Nine years ago I met my now-husband. T grew up on a farm in Kansas, doesn't mind dirt and getting dirty. He knows how to put up a (horse) fence.

And not only can he operate a tractor, he likes to.

T didn't have horses growing up, but his friends did. He even rides. After he'd been out to the farm a few times, J, who also liked him, decided she'd help me keep him around.

She gave him a horse.
Don't you just love it
when your friends look out for you?

Of course there were a few strings attached to the deal. But since he was already acquiring one horse-loving woman (and her horse) marrying me, I've at least provided him with tractor-access to go along with his one-horse-power ride.

And now,
I can get those round bales moved

when & where I need them.
Although sometimes, it does
require a little bribery.

[*Regarding the title: How to get a round bale moved - I didn't say it was the BEST way to get a round bale moved, now did I?]

And the actual temperature is....

It was just a wee bit chilly this AM.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Memories: Lessons

Since I'm not getting any actual riding in, I thought I'd take a little trip down memory lane and read through a lesson journal I kept back when I actually was able to take lessons.

I grew up with horses - my mom taught me to ride... and some of my earliest memories are of wriggling onto my pony bareback because I was too little to lift the saddle and tighten the cinch myself.

It wasn't until I was in college that I had the opportunity to take formal riding lessons. I couldn't afford to board my own horse - the cost of tuition was cheaper than boarding a horse on the East coast, at least back then. But no way was I going to go 9 months without horses.

So I scrimped and saved all my waitressing tips and had just enough left over after I bought all my books to afford riding lessons, took the placement test:
"Can you canter in a circle?"
Me: Yes
"Show us."
"Can you find your left diagonal?"
Me: What's that?
Imagine my surprise (and horror) when I discovered that not only was I going to have to ride English, but that they'd put me in a jumping class.

I spent a lot of lessons terrified. But I learned a lot. A normal week contained a flat lesson and a jump lesson. Horses were luck of the draw - well, the instructors assigned them, but if you rode slightly better than the rest of your class you either got the tough horses with bad habits, or the new horses that needed work.
Riding Percy 1994

Percy was a good horse to get, and we all liked him. His bad habits were few, consisting of corner-balking, being consistently heavy on the forehand, and needing LOTS of leg. All problems I was quite comfortable dealing with.

Darryl, (Remember the Bob Newhart show? "This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl" - well, that's how Darin got his name.) on the other hand, was a nice boy, but his experience prior to being purchased for lessons was all trail work. He was FLAT, FLAT, FLAT in the corners - no bend either direction. Cantering him was an experience in steady acceleration, because he compensated for lack of bend by going faster. He liked speed, and he loved to jump. And he jumped BIG over the little jumps, which was... interesting. For some reason I ended up with Darin a lot. Eventually I learned to rate him fairly well.

The barn had, as most barns do, dogs. Two small, ancient Jack Russell Terriers. Too old to be much trouble, they were almost blind and pretty tottery. The barn had sub-floor conveyor belt that ran along in front of the stalls. Each stall was fronted by a metal grate that could be flipped open and stall waste shoveled in. The conveyor - when it was working - dumped the manure outside, saving lots of steps with a wheel barrow.

Neither dog could see very well - at one point one of them stumbled in to an open hatch. The conveyor was on at the time, and the sound of "Yelp! Yelp! Y-elp!" echoed out from underfoot as the dog passed under our feet on its impromptu amusement ride. Someone ran for the switch, and someone else ran for the hatches, and eventually the dog was convinced to come to a point where it could be lifted out no worse for wear. It was seriously hysterically funny.

More later....


No penguin sightings yet. But it's certainly cold enough.

I took these Monday night as we drove out to the farm. The snow in the atmosphere was actually making a rainbow as the setting sun shown through. (Sorry about the junk in the picture!)
There were sundogs, as well.
My window wouldn't roll down - too cold!
The ponies seem cheerful in spite of the cold. T moved a new bale out last night, so they'll have plenty to munch on. I'm crossing my fingers it doesn't get as far below zero as they're predicting (-22 straight temp for tonight). It's -5 now with a predicted high for the day of -2.

It's this time of year
that relocating to parts more southern
sounds really appealing!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Help! We're being invaded!

Okay, so not really.

But looking out the window at the whiteness blowing across my field of vision, it could sure happen anytime now! The ponies will get extra hay tonight - they'll need it. It's COLD out there.

Thankfully, although the wind is strong, it's out of the northwest which means they'll be protected by the barns, hill & trees from the worst of the blast.

