Join my mailing list to be sent the latest news, and the latest installments of my weekly column.

Weekly Column

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!

1/13/19: Miracles Do Happen - Part 4 

Bryn loved to sniff my riding pants, captured by horse smell. She had no clue what sort of creature had created it, though, so, one day I took her into the horse barn, aiming straight for the first bench just inside, out of the way of everything, but offering a fine view of the heart of the big stable. 
I got her attention, then issued the command, “Sit, and stay.” 
Plop. Down she went. I followed. We took in the view. 
  
Her eyes widened. Her mouth formed an O. A tall black horse, led by a stable hand, clip-clopped around the long aisle’s corner and headed straight toward us. My thunderstruck dog gave me The Look. 
Boss, What! Is! That?? 
The curious mare caught her eye as she passed; Bryn glanced back at me: Is it ‘run for your life’ time? 
 I grinned. 
“Horse, Bryn. That’s a horse. You must stay, and just look.” 
  
Look she did. My dumbstruck doggie mimicked a statue. Only her eyes and twitching nose worked to make sense of these scents. 30 minutes passed. Not a muscle moved. There was so much to comprehend! Just ten feet away someone was brushing a beautiful chestnut mare, who seemed to enjoy the attention. Two women wandered by, chatting. A few horses poked their heads out of stalls to whinny back and forth. And Louie, the stable cat, ambled over to her bowl ten feet away to delicately eat her dinner. A CAT! Bryn’s long ears perked: she glanced up at me, amazed, but uncertain. 
“It’s fine. This cat is having his dinner and the horses are chatting.” 
  
Bryn licked her black lips and resumed her statue stance. The O softened as she continued to process this weird, wonderful place. Louie ignored her. Later, though, he pretended to stalk Bryn, creeping in exaggerated slow motion on little cat feet to the underside of our bench, there to crouch and glare. Only the tip of his tail twitched. Bryn stared down at him, saw me shake my head, and so dismissed Sir Cat. Giants were so much more interesting! 
  
After an hour’s exposure, we reluctantly left. I drove straight to the dog park, only a quarter-mile away, knowing she’d run around like a wild thing, dumping energy. Horses were _______!  She simply didn’t know what, or how, to think about them. Bryn was full to bursting with awe and intrigue. There were Big, Friendly GIANTS in there-Wow!  
  
I was still mulling over WHY I could finally be around horses. What had changed in my life? Joe dismissed that I might have ‘aged’ out of it and instead, reminded me of a profound switch I’d made over three years ago, regarding food intake. 
I’d been physically uncomfortable my whole life on the standard American diet. No one had had a clue why. 
I couldn’t shed and keep off weight. Or, if I managed to for a while, I felt awful, not to mention desperately hungry, which would happen suddenly. So, I’d eat to relieve the deep need and avoid the shakes. 
  
One day in September of 2015 I happened upon a book that would change my life:  The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body, by Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. 
An autoimmune disease means, in a nutshell, that a body has learned to attack itself. Once it knows how, the behavior can never be unlearned. The author related the shocking rise of MS, Psoriasis, type 2 Diabetes, Migraines, etc., and showed, backed by careful but still suggestive scientific research, how eliminating sugar, wheat flour and other suspected food culprits, may reverse these diseases’ devastating effects- for the rest of one’s life. 
Deeply intrigued, I read the whole huge, beautifully laid out book- twice. Joe assured me the science was very intriguing. 
It was hard to put down. 
  
In September of 2015, I took the plunge. Most of the food in our home was permanently eliminated. Including anything containing sugar- sauces, jams and jellies, condiments- and all bread, crackers, etc., made from wheat-based flour.  Very little in a bag or box survived. What I did save would be for Joe. 
  
Two weeks into my New Approach I woke one bright morning a changed woman. After over 70 years there was No ‘normal’ abdominal discomfort. Its absence was shocking. 
I could go on and on about what I don’t experience anymore. 
This qualifies as another Miracle. 
  
Furthermore, my dry, flaky skin (a supposedly normal annoyance of aging) had slowly changed, one cell at a time, into soft and silky. This metamorphosis took just under two years. I glory in it every day. 
  
