Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime

WMNighttime Windy

Nighttime at the barn is when the edges between now and then blur. Sometimes in the gloaming, there is movement in the shadows. Amid the chewing and breathing, there is just a flicker of something else. Don’t look directly, use peripheral vision. Un-define your gaze; almost look away and you might see them. The Ghost Herd is abiding close by. Resting, grazing, waiting to bring the memory. So very nice to reminisce with old friends.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

A Call to Arms. (or hooves, really.)

WMLightYou’ve had this happen. Someone finds out you have a horse and they ask, “Do you know my sister’s friend, Diane. She has a horse.” Like there are eleven of us in the state.

People who own horses are a wide and diverse group. We divide ourselves by breed and riding discipline. Some of us crave the comradery of competition and some of us “only trail ride.” And we have strong opinions about it, not that it matters.

Some of us are big talkers and small doers. Some of us just work with rescues. We started with horses when we were so young that we can’t remember a time we weren’t horse-crazy girls. Some of us set ourselves free at 45 or 50 with a mid-life first horse.

Some of us have good hands and some of us just think we do. Some of us know everything and some of us hope to be taking lessons forever. Some of us fight with horses because we think it’s the only way. Some of us give up riding because our horses are so unresponsive to us.

I know it’s crazy but in the world of people who own horses, not everyone cares about horses all that much. You can tell by their words and actions. There are numbers of professional trainers don’t even particularly like horses, much less respect them.

And some of us don’t tell the truth as a matter of habit.

Do you know the difference between people who own horses and a horseperson? The thing to notice immediately about that moniker is the word horse comes first, and not by random coincidence.

Horsepeople are a sub-species of horses, not humans. At some point, they changed teams and being human became less important. It’s a disease, a mental affliction that infects the entire body, from our fixated brains to our manure-coated boots. The pre-teen years are the worst, we can’t sleep and spend a lot of time cantering and trotting around the house.

A few horse-crazy girls grow into horsepeople and become insufferable. Like micro-managing drug addicts, we obsess about hoof angle or saddle fit. We go on about bits and supplements and what our horses do in turnout. My Dude Rancher, who tires of horse conversation after an hour or so, will tell you we are only fit company for other horsepeople. He’s right.

Some of our rides are euphoric, but many are just fundamental communication. Trying to understand and asking the same in return. We have big dreams and low expectations, happy for every good stride. Nothing is more important than the health and soundness of our equine partner.

We treat our elders with respect. The old campaigners that taught us how to ride, the kind boss mare that gave birth to champions, the sweet gelding who takes care of kids: It isn’t that we treat them like family members. They are family members.

We adjust our lives to suit our horses and make each of our life decisions with them a priority. People who are blessed with horses and money make it look easy. It’s a bit trickier without a trust fund, but we find a way. We change careers, we give up vacations. We do without less important things and don’t whine about it. After all, they are less important things.

Because we are just like our horses, we tend to be a physically tough bunch, not afraid of work or dirt or poop. But on the inside, we belong to the herd. We’re mush, sweetness, and a weathered hand on a patch of hair. We protect our horse-crazy hearts by being tough, and the mushier we are on the inside, the more defensive of the horse on the outside.

We always save our best for horses.

At the end of the day, hands crack, feet ache, and there is that honest exhaustion that comes from work well done. We slump on the sofa with a couple of dogs and cats and that old movie comes on the TV. We’ve seen it a hundred times. It’s one from the genre labeled Horse-Crazy Girl Movies, like Black Beauty or The Man from Snowy River or Seabiscuit. We hunker down and when the scenes come where the horses gallop in slow motion, for the hundredth time, we tear up. We will never stop any of it. Horses are in our blood. We put them in front of our own needs.

How to get on the bad side of a horsewoman? Easy question, be cruel to any animal, but especially a horse. Acting from a place of personal convenience over animal welfare will not to be tolerated, any more than parents who put their desires above their children’s needs.

