Spring Will Come

Dandelions
It’s a little early for dandelions yet, but here’s to spring being just around the corner all the same.

One of the hardest things to accept about fibromyalgia is that it doesn’t get better. That there’s just one way it can go – and it’s not uphill. I’m never going to get well; I can only hope to alleviate some of the symptoms. It’s been a rough year doing that. I fought fibromyalgia, and to paraphrase Bob Marley, fibromyalgia won.

That’s why it’s so quiet here. There’s nothing going on to write about, unless for some reason readers want an endless tirade of complaints about health (let’s be honest here, no one does, adulting is hard enough as it is). I’ve been able to visit Emilie once since December 26. I’ve left the house twice in the same period – the other time was to have blood drawn. You know your life is exciting when the high point of the week is a nurse who can hit a vein the first time instead of having to jab you six times to get the blood flowing!

The wet weather of 2019 really has done a number on my asthma. The moment someone starts brushing down a horse, runs a broom across the barn floor, or spreads straw in a box, my lungs step out for lunch. The husband’s come up with a solution in the form of a dust mask but I’ll readily admit that I feel ridiculous, having to wear a protective mask to pat my horse.

Emilie thinks it’s silly too. She spent an hour trying to lip it off my face because I look and sound wrong. I’ll never stop being amazed at how prehensile a horse’s lips are. She very nearly managed to untie the string knot at the base of my skull.

Spring is coming now, though. The first snowdrops are out, and while I solemnly tell them to back under and wait another month, the weather service does claim that we will get a winter this year. I wish they were wrong; frost and cold is something I can dress against, but this constant wet air and rain, there’s no fix for that. But again, spring is coming. Statistically, the odds of another year with constant rain and no sun are minimal.

The thing about not being able to walk far is that you learn to appreciate the things that are close by. A beautiful garden full of wild flowers. Horses playing in the field. A cup of coffee sitting in the grass, while big red mama Emilie grazes nearby, watching me like I was her foal.

Spring will come.

Best Pictures of 2019

My health has not allowed for a lot of opportunities to go out and take beautiful pictures lately. Nonetheless, I did manage a few in 2019 that I am particularly proud of. These are it.

Blue bottles on my window sill

I have a thing for cobalt blue glassware. The way that it captures the sun, causing patterns of blue to dance and flicker across my living room floor, the intensity of the shades. There is something deep and mysterious about these lights and patterns, and I can sit and look at them for hours. Fortunately, these bottles and vases are pretty hefty, too, because the cats regularly push them off the sill. Because cats.

Spang Å

I snapped this one last spring while I was still surprised at just how much water the Spang Å river system detains when the sluices get closed in winter. The entire valley floods. That line of fence poles? That’s the river. Everything else—is not. Supposedly.

Low key photography is a skill I have yet to master. On this one occasion, though, the Sun and Piv conspired to create a tableau of flame and darkness and all I had to do was click the button.

Another river valley picture, also from spring. The colours and sharpness of this one amazed me; I had only owned that camera for a day and I was so very fascinated with what it could do.

Here is to hoping that 2020 will be a little kinder health-wise. I mean, I have a camera, I want to go out there and use it.

Big horses and little girls

 

Few things put me in a better mood than watching little girls play with very big horses. Tiny human beings learning the power of asking gentle giants nicely instead of demanding and scolding. Watching reservations on both sides melt away and turn into mutual trust.

Any equine can do training with poles, obstacles, and new sensations. There’s no magic secret, just communicating. Exposing horses to new things help them learn to trust that we really do know best—so that when something unexpected happens, their response is to ask us what to do instead of bolting or panicking. This is a game humans and horses play together, where humans come up with challenges and obstacles, and horses show humans that pshaw, that’s nothing.

Training last Sunday turned out to be day of the cold-bloods. I present to you, in no particular order, haflinger Nando, Jutland draft Emilie, and fjord pony, Loke—the cold-blood allstars.