The Paleo Approach author interviewed people young and old who’d battled a more severe form of dry skin, Psoriasis, all their lives. They are now symptom-free. 
A twenty-something MS victim abandoned her wheelchair and now leads a reasonable, normal life. 
Migraine sufferers find themselves free of that curse. 
The list of diseases that respond to the Approach’s benefits goes on and on. Impressed, physicians and researchers are looking closely at the possibility of connections between certain foods and Autism. 
When one commits to this new approach, autoimmune disease is quiescent –IF- one remains committed to shunning foods humans are not designed to ingest, especially in such massive quantities. Every time someone gets cocky, or careless, his or her particular misery re-appears. With a vengeance. 
  
Here’s another reward!  Over 20 pounds of unwanted weight that I’d carried around for much of my life FELL off. I hadn’t aimed for this benefit; I’d long since given up that fight. But now my clothes were loose. Nine pounds vanished in the first two weeks. Over perhaps 20 months, my body gradually, gently eliminated a lifetime’s accumulation of sugar and wheat-based foods- that were poison to me. (And, by the way, throughout my life I routinely never over-indulged in sugar-packed food and drink.) 
My body weight stabilized, leveling off at just over 100 pounds, I felt- and feel- brand new. I don’t own a scale. My body knew what weight was right for my frame. It hasn’t varied. 
  
After one year on The Paleo Approach, I conducted an experiment. I ate a small cookie that contained the normal amount of sugar. PAIN! Cramps! Life in the bathroom for days! 
Ingesting sugar affects me much like heroin withdrawal affects addicts. 
I will never conduct another test. This one hurled me back into that other miserable life. My new body chemistry simply won’t tolerate it. 
My daughters confirm this. Off sugar and flour etc. for longer than I, they, too, feel renewed. My younger daughter Lisa warned me that if I began this regimen I could never go back, and she was right. 
I never will. 
  
What evidence do I have that this new eating approach is why I’m allergy-free? 
Just before exposure to Ballantyne’s book Joe and I went to the huge, month-long horse show held every mid-summer just outside Traverse City. I hadn’t once dared to attend it over the years, but maybe, just maybe, I might be able to peek at some champion jumpers from a distance... 
  
Almost immediately, I was attacked. The very air I breathed, full of microscopic bits of hay and horse skin cells, produced a swelling throat, itchy eyes and wheals that began to rise ominously on my face and neck. Though I’d worn a mask and had been extremely careful to remain well away from the many gorgeous horses milling around, I was, apparently, still too close. 
We left immediately. 
That afternoon marked the death of the faint hope that I might have outgrown the autoimmune response. 
Ah, well... 
I shrugged off my acute disappointment and moved on. 
  
Shortly thereafter, the Book popped into view. Two years later, Horses appeared on the horizon. You know the rest. 
Horses and I are consistently together, and the joy I take from that fact is indescribable. 
  
Put succinctly, Ballantyne’s meticulous research and review of the literature provides very suggestive evidence that eliminating sugar and wheat flour, as well as other ‘trigger’ foods I won’t list here, will pay off big time. 
 ‘You Are What You Eat’ is truer than we know. Ingesting foods my body recognizes as ‘designer’ fuel means my one and only machine will serve me very much better for the rest of my life. 
  
**Next week: Bryn’s nosey horse prowess impresses her family! 

-- 

Visit www.deeblair.com for recent columns, garden pictures and music.

1/06/19: Miracles Do Happen- Part 3  

After that triumphant first day in the saddle I immediately booked more lessons.  
The plan:  
Cram in as many as financially possible- three times weekly seemed doable for a while- and then ride alone when possible to solidify what I learn. Make every day count. At 75 I’m on a very short leash. I may have what -36 riding months? More? Less? Whatever. I’ll be the best rider I can be in the life I have left. Good enough! 

When ‘grounded’ I study online and keep in shape.  
The older I get, the more important this is. 
So, I trot with Bryn on her rounds when it’s safe to do so. (Ice puts us off, but there’s always our treadmill.)  

When I reach each day’s stamina goal I do enjoy a rush of exhilaration. 

Joe’s recorded some of my riding lessons.  Good thing, too. Early Dee-geek behavior included: 

-  Flapping elbows while cantering, reminiscent of a goony bird trying to take flight  

-  Leaning too far back or forward at the trot and canter (Drunken Sailor Syndrome) 

-  Allowing my legs to flap about  

-  Losing a stirrup while admiring my horse’s ears  

-  Dropping a rein while adjusting my saddle’s tendency to cant to the right as I rode 

The list went on and on. There’s nothing that motivates change quicker than watching oneself look foolish.  
My dopey grin didn’t help matters. 

