The end of a journey

In July Ben tore his tendon (left hind leg, superficial digital flexor tendon) galloping in the field that I was renting behind us here.  He then damaged the tendon in his right hind leg, simply by the strain of supporting his left leg.  Recovery happened slowly, then he became severely lame again, recovered a bit, his fetlocks dropped and suddenly was incurably lame.  He was put to sleep in the last week of October.

So much in the package of a small, stocky cob.  He has been my equine partner, my friend, my guardian of being for nearly eight years.  It has taken me until now to write this, which feels like the ending of ponies at home although life goes on and more ponies come.  Ben and Rosie were the originals, the first, the magical initiators of so many, many new experiences, new ways of awakening to life, new conduits of joy.

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Ben went without a fuss.  He was old and I could see that he was ready.  The only problem was that I wasn’t.  Two nights before the vet was due I sat outside near where he stood munching some hay.  My mind had at last found a still place and Ben limped over and stood by me.  He rested his head on mine, breathed a long breath over my hair and limped away again.  His goodbye.  And he went with such finality, such typical completeness.  No ghost lingers, as Rosie still sometimes does, to accompany me through the paddock, thrusting a soft invisible muzzle against my arm.

And how I miss him.

With Ben I took the decision to go barefoot which seemed at the time like a defining moment in how I viewed so many aspects of keeping horses.  In time we went bitless and eventually treeless also.  But as I look back these are not the stand out moments for me.

I miss so many aspects of Ben himself.  His defiance, his pride, his surprising gentleness, his stubbornness, his determination, walking purposefully in the direction of his goal.  I remember him coming up beside me to lick a raw scar from a burn on my wrist; how he wrapped his head around my back as we mourned Rosie together; how he impatiently would lift each leg in turn during hoof trimming in a ‘get on with it’ manner; how he walked off to the back gate all tacked up without waiting for me when I was taking too long fitting a new saddle.

I remember how he would sink into peace beside me as I sat in the yard and how Rosie would line up on the other side of me and together we would breathe in harmony with the universe.

And I remember our rides: galloping flat out trying his best to keep up with Sandra and Minnie, cantering through forest tracks, galloping in a field with Cloud, this time happy to be in the lead, and jumping, never faltering no matter how I saw or did not see a stride.  But most of all I remember our rides from the back gate at home, doing what he loved best, for if I ever turned him back before he had gone as far as he felt he should, he would walk home in a sulk, dragging his feet.  But when we had time for the full ride – well I can see the road ahead right now in my mind’s eye, and feel in my body his wonderful relaxed walk as we ride home in the light of a setting sun on a summer’s evening on a loose rein.

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A new pony

My goodness, such a long time since a post.  I have a funny feeling that this blog – Ponies at Home – lost its heart when Rosie died.

I have re-homed Cloud, it took me about one year longer than I should have to make this decision.  When my older daughter lost interest in riding him, I stuck with him, all my principles and wishes zoned in on keeping him with us.  Despite the fact that the sheer practical effort of managing him was very difficult, despite the fact that Ben, horse of my heart, was not a happy horse under Cloud’s very dominant and restrictive hoof (colic, loss of condition, looking old and depressed), despite the fact that Cloud himself clearly needed a big herd environment and EXERCISE to combat his metabolic issues, I stuck with Cloud.

Maybe I took on his sadness as my own.  Maybe he was the pony I would have loved at age 11 years, when my mother first brought me to Mrs Elliot from Germany, in a field (long since a housing estate) in suburban South Dublin and where I was not allowed off the lead rein until I could do rising trot on Sunshine without stirrups.

For whatever reason, energy shifted and one day in September I saw my way clearly at last.  Cloud is now living in a herd, in a pen by day, in fields by night, with lots of ponies, used lightly and proving reliable as ever cantering across fields.  I have visited him.  He came up to me, sniffed my hands and licked them as he used to do and seemed relaxed.

Ben’s new companion?  I visited a local rescue centre, having chosen what I thought of as a Rosie type from their photographs.  We walked through a field of horses and ponies of all shapes and sizes, such an aura of sadness around, and out of the corner of my eye a small, stocky black and white cobby type drew me in. His name is Bobby Bright Morning Star and he lives with us now.  Incredibly sweet and gentle, he has come out of his very frightened  shell, his eye has brightened, his whole face has opened up and Ben, once again, is The Man, pride restored, peace restored in the paddock and all is well.