But even horsepeople know we can’t save them all. Of course we still try. We must try.

A week ago, a good dog lead the way to the discovery of 14 horses dead on the ground and another 10 living among the remains close by in Black Forest. The woman who followed her dog into the barn called the sheriff and the press. Smart.

I am not going to rehash the gory details one more time. You don’t have to be a horseperson to recognize this level of brutal neglect. There was so much wrong, fundamentally wrong, before lye was dumped on carcasses and covered by tarps. It started so much smaller than that.

And sadly, too many horsepeople who live in this county have struggled with the sheriff’s office in an effort to get our weak animal welfare laws enforced. Horse rescues don’t fare much better than individuals.

Here is the good news: this is one time when complaining helps. Horsepeople stood up for what was left of this herd, all over the world. We loudly signed petitions; thousands of us called and emailed county officials. I am so proud. Press from the sheriff’s department defensively defend their actions but at the same time it’s obvious that given the chance, this incident would have been swept under the rug like so many others.

We didn’t let them. We came out of our home barns and spoke up in such huge numbers that things changed. The surviving horses got help. It was a small victory in the big picture but with our foot in the door, it is also no time to back off. Horsepeople need to push ahead with stronger animal welfare laws and enforcement. We can’t stop here.

My point is not rant about who loves horses the most. We are a pretty judgmental group and I don’t want to pour gasoline on that fire. What I am hoping is that in the shadow of this horrific incident more people who own horses will cross the line and become horsepeople. In your heart, you know where you stand. Are you holding back? Is there more you can give?

If you are a horseperson, now is the time to put the muck fork down and speak up.

Maybe the biggest fact a horseperson accepts is that no matter how great the commitment we have, no matter how much time and money and sweat we happily offer our own horses and horses out in the world, we will always be asked to give more. And then, one more time, we will have to dig deep from the infinite well of passion and purpose horses have given us, and find a way to do even more -graciously and generously. We learned that from horses, too.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance

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Endurance is the main ingredient in old age. My Grandfather horse has endured infirmity, climate change, and the weight of time and gravity. He has endured my dogged love, lofty ambitions, and infinite shortcomings. Not holding back and protecting himself, the Grandfather Horse has shown his endurance year after year by giving more than asked, more than he has to spare. So, his mushy old heart will endure forever, as well, part of a thing greater than his old knees can carry.

Don’t feel sad for the Grandfather Horse, he has had to endure my gratitude, too.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

Ground Play, Cavalia style!

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My Clara, at liberty and trotting up fast.

This week, I attended Cavalia, the Cirque du Soleil-inspired performance event combining horses, acrobats and dancers. There were beautiful horses, an outlandishly great live band, and a stage that altered time and space. Unrecognizably. It’s the largest traveling show in the world, mind boggling in it’s scope. And yet, there were moments so heartfelt and impossibly beautiful that they will be forever intimately tattooed on my brain.

Disclaimer: This isn’t a review. And generally, I am not much fun at equine events. I can never just look at the pretty because the language of the horse is always louder to my ear than anything else. We don’t always put the horse first. I say it enough that my clients mock-lip sync along with me, “I work for the horse.” It makes me a party-pooper on Kentucky Derby Day.

So I am about to give Cavalia the biggest compliment that I can: For the most part, the Cavalia horses seemed happy. The liberty segments were by far my favorite. In our world of controlling horses into a human frame of obedience, there was an overwhelming feeling of natural freedom, watching as over 30 horses galloped at liberty, tails-flagged and moving as a herd with their humans. Equine personalities were more individually obvious than the humans were, as if everyone agreed the horses were the stars. There was a generous spirit of partnership and volunteering on the part of all of the performers. Quite an accomplishment!