Five months later I’m much more confident. My horses agree. Menessen, the Farm’s champion stallion, tested me for four face-reddening months after he’d been so incredibly obliging that first time, but now, acknowledging my growing skill and confidence, he’ll respond immediately to most cues. Laura, another superb teacher there, commented last week that I’ve begun to earn his respect. These days he’ll rarely show annoyance (such as flattened ears, or stopping dead, then refusing to move forward).  
I so want to avoid those embarrassing admonishments.  

There was another thing I fervently hoped to do-- clean stalls with the crew. Karen, the Farm’s owner, was fine with it after I assured her I knew what to do. (A twelve-year-old girl on YouTube had demonstrated how to clean a stall properly. It ain’t rocket science, for sure, but I’d never been in a stall, let alone clean one. She’d demonstrated the special filter rake to shake viable sawdust through, and how to rake the fresh sawdust stored against the stall’s wall to spread it over the bare, cleaned floor. Simple. Sensible.) 

I can’t remember when I’ve been happier to do scut work. For me, it’s an essential part of the whole horse experience. Every day there I learn something brand new.  
I wore a good mask, lest all that hay/straw/dust trigger The Monster. My wraparound glasses fogged, though. (Rats. I’d have to fix that, somehow.) 

Fun horse gossip kept us laughing as we worked. 
One of the staff commented that an experienced cleaner knows which stall belongs to whom, just by noting each resident equine’s toilet habits. For example-   

-  Some horses poop in one area and keep the rest of their home pretty clean.  

-  Others are messy, depositing droppings everywhere. They might add some bucket water or urine to a poo pile and mix it up, just for fun. 

-  One horse sometimes backs up to his emptied food bucket to poop in it- probably because it amuses him. Every day it must be checked, then cleaned if necessary, before fresh fodder is added.  

-  Another horse pulls a mouthful of hay from his rack, dips it into his water bucket, and then eats it. For him, water enhances the flavor.  

-  Others might have a favorite comfort toy tucked into a corner- a good-sized rubber ball, for example, or a cloth bear. 

-  One horse is very interested in the latch on his stable door. The staff, watching him watch them undo it, have since tweaked the mechanism slightly. (An ounce of prevention...)  
He still thinks hard about it, though.  
Watch ‘horse escape artists’ on YouTube. It’s a hoot. 

I love learning this stuff.  

It takes 3-4 hours every morning to muck out 30 stalls, sweep the long aisles and refill food and water buckets according to each horse’s nutritional regimen, printed out on each stall’s exterior wall. 

The huge manure pile outdoors slowly breaks down, cooking naturally to about 160 degrees f. It’s turned regularly. The resulting rich black compost is sold to eager gardeners every spring after cooking for a full year. (My secret garden contains countless yards of horse compost that I’d worked into the dusty soil 26 years ago. The result? Astonishing flower power.) 

One fine afternoon in late September I was driving eagerly to my lesson and had nearly arrived there- when a horrible realization hit me! Busily studying technique and setting a lesson plan goal I’d totally forgotten to take the three medicines!  The pill, for example, needed two hours in an empty stomach to be maximally effective...Ah, what an idiot! 

What should I do?? If I went back home to take them, I’d miss practically the whole lesson! And the pill wouldn’t kick in anyway. Not that soon. 
I pulled over, thought it through, decided.  
I rode yesterday. Joe once mentioned that these meds might take a while to dissipate. Maybe they’ll still offer some residual protection 24 hours later. Or not...  
Whatever. I’m not going back.   

That decision could be construed as stupid and dangerous. But here’s the thing: Danger be damned. Suddenly I was a lifetime’s sick to death of being threatened by this curse.  
I’d ride bare and deal with the consequences. 

Within 20 riding minutes the next Miracle manifested. 

Nothing dire happened in the arena. Not one thing.  
I breathed normally.  
No eye and tracheal blisters appeared  
There were no coughs, no vision problems, no egg-sized wheals popping up all over my body... 
Nothing

Joe and I were stunned, disbelieving. Scarcely daring to hope, I went back two days later to clean stalls again and ride. The meds stayed home. And, in a truly bold decision, I even chucked the specially ordered mask. (In for a penny...) 
Still, Nothing.    

Turns out I’ve somehow evolved into ‘normal’---a standard issue human being who can mingle just fine with horses.  !!! 
After three quarters of a century, this astounding fact illuminates my life.

