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Weekly Column

3/24/19: Crackzzz!  

Last Sunday Blake was saddled, relaxed and ready to go. I’d arrived thirty minutes early, and, maybe because I’d rehearsed it many times, I had him ready in only thirty minutes. (I’d asked for help twice to meet my goal: Be ready to ride by ten o’clock. And now it was precisely ten. Yay!) 

Robin, my teacher, waited at Blake’s head; I climbed the mounting block, put one foot in the stirrup--- when gunfire ripped the air! Crack! Crack! Another horse being led around the arena for exercise leaped to one side and half-reared: his owner had a hard time holding on to his halter rope. Blake managed to contain himself, but just barely! He stiffened, held his head high and pointed his ears toward the sound, ready to run. That sound was- alien. He knew all the others- the clang of the barn’s metal doors in wind, for example, or hammers banging. This one didn’t fit. 
I immediately stepped away and tried to make sense of what I was hearing. Robin, though, was angry, not fearful. 
Holding firmly to Blake’s bridle she calmed him and then spoke loudly to all of us. 

“Those rifle shots are from the neighbor kid, shooting targets in his yard. He’s supposed to notify us 30 minutes before he shoots, but he hasn’t honored that. This isn’t the first time, either.” 

My God. That irresponsible behavior could have resulted in serious injuries to both horses and riders. Spooked, they can run blindly right through fences and into traffic. 

BTW, Sunshine Farms was established well before the area was this populated. Oddly, there is NO ordinance against target shooting close to the Farm, to date. So apparently the teen was not legally bound to notify Robin by text or phone. But the danger to others posed by this lack of personal discipline is considerable. 

Robin and I agreed that riding would be unwise. Blake was clearly on high alert. The gunfire continued. So I unsaddled him, put everything back in the tack room again, and a bit later, returned to Robin. We were glum, but then she brightened. 

“No one can safely ride right now, but I have another idea.  I’ll bring our two champion cart ponies out here to play. They’re lots of fun to watch: their antics are guaranteed to cheer us up!” 

Robin led an eager black-with-white-stockings pony into the arena; this slim, perky mare has won many awards for Sunshine Farms. She snapped off the rope and Star was free. Though trembling with anticipation, she didn’t move an inch. 
The whites of her eyes shone as she watched Robin disappear around a corner toward another stall while tossing an explanatory comment our way. 
“Star’s waiting for her friend, Missy. I’m getting her, now.” 

A minute later she led a pretty nut-brown pony into the arena and snapped off her lead. Instantly the two friends dashed off from a standing start, using the vast space to play ‘catch me if you can.’ Hooves flashed: there was spontaneous bucking, rearing, whinnying, racing out at full gallop, and much bouncing in place while they thought of new ways to go ‘flashy.’ The ponies ignored the jumps, set up to school the Farm’s big hunter/jumper horses. 
Cart ponies are never ridden. 

The ponies heard the gun’s cracks but were so engrossed in thundering around that they weren’t as bothered. Star showed her stuff, racing around the arena at a fast trot. Holding close to the wall her slim legs rose high as she pranced by in fine style. She’d look elegant in the show ring, her driver, cart and harness gleaming, her eyes flashing, mane and tail flowing, in her element!  Cart ponies love showtime and applause! 

Missy, who has also won ribbons, wasn’t quite as flashy, but flowed along, close to Star, wheeling and charging, whinnying and making playful feints. They rolled on the soft ground together, heads stretched out, hooves waving at the ceiling. Twenty minutes later they stood front-to-back, mutually wither-grooming. (Horses can scratch their own chins, necks, faces, bellies and front legs with a back hoof, but can never reach this spot. Wither-grooming is very pleasurable for both parties, and tends to cement friendships.) 

The gunfire finally ceased, too late for a lesson. Never mind; high school would begin again tomorrow... 

This incident served as another firm reminder: ALWAYS be vigilant when working closely with prey animals, who react instantly, and sometimes violently, to sudden shocks. 

And yet- 
In the barn lives Percy, a very, very fat little goat who likes to enter random stalls to settle underneath the chosen equine’s enormous, four-pillared body. Both peacefully munch lunch from their very different elevations. No resident seems bothered by these unannounced visits. 
Just before the ‘pony show’ I popped into the barn to check how the horses were reacting to the rifle shots. Some heads jerked; there was nervous whinnying and some restless pacing. Workers reassured the more anxious animals. 
And there he stood, legs a bit splayed, just outside a stall, little hooves buried in hay, forehead placed exactly on the V-edge of the stall’s outer corner. 
He was precisely balanced, but...... too still. 
I peered at Percy more carefully. Hmmm. Knees locked, eyes shuttered, hay strands dangling from his slightly opened, goateed mouth, no masticating jaws, almost imperceptible breathing--- 
I grinned. 
He was deeply asleep! 

Some prey animals just don’t give a damn. 

 

3/17/19: Almost, But Not Quite...  

A couple of days ago I had a lesson at ten a.m. I had to ready Blake for saddling, after being taught the Way, and its order, by Robin, my teacher. But she wouldn’t be there until ten. Good. I needed to learn to do this job independently. It’s not rocket science. But it is orderly. (Keep in mind; I’m 60 inches high when I stretch.) 
I felt like a meerkat trying to undress, and then saddle, a patient greyhound. 

Arriving twenty-five minutes early proved far too optimistic. 

I took a deep breath and entered Blake’s personal space. There he was, his enormous thoroughbred body taking up much of his stall. He stopped eating to look carefully at me, but I could tell I was welcome. He lowered his head and we canoodled. Which means I took too long to smooth and admire his face and alert ears, and those big brown, mildly curious, even bemused eyes. I tickled his whiskers; he nibbled my nose. We exchanged air. He knew why I was there. He also knew I was greener than the grass he was eating. Happily, Blake is patient and kindhearted. 

First, I unbuckled his expansive blanket, which covered 80% of his big body, including half his tail. I began below his head, separating the Velcro, undoing the chest buckles and then undoing the four buckles that kept the bodywarmer in place around his belly and tail. I folded the whole fat thing three times, starting at his neck, before moving each two-foot fold toward his tail. Which meant going from one side to the other in front of him, where there were perhaps 8 inches of space between Blake’s head and his grain and water buckets.  He moved close to his water bucket to sip, so, of course, my elbow dipped into it as I squeezed past.  
Rats!   
I pushed to back him up, winning a few inches, keeping my voice easy and soft. 
Finally, reaching up high near his hind end, I slowly pulled the mostly folded blanket down to me. The dangling buckles and ties wound round his hind legs as they came away. He didn’t mind a bit.   