Not to take anything away from Cavalia‘s ethereal performance -at the same time, moving as a herd is a horse’s first language. Mares teach it to their foals on day one. It’s about the most natural thing to do with a horse. Training a horse never negates this fundamental species trait and insightful trainers have found methods of supportive and kind partnership using the language of the horse, since Xenophon, (b. 430BC) said this:

“For what the horse does under compulsion… is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.”

Humans can get in a hurry. We’re born dominators, it’s hard for us to listen. Some of us think that a horse is not capable of doing advanced work without intimidation. In my experience, it isn’t true. But it’s us that has to change. We have to give up control for cooperation.

Do you and your horse do ground play? I don’t think there is a better tool for building a relationship with a horse. It’s something lots of us did as kids before we had a name for it. We went into the pasture and pretended to be horses. Remember? I am always surprised at the resistance riders have to start a ride with some of that now.

Maybe the term ground work has a bad connotation? You know that this kind of horse interaction existed long before there were videos of trainers waving trademarked sticks at a horse’s face, right?

Natural horsemanship is a relatively new name. At the beginning of this trend, a friend of mine had a thought that intrigued me. She said she saw the benefits of ground work for starting horses, but she wanted to know how it benefited advanced dressage horses. It’s a question I’ve been asking my horses ever since, with huge success. It can seem like there is a fundamental disagreement between the disciplines of dressage and natural horsemanship, but to me they are the exact same thing. The disagreement is more about technique than anything else; it’s really over the definition of leadership. One side believes domination is required and one side says, “Let’s dance!”

Just give it a try. In the beginning, you won’t make the exact same performance art impression as Cavalia. Riding to the music on your smartphone isn’t the same as having a private orchestra and if you have an arena, it might not have mood lighting. You probably don’t have a flowing costume that glides magically in the air. Your horse might have a manure stain here or there. Maybe you’re bittersweet, being at an age where some kinds of riding are behind you. Or maybe you’re a novice rider and still a bit nervous about the canter.

WHO CARES? You have the same timeless dream in your heart.

Get inspired! Get carried away with Cavalia, they are art and magic. And then take some home to your horse. If that isn’t possible, find motivation on YouTube, or in your own pasture. If you lack youthful exuberance, make up for it with wisdom and patience. Not to mention a good helmet to protect your valuables. Sure, it means that there are some cues that we take from them. Learn to speak with your body and watch for an answer from him.

Expect that it might go slow at first but at the same time, know that both you and your horse are part of a rich and valuable tradition, handed down through history. Even in your own round pen, you share in the beauty and freedom that are part of the ageless conversation between a horse and a human. With no apology or intended disrespect, know that you and your horse are Cavalia, too.

Celebrate today by letting that lead rope go and suspending your own disbelief. He’s waiting for you to ask him to dance…

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity

The virtue, humanity, is a set of strengths focused on “tending and befriending others.” The three strengths associated with humanity are love, kindness, and social intelligence, (as defined by Wikipedia.)

WMHumanity

Humanity seems a missing ingredient is so many places humans abide: Politics. Business. Even some churches. On a cynical day, you might wonder how the human got into human-ity in the first place.

Edgar Rice Burro profoundly believes in the concept but he taught us all to call it by a different name. Donkeyality.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

 

A Cowgirl looks (squints) at 60.

WM60selfie

88 Years of (combined) excellence.

I notice I wear my glasses in the shower more often these days. Unintentionally. I mention it because as I write this, it’s my 60th birthday and I had a revelation in the shower. Wait, it gets worse.

I’ve decided it’s time to start riding naked. Who’s in? Naked Dressage. It’s an idea whose time has come. Anybody? Okay, I get that dressage has a stuffy reputation and I’m forever defending it.. but think about it. It might be just what the sport needs. Really… no one wants to ride with me? How about spectators? No? None?

I’m shocked. (Not.) If the truth be told, no women look good riding naked at any age. (Fashion ‘stills’ don’t count, I’m talking actual riding.) A person of my calendar accumulation and… dimensional quality, least of all. And I couldn’t be more pleased. One of the very best things about being 60 is that no one wants to see me naked- on a horse or anywhere else. That makes me really happy. Liberated. Free. The meat wagon has left. Friends I have now love me without cosmetic correction, for the same reason horses and dogs have from the beginning. It’s dependable.

