Monthly Archives: April 2011

Of Horses and Children

We are back down to three horses here at Aspendale Farm.  Danny sold his mini, Squirt, at a profit last week.  For such a little guy (10 y.o.), he did a remarkable job of keeping his chin up.  It was certainly sad for him.  But he’d done what he set out to do… he put some training on a green horse and sold him at a profit.


So we no longer have four horses, and I really did enjoy Squirt most of the time (he could be a bit of a bugger now and then, particularly when he got out).  He was mischievous and full of personality.  But I do like having only three horses.  Granted, Squirts additions to the manure pile were minimal, but there is less to scoop, and the sedate larger horses allow to let my guard down more at the barn.  Squirt was always picking up tools and buckets, and nosing people to see what they had.  He’d worm his way in between Saxton and the wall – or me – when I was trying to groom or tack him up.


But now Danny is ready to take on another project horse (a mini most likely) and I’m not.  He *is* after all, only 10.  And although he successfully taught Squirt some modicum of ground manners and how to accept a saddle, bridle, and rider, I think Squirt was rather exceptional in responding to Danny’s sporadic work.  And I don’t care to “babysit” a child and “make” them go do work they’ve chosen on their own.  I remember at least one instance of tears when he didn’t want to work with Squirt because it would take too long … and it didn’t take him more than 10 or 15 minutes.  He figured two hours, I knew the reality.  And there were many, many days I would ask if he was going to work with Squirt and he’d reply with a maybe that often didn’t materialize into a yes.  Then there were the worming issues.  That horse was so susceptible to picking up a worm load – he liked to sniff everybody’s piles – that we were repeatedly battling bouts of diarhhea in him with yet another dose of wormer. And his body did not respond to the homeopathic wormer, so it had to be conventional wormer, every couple months (in repeat doses if he’d gone much longer), which  I detest.  It wreaks havoc on horses’ systems, and I’d invariably follow up with a dose of probiotics to try to keep his intestinal tract healthy.


So… babysitting my own son’s ambitions and the added work and care needed to take on another project horse make that an unattractive option to me right now.  What I would prefer would be to see him continue lessons at Wendy’s, and learn some good riding skills and just enjoy the riding over there.  They apparently really did enjoy those lessons, as both children have asked when they could have another.  We do need to get out on our own horses here, soon.  It’s the end of April.  Time to be bold and do it.  They won’t build up muscle standing around in their stalls and paddock.


But today I will plant a few lettuce seeds in the garden, and maybe see if the ground is soft enough to dig post holes for the gates.  Those are some seriously big poles!!!  So I’ll have to expend some work to make proper holes … but I really need to get the gates installed.  I could also stand to work a little more on fencing in my garden so we can let the chickens out, and maybe do a little weeding around the place.  That would make a nice day of working outside after entirely too much time indoors yesterday sorting through dressers and closets.  Bleh.  I should have tackled that project in 15 minute snippets, but I’m afraid I detest the mess and confusion so much I wasn’t willing to spread it out.  So instead we suffered through it with several small breaks – mostly out of doors.  Then we followed it with a campfire, boasting hotdogs and s’mores, and accented by the wild foods my kids hunted up from the various corners of Aspendale Farm.  They dug up some cattail rhizomes, crushed them and made a quite tasty breading batter for some dandelion roots they’d dug and boiled in a couple changes of water to reduce the bitterness.  They also harvested a mass of dandelion greens which didn’t make it to the dinner table.  So we will eat them today as part of our salad for lunch or dinner.


I am mighty proud of my children.  JJ is unique among them, as he desires to be.  He is not interested in the things the rest of us are, and he always finds something to complain against about the things we do enjoy or the way we do things.  But he is growing into manhood in a fine way.  I know he has a character issue or two to make his own (hopefully good) decisions about, but the course he is taking now seems to be largely a fine one, and we are so enjoying watching him as he explores possibilities and options for his future.  If he can learn to lead with gentleness and persuasion instead of furrowed brows and threats, he will do tremendous, amazing things!


The other three are more like me in many ways.  Not necessarily their personalities.  I don’t mean that.  In fact, JJ is probably more like me in many ways… impatient with those slower than himself, bossy… lol!  That’s me.  But by the grace of God, by my salvation and changes God has wrought in me, I am so much more the person God intended me to be than I was ten years ago!  That is a life I am so glad He has taken away.  This new life is ever so much better!  But Cecily, while very quiet, keeping most things to herself (I can’t not talk without forcing myself to be quiet!) is as much interested in nature, wildlife, farming, gardening, and horses as I could be.  That is a delight.  And Danny … ha ha.  He is a child unto himself.  I wish I knew how to channel his genius.  He is still so naive and immature, yet I would not wish to squash his creativity and inventiveness in any manner.  I hope he cultivates it.  He will be an astounding man!  And finally, our beloved Betsy.  The pet of the family.  Perfect?  Not nearly.  She is messy, bossy like me, always trying to mother Danny – who is not interested in being mothered by someone two and a half years his junior.  But her heart is made of something better and more pure than solid gold.  She jumps to please and comfort whomever she can, and her ministrations, cheerful smile and willingness to pitch in and help with whatever needs doing is a blessing everywhere.  She has been truly gifted by God in this respect, with an absolutely heart-stirring generosity of soul.