I hoisted the heavy, very bulky thing up to the curved dip of his high, barred stall gate (fashioned so he could stick his head and neck out and look around) and wedged it in. I hadn’t needed to hump it down the aisle to elsewhere, which would mean parts of it dragging through boot-deposited mud (from torrential rain the night before), horse poop and wheelbarrow-dropped straw.  

Anyway-  
There stood Blake, with nothing on. 
First step: done.    

I opened the gate and slipped out; it obligingly closed again (a hint I ignored). I grabbed the halter and lead rope and re-entered. He lowered his head to my waist so I could slip it on, but facing him, I kept missing his nose. (Sometimes, working with one eye is truly irritating.)  
I tried again. The halter went on, but snagged his nostrils. He glanced at me, surprised; I quickly adjusted the wretched thing. But then, for fun, he raised his head just high enough so that I couldn’t slip the halter over his ears.  I hopped and huffed and puffed, but, no joy. 
Embarrassed, I simply asked him to lower his head. He sighed and did, bless him. I reached high over his face, manipulated his ears to ease it over both of them, and then triumphantly secured the throatlatch. 
Blake nickered softly.  
Hmmm.  
I chuckled, too. 
For those with a sense of humor, inexperience is its own comedy.   

Next, I attached the lead rope to the halter. The clock read ten. 
Part two accomplished.  
My wet elbow dripped.    

A worker told me Robin had had to pop over to the bank, so she’d be a bit late.  
Good! I had miles to go...   

I got Blake out into the central aisle, barely avoiding his big body’s rush past me because the gate had thumped his rear, surprising him. I belatedly realized that the blanket’s weight on the gate was causing it to shut...I’d need to find another place for it next time. Fortunately, my feet had escaped his startled, steel-shod hooves.  
Dumb luck.  
Note: the next day I had the wit to ask Nancy, Robin’s daughter, to extract him. She did it beautifully, in seconds, without the benefit of a lead rope. She simply opened his gate and invited him out. He exited quietly, and then backed up to the mat to be cross-tied.  
Lord!  
(They’d been dear friends for simply years, and knew each other’s thoughts.)   

I secured him with crossties, which took time, as the clasps were the more complicated emergency release sort that I wasn’t familiar with. I’d almost have one connected, then not...The more I worked with them, though, the better I got. 

Grooming was next. I found a soft brush (Sensitive Blake hates stiff ones) and polished him nicely, then brought out his saddle, pads, bridle and breastplate, and set to work.   

The first larger saddle pad was easy- raise it up, place it higher than necessary, then pull it down his back a bit to ensure that his hair was smoothed.  The second smaller pad lay over the first one- easy- but the saddle’s placement was a challenge, as Blake’s back was well above my head. Thumping a saddle down isn’t nice; it should be lowered gently. Try doing that on tiptoes. 
I experimented with different lifting positions, He turned his head to watch as I raised and lowered that saddle, which gained a lot of weight as time passed and I got older... 
There was a low, chesty rumble. Blake was amused! I had to laugh, too. Agile meerkats would do it better... 

I finally settled on simply raising it as high as possible before setting it down, half on. After a brief rest, still holding it, I gradually pushed/lifted it into place. But too many adjustments had shifted the pads, which made for much switching back and forth to reset them.  
Done.    

But, I still had the girth to deal with. I found the proper one after conducting a search through a sea of them hanging in the tack room. (It wasn’t where I’d hung it the day before.) 
After buckling it onto the saddle’s right side I moved around to his left side and reached under his belly to grab the dangling girth to buckle it into these straps. After a long, difficult struggle, where I almost had it in the first hole, then not, I pulled up hard one last time—Success!  
Leverage isn’t nearly as helpful when one is too low down. And, Blake can really inflate!  
Leading him around the arena quickly encourages deflation.  
By now it was ten-twenty. And suddenly, Robin appeared. Noticing my weary state she had his bridle on in seconds. That job would have consumed another large slice of time.    

I narrate all this to give a sense of how it is for me. I must always focus on being safe when moving around him to do these straightforward tasks with a minimum of fuss and time.  
Many repetitions are required. Experience is the best teacher. 

I offer one last ‘almost gotcha--- but not:’  
I was seated atop Blake next to the mounting block while Robin moved a little way forward to check my stirrup lengths. Suddenly, she straightened, pointed behind me and spoke loudly.    

“Get Away! NO!” 

Confused, I followed her gaze. A hefty resident cat had hopped atop the mounting block and was poised to spring up onto Blake’s backside!  
Another millisecond... 
But, hearing Robin’s command, the pussy paused...just long enough for us to ease away.    

Imagine how he, a prey animal, would have responded to a clawed cat thumping down onto his hind end!!   

Situational awareness is always wise.   
Always. 

Here’s the good part: I’m totally at home on their horse and Robin says I ride very well!  I save savoring her praise only when I’m down and out the door... and can relax.

3/10/19: Amazing Grace  

A few days ago I was gifted with something brand new to me, a magic time that lasted about 25 minutes and was so enlightening. 
Here’s what happened. 

I live in Saginaw to help my husband, Joe. Three weeks ago he fell on the thick ice that blankets much of Michigan and fractured 4 ribs. His recovery is going slowly but well, and I stay in the Saginaw Bay area to help him manage. So I couldn’t continue to ride in Traverse City. Never mind: we found Sunshine Farms, just outside Bay City, only about 10 miles away from our Saginaw farmhouse, where at least 25 horses live as boarders, or are owned by their owners, Robin Bellor, and Nancy-Smith Bellor, Robin’s daughter.  
This winter the weather has been so incredibly cold that the animals often can’t be let out, because their big field is a sheet of ice. To slip and fall would likely mean disaster. So the horses stay inside, exercising with their riders in the arena, their minds kept busy with schooling for the hunter/jumper competitions all over the state that begin in spring.    

One morning last week I showed up there to ride, garbed in my electric socks, gloves and jacket, my mood at once elevated and apprehensive. -1- degree temps make everyone cross and frustrated.  
But today Robin told me I needed to wait a bit; it was playtime. “Living here, being ridden, fed, housed and loved isn’t enough.  
Horses need to be free to be horses.”  
What? I was puzzled. A little smile crossed her face as she bade me stand behind the mounting block.  
She came back into the arena with my mount, Blake, who stood patiently while Robin disconnected his lead rope and then stepped away. Blake abruptly wheeled, broke into a trot and moved silkily around the large space, exploring the set up jumps, following the erratic flights of the barn sparrows, and generally reveling in his freedom. 