And penguins don't eat hay.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Beware of Donkeys bearing books?

No, don't beware, and yes, you read that right - donkeys.

In Ethiopia, donkey-drawn carts bring children in remote villages books. The Donkey Mobile Library, Ethiopia's first, has another mission as well - the donkeys pulling the carts are part of a campaign to help improve treatment of donkeys. The program's mascot is Queen Helena, an elderly donkey who has been retired and no longer pulls the cart, but still accompanies it from village to village. (She looks quite popular, if a little silly in her crown!)

A nice two-fer, literacy & animal welfare education!

Friday Book Review: a true story?

Remember Ferdinand the Bull? Who liked to smell the flowers? Originally published in 1936, the story was one of my favorites growing up, perhaps because of the way my folks would read it aloud to me, drawing out the "sme-ellllll the flowers" bits (with great relish).

Well, today's book reminded me a lot of Ferdinand when I read it for the first time. Both critters certainly have a fine appreciation for the peaceful life! Perhaps Blackie isn't quite so timeless as the flower-loving bull, but he's still endearing. At least I thought so!

Blackie, the horse who stood still by Christopher Cerf & Paige Peterson (illus. by Paige Peterson)
Laid out in verse, this is the "mostly true" story of a horse who experienced as many and varied careers as many people, (and apparently, with more grace and good humor). Like the aforementioned Ferdinand, who only wanted to smell the flowers, Blackie just wants to stand still and enjoy life as it happens around him.

But in spite of his wish to bask in the sun and shade under his juniper tree, Blackie has a varied career as a rodeo horse (who stops still so that his cowboy can rope many a steer), a park service horse (a stock-still, stationary mount for visiting tourists to have their pictures taken on), and, ultimately in his retirement the 28-year pasture ornament teaches those who pass the value of the scenery he surveys.

The rhyme scheme is relaxing, and the oil painting illustrations are absolutely charming. An endnote lets readers know a bit about the horse behind the story. Blackie actually was a real horse from Kansas who appeared in rodeos, served as a mounted patrol horse for the US Cavalry in Yosemite National Park, and was retired to a Tiburon, California pasture where he lived out his days. When he died in 1966, the community erected a life-size bronze statue in his memory.

Whether as a read-alone for horse-crazy youngsters, a lulling tale for a child's bed or nap time, or a gift for the adult horse lover in your life, this is a standout.
The cover picture, showing just the top portion of Blackie against a blue sky background - eyes peering off the page, and ears alertly listening - is really captivating. I dare you to pick it up in person and not want to take it home :)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Horse withdrawal

I think I'm suffering from it. Oh, I see them daily and they're all very happy to see me - after all, I bring food! But the closest I've come to actual riding is having T boost me up to sit on Thunder the other night after we were done with feeding.

He was completely unflapped by the fact that we haven't done anything much in the past few months. While on the one hand it was great to know that he hasn't decided people - even people in rattle-y, semi-frozen winter layers and bulky snow boots - are terrifying things to have on his back, I really wanted to do more than be led around the lot a few laps.

Un-broke 4-year-old on frozen footing, wearing only a halter & lead, in single digit temps - sounds like a, "Hey, Watch this!" scenario in the making, doesn't it? Sanity prevailed, and I contented myself with the lead-line laps, although I did make "reins" and "steer" with legs & make-shift bridle. (I figure every little bit counts, right?) And if he'd been twitchy, we would have just done multiple mounts & dismounts until he was okay with that.

But I really wanna RIDE!

Even if it's only fooling around bareback in a snowy pasture. I was so hoping for warmer temps while I had some time off over the holidays. But the only days where the thermometer evern nudged it's way out of the 20's we were on the road to the airport. Of course, today I'm back at work and it's hovering in the low 30's - sun, no wind.... GRRRR....

I guess I'll have to settle for vicarious adventures. Jennifer over at How did this happen? has a new arena to work & play in, and Dawn at the Eventing Percheron has been posting pics of her and Brego adventuring through the frozen woods - pretty snow scenes!

Someday it will be warm again.
Then I can complain about mud & bugs & heat :)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tires & hay sniffing

Tires are so scary! Especially when they aren't attached to anything normal, like a tractor. This one has been turned inside out to serve as a feed bunk. It's been riding in the back of the truck for some extra weight, but since we needed the bed to haul shelf-making materials from Menards, out it came this afternoon.

What's that?!

Scary thing! Run away!

Huh... what's he up to now?

Is there food in there yet?

