Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dolly Sees the Vet and Farrier for the First Time

Dolly showing more confidence        Ainslie Sheridan copyright March 2011

Dear Reader and Friends,

       A big day in our little Dolly’s life--her first encounter with a farrier and her first real encounter with a veterinarian. (A vet had drawn blood testing for infectious anemia when she arrived at the auction house.  But, no doubt, she was immobilized in a chute when that had been done).

      Jay Smith, our wonderful farrier, rang me the night before Dolly’s appointment.

       “Ainslie, you’ve got a broken arm.  How’s this going to work?
       “Juliane will be here.”
        “She have enough experience to hang on to her?”
        “Yes .” 
     But actually I wasn’t sure that, even with both my arms operational,  I could hold onto a horse—a fairly wild horse--who could become terrified when someone she didn’t know attempted to lift one of her legs off the ground.  And there were two other obstacles to overcome first.  First, I had to get a halter on Dolly with my one good arm.  My right could help but I couldn’t lift it very high, and I had been warned not to get it bumped.  I hadn’t yet attempted to get a halter on her because, until recently, I'd simply been physically too fragile.  But for the past week I'd been hand-feeding Dolly grain while holding the rope halter.  In order to access the grain she had to put her muzzle through the bottom part of the halter.   She wasn’t thrilled with it but she wanted that sweet feed.

       Second obstacle:  Dolly needed to endure a shot of tranquilizer.  She would be able to remain standing but would become very woozy.  It’s a process that requires tact.  If a horse gets frightened before, during, or soon after the injection, it can have an adrenalin rush that can completely over ride the medication.  I’ve seen this happen with horses who had been handled since they were babies.
        Jay came early and spent considerable time with Dolly out in her round pen just letting her get used to him.  But an hour before the vet was due I thought it best to get her into her stall. With the promise of grain she walked in.  But as soon as the door was shut, she anxiously called out to the other horses while walking in agitated circles.  So I brought Tica into the barn to baby sit.  It worked:  Dolly immediately settled down.

       I rubbed her shoulder and neck with that halter then put the crown piece over her neck.  Next, with no grain this time, she allowed me to slip the halter over her head then loosely tie it in place.  I backed off.  Dolly remained calm so I stepped forward and managed to get the halter securely fastened. 

       Forty-five minutes later the vet, Dr. Sara Tryjankowski, arrived.  I fed Dolly grain while Sara stepped up to her neck, and in less than a second the needle of tranquilizer was in then out.  Dolly quickly raised her head but then—almost just as quickly--resumed eating grain.  What a good girl!

      In twenty minutes Dolly eyes were half-shut and her head had dropped.  It was time for Jay.  Here's a series of you tubes of that encounter followed by Sara floating (filing) her teeth.

And finally here is a picture of Dolly three days after the farrier gave her  hooves on which she could comfortably walk, and and the vet teeth with which she could chew comfortably and effectively.  Please compare it with our earlier blog picture when she was wearing the hated "613" sticker--the numbers which--my good friend Jennifer pointed out--individually add up to a perfect ten. 

                                 Dolly Friday March 18, 2011  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011


      So, after one more lesson, a quick shower and throwing a few things into an overnight bag,  it's off to London to meet my husband and then to Wales for two days.  I will enjoy the break but I'm hoping the real break will begin on my return.  The snow should be all gone, dressage ring completely dry, and Dolly healthier still.  Then the real fun with her will begin.   


Monday, March 14, 2011

March Comes in Like a Lion; Goes Out Like a Lamb

                                                                                      March 14, 2011

Dear friends and readers,

       This proverb came to mind as I looked out my window onto the pasture the night before last just as the sun was beginning to set.  Cold air off the the snow rose up into warmed layers and was transformed by the sun and the dark pines into filtered shafts of gold mica dust.  In the foreground were the darkened silhouettes of the horses quietly eating hay.


         This sublime image was a hint of better days to come--but just a hint.  That night the cold snapped right back freezing the mud into wheelbarrow resisting ruts.  Manure rich puddles of water were transformed into partially frozen layers of brown ice.  My broken arm made balancing more difficult particularly when carrying a water bucket.  The occasional misstep produced a high jean-soaking splash.  Uggh!