Suddenly he broke into a gallop and dashed around the entire arena, flinging his head up and down. Then, after stopping abruptly, down he went on his back to roll and roll, back and forth, groaning with enjoyment. Blake is a tall thoroughbred, and to see him upside down, his blanket flapping, his hooves flashing toward the roof as he rocked from side to side, was a gasper! Finally, he righted himself, shook vigorously and whinnied loudly, looking around. He needed a playmate.  

And, exactly then, Robin led in a smaller gelding, Ditto, and released him as well. The two rushed to greet each other, and then Ditto dropped, too, and rolled in the deep, soft sawdust with the same enjoyment, his blanket flapping just as enthusiastically. Blake stood very near, watching his antics with great interest. Ditto rose, shook himself, bumped noses with Blake and the two rocketed off, whinnying and rolling their eyes. Blake roared around a turn, and without a thought, effortlessly jumped a fence. Such light-as-air, amazing grace! The two horses charged on as a pair, switching from chaser to chased by some mysterious agreement. Their whinnies were excited and happy as they cut corners and revved up to ‘high gear.’ 

And then, Robin showed up with a third horse, Magoo, and they trotted over to greet him. Magoo immediately lowered himself to the ground and rolled luxuriously. His blanket didn’t seem to mind being saturated in sawdust. The other two stood close, watching, until he finished, righted himself and shook off the dust. Time to join the fun!   

(These three had enjoyed each other’s company for years. She would never set loose a horse that wasn’t in their social group. That would be dangerous to the unlucky horse.)  

Blake moved so beautifully; it was as though his tall, slim 1300-pound body weighed next to nothing. His prancing, wheeling turns were delicate, airy, incredibly graceful and full of mischief. Whinnies expressed delight as the three animals mixed it up. The two smaller horses ran in tandem, or pretended to rush Blake, who stood his ground until the last second before moving to the side and barreling off. It was enchanting! I’d never seen horses play!  

Robin and I retreated to the wood-stove warmed tack room, which has a huge window.  
“I do this every day in severe winters, with various horses, and never get tired of watching how happy it makes them. But when such big animals let go and play hard, hooves flash, and pseudo-kicks are incredibly quick. A careless observer could easily be seriously, unintentionally hurt. So you stay in here. I’m going out there to supervise, and be a physical reminder for them to keep their boisterous behavior within bounds.”  
Out she went, and the horses whinnied hellos as they rushed around, but they kept their steel hooves a respectful distance away. They love Robin.   
Just for fun, she came back into the tack room a few minutes later, grinning. “Watch what happens now...”    

The horses looked around, to make sure she’d gone before sidling to one corner where the really lush bales of special hay were stored. They furtively snatched fat morsels to munch. We laughed so hard! Robin mischievously rattled the tack room door as though she were coming out again; the noise triggered the guilty trio’s dash away from the forbidden corner. They decided she hadn’t noticed their theft.  
Never mind that the evidence of their sin dangled from their mouths in large hay-hunks...   

They trotted to a far corner and turned their backs on the tack room to finish eating what they’d sneaked away, and then raced around the arena in different directions, maximally extending their necks and showing their teeth, daring another to stand his ground. It was rather like a game of chicken! 

Robin called to the more enthusiastic Ditto to take care, and three pairs of ears turned toward her. They were certainly listening.  

About 25 minutes later the trio stood close together, steam rising from their noses, looking relaxed and sated. They were done. Robin stepped forward to catch Blake, who was fine with being led away to be saddled. Magoo and Ditto were collected by staff a few minutes later and settled into their own stalls.  
Confinement during icy, sub-zero winters isn’t so hard on the horses when these regular playtimes allow them to stretch out a bit and simply be themselves.  

Once again, yet another dimension has been added to my understanding of these beautiful creatures.

3/03/19: Electrified!  

A couple of weeks ago Joe drove me to the Farm to ride my assigned stallion, Menessen. I couldn’t get off him properly thirty minutes later. I’d been so focused on learning transitions that I didn’t realize that my toes were in deep trouble. They had very nearly transitioned into Frozen Solid. Fortunately, Joe was close and came to collect me right away. All of me was trembling; I simply hadn’t noticed the incredible cold until I began having trouble holding the reins. Menessen was becoming confused by my uneven signals so I halted the lesson and wobbled out to our car, with assistance. 
Here’s the thing: I’m five feet tall and very slim- not skinny, just slim, and the thermometer read 9 degrees in mid-afternoon.  
But I hadn’t gone riding without sufficient preparation.  
Had I? 
Here’s what covered me:   

Two pair of thick wool socks 
Jeans 
Big insulated boots 
2 long underwear long-sleeved shirts,  
1 flannel shirt,  
1 thick Guernsey woolen sweater,  
1 thick, short insulated coat and  
2 pair of gloves,  
A headband to keep my ears warm under my  
Riding helmet, and finally,  
My long, thick Hogwarts scarf.   

Didn’t matter.  
I still froze. I had to be helped into the kitchen, where I ran cold water into the big sink, sat high up on the counter and placed my flame-red feet into the quite cool water. There they stayed, still in blowtorch-painful mode.  Over a period of an hour, I added tiny amounts of slightly warmer water—soooo painful- and repeated the process until the water turned toasty. My beleaguered toes gradually responded, finally moving from flame-red to a more normal cream color.  
Believe me, thawing hurts
It took another 2 hours for my core to warm sufficiently.    

This was a major warning. I couldn’t ride again until we’d found a creative solution for this winter’s stubborn, rock-bottom temps. 

Two days later this girl was electrified! 
I now wore- 

1 pair of thin knee socks.  
1 Pair of Extreme (#4) long merino wool underwear tights designed for Arctic conditions.  
1 pair of nearly knee-high smooth, thick computer-ordered electric socks with battery pouch located at the outside/top of each sock. These socks slid nicely over the two other sock layers.  
Next, I eased on my slim jeans.  
Then my boots, with their woolen linings. I plugged in the socks and set them to ‘H.’   Ahhhhhh....bliss. 
Next, I donned the merino wool Extreme #4 matching undershirt, then layered two more Extreme conditions ski undershirts over the first one. Then I shrugged on my thick woolen sweater, and finally
My newly acquired electric jacket from Gander Outdoors, whose square-ish flat battery sits snugly in its right-hand pocket, where the built-in cord awaits it.  I married plug to battery, zipped the jacket and pressed the button located on its breast. ‘Bright Red’ is the highest of 3 settings. I left it on that flaming ‘H.’ (The directions warned that I might burn on High, but I shrugged. Lawyer talk. Why install a ‘Hot’ setting if one is advised NOT to use it?) 
I added a thick ski headband that covered my ears, and finally plunked my black riding helmet over the headband and buckled it on. 
THEN- I drew on my electric gloves, with each one equipped with a 2” square battery- flipped the two batteries- to ‘H’- and went riding.  
Oh- I forgot to mention the last thing- my Hogwarts scarf, with its burgundy red and yellow stripes. Everything else listed above is black, because that’s the color offered. My scarf provides a fine splash of ‘other.’   