12/30/18: Miracles Do Happen; Part 2  

I had just discovered that my life’s passion, horses, and anything to do with them, might be a supreme dream fulfilled, after a lifetime of deprivation mostly due to debilitating allergies. (See last week’s column.)  As a child, I’d checked out any books having to do with horses, and had memorized them. Then, at age 13, when I finally was able to approach another horse, and the allergy disaster happened. I could never ride. Nevertheless, I spent subsequent decades thinking about the massive amounts of information the books had contained.   

I did manage to sneak in a few equine contacts, despite the danger. In the late 50s the Bay City State Park riding stable near our home in Saginaw, Michigan offered horses who had too often been roughly treated by clueless renters. Twice, I paid for an hour, took the reins and walked alongside their poor selves, glorying in their very presence. One wretched horse, Coco, kept waiting for me to whip or kick him, but we’d mostly walk, and he’d graze and heave huge sighs of happiness. I wanted only to be close. He didn’t mind how I looked. (Wearing thick gloves, goggles, a heavy mask, and loaded with antihistamines that made me vaguely ill and unsteady, I was a weird sight. The garb and pills were vital, though. If I touched a horse, or breathed in his special scents I would court deep trouble. 

Now, in July of 2018, my new meds had changed everything. 

Two days after my first visit to the 30-stall horse barn at Casalae Farms, I went back there for my first ever lesson, unmasked, ungoggled and ungloved.  
In the central stable aisle, I stared at magnificent Menessen, a pure white Arabian stallion (officially described as a grey by experts), who’d won multiple performance blue ribbons. He stood there, saddled and cross-tied, and looked me up and down.  
He knew I would be his rider.    

It was OK to feed him a horse treat. Looking pleased, still wearing just his halter, he crunched down the stable’s cinnamon-apple pellets, being careful not to bite my bare hand, which he’d quickly enveloped. (I hadn’t noticed.) He gently pushed it out, gave it a wash, then vigorously nodded his perfect head. He loved those pellets. 

Before I could ride I was asked to sign a paper that listed the sport’s obvious dangers. Casalae Farms would be absolved of blame, should I crash and burn.   
Snorting, I scribbled my signature immediately.  

Life is a risk, every single day.  

Looking back, I recall noting some nervous speculation. Standing before them was a 75-year-old pint-sized lady with zero experience determined to master the art of riding. If I were the owner, I’d be nervous, too. Anything could happen. But clearly, I was absolutely committed. 

Connie, my first teacher, had listened to my unusual history and decided that 22-year-old Menessen would be the perfect fit for me. They’d owned him nearly his entire life and he’d never chucked a rider. He and she would soon know a lot more about my skill level and potential. 
So would I. 

I climbed a portable stair to mount the 1100-pound horse. He stood quietly, awaiting orders. Connie carefully described what signals he responded to, and how, and in what order to apply them.  
I ate it up. 

“OK.  Remember. One cluck to walk.”  
I clucked, and off he went, neck arched, hooves perfectly placed. We slow-walked, and fast walked. 
“Hmmm,” she said, after watching me for a while. “You have a darn good seat, and a very light hand. Menessen is carrying himself well. Fact is, he likes you.” 

Time passed as my horse and I began to relax. 

Eventually she called, “Now, two clucks for a trot when you’re ready, if you think you can manage it.” 

Two clucks. He responded instantly. What controlled power! What a rush of awe I felt! I began with a sitting trot, and then moved into a posting trot. All my life I’d ridden this way, but only in dreams. 

{Heavens! I do define ‘permanently smitten.’}  

There was a shout.  
“For heaven’s sake, Dee, you’re a natural! You ride with instinctive balance and poise! How can this be? Are you sure you’ve never done this??”  

These words marked another supreme moment in my life.  

After some time trotting at a good clip round the big arena she asked if I wanted to move up...to a canter. One softly spoken ‘whoa’ would stop Menessen, should I feel unstable.  
Was I game? 

I nodded, and she called out, “Remember, ‘kiss’ to canter.”  
I readied him, ‘kissed,’ and Menessen moved effortlessly into a smooth, collected canter (basically a controlled gallop).  His neck arched, his long mane flowed, his tail arched... 
It was my first up-to-speed riding experience, and I hardly needed the horse. 
I was transported.  

There were more explanations from other observers, who shouted that I was – “really good!” 

