Weekly Photo Challenge: From Every Angle

 

This pair: from every angle, even their shadows are joined–as close as skin.

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.)

“From Every Angle.”

Stable Relation, a memoir of one woman’s spirited journey home,

by way of the barn.

How to Love Horses Forever.

WMHannahHug2We were born this way. It should be part of the Apgar test. It would resolve so much if newborns gave an early warning–just like any other heart condition.

Most of us didn’t live around horses in the beginning. We saw them in our first books or from car windows. Or maybe it was cellular memory and we thought we just knew them because it felt like we always had. In the beginning, there was simply nothing easier than loving horses.

We got this far just daydreaming; we were horse-crazy kids cantering around the yard playing horse. Kids who nickered and pranced; loving to feel the wind in our hair and the rhythm of our tennis-shoe-hooves on ground. Maybe a dream horse taught us.

Then we got our first touch; our first shared breath. Maybe we squealed like a siren and flapped our arms to let them know we wanted to fly, but ended up poking them in the eye instead. The deal was struck and it was the first time a horse forgave us, of course, as he would forever. Because he saw a flash of who we might become; because he had as much forgiveness as we had love.

Maybe we were lucky beyond all reason and got to sit on a horse while he was led around. Beware: once that happens, our feet never authentically touch the ground again. And it was all about us. Our love was selfish because the need was too huge to name. So, another tradition began: we cried mad tears when we had to get off. But old horsewomen watching nodded and considered the outburst good manners. They got misty and nostalgic remembering that their first thank-yous were mad howls, too.

Then one day the heavens opened and we got our first horse. We pushed our noses in deep into the mane and the addiction had a smell. Probably more tears, because words are no match for the emotion. It was also the first moment that loving horses got complicated.

We all know this part, too. It was prioritizing money and time. We needed to find a balance while squeezing pieces into a mental pie chart of our lives. We wanted so much and we wouldn’t take no for an answer. We were trying to live our personal version of National Velvet.

We carried our willful bravado into the saddle. Our love for horses was as fierce as a high school crush. We wanted to jump or spin or dance; we wanted to ride every day. Our horses tolerated us but we surely hit some walls while training. Some of our horses were bemused with our folly, while the very best horses bucked our arrogant backsides off. These were the character years. We learned how to hit the ground and climb back on. We tried out leadership styles in the saddle, with varying impressions of success. We cared too much what people thought, whether it was the judge or a stranger at the barn. We may have said we didn’t want to compete, but we still judged ourselves and our horses without mercy. Whatever goal we had, we tried too hard. And so we had to learn to be good losers before we could win.

Some of us gave up everything for our horses and some of us made a strategic retreat in the name of career or kids. Our parents grew old by the time we caught our breath. The biggest certainty was that we loved horses even when it was impossible.

The view from midlife is bittersweet. Some of our friends have quit riding already. By now we’ve come off a few times and our bodies remember, even if our minds have repressed it. Our hormones are failing us and it makes us timid. We can’t stop apologizing for it.

But at the same time, we can feel how strong our love has made us. Strong enough to shoulder whatever life gave us. Strong enough to say good-bye to old campaigners and strong enough to start over again. Horses have taught us to value the important qualities in ourselves above the superficial: patience and perseverance, creativity and commitment, love and partnership.

And when we have had many days, and our childhood need is almost met, it’s more possible to look around and feel the beauty and wonder of this equine journey. To know that the very best part of who we’ve become was a gift from our horse. Maybe it was what he saw when we were babies and now it’s time to come full circle.

How to love a horse is both easy and complicated at this age. Sure, some of us fail our horses without concern, but many more of us grow horse-sized hearts in our chests. Most of us just want to be in the barn. We want to muck until we fall over dead and need mucking up ourselves. We want our bones to bleach out peacefully with our horse’s bones.

