Friday, May 21, 2010

Burglars Beware!!

This morning Jonathan and I had to get our chores done early so we could drive to Old Salem Farm in North Salem, NY to coach our junior rider on two of her horses at the big "A" rated horse show. We debated about bringing our dogs, but in the end we decided that we should leave them home, because it was going to quite hot, so into a spare stall they went with a pail of water and promises of a swift return.
The classes ran smoothly and Sarah rode really well. We all celebrated by taking an extra hour to sit in the shade and watch some of the Friday Grand Prix before we headed back to Millbrook. When we got home I let out our two pooches, who were THRILLED to see us! It's true that dogs don't hold grudges. I decided to get right to work and began turning a few horses out. As I released Cleo into a paddock, I saw the wife of the barn manager, who lives on the same property. She was walking up from the back field and she asked me if I'd seen the family's young black Lab, Ducque. Apparently, he'd been missing for some time and he never doesn't come when he's called. I assured her that I hadn't seen him, but I'd help look and I told her that our dogs had been locked in the barn so he hadn't been off on a walkabout with them. In between doing the turn outs, I saw she and her husband, Jorge driving around in the farm golf cart, calling the missing dog. How strange, I thought to myself. Where could that dog have gone to?

After getting the horses situated, I walked to the house to grab a bite to eat and change into riding clothes. Heading to the fridge to grab a bite of potato salad, I saw Big Zekie, our large male tiger cat emerge from the bedroom. He wandered over to me and meowed a hello, to which I responded by giving him some pats. He seemed a little more animated than usual, but I didn't give it much thought. Mia was on her pillow on my desk, Miss Girl was on the sofa and I put away the potato salad and went to see if Marbles was on our bed. There she was, curled up in a ridiculously comfortable position on Jonathan's pillows. All was well, kitties were safe. As I stood up from patting Marble, I saw a tail wagging from the corner of our bedroom. Our dogs are Aussies. They don't have tails. It was Ducque!! I leave the front door propped open so the cats/dogs can come and go as they please. My guess was that he'd come inside to see if his friends were in the house and wanted to come out to play. Ducque is a VERY shy dog. Sometimes, he won't come to me, very much a tail between the legs, submissive kind of guy. I escorted him outside and took him over to his parents house to explain where he'd been hiding out. As I walked across the lawn, I heard loud meowing behind me. It was Zeke following me. Now this was strange, I thought. Zeke is never this demonstrative with his affection. He trotted right to me and rubbed on my legs. Then it dawned on me. Zeke had probably been holding Ducque hostage in our bedroom. He's been known to be a bit of a brute and he'd obviously taken advantage of Ducque's shy spirit and kept him at bay in our bedroom...for hours. He saw an intruder and took it into his own paws to keep him here until we got home. We've all heard of cat burglars, and this was a dog burglar! Zeke was on duty and Ducque was not going to get away with this illegal intrusion if he had anything to do with the situation. I literally had to pick up Zeke to prevent him from barging into our neighbors house to enforce his police skills.
We all had a big laugh over the situation and Zeke came down to the barn after the dog was safely delivered home to rub, preen and receive congratulations for his exemplary skills at "protecting" our home. Who needs a Pit Bull? We have Big Zekie, an overweight, teenage grey tiger cat with a set of mad skillz. I'll be giggling over this one for some time. And Zeke got an extra teaspooon of Fancy Feast tonight for his efforts. Ahh, animals, gotta love them. They do make us laugh. And I don't think Ducque will ever darken our doorway again!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Let's be frank, Horsemanship