       There are still shelves of ice under insulating piles of mud and manure.  These, coupled with deep puddles,  has made it impossible  to even conceive of round-penning Dolly.  Just as well.  Tomorrow the vet is coming to draw blood for the horses' annual coggins tests and to tranquilize Dolly so we can get a look at her teeth.  The farrier--who adjusted his schedule to be here--will finally be able to take his nippers and rasp to her badly misshapen hooves.  If things go well (that is, if she's sufficiently drugged beyond the duration it takes to tend to her teeth and feet) I will seize the opportunity to plunge her filthy, heavily matted tail into a bucket of warm soapy water.

       Four days after Dolly's hopefully trauma-free encounter with the vet I am off to Europe to meet my husband for an MIT conference on environmental issues.   The original venue was Stutgart, Germany which I was quite excited about.   In 2000 we traveled to Berlin.  I could hardly rise above a "Wie gehts?" and "Wo ist die Goethe Strasse, bitte?"  resurrected from my 7th grade German class.  One evening in the hotel I watched a German soap opera which, incredibly, was dominated by men and focused on some horse breeders in a tussle with their Spanish counterparts.  I hadn't understood a thing until one of the male characters took a fax from the machine, held it up, and jubilantly cried, "Die coggins ist negatif!) 

     But for this next trip I wouldn't just rely on 7th grade and equine vocabulary to get me through.  I would improve!  I ordered a set of German language CD's--beginner, and each night, just before getting into bed, I would pop one into the player.  Within seconds of track one all worries vanished.  Gone were concerns about the increased price of hay, the number of horses that needed special winter shoes to keep them secure on winter ice.   Thoughts of frozen--perhaps bursting--water pipes and a trailer in disrepair were banished from my head because I was listening to the German equivalent of the Alice and Jerry readers I had in the second grade.  Except, since it was created for adults,  these cd's were far less interesting.  There were no dogs named 'Jiip' and 'Spot',  just adults asking where they could get a beer or where a certain hotel was.  Snore!!  On those those cd nights I got more sleep than I needed.

     Fortunately, just as I was about to get to really exciting part, that is learning to talk about soccer and shopping, my husband came to the rescue via phone.  Well, sort of.  The conference was now in Cardiff, capital of Wales.  Welsh!  Have you ever seen the length of some of those Welsh words?  They make especially big signs to accommodate the length of their town and street names.  Nope, I would speak in the language of the man who subjugated Wales--William the Conqueror.  Oh no, that's right he spoke Middle French.  That's not even available on my list of language cds.  Oh well,  I'll just speak the language of one of my favorite local couple John and Abigail Adams of Quincy--"New English".

       I'll be back to these climes in less than a week.  By then I'm hoping the snow will be gone, my arm better, and the real work with Dolly can get underway.  Of course, I'm also eager to get on with dressage.  I haven't ridden Tica in three weeks and the competition at Saratoga is at the end of May.  I'd be in a state of agitated depression but that my instructor Linda Parmenter has enough room in her barn to take Tica in training for a couple of weeks.  Tica has over-nighted at Linda's Pinehaven Farm twice before and she's always been a dream to ride afterward. 

     I, like everyone after this brutal winter, am looking forward to daffodils and tulips.   But Spring, in all its metaphysical meaning--cannot come soon enough for the suffering people of Japan.  When I was in my twenties I lived there for almost five years--three in Tokyo where I experienced quakes first-hand.  They were smaller, of course, but disturbing nonetheless.  My dear friend from college, Mari, was visiting my little wood and paper house when a sizeable one hit.   I think it was near a 3 on the Richter Scale.  The sliding wooden door of my apartment rattled noisily and the bells in the neighboring gardens rang chaotically.  We dashed outside.  I felt like I'd stepped onto a bowl of Jell-o. From that day on I kept an earthquake kit in my house--flashlight, small bills for purchases, drinking water, and a towel which I would wet and drape across my face if I needed to get through fire and smoke.  I'd grown up believing that the security of the earth was a sure thing.  And I didn't realize how much I believed it, and how much I needed it, until it was gone.