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Musings on a Gentle Morning

It’s been raining here  for days.  But this morning it was cool and gray and misty after dawn.  I was down at the horse barn doing the chores.  Ordinarily I would have one or two kids down there to help get the chores done.  But it was so quiet and serene.  I relished the change and allowed the children to sleep a little later than usual.


My brown wellies sucked through the mud with each step as I carried forkful after forkful from the stalls to the small trailer we’re using to haul the fresh manure and bedding out to the orchard.  A hawk called my attention to the uniqueness of this particular morning with its piercing whistle, high up in the dull sky just over the trees to the east.  If it weren’t for him I’d have slogged through the morning as usual – cutting the baling twine, throwing the hay into the mangers, mixing senior pellets for Lacy, and scraping up the piles as I do every day.  It’s usually a nice time to be outside and spend however brief an interlude with the powerful horses, unconcerned in their chewing, satisfied to have their breakfast. But the God-sent hawk cried loudly overhead, breaking me out of my careless routine.


But it’s mostly business oftentimes.   There is breakfast to be eaten, chores to be done, school to be started, and I am always thinking of what else to cross off my mental to-do list.  How do the days get away from us with their sheer “dailyness”? And the years themselves begin to slip away.  An armful of sweet-smelling infant borrowed from a friend or younger sister for only a short interlude is bittersweet.  The softness, the wheezes, coos, and grunts are so beautiful.  Yet my right arm, stiff from the holding, and liable to betray the bodily weakness I prefer to keep to myself, is a poignant reminder that I am no twenty-something, poised to bring another child into our family.  God knows the desires of my mother’s-heart, and He tries to remind me that He has already gifted me with four astounding, surprising children, and that I’d best tend to my own brood before even these days are gone.


So I lived the moment this morning, listening to the horses contentedly chewing, and grinning at the lack of dignity displayed by these magnificent animals, eating placidly like kings and queens — with small bunches of hay right on top of their heads from standing with their heads in the manger right underneath the spot I toss the hay.  And I filled the trailer with manure and soiled bedding to nourish our orchard.  There’s nothing like fresh manure laid on top of the ground in a circle all the way around the tree, to the edge of the dripline, and beyond for the saplings.  It provides slow release fertilizer and mulch all in one.  We tidy it up with a layer of fresh hay strewn over top.  And the soil gets richer and richer each year.  This year I am planting garlic all the way around the trees to battle the fungal diseases.  It has done wonders in my raspberry beds.  We’ll see how well it can handle orchard diseases!

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Pet Med Reminders and Horsemanship Clinic Info


Would you like help remembering when to give you dog his heartworm medication, or apply your cat’s topical flea preventative? is a cool site that automatically emails you on the appropriate day for giving medications.  You can even add a photo of your pet to its profile, or have your reminder texted to your phone.  I’m hoping they’ll quickly add horses to their list of pets for reminders, as worming on a regular schedule can be hard to maintain!


On another note, the Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio was well worth it this year.  I’m afraid I was rather limited in the number of clinicians I watched.  Last year I made it to several different clinicians, but I was engrossed by two this year …  Jec Ballou ( whose focus was on Equine Fitness – wow!  What fascinating information.  Cecily and I bought her book by the same name and have been absorbed by it.  I appreciate her approach, which focuses on true overall body care rather than slapping bandages on the problem spots.


The other clinician I couldn’t stay away from was Larry Whitesell, a classically trained gaited horse trainer.  It was hard not to let him rub me the wrong way a little bit as he disagreed with my very favorite trainer, Clinton Anderson, on some aspects of training, but to be fair and honest, Whitesell has some very good, very important information.  When I compare Whitesell’s work to CA’s Gaited Horses DVD series, and stand back and look objectively at it, I can see that they are both cutting down the same tree, just from somewhat different angles, and I think Whitesell is using a more powerful chainsaw in a way.  Both trainers understand and teach that horses gait the best when they are collected – that is, when their hind legs are underneath themselves and they are properly balanced.


Where Anderson might improve his understanding of all horses is in their need to not be thrown off-balance by their rider.  If Whitesell is correct, and I think his assertion about balance is correct, horses are very put out by having their rider pulling them off balance by poor riding … leaning in on a circle, leaning back, just leaning in general.  Imagine if you walked around an amusement park all day long with a companion who kept pushing or pulling you off balance at odd intervals all throughout the day.  If it was me, I would certainly avoid hanging out with that person if they refused to stop it!  LOL!  How can that person (or horse, really), relax, trust their rider, and respond appropriately with the constant irritation and anxiety from either being thrown off balance or anticipating it?  So learning to correctly balance ourselves as riders will measurably increase our horse’s comfort, trust, and ability to balance himself.  To collect, however, he must be taught, as it is not a natural movement, yet it is necessary for him to do so to carry a rider properly.


