Friday, January 20, 2012

Because of a Horse

Because of a Horse

Just some things I was thinking about while hauling frozen water buckets the other day:

Because of a horse, I know how to use a hammer to dislodge snowballs.

Because of a horse I’ve lost toenails and broken fingers and toes.

Because of a horse, has more hits on my computer than any other site. It’s also bookmarked into my “favorites.”

Because of a horse I’ve discovered that I have better balance than I ever imagined.

Because of a horse I know when it’s best to hold on and when it’s best to let go.

Because of a horse I’m creative – I’ve played many games of “horse tetris” in which the objective is to move horse A out of stall B and into stall C without upsetting horses D and E, which are blocking horse A from stall C. And so forth.

Because of a horse I’m a problem solver, and rise to challenges instead of backing away with them. Because of a horse I know what 1,200 pounds of power feels like, but I also know that I can influence that power with my body, mind, and attitude.

Because of a horse I’m physically strong but remain aware of the most subtle movements of my body.

Because of a horse I understand that less is always more.

Because of a horse I know that anger is contagious. So is love.

Because of a horse I have learned self-control and patience. Endless, endless patience.

Because of a horse I’ve known what it means to fly. Both intentionally and non-intentionally.

Because of a horse I’m probably the only 25 year-old female in this town who owns a sledgehammer, hacksaw, and multiple pocket knives.

Because of a horse I’ve gotten over my aversion to blood and gore. And, because of a horse, I have better first-aid skills (both human and equine) than most.

Because of a horse I can wire an electric fence, operate a drill, and identify local poisonous plants. I can also spot lameness from across the pasture and sense when something is “not quite right,” even when there are no outward signs that anything is amiss.

Because of a horse I have gained a better understanding of angles, mass, and motion than any college course could ever provide me.

Because of a horse I know what it means to sacrifice, but I also know what it means to be truly loved.

Because of a horse I have learned pride, but just as quickly I have learned humility.

Because of a horse I have discovered beauty in the world, and sometimes even find that in myself.

Because of a horse I am a stronger, more confident individual than I ever dreamed I would become. All this, because of a horse.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Modern-Day Western!

I couldn't believe it when I read the headline: Man Jumps Off SUV to Rescue Horse. It's like something right out of a modern-day Western. You can read the full story here, but in short summary: after 23 year-old Dustin Burckhard saw Midnight, a cart horse, break free from where she was tied outside the Old Timer Cafe in Montana, he and a coworker jumped in Burckhard's SUV and took off after her. Knowing that he needed to stop the mare before the reached the highway, and unable to get her to slow down, Burckhard asked his coworker to take the wheel as he leaped from the moving vehicle into the buggy the mare was pulling. Unable to slow the horse because of broken reins, Burckhard then jumped to the mare's back, grabbing her ear and pulling her into a circle.

A near-disaster was thankfully averted, but what can we learn from this? Well, obvious lesson number 1 is the fact that a horse should never, ever be tied by a bridle. Had the reins not broken when Midnight panicked and broke free, catching and slowing her would have been much simpler. Lesson number 2 would be to never leave a horse unattained, even if it's supposedly bombproof. Lesson number 3? Never underestimate the determination of a horse lover! Midnight's owner was so lucky that Burckhard was around - few people would have gone to the lengths that he did, and this story could have had a tragic ending.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

You Know You're Going to Eat Dirt When...

A user posted this on a horse forum, and I thought that it was too good not to share. Personally, I find that I'm about to eat dirt whenever I seem to be riding really well, and everything seems to be going perfectly. One of my worst falls was during a lesson when I was so proud of my riding - the horse I was riding was reluctant to jump, and though I'm normally a bit of a pushover when it comes to bossy horses, that day I was assertive and really drove the horse toward the jumps. He jumped the entire course until the last fence, when he'd decided he'd had enough, took off running and bucking, and eventually threw me into the solid fence encircling the ring.

I hope you have a good laugh. Signs You Are Going to Eat Dirt

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Fencing Fiasco

My armory of fencing supplies. Little did I know when I took this picture that I'd have to go out for yet more supplies.

I might as well be honest: I’ve never had to construct an electric fence before. And although I like to think of myself as mechanically-inclined, I’m really not. But owning a horse has forced me to step out of many comfort zones, and the project has been no different: I constructed an electric fence.

Now let’s get something straight here: it was not my idea to begin this project halfway through December. But unfortunately it was discovered, halfway through December, that this project needed to happen. So, off I went on my fence-building journey. I’d previously purchased a “temporary trail kit” of electric fencing. Well, that’s what they called it – it was more like sticks with some electric tape. And what they didn’t tell you in the product description was the fact that the stakes were only four feet tall. Once installed, they were three feet tall. But there was a nice little warning about how your horse “must be trained” to use the fence safely. Well, my horse is trained – she’s trained to respect fencing, yes, but she’s also trained to jump. And when the fencing is lower than her belly, well, she’s probably going to see it more as a fence to jump rather than a barrier to obey.