Over the years, there have been many trends in the horse world. Too many to list, if the truth is to be told. One topic really gets my blood boiling and it's...natural horsemanship. I don't wish to offend followers of Buck Branaman (sp?), or Monty Roberts. I know these dudes have some special wisdom to impart to us bozo "equestrians", but the bottom line is that this stuff is elemental, people! Anyone who deals with horses on a daily basis knows that horses are animals. Some horses are smarter than others, but the training of horses, no matter the discipline, is not rocket science. We're not splitting atoms while turning them out, or teaching them to bend, or go forward, or jump, or do lead changes. C'mon! Another "guru" was recently brought to my attention and he shall go unnamed. This guy is an Australian fellow and he has called his training techniques the "Downunder Difference". My Lord. We would all be better horseman if we had an Australian accent! How simple! Why didn't all of us dumbass US horse trainers see this? Well, no matter. This fellow has spelled it all out, with a g'day thrown in for good measure. Really?
Once I read about this guy ( and I do think he's a good horseman, who teaches practical horsemanship), I had to draw the line. It comes down to basics. Horses learn from repetition. Emotions should be thrown out the window while riding. Don't get mad, don't be too passive, just be CONSISTENT. Teach them to stop on a straight line. Bend in corners, listen to leg aids and go forward and come back when asked. It's that easy! A long time ago, we had John Lyons clinic held at a farm that we had newly leased. John was a great guy on the surface. He had a giant following in the early nineties and we were prepared to watch and learn what this guy had to show us. I wish I could say he was a genius, but in my opinion he was rough and borderline abusive to the stock he used as examples in his show. In the off time of the clinic, he used his round pen to exhaust his horses. They were so tired by the time he stopped that they would have gladly layed down for him, or me, or you. These horses were beaten down. Not trained. It was horrible to watch. When the crowds gathered for his "clinic", he preached a different theory. The prep was something that only we had the privilege to witness. During the "clinic", he had the riders bend the horses at a STANDSTILL. That was it. End of the clinic. This information cost the participants hundreds of dollars. If you can't get a horse to yield to one rein, for a small period of time while standing still then get down. Stop riding. I hope this isn't sounding too harsh, but it became all about the gimmick. Of course, there are difficult horses that we've all encountered. Runaways, buckers, rearers, spooks, etc. Certain members of the "natural horsemanship" groups may be better at dealing with these issues than others. But it all comes down to breaking down the problems and dealing with them systematically. Good trainers are not plentiful, but the natural horsemanship sect has obnoxiously aspired to corner the market. Bad horses are created. Bad training, or inconsistent training creates "bad horses". Start them in a smart, practical manner. Establish the rules. There is a reason why Ceasar Milan has such a following in the dog world. It's the same thing and it irks me just as much! Animals are not people. Treat them well, but treat them accordingly to their species. You'll be shocked at the results. I swear! I'm a secret horse whisperer. Shhhh...don't tell anyone. I don't have an accent, or a gimmick. My husband is even better than I am. Just listen...quiet!!! Be smart, sympathetic and read the reactions. You'll be shocked by the results. Good training is no accident, it's just practical, consistent reactions. Amazing, I know, but give it a try. It works!!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Musical Mucking

As of May 1st, on top of being full time trainers and riders, Jonathan and I have become caretakers to eight horses. I had been looking forward to every aspect of running a barn, except for having to muck the stalls. That job has always been hard on our backs, time consuming and just a drag in general. I'm happy to report that the stalls have been fairly easy to keep up, but it's a direct result of the music choices in my Ipod.
We don't have a music system in the barn, yet. So the only choice for tunes have been individual, via the Ipod. Jonathan likes his own tune choices, ie. The Who, Dylan, etc. Old time rock. I've been reaching out to find what makes me muck the fastest and happiest. After several days of experiments, I have a few thoughts on this matter.

I tried using hard rock at first thinking this would make me muck fast and furious. Serious shit pitching and hard tunes would go hand in hand. Nirvana was my first choice. I love Kurt Cobain. He was amazing. On day three, I had the ear buds firmly planted and I was jamming away, clad in my p.j.'s and pink striped rubber boots, flinging shit with the best of them. As I sang the angry lyrics, I was one with the grunge movement, until I looked up and saw that I had my barn. Oops. "Hi Guys!", I said sheepishly, yanking the ear buds from my ears. Wow, was my first thought, I look and sound like a complete ass. The visitors turned out to be two guys who work for our landlord and they were here to see if we needed any repairs done. "I think we're good, guys!" I replied with a giggle. They gave me a curious look and headed back to their truck. Good one, I thought to myself and I continued mucking in silence for the rest of the morning.
The next day, I chose to listen to rap, Ice Cube, Bootlegs and Besides to be specific. Old school rap. I know all the lyrics! Fun! I was flinging shit like a bitch that day. When a horse moved toward the doorway, I was all up in their grill like, "Step off bitch! Who you think you are? Fuck that shit!" The horses were edgy, I was feeling a little too, umm, well, hostile. Rap was not a good mucking choice. I'm glad I recognized this before I popped a cap in their asses.
Next day, I opted for my old standby...musicals. As I plugged into "Anything Goes", I had a good feeling. Clutching my pitchfork, I began to sift through the shavings and the intro grabbed my ear. Before I knew it, I was on my second stall! Cole Porter, you are a miracle worker! Two stalls, three stalls and onto the fourth. Wow, it was bliss. I was singing, flinging and twirling my pitchfork. The horses were munching happily on their morning hay, I was performing little skits and getting the stalls cleaned efficiently. Happy, happy stall mucking! Whoo hoo! This was the way to get the barn cleaned!
Today, Gypsy and I did the barn up right. I've been to see Gypsy on Broadway in NYC. So amazing. I sang out loud while throwing the poop. One of our clients appeared unexpectedly, busting me doing an enthusiastic Little June impression in my Long Island housewife black velour leisure pants and pink striped boots. Who cares, I thought, as I plucked out my ear buds and chatted with her. This is good music! She left rather quickly, maybe it was my outfit, or my off key voice? I don't know, but I put Gypsy right back on when she left and before I knew it, Ethel Merman and I were done with the stalls. Show tunes seem to be a splendid way to get through stall mucking, without a tremendous amount of concentration, or effort. Who knew these scores were so mesmerizing?