But back to the shower. Is revelation a bad word choice? I was surveying the landscape and thinking about skin. I remember waking up on my 50th birthday and noticing that someone had switched the skin on my forearms. I was more confused than outraged, but it was undeniable. My skin was gone and left in its place was some old lady skin that was looking papery and a bit hacked up. My arm hairs practically had split ends. It was a crime.

In the last decade but there’s been more lawlessness. My neck has developed a wattle, when I squint in the sun, my eyes totally disappear in my happy wrinkles, and tops of my hands have turned into torn and bruised parchment. I won’t mention, in this marginally polite company, what’s happened under my shirt but they make B-grade disaster movies about less.

We women keep plastic surgeons rich, while we go nuts about our skin aging. It’s easy to feel squeezed by the grip of judgment from a critical culture, who would like women to stay contained in tight skins. And it’s an equal opportunity betrayal of women of all sizes, careers, income, and of course, numbers of cats. Even rebels who left the cosmetic circus years ago are forced to notice when squinting creates temporary blindness.

I have a ridiculously optimistic question I ask myself when everything looks like a huge disaster: What if this isn’t wrong? And the answer about skin came to me in the shower.

When I was younger, my skin had to hold it all together. My brains scattered all the time and my heart was always breaking. Sometimes I puked my guts out. My feet marched off in bad directions and my hands should have stayed in my pockets more than they did. My skin had the nearly impossible job of holding me together.

These days my skin slouches around me. I look like a pasty, white basset hound, with rolls of this and that migrating to the oddest places. At first I thought my skin had lost it’s grip, but that’s not it. I think now, at 60, my skin trusts me more. That’s what all the sagging and bagging and general lumpiness is about: Trust and maybe it’s gained some confidence in me as well.

My brain stays steady now for the most part. It used to explode about a dozen times a day but I’ve gained a some tolerance of change. My body stays in line, a little stiff some days, but like they say, if something didn’t hurt when I got up in the morning, I’d think I was dead…

My heart used to need both skin and ribs to protect it. At this point, I’ve had a huge herd of horses stomping around in there for so long that it’s all stretched out and softened. It’s been padded with dog hair and sure, there’s a hole left when I lose a friend, but the truth is my heart has been so enlarged by loving all of them in the first place, that I survive. Like stretched out socks, there is always room for more; I like my heart better this way.

Feeling comfortable in your own skin can’t be over-rated.  It’s good horsemanship; probably the thing horses and dogs notice about us first. It’s not a crime to pack a few years on. We should wear it with the confidence of an old sweatshirt and be proud: sagging isn’t a failure of our skin, but really it’s the opposite. It’s a compliment when your skin says, “Good job, you can hold your own self together now.”

I also notice from time to time that I’ve sprouted a thick hair or two on my chin, just above my wattle. They are white and coarse… It’s good news, I’m sure this means I am being rewarded by turning into a horse. Evolution is a wonder.

I’m not special, just one more in a herd of feisty old cowgirls who are not anywhere near done yet. I just want to say thank you on this birthday, to all the horses and dogs who gave my skin a reason to relax. They’ve taught me well, especially my Grandfather Horse. It isn’t just great to be alive. It’s great to be so..so..ripe.

Thanks to all my friends who stuck with me since when my skin was tight. I’m especially grateful to you all who make time to read this blog over the years. I appreciate it so much more than you can imagine. Your comments and emails are a daily inspiration to me. Thanks for sharing the ride.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure

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Morning chores with Tomboy, the briard. It’s more of an adventure for some of us than others but she’s right. It’s good to be reminded: There is a fresh new world out there every day. Chase some varmints and protect your herd. Good girl!

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.