Nando is a big, playful boy who loves people and showing off. Always up for a kiss or an ear scratch, he’s pretty unflappable on the obstacle course.
Nando is a big, playful boy who loves people and showing off. Always up for a kiss or an ear scratch, he’s pretty unflappable on the obstacle course.
Emilie has never had to learn that humans can be scary, and consequently, few things humans do are scary. Balloons flapping on a string in the wind? So what?
Emilie has never had to learn that humans can be scary, and consequently, few things humans do are scary. Balloons flapping on a string in the wind? So what?
Loke, named for the Norse trickster god, lives up to his name. Clever and mischievous as, well, a fjord horse, he’ll do almost anything for his human playmate—as long as she asks nicely.
Loke, named for the Norse trickster god, lives up to his name. Clever and mischievous as, well, a fjord horse, he’ll do almost anything for his human playmate—as long as she asks nicely.
A horse depends on his legs for survival. Horses are picky about what they’ll step on, and big, noisy tarps are often a flat no. Nando required his human to show him but then it was fine. Mutual trust gets you everywhere.
A horse depends on his legs for survival. Horses are picky about what they’ll step on, and big, noisy tarps are often a flat no. Nando required his human to show him but then it was fine. Mutual trust gets you everywhere.
Force is never the answer, and nowhere is this more evident than when a tiny rider easily handles an 800 kilos draft horse. Emilie loves the small riders; they ask for little and reward her so much.
Force is never the answer, and nowhere is this more evident than when a tiny rider easily handles an 800 kilos draft horse. Emilie loves the small riders; they ask for little and reward her so much.
Training with poles and obstacles (the polka dotted object in the back is a plastic bowl full of plastic balls for the horses to try to step into) can be done from the ground or from the back. The horse may find it easiest from the ground at first (so he can watch you not being scared).
Training with poles and obstacles (the polka dotted object in the back is a plastic bowl full of plastic balls for the horses to try to step into) can be done from the ground or from the back. The horse may find it easiest from the ground at first (so he can watch you not being scared). Also, Nando tried to eat the plastic balls.
Emilie takes this sort of training a little further than many. She is completely voice controlled when working with someone on the ground, to a point where she flat out dismisses the riders’ signals in favour of those of the person on the ground. We deliberately trained her this way. With my handicap I may literally pass out in the saddle. If I act weird (or not at all) she will instantly walk up to the nearest human being to ask for instructions. A bonus effect is that insecure riders can feel completely safe with her, because all they need worry about is staying on—the guy on the ground has their back.
Emilie takes this sort of training a little further. She is completely voice controlled and ignores the riders’ signals in favour of the ground handler’s. We deliberately trained her this way. With my handicap I may literally pass out in the saddle. If I act weird (or not at all) she will walk up to the nearest human to ask for instructions. Insecure riders can feel completely safe with her, because all they need worry about is staying on—the guy on the ground handles the rest.
It doesn’t hurt that Emilie thinks playing with people is the best fun.
It doesn’t hurt that Emilie thinks playing with people is the best fun.
The coolest cat of the day, however, was Bella the barn cat. What's a warm midden for, if not sleeping in?
The coolest cat of the day, however, was Bella the barn cat. What’s a warm midden for, if not sleeping in?

Emilie has always had a thing for little girls. Remember this one from a few years back?

Don’t yell at me! Foxi is nervous, not deaf

Foxi doesn’t like being yelled at.

Foxi is a mixed race pony (Icelandic horse and Welsh Mountain, we think, but no one knows for sure). She’s sensitive, intelligent, and bossy. My big Jutland draft, weighing in at 800 kilos, doesn’t want to argue with Foxi. Foxi takes charge. She’s a small but very determined little lady.

At times, Foxi freaks out. While cool-headed and kind, she can flip a switch and go ballistic at two seconds’ notice. Her owners respect Foxi’s needs, keep things nice and quiet, and don’t pressure her for no reason. Foxi is fond of her humans and trusts her teenage rider. Foxi used to have a bad reputation for trying to throw her rider for no apparent reason, but it hardly ever happens anymore.

I’ve known her for three months, and I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out what Foxi’s issue is. She was bred for trail riding with tourists, at a farm where teenage girls handled the horses largely unsupervised by adults. Teenagers aren’t incompetent and most of them handle horses just fine, but they do need adults to be there, keep a clear head, and help them out when things go pear-shaped. Teenagers can be hard working and have all the good intentions, but very few have a decade or more of horsemanship experience to draw on (for obvious reasons). Foxi was judged to be too volatile and was sold off—to a pony riding club, where her story repeated, until her current owners adopted her.

The other day, Foxi was a bit upset that she was left last in the paddock at turn-in. She galloped up to me and asked to be let in—and I obliged. I don’t usually walk with the livelier horses and ponies because of my handicap, but she really wanted to go in, and she asked very nicely. So we walked. Foxi set a quick pace to catch up to the others, and I pulled lightly on her halter to slow her down.

Foxi froze, then started dancing nervously.

I told her to relax, just slow down a little, we got this.

Foxi breathed out hard, relaxed, and walked at my pace the rest of the way.

In other words, Foxi was an inch from flipping her lid but decided not to. Foxi isn’t misbehaved or badly trained. Foxi is afraid of being yelled at. She needed me to reassure her that yeah, sure, you walked a little too fast but it’s cool, we’ll just slow down and everything will be fine, don’t worry about it. What she expected was for me to yell at her, maybe even hit her, and when I just told her everything is fine, everything really was fine.

I can’t help but wonder how many times, before she was sold to her current owners, Foxi has asked a human for reassurance only to get yelled at, or hit with a riding crop.

A lot of equine anxiety bounds in humans teaching our horses to be afraid to ask for reassurance from us. We must teach new riders, young or old, to pay attention to the language of horses. To think of their horse as a partner, rather than a piece of sporting equipment. If your co-worker asks you a question, you answer it. You don’t yell at them or, heaven forbid, pick up a riding crop to make them ‘submit’. This does not change just because your equine co-worker has double the amount of legs.

I walked with Foxi to the paddock this morning. She slowed down on her own and waited for me.