Some March photos:

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A winter night

That rare thing – snow.  We get so little here that my excitement rises like a child.  I relish the thought of a night time visit to Ben and Cloud who are at winter grazing a short drive away.  I fill the jeep with hay and feed, wrap up, put on my head torch and persuade my eldest daughter to come with me.  The snow swirls in the headlights throwing the beam back to me.  I dip the beam and drive slowly, the ground slippy from the quickly gathering snow.  As we turn into the side road two deer appear in front of the car, surprisingly small, walking in front of us with white flags of tails raised behind them.  They add another layer of enchantment to the silent, swirling, fairy tale scene.

Arriving at the winter grazing, all tracks have vanished.  My daughter’s sense of direction holds good from three years ago when Ben and Rosie spent a winter here.  I, who was here the day before, wander into bushes, hopelessly lost without her.  Ben and Cloud hear us and emerge from the dark in front of us, Cloud excited by the feed and startled by the light.  Feed and hay given we take photos from camera phones by the light of my head torch.  And then have the sense to pause, to pull ourselves away from the lure of this too easy technology.  I turn off the torch and as our eyes adjust we feel as well as see them in the dim light.  Ben’s breath is warm on my cheek in a greeting, a benediction nearly which remains with me as we drive away.

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Back to life

I have been busy and very neglectful of this blog.  I don’t think I have ever let so much time pass since posting.

It has been a strange winter: long, Spring creeping up and catching me by surprise.  And storm lashed.  We lost six trees in hurricane force winds, one of those trees crashing on my trailer so I am now without transport for Ben and Cloud (and for emergency trips to the Mart for hay).  But we have got off lightly here.  Generous friends have offered loans of their trailers when needed.  I have neighbours who have had to reach their house by crossing three fields for weeks now.  The west of the county has been badly battered by the sea.  Houses have been damaged by flooding.

But there has been very few opportunities to take Ben and Cloud out.  Cloud has been stranded with post-laminitis recovery and with a teenager who has a full life of exams, music and friends and a diminishing interest in a pony who requires such careful management.

So Cloud is mine now.  I have to put it that way and embrace this pony who is so different to Ben and somehow find a way into his heart and mind.  I remind myself that I struggled with Ben in the early days.  Easy to forget when communication between us seems to be telepathic now.  We have managed a couple of nice Spring rides, or rather rides and walks as Ben is not fit enough for riding of any length.  But he has enjoyed them, rewarding me with a lick on the cheek afterwards.

A couple of weekends ago I drove north to attend a workshop given by Nic Barker (of Rockley Farm blog fame) which was very interesting and encouraging in allowing horses self trim.  She made the point that we should never judge hooves on photos alone, but to take videos, slow them down and look at the footfall.  I did just that when I came home.  Both Ben and Cloud had heel first landings!  (Ben’s slow motion was gorgeous – such hairy legs clopping down majestically on the yard.)

Some things stay the same – each year, no matter in what manner Spring has approached, by the end of March the primroses appear and the hairiest cob in Ireland sheds wheelbarrow loads of hair, day after day after day.  I become slightly obsessed with currying those long silky slides of hair, and no matter how much I remove there is no discernible difference; and yet there will be, suddenly the bones of his legs will reappear, his belly will seem higher off the ground and his face will be beardless once again.  But for now, he rolls and covers the ground in his hair, rubs and leaves hair caught on the bark of trees, and is starting to walk away when he sees me approaching with the rubber curry comb.

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A break in the storms

We have had storm after storm batter us this winter.  Interaction with Ben and Cloud has been limited to dashing out, feeding, distributing hay and dashing back in again, with time made for hoof trimming also.  Somewhere in the midst of that Ben has sought me out, making it clear that he wants to spend time with me. Cloud has seemed stand-offish, standing away, approaching only when he sees a bucket in my hand or hay in my arms.

So today, a sunny, frosty morning, gave some opportunity to spend time with the boys before this evening’s promised storm crashes in.

My agenda: to spend time with Cloud, undemanding time, sitting in a chair wrapped against the cold and showing him that I am non-threatening.

I can take my time this morning with my approach with feed buckets and hay. And I see why Cloud is stands off.  He is clearly signaling to me that Ben is his.  Ben, behind him on the track is looking for a way around Cloud and I, standing in the yard am clearly a threat – a threat to Cloud’s control of his herd.  I sense that if Ben were not trying to reach me, Cloud would come straight up for that bucket he sees in my hand.

I turn away and wait.  They come up, but Cloud is lively, not settling to his bucket and this effects Ben also who moves around.  I signal to Cloud to stand by his bucket.  I point to Ben to return to his.  And they do.  And my agenda has changed.