 But we have a debt to pay forward, for all those years of weather-beaten hands and sore bones. All those years of mounted ego-correction eventually taught us to think of another’s welfare first. And now that we are less selfish, there’s work to be done. There are horse-crazy kids who need us to hold the lead line and tell the story. Or maybe your heart and barn have room for one more un-rideable, homeless old mare. Or maybe after all these years, you’ve developed an indoor voice for horses, speaking up for the ones who need rescue, just like you did.

What’s next for you? The horse love is as fresh and hot as that first day, and it’s still your ride.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Today Was a Good Day.

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Living on the prairie isn’t romantic. You always know the very worst things are just around the corner; there’s always a threat of injury or death for the animals or some impending natural disaster–burning heat, gale-force winds, floods, ground blizzards.

It starts before dawn; you’re behind from yesterday before you begin. There’s too much work to be done and not enough money to pay for it. It isn’t a retirement plan; it’s the hard physical work, but at least the days are long and the environment fights back. Some body part or another is always hurting, some fence or other always needs repair. There’s the eternal struggle between life and death, whether it’s ducklings on the pond or a slow-moving elder horse. Sometimes it’s as quick as a splash, but mostly it’s a long slow arm-wrestle of a fight. In the end, death eventually wins. I try to make friends with the things I can’t change but I still fight.

Then as I’m dragging through evening chores and slowing up to share a breath with the herd, a thought creeps into my brain. It isn’t happiness or relief. It’s more like, “I should be much more depressed than I am.” and then the realization that today was a good day.

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.)

Stable_Relation_3D_Cover[1]Available now: Stable Relation, a memoir of one woman’s spirited journey home, by way of the barn. It’s the story of the farm I grew up on, the farm I have now, and the horse who carried me in between. Available at all online book sellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. To get updates and the inside story, sign up for my newsletter here: Prairie Moon News. Thank you.

“Today Was a Good Day.”

It’s About Greeks and Romans. Even Today.

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Is there a natural way to ride a horse? Is it possible to ride in such a way that the horse goes willingly forward, without constriction, as if he were moving at liberty? Is there a path to a different sort of ride, where kindness and understanding are the primary aids? Or should work look like struggle?

Spit has been flying on the internet this week. There’s dressage news from the FEI European Championships at Achen and I have to defend my chosen riding discipline one more time. Flash: there was rollkur–hyper-flexion of the neck–done by dressage riders there. Yes, it’s against the rules; but more than that, it insults the beauty and integrity of our historical tradition. And yet even more than that, it physically disables horses.

I should add that there is a public facility down the road from my barn, filled with riders in western saddles, shank bits and vicious spurs, jerking away mindlessly at their horse’s bits, metal on bone, doing as bad or worse–instructors and students alike. Despicable. Not the disciplines; it isn’t about tack or what we ask the horse to do under-saddle. It’s about how we ask.

Disclaimer: I harp on this topic all the time but Totilas retired this week at 15, and locally, the Dual Peppy abuse case ended in an appeal after sentencing. I am sad. When I started in dressage, the best horses were just coming into their prime in their teens. At the same time, professional trainers are see-sawing on reins and teaching their students do the same. The line between a kind, responsive partner and a broken-down rescue horse is defined by a rider’s awareness and sensitivity all too often–and at every level of riding. So I’m mad, too.

Want a history lesson? Some of the first writing we have about horses is from ancient Greece. Simon and Xenophon wrote about the art of riding:

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. -Xenophon, b. 430BC

At that time, Euripides was writing plays and the Parthenon was just finished. The Greeks loved culture: art, music, dance. And riding horses.

At the same time, other cultures like the Romans were more barbaric, more materialistic, and less enlightened. It isn’t a value judgement so much as a statement of priorities. Horses were treated more harshly in those cultures where warriors who used them as tools. Romans left no writing about horses during these years.

Through the centuries, these two approaches to riding continued. The equestrian art was increased by one culture, but then “bastardized by war” in another. And so on to the 2015 European Championships. Sometimes we are evolving with sensitivity as riders, and sometimes we’re using brutality as a means to an end.