I wear one more thing over everything else. Joe ordered a special riding vest tailored for me that weighs not quite two pounds, which should mitigate some of the more awful potential injuries. A little canister of CO2 in a front pouch explodes with a soft pop, instantly expanding the secret ‘sausages’ buried inside the vest designed to shield neck and spine from top to bottom, as well as ribs and chest wall, All of this happens as soon as the connection to my saddle is broken. Two very similar motorcycle vests protect us when we ride our big bikes over the countryside.)  
The cool thing: when my riding vest is buckled over the black electric jacket it’s almost invisible.  
Plus, Joe feels less unnerved by my shenanigans, and that’s a good thing.   

So off I went, suitably attired this time for my adventure, which began, funnily enough, well before I climbed aboard Menessen. 

All the horses, blanketed in their warm fleece coats, had been taken outside to various paddocks to graze on the hay laid out there for them.  
Menessen, of course, has his own paddock.  
Anyway, as we left the barn and made our way out to catch him, Laura commented, 
“Menessen isn’t happy about being outside all day. Three hours or so are plenty for him. He wants his big, roomy stall. But he’s also mischievous. When he signals by standing at the gate and I respond and go out to him, he’ll allow me to get just so close before he’ll pull back and gallop off.  This game might go on for a while, so we’ll just have to be patient. When he thinks I’ve gotten the message- that He gets to choose when to come to me, the rest is easy. But the wait can be exasperating, especially in snow or rain. You’ll see....” 
And then, she paused and turned to me with that ‘I’ve just realized...’ look. 
“You know, Menessen loves you. I’ll bet- that when he sees you with me, there will be no games! Let’s see if I’m right!”   

And so it went. Menessen was at the far end of his paddock when we entered. He turned toward us, looked hard, and immediately trotted straight to me! He pushed his beautiful face into my chest and made absolutely no objection to being caught. Laura smiled, snapped the long rope lead to his halter, and handed it to me. Menessen was delighted; he knew I would ride him.  
We three walked inside together and two of us felt honored, and humble.  
I’ve added this gift to so many other horse memories Laura and I have caught- and cherished.   

By the way, I was toasty warm during that lesson, and have remained so.  
Cool!

2/24/19: New Wonders  

Last week I told you about the 8” ice scraper, which, by the way, went up one dollar, to $19.95, right after the column was published- (maybe because they had a sudden flurry of orders?) But still, for just under twenty bucks, it’s a good deal.  

That site again on Google:     
 

SSD7500 8-inch snow and ice scraper with D-grip handle
 

Now, let me frighten you a little. I related that my husband fell on the icy, but snow-covered cement at the bottom of our wooden stairs seconds after he told me to walk very carefully there, and to place each foot straight down so as not to slip. Exactly then, he slipped, fell, and lay flat on his back in the deep snow for about 5 minutes, groaning, in intense pain! Turns out he’d fractured 4 ribs! Four! This should spur folks to eliminate the ice where one walks before disaster happens. Stock up on salt and one of these ice choppers, then park the tools by the door and keep up with weather conditions.  
There is nothing to be done about fractured ribs that aren’t splintered. Simply adapt to the situation, find relief in OTC pain meds, and wait. Doctors have long abandoned rib binding. The body manages just fine without that dubious assistance.  
He’s still working a full schedule, trying not to sneeze, and bearing up fairly well. Ibuprofen has helped. But he’s very careful not to overuse that medication.   

On a more cheery note- I was at the Bay City dog park watching Bryn folic and chatting with a nice fellow who mentioned that his wife “usually takes our dog to this park, but she’s having a riding lesson today, as a slot was open; and so here I am.” 

Riding??? I immediately asked him for details, and he put me onto Sunshine Farms, about ten minutes away. (Ohboyohboy!) Bryn and I made our careful, shivering way to the car to tell Joe. He perked up. “Let’s investigate that place!” (Living away from Traverse City I’ve been unable to ride for the last couple of weeks.  Joe will need my assistance for a while to come, and I’m happy to stay close, but oh, I’ve missed riding.) 

We drove straight there. (This stable, I mused, might offer a good downstate teacher, and maybe even schooled horses. I always welcome a different perspective.) 

The big barn was full of curious equines- at least 25- who poked their heads from their stalls to take us in. The Farm’s owner, operator and seasoned citizen, a petite woman named Robin, who has a wonderful smile, showed us around.  
I took in the special scent of horse barn and leather as we stepped into the connected indoor area, which had fences set at different heights. A teen was practicing her jumping skills atop a handsome mare. Robin, noticing our shivering, led us into the big glass-fronted tack room, where we were enveloped in a blanket of soft, fragrant heat emanating from a very large, glowing bear of a wood stove positioned toward the back of the generous room. Ummmm...!  
Three sleek tabby cats greeted us. I eventually noticed more, nested above very high wooden cupboards in snug, mussed blanket nests. Another oozed out of an overturned box. 
“How many cats live here?” 
She tipped her head to the side, looking pensive. “You know, I actually don’t have any idea.”  
Wow. These sleek mousers were earning their keep, I thought.   

And- in this room, seeing all the tack, I grasped the true measure of this place.  Saddles, bridles, halters, pads, breastplates, martingales, cinches and huge horse blankets were tidily placed just so, and everything was Clean.  
This was the ultimate testimonial to the sort of woman The Boss is.  
I wanted to be part of Sunshine Farms. 

She introduced us to her attractive, cheerful daughter, Nancy, who’s also an expert rider and teacher. (A back room is loaded with award ribbons.) Robin left us to thaw, as she needed to supervise a student, so Nancy took up the conversation. 
“Mom taught me everything I know. She evaluates and teaches the new students and eventually passes them on to me for more advanced training. She’s incredibly knowledgeable and will draw out and polish your best qualities. Plus, we have some darn good hunter-jumpers here- ribbon winners, who are patient with novices!” 

I booked a lesson with Robin for the next day. There’d be 10-degree temps, but I’d never notice-- until I dismounted to discover my feet were frozen. 

Uh-oh... I’d be riding English saddles. Hmmm. Then, that unnerved feeling evolved to ‘Good.’ I must learn to ride with both. English saddles have no pommel or horn to grab, just in case.  
I’ll be ‘in the wind.’  
Yeah, but then I’ll truly learn balance. 