For gaited horse enthusiasts, once balanced and collected, the horse will naturally offer a gait.  The more relaxed and balanced he is, the better his gait.  Anderson asserts it is collection only, and he does get a proper gait out of a collected horse.  But I think the horse and rider team will progress much more rapidly once proper balance is achieved.


The other point I appreciate in all of Whitesell’s teaching is riding with your seat.  It’s a concept I’ve heard and never been trained in.  I know classical riding trainers try to teach their students to ride this way, but everything I’ve heard makes it seem very complicated, with all these positions and cues you have to remember.  However,  I can see it is extremely simple, and if nothing else, for the sheer joy of communicating gently with my horse, I’m determined to practice it with Saxton.  It is this:  If you ski, you know that, as you go downhill, if you want to turn right, you turn your body to the right, not your skis.  You’ll fall over if you try to turn your skis to the right.  If you turn your body, though, and face the direction you want to go, your skis will follow.  It is precisely the same in riding.  You turn your upper body, at the pelvis, in the direction you want to go, and the horse will follow.  It’s not even something the horse must learn, he just does.  I was amazed to see this demonstrated repeatedly.  In the process of turning, your legs automatically go into the correct classical riding position.  Your outside leg goes back and the outside thigh comes into contact with the horse while your weight shifts very slightly.  You don’t look far to the inside, but rather, just where you want the horse to turn in the next 2-3 steps.  I won’t explain it any more than that.  The information was simple and valuable.

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The Garden Season

Well, it has officially begun.  Yesterday we started most of our tomatoes, our red peppers, some zinnias and another batch of lobelia.  The cat kept using the first lobelia pan as her upscale litter box, for the view is incomparable on the ledge in the sunporch!  So I gave up on trying to start them in a shallow pan and started them in cell packs.  This year I am trying a seed starting heat mat instead of heating the whole sunporch.

A family friend commented to me that I am “quite the little farmer.”  A comment I appreciated, but which isn’t entirely true.  I have been unsuccessful growing brocolli, lettuce, watermelon and each summer something or other doesn’t grow as I’d hoped it would.  I managed to smoosh our queen bee in our hive year before last.  There is certainly a learning curve, and I am still on it.  Besides, gardening and canning and the related things are therapy more than anything else.  There are a few things I do because it feels good to do them, and gardening is one of them.  Horse training is another.

We were supposed also to plant carrots, shallots and peas outside this week, but spring is still hanging back shyly and letting old man winter bully her into waiting her turn.  We got more snow day before yesterday, and it’s frozen stark stiff outside this morning.  So we will wait a little while yet.

I am looking forward to, perhaps, just perhaps, really getting a decent crop from our orchard this year.  And it is about time to give my attentions to the orchard.  We need to haul in fresh manure to lay at the base of the trees under a good helping of fresh hay.  And I intend to liberally douse the ground around my trees with a garlic water solution, as well as planting garlic in a ring around the trees to help them ward off fungal disease.  It has been the lifesaver of my raspberries.  So I see no reason not to.

The chickens are behaving oddly.  They laid prolifically at the end of February so that I had to scramble to use all the eggs, then went on strike in March, barely producing enough for our own use.  Now are laying more than enough for our use once again.  I wish they could talk and tell me what happened!

And tomorrow – my horsey good friend Wendy, my daughter Cecily, and I are heading south for the Equine Affaire Horse Expo down in Columbus, Ohio.  It should be a fun time for all, provided we are all in good health.  The other two have both been fighting bugs.  I’ve been taking vitamins like mad to try to escape any bit of sickness!   I managed to actually purchase tickets for the Pfizer Fantasia horse show and am looking forward to it!  Last year I hadn’t purchased any and was sorry to miss it!

Indoors, the painting is done, the supplies are put away, furniture back in its place and pictures hung on the walls.  I’m pleased as punch about the way our shelves ended up.  Prior to the project they were useless, and not entirely attractive – made of glass with funky looking chrome support bars running the length of them, and they were spaced so far apart as to be meant only for large decorative objects.  There was a 5′ by 12″ cupboard in the bottom of the nook with queerly spaced shelves that were not very useful.  We yanked all that out, painted the back and sides red and the outside gold, then I installed wooden shelves from floor to ceiling, and we topped it off with a used library ladder we purchased on ebay for a significantly smaller sum than a new one would have been.

And now we can keep the largest portion of our book collection here.  Mind you, we do have so many books (many of them for homeschooling) that Jesse has his own bookshelf in his office for books of interest only to him, and I keep my gardening and horse books – quite a large collection at that – on a four foot high shelf in my bedroom.  I am *not* the only one who reads those, as Cecily is both an avid gardener and a horsewoman, but she can simply go retrieve whatever she wants to look at.  It’s nice to have our books where we use them, can see them, and they add to the homeyness of the place.


Overall I’m pleased with the end result of the entire room.  It is kitchen, dining room and living room in one.  Where before it was cold and bland, it is now warm and homey.  Sort of a Plow and Hearth look to it.  I have one more step … wallpapering the 14′ by 1 1/2′ wall along the top of the counter, under the cupboards.  But even without that finishing touch, the place feels very different – and much better!

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