Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lost Opportunity

When I work with horses it is my belief it is most important to listen to what the horse needs. Perhaps it is also most important to listen to what the child needs.

From my vantage point on the mounting ramp I watched the children leave the riding ring after a therapeutic riding session. The sun shone brightly, the horses glistened as they waited their next riders. The leaders, sidwalkers and therapist were ready to receive the next group of youngsters. The children were grade school age and the program is wonderful, and rewarding for the them, and I'm honored to be a part of it. This group is receiving equine assisted therapy for such things as Autism, Aspergers, ADD and ADHD.

As the first group left the arena two boys dashed across the lawn heading for a tractor parked about a hundred feet away. Of course they were quickly gathered up for safety's sake and returned to the group. I had to think though, it might have been wonderful to let them explore the tractor, instead of being ushered back to the other children and controlled. And yes I'm very cognizant of the safety factor and respect it, but I'm also aware of the fact that they come for therapeutic riding to enhance and stimulate their senses, awareness and inquisitiveness. So it struck me as a lost opportunity to rob them of the chance to explore the tractor sitting in the green grass in the sun.

Last Friday was the first of a weekly event being done in co-operation with the county school district and for opening day even the superintendent of schools was there, to make sure all went as planned. The children were separated into two groups, one riding, the other waiting their turn in the barn, and to make it interesting for them the two volunteers of the barn crew would explain, and demonstrate things about the life of a therapy horse. My job as a volunteer is to be with the group in the barn.

Picnic tables line the center isle of the barn and the children sat and watched, sort of, as things such as grain, water, brushes, bridles, saddles, blankets and stalls were explained and shown to them. Of course the tractor boys were full of energy and excitement and the most often phrase used by the instructor was, "Tommy please sit down."

I could not help but feel a little sad. As I said, I'm fully aware of the safety concerns, and the superintendent's watchful eye, but still, I thought about these children's lives. Are they all day, every day told to sit, listen, pay attention, be still, be quiet? How much of their day is filled with restraint when what they want to do is yell, scream, run. Explore.

We eventually led them in a tight controlled group to the hay shed, just behind the barn. Back out in the sunshine eyes brightened, the smiles and giggles erupted and little legs wanted to run. Not 20 feet from the hay shed was the board fence of a big pasture. I saw my chance to override my authority. "Hey kids, want to see the horses in the pasture?" I asked.  "Yes," they screamed, and we all scampered to peek between the boards and watch the horses.

That lasted about 2 minutes, until Tommy spied another tractor parked in the grass about 50 feet away. He tugged on my arm, which surprised the superintendent, because Tommy doesn't do that. I shouted just as loud as I could, "Run to the tractor." We spent the next 10 minutes watching little hands touch that red tractor here there and everywhere, and answering the question, "What's this?" about a thousand time.

Oh they had a grand time being totally in charge of what they did, and not once did anyone say, "Sit down Tommy."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kessy hits the trail with Molly

Kessy and I have been partners since May 2010. I've often written here about her progress from, just learning that leaving the safety of her barn and woods could be fun, to puddle fears and recently the trailer fun. Yesterday Kessy took another step on her journey to mastering the joys and wonders outside her "Hundred Acre Woods." We call her backyard that in a hat tip to Winnie the Pooh.

Yesterday was Kessy and my 214th explore the trail together adventure. But there was a big difference to yesterday's romp and all the others. We had trail buddies, a wonderful mule named Molly and her partner Chris Cooper. What a grand time we had!

Since moving here with Ravishin' Robbie and me, Kessy learned that trail exploration is exciting, she's come from being unwilling to venture even a hundred yards from her barn to being totally comfortable with gaiting smoothly over miles and miles of trails. At first that took weeks and months of dismounting and leading. In the beginning we walked more miles than we rode, and I had to tote my cane because walking doesn't go all that great for me. We'd walk a little and sit a little, walk a little and sit some more, and on and on, until one day Kessy decided, "Hey this trail thing is alright."

One disadvantage that Kessy endured these past 27 months is she's the only horse here. Her herd mates are the chickens, dogs, especially Saturday, cats, Ravishin' Robbie and me. So being the only horse she did not have the benefit of learning from a wise old trail master. Something I know is very important to horses. But our situation dictates we limit our horse herd to one, so I've always done my best to be Kessy's herd mate. But I also always knew there would come a time when Kessy would need to experience trail exploration with other horses, and worried a bit about how that might play out.

Chris and I met the other day when I was driving down the road and she was riding her Davenport Arabian stallion, I stopped to say howdy. I could see immediately by the demeanor, and condition of her horse, that Chris was a wonderful person. We stood along the road and chatted, then later I was treated to a tour of her outfit, met all her horses, and her fabulous mule, Molly. I told her about Kessy and that it was time to introduce her to riding with others and asked her help. Without hesitation, Chris said she'd be happy to help.