There were more visual delights. A very small, very fat goat stood inside the last stall by the big barn door, where a huge jet-black Percheron lives. (Percherons are enormous, glorious horses that pull heavy carts or beer wagons.) Sir Goat apparently enters any stall he fancies, and the resident horse and he share the hay. (An aside: As I left the stable yesterday that same good-natured Percheron reached out, took my fatly fringed burgundy/gold Harry Potter Hogwarts scarf into his giant mouth and proceed to gather it in! I felt a tug, looked back and realized what was happening. He made small, mischievous noises as he munched, and as I carefully extracted my treasure I found myself laughing so much I could hardly get my breath. 
By the way, the scarf, though a bit damp, still looks splendid after its weird adventure.) 

And then, the next day, another surprise. Frieda, a gorgeous, solidly copper-colored hen with a bright red comb to set it off, also has the run of the place. She’d found herself lowest in the pecking order in the henhouse out back; the other hens had ruthlessly tried to dispatch her, so Robin snatched her up and brought her into the barn. She’s recovered from the attacks and now clucks contentedly while hunting for horse grain, or the remains of chocolate donuts, or tiny bits of sandwich bread that might be sprinkled onto the floor of the central aisle by stable staff during their breaks. 

Chickens are resilient -in every way. For well over half a century I’ve kept a large photo I snipped from Life Magazine in the early 60s of a rooster who had been decapitated- he was to be dinner for the family- but who subsequently ran about for months afterward in the barnyard. The fascinated farmer used an eyedropper to feed him. The photo shows him posing jauntily on a large stump. I’m still full of wonder about that magazine’s most famous photo. 
‘...running about like a chicken with its head cut off...’ has some basis in fact- but for so LONG?  

Anyway, as we led Blake down the big aisle to be saddled we nearly ran over the little copper/red hen. Robin asked Frieda to move aside. She looked up, cocked her head and clucked disapprovingly, before obediently veering away to let us pass.  
Frieda mutters most of the time, maybe to notify these huge horses that she’s underfoot so they won’t inadvertently step on her. She lays eggs (nearly 200 a year!) in the most unlikely places. Staff finds them tucked under horse blankets, or nestled into loose hay, or between a crate’s slats, or plunked between the cleaning crew’s winter coats or boots. 

Yesterday after my lesson, Robin and I unsaddled my ride, a big thoroughbred gelding named Blake. After blanketing him we led him into his stall- and found a perfect light brown egg perched atop his fresh hay ration. Frieda, who’d invited herself in, in his absence, clucked over it, but Blake, not amused, unceremoniously nosed her out. He likes his home to remain unencumbered by bold, brassy visitors. The goat gets his goat, too. (Blake won’t live in any other stall. This particular patch of real estate is all his. And so there.) 
Grinning, Robin slipped the fresh egg into her pocket. 

There is also a quiet, elderly, plump little short-haired dog who sniffs visitors in a desultory way before wandering off. 

Sunshine Farms lives up to its name. Every sort of animal- even the many sparrows who whizz through the barn foraging for grain- is cared about and respected.  
Robin’s unconditionally love for them all is plain to see. She and Nancy have rescued more than a few ‘throwaways’ over the years. Under their tutelage, those grateful horses and ponies have gone on to win important ribbons.   

The special ambience that radiates from their barn will draw me there frequently. And oh, the stories I’ll hear! ...And pass on to you...

2/17/19: Hot Tips  

  

I went to Tractor Supply last week with Bryn (who loves wandering up and down their aisles) to buy more dried co
w lung for her. It’s packed with goodness, and the ingredient is simple- dried cow lung. Period.  She loves this treat. 

Anyway, as we were leaving, the clerk noticed Bryn and said, “Did you know that this Tractor Supply offers a dog groom room- which is going national as we speak? It has everything you’ll need to clean and groom your own dog. 

“Each wash bay has a big steel tub with a tall steel back covering the wall behind it. You can’t mess up when you use the hose. Two sturdy plastic tub shelf trays raise the tub ‘floor’ much higher if your dog is small. 
You never need to bend.”  (Bliss!) 
“A portable ramp allows your pet to walk right up into the tub. Tie-up leashes keep her secure while you work. The hose has a control lever that offers hot and cold water you can adjust to your satisfaction and turn off and on instantly.  
Huge plastic pump bottles full of various favorite shampoos and conditioners sit right next to the wash station. Choose what you like. 
We provide two clean white towels. 
A separate, lower steel table is supplied with a pole with leashes of various lengths to help keep your dog secured while you work. There’s a wall-mounted blow dryer, a very nice metal comb, and even brushes. It’s also a fine place to trim fur and nails. (Bring your own nail clipper, though...) 
There is soft music, too- your choice. 
Finally, we supply a plastic apron to prevent your getting wet.”   

I was amazed. Somebody had thought this out! 
A smiling employee showed me the facility.  
It was spacious, clean and absolutely perfect for the job. Two people can groom their dogs there. And the price per dog?  $9.99!   

But wait! That’s not all! The next morning I was back with grubby Bryn to try it out. She was fine with the ramp, the tub and the whole thing. After two hours of concentrated work clipping her clean, blow-dried fleece (I’d brought my own scissors) I finished, with no sore knees or backache or dirty bathroom. I used the provided broom and dustpan to sweep everything up, tossed the damp towels in the towel bin, cleaned the big wash basin’s drain of hair and was about to leave with my newly minted Bryn when the same man showed up again.  

Get this: He was incredulous that I’d cleaned up the considerable mess I’d made. (Bryn’s snipped fur had been everywhere.) 

“No need to do that: that’s our job!”  

I hadn’t known of this perk! Then the guy asked me to wait for a few seconds... He returned shortly with a $5.00 discount chit and told me to apply it when I paid up front.  

Taken aback, I asked why.  

“Well, you did clean up...”  

Not that this gift is ‘policy’- he was just -generous. 

So. Total price: $4.99!!! 
Ridiculous.  
Wonderful!   

Here’s the thing. What I did in that shining clean room costs at least $100 at a regular groomer facility. NOT including tip. It’s the best deal anywhere

Tractor Supply stores nationwide are being modified to include this service. Watch for this service at a TS near you.  (So far, eleven stores have installed it in Michigan: that number is steadily rising.) 

And another tip:  

Everyone should consider buying this slick winter tool: SSD7500 8-inch snow and ice scraper with D-grip handle, available with next day shipping, for under $20.  

We tried to buy one at the local Home Depot, Lowes and Menard store, but they hadn’t heard of it, or knew of it only vaguely, so we found it on Amazon and ordered it. (Pictures show how it looks.)  

 

It came the next day. 