After whizzing around the area for a time I needed to stop for the day and collect my wits. The praise was overwhelming, my responses so natural and effortless and it spooked me. So I spoke a soft ‘whoa,’ and he responded immediately, and with fluid grace.  
This animal was the epitome of style and grace. What a gift! 
Needing to process what had happened, I dismounted, carefully sliding to the ground. It was a long way down.   

Just then, Menessen’s stunning three-year-old grey son (who’ll gradually evolve to white) pranced into the arena, ridden by a top US trainer, Tom. Everyone watched them work. Wow! To see an Arabian move is always a thrill. 
Like father, like son... 

This special day marked the beginning of my quest for riding excellence. I would learn from three experienced teachers and other educated horses. (It isn’t good to focus on just one.) Those well-trained animals would have to put up with my ignorance, but only for a little while. I never, ever want to hurt their sensitive mouths conveying clumsy signals. 
I’d home study, and then practice over and over, and encourage my teachers to demand my best efforts. And neither party would ever allow age-related ‘passes’ to excuse wishy-washy work. 
“Think of me as 35,” said I.  
And why not? I feel that young, thrive on constructive criticism and am certainly strong. Building my secret garden took a decade or two of truly hard work. I’ve never labored like that in my life. I can still dig deep, lift those 40-pound compost bags and run fast sprints. Asking a horse for a response isn’t so much about strength, but most often about communication. Reins and bit, legs and voice communicate. This can be done subtly. That's the art. 

Here’s a curious, amazing fact: I experienced zero soreness after that riding session and no aches subsequently, especially in my thigh muscles, which were totally unaccustomed to gripping. I have no clue why.  

And so ---my great horse adventure has begun!

12/23/18: Miracles Do Happen  

Our big tree glows with lights and cherished ornaments, and I’m sitting near it, warmed by my very cool Hogwarts School Scarf and a mug of delicious coffee. Ready to set down for you a marvelous life change- a huge event- that I haven’t been able to process sensibly, or think straight about until now, nearly 6 months later.  

Here’s what’s happened.  
One pretty afternoon in mid-July of this year Joe strode into Sunnybank’s kitchen, plunked down opposite me and asked for my full attention. Baffled, I closed my computer and stared at him.  
He placed three little containers in front of me. He touched the first one.  “Take one pill now. No questions. Just do it.”  
I did. 
He touched the second. “Put two drops in each eye.”  
Ahhh,.. o.k......   
He indicated the third container. “Squirt a mist into each nostril, just once.” 
I did, completely mystified.  
“Now, come with me.”   

What on earth??? 
Too flummoxed to speak, I followed him to the car. He drove precisely 5.1 miles, and I gaped at where we stopped. This place was called Casalae Farms. It was set off by what seemed miles of bright white fences, lots of paddocks, and LOTS of horses standing there, gazing at us curiously.  
I paled. Horses? “JOE! I am deathly allergic! We can’t be here!!!!! 

“Hey. Do you trust me? Do you trust our daughter? We two doctors researched the latest meds available. You’ve taken them. There. Will. Be. No. Problem. No inability to breathe, no lost vision, no sleepiness or drugged unsteadiness. Zero. I Guarantee it.  
Now, go inside. Take your time. We have all the time in the world.” 

I think I remained paralyzed by doubt? nerves? for a bit, but he simply waited. So I got out and made my way to the front door of a very large one-story building. I went in, very slowly...  

I’d never, ever seen the inside of a stable. Only pictures. Never saw horses in their stalls, heads poking out, munching hay. I’d only three times breathed in the scents that go with these beautiful animals. The first, best time happened on the evening of my third birthday. I was taken to a little clearing surrounded by very tall pine trees in the middle of town and placed on a shaggy pony, who walked patiently round and round a well-beaten circle with two equine friends who were carrying other happy children.  
That pony ride brought a rush of Total, Intense Joy.  I was profoundly changed in an instant. Precisely then, my life was set.  I would live it surrounded by horses.  
Here’s a weird fact: It was as though I was revisiting a shadowy former existence.  
Only 36 months in the world and I knew these scents, the feeling of warm horse flank, the pleasure of braiding a rumpled mane, the creak of the saddle, as certainly as I knew my name. It all felt so familiar. Yet, I’d never seen a horse, except in a picture book. 
It was eerie.  
It was the best, best --reunion.  
I can’t explain this better.   