So I came up with the ingenious idea to order a small charger, and to get some larger posts, and use the tape that came with the trail kit. Voila! I’d save a bit of money, construct a small (100’ by 80’) pasture to be used during the winter months, and come spring Whisper could return to the large turnout with the other horses.

Well. I drove out to Home Depot to get some larger poles. I live in a very rural area; Home Depot is almost a 50 minute drive. So I started looking around. I’d discussed it with my father and we’d agreed that the best option would probably be to get some lengths of reinforcement bar, since they’d be strong, have a small diameter, and could be driven into the ground without shattering. Unfortunately Home Depot only offered the bar in 4’ (too short) or 10’ lengths. I knew that I could cut it with a hacksaw, but 10’ was too long to even fit into the bed of my truck. So I explained the project to a girl working at the Customer Service desk and asked if she had any suggestions. Nope.

Thankfully I was heading home for Christmas, and my dad was able to pick up the rebar, tie it to the roof of his car, drive it to the shop where he works, and cut it in half for me. Perfect.

I ordered a charger and headed back to the barn armed with the appropriately-sized rebar, plus a sledgehammer to hopefully install the rebar with. When the charger arrived I opened it and began to pour through the 12 pages of instructions. Within moments I’d found a number of problems: the charger, though built for an outdoor livestock fence, was not meant to be left outside. And it was a continuous charge, meaning that it would melt the electric tape. And, the directions on how to actually construct the circuit of the fence were, to put it gently, complete and utter crap offering no first-time-fence-installer anything in the way of help at all.

My ever-patient horse who stood by the gate and watched for the entire 5 hours it took me to actually construct the fence.

And so it was that trip into town #2 came to be: I went out and bought electric WIRE fencing, so as not to melt the hot tape I’d already spent so much money on, but had no appropriate charger for. I also decided that the charger I did have was going to have to deal with living outside for a few months, and that I’d put it in a box to shelter it from the elements. I also picked up a 100 foot outdoor extension cord. In purchasing the fencing wire I debated over gauge size for a good twenty minutes – would 17 gauge conduct enough current to shock my mare into obeying the fence? If I got 9 gauge, would I be able to bend it? (It is at this point in the story that I should reveal the fact that I have a rather severe case of tendinitis in my right hand. In fact, the day of shopping day #2, I was already in town because I’d just had a cortisone injection into my right wrist. So I was hefting the extension cord, wire, etc with a still-numb-but-becoming-more-painful-than-I-can-describe wrist). In the end, I bought 300 feet of fencing wire, because I knew the area I was fencing had a perimeter of 280 feet. I was covered.

Well, I was covered until I went to actually construct the fence, and started thinking. Yes, the perimeter was 280 feet. But that’s just accounting for one wire. I needed two. And it was all downhill from there.

I’d managed to sledgehammer the rebar poles into the ground (thankfully having the foresight to do so before my cortisone wrist appointment) on a rainy, muddy day. I’d also had the ingenious plan that I’d just tie the little 4-foot fiberglass posts to the rebar, using the rebar as a strong base for the posts and using the connectors already on the fiberglass posts to run the wire through. Which was all fine and good until I realized that the fiberglass posts, once under the tension of the wire, would swivel around, contacting the (metal) rebar poles and shorting the circuit. And of course I discovered this after I’d attached the last of the eight fiberglass rods to the rebar. Dang it. So, I pulled off the plastic insulator doodads and hand-tied each of them onto the rebar. This was made difficult by the fact that my hands were now full of fiberglass splinters, and at that point I had only regained use of two fingers (the ring and pinky) of my right hand – darn cortisone shot. So, through a process I like to call “try and failure” I determined a series of knots/tying techniques which wouldn’t hold the insulators to the rebar properly. Eventually that process became “try and succeed” at which point I memorized the technique and repeated it fifteen more times with the remaining insulators.

Now you remember those three problems I had earlier. Well, I’d kind of solved two of them. But there was still that little issue of how the fence was actually supposed to connect. And the fact that I didn’t have enough wire. Well, insert trip to town #3 (I believe, in all, I spent just short of 6 hours driving for this fence), and the wire problem was solved. I tried to solve the connecting issue by rereading the directions again. And again. And again. But alas, they assumed that their audience consisted of people who had wired fences before, which obviously did not apply here. So I Googled “how to set up an electric fence,” “electric fence construction plans,” and “electric fence circuits.” Though I learned more about electric fence than I ever wanted to know, I still didn’t have an answer; the directions I had gave options to use alternating grounding and live wires, tying certain ones together and leaving certain ones out, and doing all sorts of ridiculous things with the grounding rod.