The shovel-like tool just might save you from a vicious fall on the thick ice that currently blankets much of Michigan. In the last week, ERs are seeing many more broken heads, ribs and limbs from serious tumbles on driveways and walks. Joe fell hard, twice; deep breaths and sneezing are agonies. Dressing is agony. He’ll be walking wounded for weeks. This winter has proved a challenge for all. (So far, I’ve been lucky, but that can change in an instant.)  

Good friends showed up brandishing the ice scraper, and cheerfully demonstrated how it could chop easily right through the inch-thick sheet of solid ice that blankets our very long driveway, the sidewalk and even the first foot of the garage’s interior.  
Bare cement and asphalt were exposed quickly. Dan and Vicki just flipped the ice chunks away. Wow! Now we can walk from our house right up to the garage without risking life and limb. The chopper is sturdy, razor-sharp, and simple to use. We consider it more valuable than snow shovels, which are ineffectual, or useless, for ice removal. 
Owning the ice chopper has lowered our anxiety level considerably. (The only danger is finding a way to chop to a firm surface that first time without falling on the ice you must stand on to begin.) 
We’ve also applied a big bag of chunky salt (available anywhere and kind to pet paws) to the ice-free surfaces. It’s effective down to minus fifteen degrees.   

Joe has a saying; 90% of life is maintenance. But in this sort of tricky winter it can be more like 98%. This useful tool helps to lower that percentage to a more acceptable level.  
Buy one for a friend!

2/10/19: Haunts  

Murphy’s Law: Anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong- usually at the worst possible time.
 


Horses have funny ideas. All of them at Casalae Farms have decided that the far end of the huge riding arena harbors haunts. Every equine resident tends to shy abruptly when ridden too close to the high-stacked hay bales, the large, pale pyramid of stored sawdust (for lining stall floors) and the Farm’s neatly parked white pickup truck. (Maybe horses can see/sense ‘things’ we humans aren’t designed to perceive. Nothing is impossible. Just ask any gobsmacked quantum physicist.) 

My husband’s mare, Callie, knowing he was inexperienced, decided she could veer away from that end of the arena without a correction. Joe, a psychologist as well as a cardiologist, decided to ride her right back to the ‘spooky’ place and then stop, so she could look her fill. That was unusual. And tricky. 
If, say, a cloud’s passing momentarily changed the light that poured through the tall narrow rectangular windows set into the huge sliding doors, potentially triggering flight, Joe could be dumped. Prey animals are inherently unpredictable.  They’ll flee perceived danger first, and reason it out later.  

She looked, ears perked. Her tail hung motionless. 
Joe sat quietly. 
This, Laura and I muttered, was a bolt-in-waiting.  
Then, a long time later, when that too-still stare approached being intolerable he turned Callie back toward the arena’s ‘comfort zone.’ We put the radio on to break up the quiet and help her settle. 
She stood by us, head down, muzzle and jaw muscles twitching, pondering the last five minutes.   

I pondered, too.  
Here was an important lesson: when around horses, or riding, things can change suddenly. Cultivate a relaxed mind and body while being sensitive to potential horsey freak-outs.  
Soon after, I began to understand one important reason equines have decided that that part of the arena harbors haunts.   

During my next lesson, while riding Callie at an acceptable distance from the ‘spooky space,’ a low, muted rumble, lasting about four seconds, disturbed the quiet air. Instantly she swerved sharply, side-stepped and half-reared. Planted firmly in the saddle I leaned forward and murmured “easy...” Snorting, she smoothed out, mastering the urge to flee. Years of training, and her trust in humans, had kicked in. 
Fact: Had I been inattentive I’d likely have bitten the sawdust.  

Turns out a large section of heavy snow had roared down the long, metal arena roof in response to sunshine heating the metal. This rumble-y release has occurred at least twice since I began riding, usually beginning over the ‘spooky area,’ and it always triggers horse-aversion.   
Each time, I’ve been prepared. Knock on wood. 
                                              

 ***   

Something fascinating is always happening out there. One icy late afternoon Joe came to film my lesson so I could critique my technique at home. Afterward, I led my mount, the Farm’s stud stallion, Menessen, back to his tie-up area and removed his tack. Just then, Joe let out a little gasp. I looked up quizzically.  
With wonderment in his voice he whispered, “I just saw a mare skate by those open doors!”  
Skate?? I stared at him, and then at the two big, open double sliding doors at the far end of the stable. He pointed at them. “Just watch! It might happen again...”  
The man was serious! I looked. It had rained, then snowed a lot recently; then, an intense cold front had transformed the flooded ground in Grand Traverse County into sheets of thick ice that ‘glassed’ the ground outside. 
We heard muted shouting and saw people milling around out there, but had no clue why.   

Menessen, though, began acting weird! Cross-tied, large front teeth bared in a horsey grin, he raised his head high as his busy nose trolled the air, gathering in a delectable scent. He looked smitten! His head vigorously nodded up and down, as though confirming my thoughts.   

More shouts outside. “I’ll stay over here; drive her to me!” 

What on earth?? 

Then, to my amazement, a big chestnut mare wearing only a halter, slid, hockey puck-smooth and fast, past the big entrance one more time. No human was in attendance. That meant-- she was loose! 

A minute later we heard more scrabbling and then a triumphant shout: “Got ‘er!”  
Other staff rushed to help. Skiddish, whinnying objections, the prancing mare was carefully led into the barn and then into her stall. Everyone but Menessen breathed sighs of relief. No broken legs. No crazy gallop up the long aisle straight to her Romeo. 
In heat, she’d caught his scent from far away and knew what she wanted. When the staff began to catch the other mares to bring them in for the evening she’d sneaked past the catcher and out of her paddock’s half-opened gate.  
She was free.    

She’d whinnied, “Where are you?” and Menessen had whinnied back his location. She’d been running parallel to the barn doors, but, unable to slow or stop due to sheet ice, had glided by that entrance, all four legs planted on Nature’s ‘rink,’ mane flying- the very picture of a child’s rocking horse come to life. But her windborne sexual perfume, powerful and intoxicating, had wafted inside, irresistible, and yet---- their stallion was familiar with the usual preparations for mounting a mare. His situation now didn’t match what the choreography had always been before. So he stayed put, while continuing to enthusiastically appreciate her pungent perfume. Menessen is nothing if not well mannered.  

This highly improbable situation reminded me again to  
Always stay focused. 
Anticipate.  
ANYTHING can happen. At any time. For no particular reason. 

Murphy’s Law will always haunt the complacent.

2/3/19: Changes 

I’ve been observing the other animals’ reactions and responses to Bryn’s and my entry into their lives. 