Under no circumstance should your hand disturb the horse’s mouth. You must learn to stay calm in all situations and control your emotions. There is no room for anger. -Xenophon

There is no trainer in this world who raises their hand and proudly says, “I train with violence and cruelty.” Yet dressage riders are excused from the arena when there are traces of blood on their horse’s bit. Men in cowboy hats make videos of themselves whacking horses in the head with whips–while holding a lead rope tight and playing to the crowd–and pass it off as horsemanship.

Everyone has a good line. Everyone defends their technique in positive terms but walking the talk is a different thing. We actually have to demonstrate that our actions match our words. We don’t like what we see, so to many of us competition is the same thing as abuse. Riders who train with finesse and kindness do compete and win. We need to peacefully claim back that ground, especially in the show arena. It’s a challenge to maintain focus in a storm of show reality and easy to fail our ideals. And brutality will always come easier to a predator, a human being, than vulnerability and honesty. We do horses a disservice to not step out past our comfort zone and let our voice be heard, and more so, seen in our happy, relaxed horses.

Nuno Oliveira defines dressage as a conversation with a horse on a higher level, one of courtesy and finesse. Times change but classical principles remain: the horse should be a partner and not a slave. The goal of equestrian art is the perfect understanding with our horses, which requires freedom of mental and physical contraction. The joy of the horse is the ultimate goal.

In our world today, we see two approaches to training horses and the roots are clearly visible in history. The only real question is how to continue. Who do we want to be as riders? As human beings? Are you willing to acknowledge the version of yourself reflected in your horse? Or is there more to learn?

Control or negotiate. Wrestle or dance. Slave or partner. War or love.

With a nod to Totilas, Dual Peppy, and all the horses who paid dearly for our dreams–and a hope that we will do better for your offspring than we have for you.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Creepy

009It can feel creepy riding on the rail sometimes. It could be a feeling of foreboding. Dread almost. Something isn’t quite right. Are you being watched? Maybe you’re imagining it.

Your horse sees him first. It’s that teenage barn cat, hanging on the fence like wadded-up laundry.

You blow it off, laugh at your horse for his foolishness. But he stays very alert and pushes a detour loop around the cat. Because he knows.

I have noticed that what cats most appreciate in a human being is not the ability to produce food, which they take for granted, but his or her entertainment value.” -Anonymous Cat.

Your horse thinks you are the one who doesn’t get it. What part of predator don’t you humans understand?

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.)

(Thanks, Megan. Hope you’re mending well.)

Stable_Relation_3D_Cover[1]Available now: Stable Relation, a memoir of one woman’s spirited journey home, by way of the barn. It’s the story of the farm I grew up on, the farm I have now, and the horse who carried me in between. Available at all online book sellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. To get updates and the inside story, sign up for my newsletter here: Prairie Moon News. Thank you.

“Creepy.”

 

Singleton Dreams: Shedding in the Bedding

WMPreachshedinbedThese are the dog days of summer–long and extreme. Not the kindest summer, either. My extended horse family has suffered some huge, sad losses and a few chronic health issues have flared up in my own barn. It’s a bumper year for hurtful drama, flies, and humidity; something we try to avoid here in Colorado. To tell the truth, it just hasn’t been a giggling, tap dancing, high-spirited season.

The thing about stress is that it doesn’t matter if it’s good stress, like my book, Stable Relation, coming out, or bad stress like doing without the pasture turnout while repairing flood damaged fences. Stress is a slow motion weight at mid-afternoon that makes your shoes heavy and your brain thick. It’s like a sticky winter quilt in August, but we still need the rest.

Readers tell me it’s time for the seasonal corgi report. Enough small talk of world issues, horse training, and human angst; time to focus on shorter legs and louder voices.

Walter and Preacher Man are having a summer, too. The water in the bowl has no ice. The duck work is endless; the way they speed-waddle after flies needs to be watched constantly. And then the bunny population has exploded; there’s a farm-wide illegal immigration problem that must be addressed. Job related stress has never been higher, but the little men are Corgi Tough.