Knowing this might be a big step for Kessy, I asked if she could trailer to our place and introduce Kessy to riding with other horses on trails she feels completely familiar and safe with. Again, without hesitation Chris said she'd do that.

What a perfect day we had!

When Chris and Molly arrived Kessy was curious, but polite and never showed any signs of anxiousness. Kessy and I had worked months learning to stand perfectly still as I mount, not only because it is the mannerly thing to do, but I'm pretty clumsy about it, and she stood at the mounting block as she'd been taught, even though Molly was only a few feet away.

Down the trail we went, sometimes Kessy leading, sometimes Molly leading, sometimes side by side. But always at a peaceful, pleasant walk. Molly even showed Kessy it is indeed okayto walk right through a scary old puddle, and Kessy followed easily.

We had a great ride in the morning sun, bird watching and enjoying the fall colors. And each other's company. Both Molly and Kessy acted as if we'd been riding together for years.

When Chris and Molly had to leave, there was no separation anxiety; Kessy munched her hay as if it were just another day. I did sit with her a while and told her what a great job she did, and how proud I was of her. Chris and Molly, Kessy and I have plans to do this again next week, then we'll begin to add new territories in the mix, too.

Kessy and I thank you so much Chris and Molly for all your help! ~ Dutch

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gardens of Fall

Ravishin' Robbie's gardens have donned their fall colors and decorations. The vegetable garden has been stripped of its spent tomato, bean and squash plants. The boarders are in full color though as the Marigolds planted there to help deter insects quickly expanded to capture the new found space and burst forth with a thick mat of orange. Morning glory and Brown Eyed Susan vines cover the corner posts in thick lush greenery, liberally decorated with blue and yellow flowers.

The plants of Robbie's herb garden, or as we called it in PA, the Kitchen Garden, are tall, dense and mostly flowerless. The Basil looks like a small hedge with leaves of shiny green, and being just a foot off the front porch, its sweet smell drifts in to greet us each time we open our front door. The Sage having weeks ago lost its last delicate scarlet red flower stands as a stately bush waist high and thick as a bramble. Several varieties of Tyme have spread out to carpet the floor with dainty leaves and a spattering of  tiny white flowers. The Oregano plants have fallen and began pushing up shoots creating artwork that looks like so much driftwood on the beach.

Mums of many colors, orange, white, russet and red are in their glory now and crowd the flowerbeds that earlier were packed tight with a dozen different summer flowers. Mixed in between the Mums are a few struggling, but gracious blue and pink Cosmos, the last of the deep red Love Lies Bleeding and a few brilliant Daisies.

The Zinnias, perhaps my favorite garden flower, have had a rebirth in the cooler weather and are celebrating with flowers galore. Whether Robbie had strategically planted the Zinnias in locations to define, accent and glorify the flowerbeds, or they had migrated on their own, the patches of Zinnias exploding in red, blue, yellow, orange and pink bring broad smiles like so many exploding fireworks at the county fair.

Take a few moments today to stroll through your gardens of fall and enjoy their gifts.

Kessy and I are heading out to explore a few wild fall gardens. You all have a wonderful day and God Bless ~ Dutch

Monday, October 15, 2012

Soft Rain and Lullabies

Gentle rain tapped out a soothing melody on the tin. Chickens preened to fluff their wet feathers, others seemed not to care about their disheveled, soggy look as they scratched at the cracked corn scattered under the picnic table in the barn. Saturday, having apparently spent the night snuggled in the hay room sat beside me, warm and dry. Tigger found my lap the second I settled into my, coffee with Kessy chair. 

Kessy tugged at her hay, her steady munching adding rhythm to the raindrops playing on the roof. The heavy morning air carried the clicity clack, then the whistle of a distant train. A tiny Carolina wren sat on the half wall enjoying the protection of the roof overhang.

There's something tender about a gentle morning rain. Everyone gathering in the barn for shelter, doing what they always do, but somehow it feels sweeter. It's a little darker, sounds travel farther to join us inside, the roosters perch on the half wall to crow, the cats purr, Kessy munches and the rain taps. The soft steady taps on the tin sing us a happy song.

Without warning the rain increased its intensity, changing the tune on the tin from a sleepy lullaby to a hurried whisper, as if setting a new tempo to make a point. The point it did make was to drive the rest of the chickens into the barn, clucking and squawking. Kessy gave them a look that shouted, "If you're going to sing along at least get the words right. And stay out of my hay!" The late comers scattered to the corners to shake, preen and complain. Just as suddenly as the rain picked up the tempo it slowed again, and peace reined in our little cozy world once more.

I think there are few places in the world as embracing as a barn on a warm rainy morning ... Snuggled under a blanket with Ravishin' Robbie watching a good movie on a cold and snowy night is of course the very best … and the way I'm reading the signs of fall, one of those snuggle movie nights can't be too far away. Get your blankets, movies, hot chocolate and sweethearts ready.

Have a wonderful day! ~ Dutch.