A few weeks ago Bryn had made a rare objection to my leaving her outside in the car after she’d seen what was inside the barn the visit before that one. Exclusion from such a thrilling new world was simply- unthinkable, and she’d dared to express her appalled disappointment in a powerful way. Deeply impressed by the incredulity that rode on those two long wails, I’d re-assessed, and made the change after checking with the Farm boss. 
She repeatedly warned me that her cat greatly enjoys stalking, then attacking, unsuspecting dogs. It’s his raison d’etre. Well-behaved Bryn was welcome, but with that fair warning in mind. 
Interesting. 
I decided to take my cat-reaction cues from Bryn by noting her facial changes and tail positions. There is a ton of information there. 

Bryn’s warm blue fleece coat has altered her appearance, making an interesting visual change for the horses. Every equine who was led past her took a long look. 
I was riding Menessen in the arena, practicing trotting without stirrups, when he sent subtle signals to me that he wanted to inspect Bryn, who was tethered to the viewing bench in the arena. He’d noticed the strange change immediately and found it- disconcerting. 
That was fine with me. We trotted over to her and I sat still, waiting. 
The two friends touched noses. Then he sniffed her everywhere. 
Menessen understands coats. Every horse in this big barn wears a thick one to ward off the intense cold. It was a reminder for me that horses notice everything. Every. Single. Thing. To be alert to change of any kind is a survival skill that all prey animals rely on. 
I should have shown him Bryn’s garb before I mounted. My bad. 
Having recognized what it was he blew out and relaxed; the two bumped noses again and he nuzzled Bryn’s muzzle before moving off, satisfied. 
She was delighted with the exchange. 

Louie, the very bright stable cat who’s made the entire stable his fiefdom, has two problems with the latest change in his routine. 
Firstly, the new dog has consistently ignored this good-sized, handsome black-and-white Self. That realization really bothers him. 
Cats are never ignored. 

Bryn might acknowledge Sir Cat down the road, but for now, Louie’s had to be content with performing his ‘spooky action at a distance’ routine again and again. (Making himself shadow-flat he silently oooozes toward her, snail-slowly, occasionally disappearing behind blankets and furniture before reappearing abruptly, mere inches away, which elicits doggie ‘shock and awe,’ which nicely triggers his clawed leap! It’s always been a winning strategy.) 

But, Bryn doesn’t respond to these ‘you’re toast, Buster’ cues. It’s exasperating! She doesn’t twitch, doesn’t change position or even gaze down at him, though Louie’s scent fills her nose. In fact, he worries that his masterful stalks have not been perceived at all! 
To be made irrelevant is completely outside his purrview. 
It makes him crazy

Perhaps he should look at this odd dog more carefully before leaping. His usual approach may require- revision. (And, what’s with that coat, anyway?? Is it claw-proof?) 
Louie is off-balance...uncertain... 
Uncertainty irritates him! He’s a CAT. Cats are never uncertain. 

His famous ‘Louie-Bomb,’ followed by the most satisfying chaos, has always provided huge personal amusement, while also making clear his Superior Position here. 
But, this time, might the Usual Way backfire in some way? 
(What way?!) 

Well- 
When baffled, a proper cat assumes supreme disinterest, even boredom, perhaps by cleaning one’s paws, or ‘taking a nap,’ while actually pondering the situation. 
Never show weakness. 

I constitute his second problem. Louie is greatly annoyed by my dogged refusal to touch him, or to succumb to the ‘I claim you’ cat-cologne he rubs onto my lower pant leg. Everyone else scoops him up and invites him to nestle nicely in their laps so that they may gently stroke him. 
He is, after all, a truly splendid cat. 

dogs have family. 
Cats have Staff. 
So, why won’t I serve? 

He’s very, very insistent, punctuating his demand for my full attention with irritated meows (a sound, by the way, that cats reserve exclusively for humans) while trotting barely one inch from my moving body, and even with the vigorous dissemination of his personal scent on my bare hand when I reach down to adjust my boots or add spurs. Crossing that boldly into my personal space earns him only an annoyed Look and a slow headshake. 
I remain as silent and aloof as Bryn. 

Louie is data-starved. 

His eyes narrow. 
He considers me another challenge. An enigma. A puzzle. 
Frustration fills his elegantly whiskered, expressive face. 

I have no idea how this fascinating ‘cat-and-me’ game will play out. 
Instinct, though, tells me to continue doing what Bryn is doing...and then, 
we three will see what develops. 
Maybe chaos. 
Maybe friendship. 

1/27/19: Some Stable Treats 

Intriguing things go on at Casalae Farms. For instance, the stable’s farrier  (blacksmith) was working on a horse’s hooves there one afternoon. 

(Wikipedia offers a succinct definition of ‘farrier: 

... a specialist in equine care, including the trimming and balancing of horses hooves and the placing of shoes on their hooves, if necessary. A farrier combines some blacksmith skills (fabricating, adapting, and adjusting metal shoes) with some veterinary skills (knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the lower limb) to care for horses' feet.) 

I’d never seen such a thing and asked if I might watch. 

“No problem, ” he responded. 

As he labored I began to appreciate that this important job requires considerable knowledge, nimble hands, a strong back, and sharp eyes. (In late September he’d spotted the minute beginnings of a serious hoof problem in one champion and immediately began addressing it. That horse is doing very well.) 

Fun fact: Keratin, a protein, makes, for example, rhino horns, warthog tusks, camel knee and foot pads, human fingernails and - horse hooves. It’s tough stuff, so farriers need specially crafted, very sharp knives to trim hooves, a task requiring concentration. An unfocused farrier courts serious injury. I stifled my questions and learned by looking. 

(Dinosaur claws were formed from keratin, too. This protein has been refining itself for millions of eons. *Dark, leafy green veggies encourage it to build strong nails in humans...) 

All foals are taught to allow their feet to be handled. This 1100-pound animal had no problem with what was happening below. Balanced on three hooves, with the fourth on the bent man’s lap, equine eyes drooped as he spaced out, half asleep. 

The farrier tapped another foot, signaling that it should be raised, next. 

The horse shifted his weight and offered it. 

Such cooperation! 

Footwork can take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour per horse. 

Hooves, like fingernails, need routine trimming every month or so. As there are over thirty horses living here, this farrier’s work is never done. 

Sometimes a horse’s teeth grow unevenly, or develop sharp edges, requiring farrier dental work. He’ll file the tricky tooth just a bit to fix an uneven bite. 

A horse can starve if unable to chew food properly. 

Breakfast happens at around 8, dinner at 4-ish. A few horses will hoof-whack their stall wall and whinny and rattle food buckets if their caregivers are tardy. (Horses know what time it is.) This behavior can spread. The resulting din is both amusing and irritating. 