Tomorrow, it's all about Oklahoma, where the wind goes sweeping down the plains...and the corn is as high as an elephant's eye. Oh boy, I can't wait!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Uncle Blue Jean

This is a painting which has been in our possession for a few years now. It was painted by Jonathan's great uncle, Eugene Hall, or Blue Jean as his relatives called him. No one quite knew what to say while looking at Eugene's artwork while in his presence. It's quite linear, simplistic and cleanly drawn to the point of appearing cartoonish. In fact, one wine filled evening a very good friend of mine and I decided that Eugene was some kind of early visionary for the Farmville phenomenon of FaceBook fame. I don't think that concept would amuse him, but we laughed ourselves blue that night.

Anyway, Eugene passed away in 2006 and Jonathan's parents gave us four of his paintings to remember him by. We had run out of wall space in our current home at the time, so they were propped up against the wall in my office for a couple of years. During that time, my dreadful cat LB (I say this fondly) decided to add his own special medium to them, a little spritz of urine. Bad kitty. So these paintings have been betwixt and between for some time now. Upon moving to our new stable last week, I decided that Blue Jean's painting of the "farm" had a place in the stable loo. It looks PERFECT there! I love it, the customer's love it, and I hope Blue Jean would love the fact that it's being appreciated. Well, maybe he wouldn't be thrilled that his artwork was being hung in the bathroom of a stable, but at least it's being looked at and admired, right? LB's special trademark is clearly visible on the lower right corner. He was tenacious cat with his marking skills. He's no longer of this earth and I only hope that he's met up with Uncle Eugene and made some peace with him for adding his unique urine flair to this work of art. Regardless, we thank you Blue Jean. I'm sorry that it took a few years to find the correct spot for your painting, but it is, indeed, now home.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

New Beginnings

What a long strange trip it has been over this last week. Last month, Jonathan and I decided that we needed to lease a farm and get our freelancing horse business a home base. First step was to find a suitable spot. We did it. Second step was to ask our customers if it was an acceptable environment for them. They accepted. Third step, and this was a big one...was to move our entire household and set up a stable on the farm property. Last week, we did it. At least, I think we did, or else I'm living in bizarro world and it's all a crazy dream. Just kidding, though I was numb through much of the last week I do remember moving every single piece of furniture from our old house, arranging it in the new house, moving our precious pets to an adorable two bedroom cottage on the farm property and setting up an entire stable. The kitty picture is of my most adorable Miss Girl, who settled into her new casa with the aplomb of a mature lady. Miss Girl is not only gorgeous, but she is delightfully adaptable, especially for a cat. As long as there is food and a comfy spot to rest, she is at home. She was photographed waiting for the main course on the dining room table. Some people might find this disgusting, I, on the other hand, run to grab my camera and capture this most endearing moment. Don't worry future dinner guests, I always change the tablecloth before serving you a meal (or at least that is my story and I'm sticking to it). The third picture is of a little bunny friend that Mia, my teensy black and white kitty invited over to "play" on her first morning out in her new yard. I was in my office signing our lives away on an insurance policy to protect our business, when Jonathan called to me, "Michele, Mia brought you a housewarming present and I trapped it in the shower. I'm going back outside now. Have fun!" My shoulders slumped. I walked to the bathroom with a feeling of dread. Was it another mouse? A snake? Yikes. No, it was super cute little tiny bunny rabbit! "Oh Mr. Bunny," I said in a gentle voice. "Don't worry special friend. I will snare you painlessly and release you back into the wild." Poor Mr. Bunny was very nervous, but I gently encouraged him to hop his unmaimed cotton-tailed self into a large wicker basket. He accomodated my request and was rewarded with a short trip out to the backyard where I gave him a chance to hop away and hopefully, find a safe haven from Mia's bloodthirsty fangs. I breathed a sigh of relief and prayed that Mia wasn't spying on us from a nearby window. One more animal placed into my special version of the "Edel Wildlife Relocation Protection Program". Hop, bunny, hop!
The first picture is of the first horse to arrive at our new farm on Saturday morning. The lovely Lalique, a gentile chestnut Oldenburg mare owned by one of our wonderful clients. Ahh, finally the stable was taking shape and just seeing her happy expression made the entire week of lifting, groaning, worrying, rabbit relocation and random cursing seem totally worth the effort. Here's to JEM Stables, LLC and it's new home base folks. Who knew I'd ever volunteer to get back on the business end of a wheelbarrow and even more impressive, like it! Off to take more Advil now and then do barn check. Whoo hoo!