But life had other ideas.  
Except for the annual September Saginaw Fair, where I could blissfully ride the gorgeously carved merry-go-round horses, sometimes twice, I rarely saw another live horse. I clearly remember the exceptions. 
Once, aged ten, while riding my bike around our block I suddenly skidded to a stop. There, right there, two girls, maybe a year or so older than I, were busily, expertly unloading two palomino horses from a dual horsebox built into a van parked in front of their modest home. These twins, Janet and Joan R- names forever engraved in my memory- backed them down, saddled them and rode up and down the street and into the open field that served as a huge communal play area behind all these middle-class homes.  
I think I stood there for hours, spellbound. I never approached them; they were based twenty feet away, across the street. That was not allowed. But I could look.  
I can play those two happy hours back as a loved mental movie, even today.  This is the first time I’ve ever spoken of it.   

Every Sunday at 3:30 we drove to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to watch Roy Rogers and his horse, Trigger, on TV, as they had another 30-minute adventure. It was the highlight of every week. 
And every Tuesday and Friday the milkman would deliver bottled milk to our front door. His horse happily accepted my proffered carrot. 
Once I sent $5 I’d earned babysitting to the Double Bubble Gum people for a rubber saddle that fitted my bike seat exactly. It was a most wonderful treasure______ but one day it vanished. 
I drew nothing but horses. St. Stephen Elementary School’s principal, Sister Paula, angrily rang my mother. I must never draw another: my teacher was sick of seeing them.   

Disobedience was unthinkable.  
But I could still draw them at home. And, at school, I drew a home, corrals, flowers, hay bales, meadows, grass and sun-- and a little girl in pigtails holding an extended rope that left the picture’s margins. Something was connected to that rope, something just out of sight.  
It angered them, but what could they do?  
I was never discouraged. I knew things.   

My cousin Nancy was given a beautiful chestnut mare when she was ten and I was thirteen. The mare had a foal that Nancy raised. But- then I entered puberty I found myself suddenly, violently allergic to all hay-eating animals after entering the county fair’s horse barn.  
Doctors diagnosed an acute allergic reaction to horses. That slammed the door on my dreams. It was a crushing blow. Epic.  

My first cousin, Nancy, and her parents lived in Dearborn, Michigan. I never was able to visit her, or see her horse. Undaunted, I formed a club, the BSKDC (Black Stallion Kentucky Derby Club- influenced by Walter Farley’s wonderful story, The Black Stallion, which I’d all but memorized) and we’d chat about her horse life whenever she visited Saginaw. I still have the paper I drew up to form the club, making Nancy vice-president. I was president, of course...  
Once I filled out a form that promised some lucky person would win the sleek bay racehorse pictured in LOOK magazine- if the name an applicant submitted was accepted. I studied that stunning horse for days, chose a name, mailed that form and haunted our mailbox.  
Nothing ever happened, of course. But anticipation, and the possibilities- made my daily life a bit more bearable. Denial of reality was an indulgence that helped mitigate the awful pain.   

Now, in 2018, I was at LAST inside a stable, after nearly three-quarters of a century of going to sleep every night thinking of horses, riding them, cleaning them, racing them.  
This new reality was Impossible.  
It was, in fact, how one defines a miracle.  
I stood rooted, extremely tense, for a long time, waiting for the ax to fall. Blisters might easily form on my trachea and on my eyeballs, and I would be felled, unable to breathe. 
But------ nothing happened.  

Suddenly, shockingly, I didn’t care if it did!! I’d enjoy every single second in this horse-saturated environment, and to hell with consequences! 

Inside that barn were two long aisles lined on both sides with roomy stalls.  
I counted.    Thirty.  
Some were empty, as their residents were outside, cavorting with friends or grazing. Insiders poked their heads out of their boxes to whinny to each other. Two stood quietly cross-tied in the central aisles, awaiting saddles and bridles, and their riders.  
This. was Heaven. 

I stood there and simply looked, and looked and looked, while breathing in their special perfume. It was, perhaps, the most perfect hour of my life.  
I wasn’t aware that I was silently crying. One lady, a large brush in hand, greeted me cheerfully, then looked closer, and quietly asked if I was all right.  
My husband answered behind me. “Oh, she’s just happy. We’re here to look around, if that’s OK.” 
“Sure! Wander wherever. You’re welcome to explore.”  
And off she went to groom her beautiful white Arabian horse. 

Eventually, Joe poked me out of my reverie. “Go on, move! Look around. Walk up and down the aisles. Check out the horses; look into all the tack rooms...and don’t miss the huge indoor riding arena and its elevated, glass-enclosed viewing room....” 