My solution to the "really should be kept indoors" charger. It's only for a few months.

Insert fourth grade science day spent on electricity. We’d spent hours making little circuits out of lightbulbs, AA batteries, and a switch, all so that we could discover that electricity only flows in closed circuits. Right, which is just what I’d been thinking. But if Whisper touched the circuit, it would transfer to her, therefore breaking the circuit, but energy always seeks the shortest path to the ground... or is that lightning?

The less-than-traditional fence - yes, that is a salt lick holder.

So, with yet more trial and failure, and a well-timed call into the charger manufacturer the next day, I eventually got the fence set up correctly. An added benefit, I managed to do this all without electrocuting myself (though I did wear rubber shoes), and overcame the fact that the people at the charger manufacturer don’t know how to write directions. Though my fence is less-than-traditional (I actually used a salt block holder as a brace between the rebar and one fiberglass pole at one point), it’s (thus far) containing Whisper. And one day I just might get all of the fiberglass splinters out of my hands.

Voila - 3 weeks later the fence is finally finished (and working).

Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolutions Equine-Style

Whisper gets into the holiday spirit.

Well, it's December 31st, a time of reflection but also a time to look forward to new beginnings. I can't help but marvel at the changes that the last year has brought. At this point last year I was renting a tiny room in a house and had to drive to the local college whenever I wanted to practice. Whisper was boarded at a barn 10 minutes away, and thankfully she was happy and safe (and spoiled rotten - but in a good way) there.

This past year brought a monumental move for both of us in March. Thanks to the presence of run-in stalls, Whisper was able to live with 24-hour turnout for a few months before she tore her suspensory ligament galloping in the pasture. She'll return to 24-hour turnout this spring, which I'm thrilled about, because the changes I've seen in her have been huge. She's less stressed, her arthritis has improved with the increased time outside, and she's altogether calmer and a happier horse. I can't help but feel that we're on the right track with this situation. Plus, I have an entire apartment for the same amount that I had been paying to rent a room. And I can practice my flute whenever I want, as the horses are the only ones around to protest. Just between us? I think they like it.

So, for the year to come, here are my resolutions:

1. I want to do some bombproofing with Whisper.
I want to expose her to more things and teach her that it's okay to be frightened, but that she needs to face these things as well. In working with her I'd like to strengthen both her trust in me and mine in her. Which leads me to resolution #2.

2. Whisper and I will go for a trail ride.
We've tried this once before, without great results. She tried very hard, but part of the trail involved riding on a paved road, which I wasn't comfortable with. Combine that with the fact that she was excited and nervous, and it was less than relaxing. So I'd like to try again with a lot of preparation and some hand-walking trails, first. I know we can do it and have it be a good experience for both of us.

3. I am going to really work at equine photography.
Equine photography has always intrigued me, and I love how moments can be captured and so much emotion and meaning can be conveyed through a single photo. My parents just gave me a wonderful camera for my birthday. It's a real step up from what I had before, as my previous camera had an almost 2 second delay between the point where I'd depress the shutter and the point at which the camera actually took the picture. This led to so many frustrating missed shots and moments. But with my new camera I'm looking forward to capturing those moments to share with others - and, of course, with you all. Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Welcome - An Introduction

Welcome, and thank you for visiting my blog. I'm Paige. I'm a fairly new resident to the Berkshires of Massachusetts, having moved here in March of 2011. I live above a 4-stall barn with my rabbit, Sammie; my fish, Rhapsody (named after the song Rhapsody in Blue); and my 12 year-old Thoroughbred mare, Whisper. Well, Whisper lives downstairs in the barn, but I still consider her as living with me.

I graduated from Westfield State College where I studied Music Performance (I'm a flutist), and English. After working as a veterinary receptionist for about a year after graduating, I made a huge leap and moved to the Berkshires because of the opportunity to live where I am now. Rationally, it was not a decision that I would have normally made, as I moved without having a job lined up, without much knowledge or familiarity of the area, and without having friends out here to help me out. But, somehow my heart won out over my head in this one, and I found myself packing up everything and moving Whisper and I out here.

Whisper, my 12 year-0ld Thoroughbred mare. She used to race, and still enjoys galloping around in the pastures here. Unfortunately that gets her into trouble - but more on that later.

So today you'll find me living out my childhood dream: I live over a barn. I'm also a certified equine massage therapist, and have been doing a bit of horse-related freelance writing, which I'm thoroughly enjoying. Whisper is my first horse (though I'm sure there will be many more posts dedicated to her in the future), and although I've been riding and involved with horses for 17 years, she continues to be both a challenge and a source of endless learning for me. With this blog I hope to be able to share our adventures with you, along with things I learn and discover, and what inspires me in day-to-day life. I hope you'll join me in The Equine Experience.

- Paige