Clearly Cloud has reasserted himself over this winter.  Managing a herd of two at home I cannot have this.  When I am around Cloud needs to know that I am in charge.  I am grateful to Carolyn Resnick for coaching she gave me when I had to manage this situation for Ben and Rosie.  I distribute hay in the picadero in small piles.  They come up and I guard Ben’s pile.  Cloud challenges me just once – we have done this particular ritual before quite a while ago.  I find myself very relaxed as I move between Cloud and Ben.  Cloud moves away to another pile.  It is beautiful up there.  Cold, fresh with a wind picking up.  The hens come to join us.  There is a good view in most directions and I can react to the same sounds as Ben and Cloud almost as quickly as they do.  As I notice these sounds they relax and return to their hay again.

After a while I move to greet them.  Ben first, he turns his head as I look at him and I offer him my outstretched hand which he touches gently with his muzzle. Cloud: I look at him, he turns his head and gives my hand a gentle lick before returning to his hay.

All is well here.

Here are some photos from our storm-lashed winter.  I missed my opportunity to get a rain sheet on Ben but to my surprise and delight, there is no rain scald this winter.  His immune system is clearly stronger.

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Cloud’s hooves

I thought I had a difficult journey in Ben’s transition to barefoot.  I did not.  What made it difficult was the absence of expertise.  As Dermot and John lived far away, beyond their first few visits, we were on our own.  I read as much as I could, trimmed as I understood I was taught and trusted to nature.  Ben is a cob, with good hooves, and he is rock crunching right now.

Since June 2013 I have had the benefit of consultations from Maureen Tierney.  Currently I am having monthly consultations to guide my trimming of Cloud’s hooves and am learning how much I did not know.  I am also seeing big progress in Cloud’s hooves.

Cloud’s mild bout of laminitis in October forced me to pay great attention to his hooves. I was too sanguine about his recovery from this and allowed him turn-out too soon.  I had some days and nights where he was clearly in pain, hating me touching his hooves and confined to his stable.  He watched miserably as Ben had the happy task of chewing down a small section of the paddock.  Once most grass was gone, Cloud and Ben were turned out on it.  Cloud walked happily on the soft muddy ground and, seeing this, I made a firm resolve to stop worrying and trust in nature.

I had tried: vet’s visits – anti-inflammatories and suggestions to put shoes back on; hoof boots and pads – boots walked out of in no time at all; and every suggestion a helpful tackshop assistant could make.  (One suggestion is well worth passing on: put Staysound on the sole of the hoof overnight, packed into the sole with a cut out section of a feedbag put on top.  This tip from her time in a racing yard was very effective in bringing down heat and pulses in Cloud’s front hooves after I had turned him out on the track too soon.)

After a few weeks, Cloud’s energy started to increase, he started to become pushy with me and with Ben over his hay.  When I stood my ground he circled me with a most beautiful springy trot.   A few days later I decided he was ready for the track again.  As extra insurance I put on hoof boots and EVA foam pads and out he went.  He trotted around the track, out of these boots as well and I watched as he walked over stones and tackled the steep descent of the hill.  He stayed sound.  He looked happy again, energy up, in charge of his world and proving to me that the track works as a space for him and Ben and that time does heal.

Cloud and I opened up to each other through those few weeks of pain.  He hated me touching his hooves, and, even with pain gone, was clearly anticipating more as he would snatch a front hoof from me as soon as I picked it up.  I found no easy way through this.  Time, lots of patience and help from Ben all played their part.

Yes, Ben helped.  Clearly aware, one night he drew near me in the yard as I cleaned Cloud’s hooves.  Snatch, snatch, snatch.  It was wet and cold.  I became very aware of Ben’s presence.  I put down Cloud’s hoof, straightened up and looked at Ben.  “Ben could you ask Cloud to bear with me.  I need to do this.”  A pause; call me crazy but I had a strange sense that something passed between Ben and Cloud.  I bent down again and picked up Cloud’s hoof.  He rested his hoof in my hand, brought his head around over my shoulder and licked my cheek.  He stayed relaxed as I finished his hooves.

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Cloud’s left front hoof, 23rd June 2013.

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Cloud’s left front hoof, 18th December, 2013.

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New Year

I have taken an unintended long break from this blog.  A few weeks ago some gremlins managed to eat not one but two posts, posts in which I had detailed my struggles and anxieties over Cloud’s hooves.  So I lost heart.

Here I am with a new blog editor to try and I will put this post out as a way of sending New Year’s greetings to all who keep ponies at home in the winter time.  For some, you may battle ice and snow.  Here in the west of Ireland we battle rain and storms.

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