And so, this woman, this normal woman, did. No tightened chest happened. No wheals as big as eggs. No blistered eyes. No acute vision loss. Just me, walking slowly up and down the two aisles, peering into the stalls’ interiors, noting food buckets, water buckets, soft sawdust floors occasionally decorated with poop balls...  
One contented, curious horse’s flexible lips mussed my hair and flapped over my extended hand, hunting for a treat...The animal finally licked it thoroughly. I was enchanted. I’d never seen or felt a horse’s tongue.  I’d never dared to pet a horse. (All covert visits saw me in a mask, goggles and gloves.) I turned to go back, past another long row of stalls, and there, just down a way, was the huge indoor arena. It boasted a very long mirror so riders could more effectively evaluate their horses’ confirmation and their riding postures. Deep, chocolate colored sawdust coated the vast floor, and overhead lights brightened everything. This arena was closed to the elements and directly connected to the stable area.  
One could ride at all speeds, all year long.  
It was perfect. 
I found it impossible to grasp. 

After an hour of such massive sensory input I was suddenly overwhelmed, lightheaded, and had to leave immediately. I needed space, and lots of time to process what was happening------- and what wasn’t.  
We left. The car was silent as we motored along.  
I was semi-mute for days.    

I’ve lived a long life taking on all manner of delightful personal challenges, such as:   

-teaching myself competent gardener skills, and how to design lovely little gardens  
-researching what flowers appreciate to be happy 
-learning how to ski  
-learning to be a competent pilot 
-hiking through Europe alone for months, absorbing its lovely architecture and scenery 
-learning how to competently train our doggie  
-learning to sing properly and how to make musical CDs  
-writing a book and expressing myself in poetry 
-experiencing the great joy of motherhood  
-biking and hiking at least five National Parks with Joe and eventually, Bryn-dog 
-reading science and rudimentary astrophysics and all manner of philosophy and history-especially biographies of people who’ve moved this planet in a different direction.       

                     Willful ignorance of the world’s story is NEVER bliss. 

-sharpening my reasoning and evidence-based skills to more effectively deal with life’s odd, sometimes scary twists and turns 
-learning to be totally content with my own company 
-cherishing the friendships I have, every single day.   

To remain profoundly depressed, morose, and angry about what could never be was to waste my life.  
No horses, ever. Fact.  
I’d accept what could not be changed and move on- and, for heaven’s sake, try to do it with some grace. 
I’ll look back only if there was something to learn from Life’s inexplicable, often injurious curveballs. 

Forward thinking welcomes the fascinating pursuit of life’s changing panorama.  
Backing too far into regret or acute disappointment encourages a slow decline that metastasizes into rage and hate, a toxic brew that inexorably erodes a body’s balanced mental and physical chemistry. 

Bad things very often result from embracing that approach. 

Now, in this sparkling July afternoon, I’d been thrust squarely into a new, fresh, eerily familiar equine world. It was akin to finding one’s self transported to the moon. 

At 8 a.m. that evening, nothing bad had happened. I still breathed easily. There were no eye bulges. No giant wheals. I felt fine.  
Normal. 
I didn’t know what to say.  
Joe just grinned. 

There is so much more to tell. I couldn’t write about any of this since that momentous first day at Casalae. In fact, I couldn’t write about anything, period. I’d just sit there, staring at the keyboard.  
My mind had flat-lined.  
So, for months I’ve reprinted (and gently tweaked) favorite columns submitted over the last 13 years.  

I’d resume writing if-and when- my fingers and brain unlocked... 

Today, December 21, with zero warning, a word-tsunami suddenly roared toward me, almost too fast to comprehend.  I raced to my computer and this story spilled out.  
I’m just warming up!  
Be prepared; it’s gonna be all about horses for a good while!

12/16/18: Backward Bigfoot Bumpkins  

Joe and I needed an outdoor adventure to more fully appreciate Northern Michigan’s winter face.  

“Let's try something different,” said I. “How about snowshoeing?”  
Years ago my downhill skiing had been frequently plagued by acute ski-tangle. Any topographical anomaly encouraged them to mount each other: down I’d go. Rising again was comically difficult, as the mile-long skis refused to be reasonable. I’d flail around, graceful as a walrus on a dance floor. Joe, finally realizing I wasn’t behind him, would ski back, hunting for pole-sign under six feet of powder. After one 12,000- foot triumphant ski experience down---and three spectacular wipeouts in the Rocky Mountains, high, I huddled in front of Winter Park’s ski lodge’s blazing fireplace and firmly declared that the odds were against me. Downhill skiing would henceforth morph to the cross-country sort. It was just too frustrating, otherwise. 

