Monday, April 27, 2009

Under Control

This has nothing to do with horses...well, except that horses can be inspiring and comforting and almost always make me smile, in the same way that Nie Nie's Blog inspires and comforts me, and makes me smile.

Stephanie Nielsen is the mother of four youngsters. Last summer, she went with her husband to take a flying lesson. The plane crashed, fatally injuring the instructor and severely burning both the Nielsens. After being kept in a coma for months to facilitate healing, they have begun to recover the life they shared before the accident.

The inspiring, comforting part is how Nie Nie's family has worked to support them in their struggle, how the children are learning to cope, how Mr. Nielsen (as she calls her husband) values and cares for them all. Nie Nie had more surgery last week, an ordeal we can't begin to conprehend, and when she turned to her dad in despair, he reminded her that Everything Is Under Control.

Don't we all need to know this? In the midst of even the most mundane of life's trials, it's a comfort to hear that Everything Is Under Control. Reading Nie Nie's posts always reminds me of the strength of the human spirit, and the ultimate power of Love.

Visit her blog and claim some comfort for yourself.


Something New Under The Sun

New to me, anyway. And I thought I was fairly up to date on Internet possibilities.

Last night, I discovered Blog Carnivals, yet another interesting idea from the folks at Google. A carnival is, well, a sideshow of blogs, I guess, all concerned with a specific subject. I was searching for horse blogs and found the Horse Carnival, where a number of writers post a link to a horse topic at their blog.

So if you click on the merry go round horse at right, you'll go to The Carnival of Horses, a list of blogs on horse topics. There are archives from previous months, too. I can't vouch for the quality or accuracy of any blog but mine. Still, it's interesting to see what others have to say about the horse world. For me, it's a chance to draw more readers to my blog, which I'd love to do. The Internet is about links, about connections. I've made some dear friends across the Web. I don't see it as entertainment so much as a way to communicate.

As a writer, I'm driven to communicate.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Not For Wimps

Horseback riding does demand a certain level of physical ability. Just getting into the saddle requires leg strength and balance; staying on with any degree of comfort, let alone style, makes you an athlete. That's one reason horseback therapy for the disabled is such a beautiful exercise.

Many riders have been heard to remark that when they're too old to ride, or to broken up from the inevitable falls, or too arthritic and weak...then they'll drive horses instead. And that will be good for them, as long as they aspire to no more than a little jog down a lane without traffic, behind an old, well-fed horse without imagination.

But driving is not an inherently safe and easy occupation. Our TBone is as placid a pony as they come, but he once thew my husband out of the cart. He bolts upon occasion, and has attempted to back us into the pond. These episodes call for delicate negotiation between driver and rider, if we are all to escape unhurt.

And then there is competitive driving. Combined Driving Events, these occasions are called, and there's nothing safe or easy about them.

The weekend of April 10-12 marked the Southern Pines CDE at the Carolina Horse Park. Friday was the simplest day, during which each driver and their horse or horses performed a dressage test for the judges. Simple, that is, if you don't include cleaning the harness and cart and horse(s), putting them all together correctly, then getting yourself dressed in your finest driving togs, including hat, gloves, and driving apron, and--only when it's all perfect to look at--performing an intricate series of maneuvers within a circumscribed space at a specific gait while looking as if you haven't got a care in the world. One-handed, even.

Try that with four 17-hand young geldings and see how relaxing a "nice drive" can be!

Saturday is "Marathon" Day, equivalent to the cross-country phase of Three-Day Eventing. In the first section, the driver and horse cover approximately 5 km of country within a given time--not too fast, not too slow. A vet check is performed, and the horse rested until pulse, respiration and temperature meet certain levels. The second phase of the marathon is a 1 km walk, which must be accomplished within 12 minutes.

Then the extreme driving starts. The team travels another set course within a specific time limit, only this course includes obstacles, or hazards, that must be negotiated as well. These hazards are mini-mazes with labeled gates designed to be taken in order ABCD.... Most hazards are quite solid, so misjudging your turn might slam your carriage into a post. Teams get stuck, grooms fall out, horses back and rear and kick...and if you're good, you still manage to clear the hazard and continue the drive to the finish.