Walter is much too busy to whine about his terminal diagnosis(here), but his anxiety seeps out. He’s anxious about meals–all five of them every day. He’s anxious about feeling weaker–so he’s trying to act stronger, like a tiny man who needs to let the world know how crucial he is to world order. We tell him we know, but he’s still working double shifts. Walter has an existential dilemma: is he is living a lie? This is a dog ailment that goats and politicians never experience. It kept Walter awake, bounding to the back door with an ear-splitting caterwaul every hour or two, night after night. Finally, I closed the door to the crate Walter sleeps in. We should all lay down our daily worries as easily. His snoring tells me it’s possible.

Then Preacher Man, who was sleeping under the bed like a snapping turtle under a riverbank, came out–and one unlikely bound put him on the bed. It surprised all of us. There was already a dozing Briard, Tomboy, and maybe a cat or two with all the stupid-wild danger that involves. Preacher curled up in the only space left, between my ear and the edge of the bed. That next morning, I woke up to a to a soft gargling moan. Safety required that he keep a sleepy eye on the door, so it was his feathery backside pushed up against my cheek. If you are going to sleep in a dogpile, these things happen.

 I used to think that Preacher Man dreamed of being an only dog. That he fantasied about the two of us on a desert island with only a couch and all the raw food he could eat. That his frantic howl-oodle-ing was an attempt to clear the room for his only child fantasy. Seen that way, all the dogs could fit the same description, not to mention a couple horses, a few old cats, and one particularly eloquent donkey. In a certain light, maybe they all wanted to be the singleton; the heir apparent. I give everyone one-on-one time but was I kidding myself?

Disclaimer: I’m the human here. It’s a disadvantage. I think too much. I’m alternately wracked with self-doubt or so arrogant about our herd that I march around like a prickly yucca-goddess of the high prairie. It’s the dog’s job to rein me in and remind me of the truth. We will always be ruled by dogs.

As this exhausting summer has worn on, my perspective has changed. I’m probably nuts; just write what I am about to say off as anthropomorphic hogwash. Recently all the barking and fending off of daily farm danger seems to ring with a different message. I think I’ve had it backwards. What if they see me as an only person. Their only person. What if I’m the real singleton? The little corgi men have lost a few humans in the past, as rescue dogs all know, so tag-teaming me seems the smart thing to do–in the bathroom and out in the world. To them, it’s all about herding the prize. Me.

I have a big day today. I need to be alert and articulate–and I’m not sure I’m up to the task. But I slept in a dogpile of passion and persistence.

They say behind every great man is a woman. Well, I’m not a great man. I’m a tired woman and my feet hurt(here), but here stand two yapping and frapping corgis. I am their singleton and they have my back. Marvel at their power! Corgis can light a city; they can yodel a prairie opera. Die hard optimists, these corgis are. And not at all fearless, but they act that way. I’ve learned it from them. May I return tonight victorious–with liver treats and beer!

So fair warning to evil-doers and curmudgeons: I’m running on corgi power today. The other word for that is invincible.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

P.S. Have you seen my book trailer? (Amazon)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beneath Your Feet.

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Edgar Rice Burro is right to be concerned. These lettuce-colored Crocs (beneath my feet) are not safe barn-wear. They say a lot about my fashion sense, too, but bite your tongue.

Yes, I am a woman of a certain age and yes, I am about to complain about my feet. I have developed a lameness; I’m off in the left front. It feels like a bone is coming through the bottom of my foot. I’m pretty sure it’s Navicular. So don’t judge me. Consider the Crocs corrective shoeing and call it good.

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.)

 

Stable_Relation_3D_Cover[1]Available now: Stable Relation, a memoir of one woman’s spirited journey home, by way of the barn. It’s the story of the farm I grew up on, the farm I have now, and the horse who carried me in between. Available at all online book sellers now. To get updates and the inside story, sign up here: Prairie Moon News. Thank you.

 

 

 

“Beneath Your Feet.”