While the horses were eating out of their conquered nemesis, I fought with the latest bale, trying to get all of the frozen layers of bottom hay loose and thrown over to the cows. I was hoping it had warmed up just enough today that I could peel it off. Unfortunately, not.

The big round bales are stored outside in long rows. The horses don't - or at least shouldn't - eat the bottom layer that's been sitting on the ground, and the cows will pick through for the pieces that they consider edible. Problem is, once I manage to get it separated, it's difficult to tell what's moldy & what's just snowy & frozen without sniffing it - moldy hay has a very distinctive smell. So... I think I managed to get all of the bad bits off the bale, but I'm still trying to get all the hay dust out of my nose.

I also managed to bend the pitchfork tines prying frozen bits loose. They just don't make'em like they used to!

And finally, the shot of the day....
Ever see an icicle drip up?

The temperature made it all the way up to 22' - the tire must have been just sun-warmed enough for the ice to flex out of the tread.

Not-quite-Friday Book Review

I've been a bit lazy, and I've missed posting the last two Friday book reviews. Not so wonderful a start to the New Year! But here are two to make up for the lack.

One is older, one more recent - one for a younger audience, one is definitely adult, but both books are about fresh starts, self-discovery, and making changes, so in that respect they're perfect for the first reviews of 2009.

First, the old:

Saddles for Breakfast by Janet Randall
Robin Marshall is fed up with sharing everything with her brothers and sisters. She wants nothing more than the opportunity to spend the summer at her aunt Cora's riding stable. She envisions white fences and a sharply-appointed stable with gleaming-flanked horses, and herself, immaculately turned out in crisp breeches and boots, instructing scrubbed-faced smiling youngsters. When the telegram comes saying she's welcome for the summer, she's thrilled.

But the reality of Sycamore Stables is far more grubby and workaday than Robin pictured. Cora and her son Butch are operating the riding stable on a shoestring, and it shows. The jumping course is overgrown, the barns need paint, and the horses, while gleaming with good care and full bellies, certainly aren't elegant Thoroughbreds.

An unearned bad reputation haunts Sycamore Stables, and when an nasty accident followed by a barn fire strike, the outlook seems incredibly grim.
Hard work and heart, challenges and opportunities, and a young girl's coming of age - this story, set in the 1960's, lacks cell phones and the fast pace of today's electronic world. But despite that, the story itself endures. A good read for young horse lovers.
Saddles for Breakfast is fairly well packed with interesting horse tid-bits, as well. For instance, horses that cast themselves - our horses were never stalled, so the first time I encountered that particular situation was in Randall's book. When it happened to one of the mares at a show (her first time ever in a box stall) I couldn't help but flash back to Robin's panic at Tampico's thrashing. It's certainly scary enough!

I learned less of practical use from the next book, but had a good giggle in more than one spot - the new:

Horseplay: a novel by Judy Reene Singer
A masters degree and a job teaching high school English isn't doing much for Judy Van Brunt. But what puts her over the top is her husband's wandering eyes... and hands... and pretty much the rest of him. Fed up, she throws in the towel on teaching and her husband, and heads for greener pastures.

The pastures in question belong to a North Carolina horse farm run by German dressage trainer Kat and her two Jack Russell terrors - sorry,
terriers - and inhabited by an odd and interesting assortment of horses, grooms and stable help, Swedish and otherwise.

Judy's introduction to the eccentric realm of world class riding and the ubiquitous "What level do you ride?" question, as well as her misadventures on the farm - both romantic and otherwise - are a riot. This is Janet Evanovich (of the Stephanie Plum books), but with less hairspray and exploding cars, and more horses. Lots of fluffy fun for any rainy day afternoon. I don't know that there's a sequel planned, but I wouldn't mind reading one.
So there you have it - something old and something new. Both of them perfect for curling up with on the couch with a cat and a cup of hot chocolate while the winter winds howl.
Your choice: California dreaming... or North Carolina heat :)

Scenes from Saturday

And Saturday's word was.... SNOW!

Yesterday was.... a tad wintery.
And more than a tad chilly.

New bale or not, the horses were not eager to leave the shelter of the tree grove. It took them about 5 minutes to decide that coming up the hill into the wind was worth it.

They circled the pasture like a wave, rushing a way up the hill and then eddying back down with much snorting and head tossing.

Finally, they decided to take the plunge....

Note the snowy noses
Once they were through into the shelter of the lot, they swirled around pretending to be spooked by whatever caught their attention.
The sheep weren't much excited by the storm.