I worked at one of the hazards on Saturday--there were many good examples of how to drive, several excellent demonstrations and not a few troubling performances, too. No one fell out or was hurt at my obstacle. But the water hazard defied several teams and drivers. Your horses must be brave, to persist through challenges like these.

On the third day, the same carriages and drivers and horses compete on the cones course, another maze where the gates are marked by cones set a defined distance apart. Each cone has a tennis ball sitting on top. Each fallen ball or tipped cone counts against the team. Time penalties are assigned, as well.

And this particular cones course offered plenty of excitement. One driver fell out of the carriage, leaving the horse to gallop back to the stable on its own, carriage still attached. And when one pony staged a protest at the entire proceeding, the other three ponies on his team joined in, putting the driver in a precarious position. Fortunately, neither humans nor equines were hurt (except for some pride on the drivers' parts, probably.) And the spectators all got a nice jolt of adrenaline to enliven the day.

Combined driving was developed by Phillip, the Prince of Wales, as an equivalent sport to the more familiar Horse Trials for riders. CDE driving takes place at the highest levels of equestrian sport, and is featured at the World Equestrian Games, including next year, when I'll get to watch from the stands in Lexington, Kentucky!

My point, in case you've lost track of it: driving can be as demanding and skillful as riding, if you put your heart into it the way these CDE competitors do. Wimps and sissies need not apply!

(These photos are not the Southern Pines CDE. I'll work on getting some of those.)
(These photos are not the Southern Pines CDE--I'll try to get some soon!)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nightmare on My Street

There are certain scenarios that show up repeatedly on the list of Top Ten Worst Horse Disasters for most horsekeepers.

Last night, I endured one of mine. I'd been away from the farm for dinner with a friend. Retuning home at midnight, I looked forward to quickly throwing hay to the horses and crawling into bed. I drove to the back pasture, turned into the aisle between the two paddocks...and saw the gate to Lucy's and Abby's field standing wide open.

I didn't have to ask if the horses were still inside. The grass is always greener, after all.

I shone my lights over the unfenced part of the field, which was empty. And Suzette the Ever Vigilant was staring toward the front of the farm, which meant the escapees had headed in that direction. Fortunately, when I got back to the road, I saw the ghostly form of a Cream Draft horse within the darkness across the street, casually grazing on my neighbor's front lawn.

The dogs were going insane, barking at the strange visitors. TBone and Merlin, the geldings who live in the front paddocks, were galloping back and forth, whickering and neighing to demonstrate their manliness. So much for a quiet night in the country!

I fetched halters and lead ropes, but the girls wouldn't stand still to be caught. I went back for a bucket and grain, which captured Lucy's attention immediately, but the halter which fit her a year ago proved to be too small. In the process of moving the buckles, I dropped the other halter, then had to lead Lucy around with me as I located a flashlight and searched for the halter to put on Abby. Thank goodness she decided to cooperate. As our grande dame, perhaps she felt further disorderly conduct was beneath her dignity. Or maybe she was ready to head back to bed.

Lucy doesn't like dogs, so she cavorted on the end of the lead rope as we walked by the back yard with the canines barking up a storm and then the paddock with the crazed gelding dashing around and calling out. Dancing draft horses are a challenge, especially in the dark, with mud and puddles on the road. And me in street shoes. Thank heavens for Abby's good sense.

Finally, we reached the back field, where all was calm and relatively quiet. Suzette and Joy waited tensely in their paddock for the return of their sisters. Seeing them, Lucy calmed down and walked with Abby and me to the open gate. In a few moments, the truants were restored to their proper place.

I sorted out hay in the dark, slipped through the mud to give everyone her share, then walked back to the barn up front to do the same for the guys. At last, about an hour after I'd planned, I crawled into bed. Sleep was longer in coming, because the geldings were still keyed up, still calling back to their lady friends, asking for a date. Everyone had a late breakfast this morning except me...I haven't managed to find time to eat yet.

So, I encountered one of the Top Ten and we all survived. I'm glad it was midnight, and not 4 pm--the traffic on my little two-lane road is deadly in the afternoon. When we signal the motorcyclists who streak by to slow down, they flip us a bird and keep going.

Nary a vehicle interfered last night as I herded my girls safely back to their crib. That's the best outcome I could hope for. But, oh, what a night!