Almost all horses expand their bellies when being saddled, so it’s wise to lead them about for a minute to encourage deflation, and then tighten the cinch a bit more if necessary. If this final check is neglected one might find one’s self sitting upside down, or shifted 45 degrees, from LCS- ‘Loose Cinch Syndrome.’  Imagining this ‘never-live-it-down’ scenario makes me grin. But those silly ‘cartoon consequences’ are an effective reminder not to get careless. 

When feeding an apple I’ll bite it into smaller pieces first. A whole one can get stuck going down. (I always ask before offering a treat to a horse I don’t know; some cannot tolerate certain foods.) 

One horse, for example, can’t eat anything that contains sugar. 

Menessen, their stunning white Arabian stallion, relishes little red-and-white peppermint hardball candies, a holiday treat allowed at Christmas. (His breath smelled sweetly of peppermint afterward.) 

Lena, A highly educated, lovely mare, has a special talent. I first saw her being saddled for my lesson. After introducing myself I produced a small horse treat. She chomped it down and eyed me for a minute, deciding- and then- her incredibly flexible nose spun round and round and round in big, rapid circles! I was too gobsmacked to gasp!  Seeing me ‘catching flies’ Laura commented, “Lena’s always been able to do that, and will, if she likes you.” 

I immediately dubbed it her ‘helicopter’ trick. 

Noting my astonishment with great satisfaction Lena cheerfully ‘helicoptered’ two or three more times, sending me into fits of laughter. This feat has to be seen to be appreciated. 

(By the way, my lesson with Laura and her was very instructive. Lena’s incredibly sensitive. One or both ears were constantly turned toward me, so that when I’d ask for a directional or gait change either verbally or with my body, she’d respond instantly. It’s downright spooky! 

She really wants to please. I’m learning never to confuse her by being unclear. Poor riding makes her anxious.) 

Anyway, I was leaving for home when she nickered to me as I passed.  So, of course, I begged her to “do your ‘helicopter’ one more time, Lena!” 

Delighted, she obliged! 

OMG, I love this stuff!!! 

 

1/20/19: Bryn’s Expanding Library of Intriguing Sniffs  

After my doggie had thoroughly ‘read’ my riding pants, boots, gloves and coat for months with deep puzzlement, she finally realized, just before Christmas, where those sniffs were coming from. 

On December 23, 2018, I led Bryn into Casalae Farm’s big stable to introduce her to their resident ‘giants.’ (She’d been driven there often, but had always waited for me quietly in the car.) 
I plopped down on the bench, gave the ‘stay’ command and watched as her expressive face took in the visual and olfactory feast before her. The curious stable cat, Louie, crept very near, in stalking mode, trying to get her to react- Louie’s infamous for putting speculative dogs ‘in their place’- but incredibly, Bryn never once noticed him. She was too immersed in this new, stunning reality. 
Louie’s face and twitching tail expressed his deep annoyance at her perceived snub. 

Fifty-five-pound Bryn assumed ‘statue’ mode, and, for a very long time, simply stared and stared at the beautiful horses. 
Thirty motionless minutes passed before her rear finally dropped to the floor. It must have been a relief, after standing so still for so long. 
As before, only her eyes and nose moved. 

Thirty minutes later it was time to go. My introduction was a success. I broke her trance and drove to a nearby dog park so she could run- and think about what had occurred. 

My friend, Laura, who works there as a vet tech and superb riding instructor, would soon assume her care while Joe and I flew to Naples, Florida to visit family for four sun-drenched days. 
Bryn now knew that I approved of this incredible place. Laura would have no trouble. 

Two days later I told her that Laura was now ‘Boss.’ She was fine with that, and with the formal handover. She likes Laura very much, having taken to her right from her first visit to our home. 

‘Laura Time’ was thrilling for Bryn. When settled into a selected spot inside the barn she was content- no, thrilled- to assimilate this new and exciting world. Horses continually clopped to the arena or back to their box stalls, acknowledging her with nods as they passed. 

Bryn, who perceives herself as a small dog surrounded by these massively BIG dogs, is deeply, respectfully submissive; she won’t meet their large, curious eyes  (reasoning that a direct gaze might be interpreted as a challenge) unless they aren't focused on her. Then she’ll look her fill. 
One older mare, who has enjoyed dogs throughout her long life, was led the few steps to Bryn to extend her muzzle for a closer inspection. Bryn kept to her ‘sit’, but looked carefully away and closed her eyes, telegraphing that she posed no threat. 
That gentle mare would gossip with other mares about Bryn later, out in the paddock, I thought, smiling. 

Bryn, clearly amazed and intrigued by that close encounter, was learning about their nature. Soon enough she’ll relax into their world, and there’ll likely be some friendly nose bumping. 

Laura related a fascinating Bryn story. 
“Dee, when Bryn came into the stable with me the first time, she asked to be taken down the far stable aisle all the way to its much roomier end stall.” (Bryn had always stayed in the entrance area.) “You know who lives there! I could scarcely believe it. Bryn knew Menessen’s scent, and followed it straight to where he lives! She wanted to meet him! Menessen poked his head out of his stall to take her in, too. They seemed to recognize each other!” 

Gorgeous Menessen is their blue ribbon, top stud Arabian stallion, and my frequent mount. His scent is all over my clothes. 
Her scent coats me, too. The stallion had sniffed me thoroughly many times, intrigued. And now Bryn, following her nose, had made sure they’d meet. 
For me, this is powerful olfactory magic. 

A few days after I returned from Florida, I popped her into my car’s dog-friendly back seat and drove to the Farm to book lessons and offer an apple to Menessen. I bade her stay, as I’d be right back- but as I opened the building’s door and entered, my normally silent Bryn let out an incredulous ‘OOOOOOOoooooooooooohhh....’ that penetrated every nook and cranny in the stable. I’d never heard a howl from her, ever. 

Shocked and embarrassed, I hastily booked a lesson for the next day, flinching as a second long, heartfelt wail pierced the air. 

Then, there was silence. 
She’d made her point. 

Ten minutes later I strode quickly back to the car. 
Another shock! Bryn had moved up front onto the driver’s seat- strictly forbidden- to stare out the window at me with wide, disbelieving eyes. She simply could not believe my faux pas. 
I didn’t admonish her. 
I felt guilty. And yes, contrite. 
From now on, she’d come, too. Bryn’s behavior had always been exemplary; there was no reason not to include her. 

Laura took charge of Bryn soon after, when I had to leave town again. After hearing how she’d reacted to being excluded, she led her inside to be a passive part of things. After twenty minutes or so of drinking in the horses and receiving welcoming pats Bryn made no objection to being resettled in Laura’s car, where she gazed at paddocked horses and then curled up for a nice nap. 

What a clever solution! I’ll learn more than riding skills from Laura, for sure!