But those (even longer) skis proved just as irritating. I found myself entangled more than upright. Face it, I grumbled to myself: you’re just too short (barely 60 inches high and shrinking) for such long fellows. 

This time, though, I’d acquit myself well. I mean, what can happen to a reasonably nimble person wearing little tennis racket-type thingies?   
Besides, I’d already mastered walking. 

So, off we went to rent some snowshoes at the Timber Ridge Lodge, about twenty minutes southeast of Traverse City.  

The clerk measured us and brought out two pairs. He was surprised at my surprise. I’d never looked closely at snowshoes; these plastic fatties looked weird! Bristling with teeth underneath and sprouting buckles and straps topside, they were strongly reminiscent of steroidal Bigfoot feet. Intrigued, I strapped them on (with his help) over my sturdy boots.  
If ducks could walk flatfooted, then so could I. 

Awkwardly staggering out of the lodge we set off through a huge, mature forest with powdery snow deep and crisp and even. Initially lurching, legs spread out like two-year-olds with a load in their pants, we soon found our strides, relaxed into a rhythm and began looking around the spectacular woodland with deep pleasure. The curved trail, which seemed to meander on forever, was wide and nicely groomed. Though the weather was incredibly cold (high teens) there was no wind. Plus, we seemed to be alone out here. 
Wow. We could love this. 

Crunch, crunch.  Lovely iPod music filled my headphones as I padded, buoyed by Bach. 

Half a mile later, I glanced back.  
Huh. Where was Joe? I listened. Nothing. 
I waited, sure he’d slide around that bend and wave, but no... 
Backtracking, I grinned. Was it possible I’d find him down?  

A few turns later there he was, lying on his back, waving those broad, webbed feet, chuckling.  
“I tried to back up to look at something more closely—unwise. I figured you’d find me sooner or later....”  
Oh.  Backup difficulties hadn’t occurred to me! 

Clumping over to him I extended a mittened hand to pull him up- and foolishly reversed, seeking more leverage. With a squawk of dismay, I fell backward. There we were, two prone stuffed sausages, flailing away in a deep snow bank.  
What can one do but laugh?  

Struggling to sit up (not easy, with protruding equipment swamping both boot ends) I finally managed to remove my gear, pull Joe up, and then re-buckle- which was a struggle, as my fingers went numb. But. Alas, all this huffing and puffing was for nothing.  Teetering to one side, I tipped into the snowy depression we’d made. OMG. 

Upright Joe fell against a five-inch tree trunk, laughing. Jolted, the tree dumped a large pile of snow smack onto my face. Sputtering, I rolled onto my side, noting glumly that our winter sports history was gleefully repeating itself. 
This footgear, though much shorter, was wider and, well, ducky, presenting its own challenges. 

On the bright side, only the forest had observed we two backward city bumpkins.  
It was small comfort.  

But now we’d become disoriented. Snowshoe and cross-country ski tracks went both ways, so it was tricky to decide which direction would take us back. After some discussion we simply trudged along the trail, reasoning that sooner or later, it would end up back at the Lodge. 

There was another problem. I was really hot! My snowsuit would be hard to take off, though. I’d have to remove my snowshoes again. And my gloves... 
I had warm, layered clothing underneath, but would then have to tote the suit... (Friends had warned against overdressing for this adventure but I didn’t listen.) To peel off the top layer now would eat up the scant minutes we had left. (Our rentals had a two-hour time limit.)  
Cooking, I carried on, with Joe firing off verbal pictures of roasting marshmallows melting the snow. 

The trail wound around and through the countryside and, a good while later, did eventually lead home. We were very late, though. The kind clerk let it go, noting snow where it shouldn’t be.  
He knew. 

All in all, though, it had been a thumbs-up adventure. Snowshoes are fun!  
Timber Ridge was beautiful, but we’d buy our own equipment and explore trails much closer to Traverse City. The Commons, for example, offered gorgeous possibilities... 

Joe has occasionally tried to get me to reconsider skiing, but I’m resistant to wearing anything skinnier- and longer-- than I am. 
These fatter pseudo-feet, however, promise a cool future!