       These are two photos taken inside my Tokyo home in 1972.  The floors were made of tatami mat, the sliding doors fitted with rice paper, and the structure wood.  All highly flameable.  In the photo on the right I had hung--I think unwittingly-- two items indicative of Japan's vulnerabilities--a Hokusai poster of a giant wave engulfing people and, above it to the left, a sign printed in English with steps to follow in case of an earthquake.

       The climate of Sendai is much like ours.  After living in the US, Spain, and Germany, Mari is back in Tokyo--about four hours south of Sendai.  I e-mailed her as soon as I saw the news of the quake begging her grab her mother, daughter, two dogs and get on a plane to Boston, and if not Boston, New York.  (Her husband is in the Japanese equivalent of the Peace Corps and sesrving in Cali, Colombia.) I wondered if she would even get it.   Within an hour she replied.  This is part of her first e-mail:

      "Thanks so much for your sweet offer.  To tell you the truth, I'm terrified.  But I doubt packing Ms.Tank (*That's our nickname for her  incredibly robust mother) and the two old dogs up will be easy.  All the quarantine papers that are required to export animals, and Ms. tank is fit but after all, she's 92, going on to 93.  If we did decide to leave here, California would be easier for everyone, considering the distance, but I just don't think it's feasible.  A friend called me from Spain this morning, telling us to flee to Spain.  But many flights have been canceled at Narita, and all these other things to take care of..... 
        And I don't think Pansy can make the long flight.  Yes, the nuclear reactors are such a concern.  3 people have been determined to be highly contaminated with radiation.  They've tested 3 out of 90 who were taken to the hospital, and suspect that the rest are also highly exposed to radiation.  They were apparently waiting for rescuers near the reactors.  I don't know how much the government is letting out information, but things seem pretty bad.  But at the moment, there's nothing we can do here.  But here in this area, life seems  as usual, at least outwardly.  Mana and I went shopping today to stock up on stuff, but instant noodles, for example, were wiped out from the shelf and there were practically no water bottles left.  We learned that many have been shipped to the affected areas. the ground is shaking as I'm writing this.  I'd better try to get some sleep, because I could hardly sleep last night.  And before that, we'd better fill up some pots and pans with water, just in case."

And then this this morning:

       "How I wish I could forget all of this even for a short while and be at your farm.  I'm drained.  I feel like I'm on the verge of a nervous break-down.  I know I should be stronger, but there's so much to take in.  If the major Chubu-Tokai Earthquake which has been predicted for a long time occurs, then Tokyo will be destroyed  in addition to other nearby regions.  We'll have a planned brown-outs tomorrow.  But the reactors are a nightmare.  Oh well, Ainslie chan.  I'm going to have a cup of Sleepy Time and try to get some sleep.  I did sleep a bit last night.  The aftershocks that we feel here have become much smaller, but the already severely affected areas continue to have strong tremors.  They don't have enough medical supplies (medicine, drips, dialysis tubes and filters, etc.), food and blankets, etc.  The already cold Tohoku is expecting rain and snow tomorrow.  It's like dooms-day.
How is Dolly and how is your arm?  You take care, and appreciate everything you have around you now.   The idea of fleeing this country is just not realistic at the moment.  The dogs, especially Pansy.  Nata still is very fit with excellent eye-sight and hearing.  And to take a flight from Osaka or Nagoya, we'd have to take the Shinkansen.  But it's very difficult to get to the Shinkansen Station.  Especially now with the planned brown-outs, trains stop operating. "

       This is heart-breaking and there seems to be no end in sight to this on-going tragedy.  And now this nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over--not only the people who suffered the quake and tsunami--but all of Japan.  I wish Mari and her family could and would come.  I wish everyone in danger there had somewhere they could take refuge.

        But as bad as things get, as supplies dwindle even more and frustration rise, at least there won't be an increase in crime.  The Japanese are resolutely honest.  Once I left my wallet in a Japanese taxi.  The driver returned with it and all the cash inside.  Over ninety-percent of the Japanese population considers itself middle-class.  And everyone knows about their great work ethic.  But what makes the Japanese so extraordinary is their ability to unite, endure, and achieve in the face of terrible adversity.  I glad that they have this quality, but I wish to God they didn't need it.  My heart goes out to everyone there.



Sunday, March 6, 2011

To Be Wild Or Not To Be Wild--That is This Section!

       You may have noted in the photo accompanying my previous entry that Dolly was no longer wearing her bright orange-red halter.  This halter took three burly, auction house employees over thirty minutes to wrestle onto her head, our first—though certainly not the last—evidence of her lack of handling.  In fact, this trouble, coupled with her determination not to get in the trailer, caused the Blaschke’s to realize they might have to give up and leave her.  But the thought of what might happen—that if I decided there was no way to get Dolly up to Massachusetts and that she could then possibly be shipped to slaughter—caused them to press on.  After another flip-over backwards and ding to her head, Dolly finally loaded.  (The wonderful Blaschke’s didn’t know me at that time but, of course, I would never have left Dolly there.  The following day I would have driven down myself and, even if it took all day, I’d have gotten her into my trailer.  I had made a commitment to this little girl and she was heading north to New England.)  All-nylon halters are dangerous things:  if a horse gets one caught on a gate or a stall door it will not break.  But some part of the horse will.  Each year many horses are seriously injured, even killed, by these penny-wise pound-foolish objects.  The one on Dolly needed to come off—but how?  A facility that regularly takes in rescued horses usually has a “squeeze box”—a chute where the new arrival is funneled into and properly restrained.  A wild thing like Dolly would immediately be administered a tranquilizer.  When it had taken effect, she’d be given a bath, dusted with mite powder, and have her feet trimmed and teeth checked.  She might also receive immunizations, depending on her level of fitness, and a Coggins—a blood test for equine infectious anemia—would be drawn.  Yes, another trauma inflicted but for her own good.

       Well, I’m no professional rescuer—I don’t have a squeeze box—so I’d simply have to tame her.  Please, no visions of The Misfits with poor Marilyn Monroe witnessing the rounding up of mustangs for dog food; nor of cowboys hanging on until their horse bucks to exhaustion.  Thankfully, these methods are no longer in favor save, perhaps, for a few Marlboro Men out there who haven’t yet died of lung cancer.

      Natural Horsemanship is the ticket:  it’s kind and efficient.  And the first step for Dolly was to convince her that I was not a predator but a prey animal such as herself.  But why on earth would Dolly think me a predator in the first place?  I furnished her with a nice warm stall, deep bedding, fresh water, grain, and unlimited hay.  I adore animals, and though I was upset when a Mama vixen killed twenty of my half-grown chicks in forty-five minutes, I bore her no ill will.   It might have been a coyote that got my beloved cat, but I was the first in my house to grab the binoculars and marvel when one invited my then-yearling Elementa into a game of tag with a series of play bows.  I’ve tossed a towel over a stricken sharp shin hawk and driven it to Tufts University veterinary clinic.  I even scooped up a skunk from the street after a car had severely injured it.  (That led to some decidedly unpleasant and, ultimately, sad days.)

       Answer to the question why Dolly might think I’m a predator:  I look like one.  Lions and tigers and bears—and me (oh, my!)—approach prey animals in a straight line, halting but never backing.  We look at them directly with a pair of eyes set close together in the front of our heads.  And our ears are flattened against the sides of the head—humans always, canines, felines, and bears when pursuing quarry.  You may think that a tentative, quiet approach to a nervous horse will convince her that you bear no ill will, but this is doubtful.  She’s more likely to interpret it as stalking.

        Another word here about herd dynamics.  Horses are herd animals—they derive their safety from the herd, and herds are hierarchical.  A horse wants to be with a herd, it’s programmed into their DNA.  If you released any horse into Paradise Valley, Nevada—whether a grand prix dressage horse, show jumper, draft or pony, young or old—it would join up with one of the mustang bands that roam there.

       At first the newcomer would be chased off but would remain on the edge of the herd, not an enviable position:  predators tend to pick off the animals that are on the herd’s fringe.  But then she’d try again and again to join up with the other mares.  She’d exhibit submissive behaviors—lowered head, licking and chewing, and at least one ear pointed in the direction of one of the other horses.  Eventually, the chase-offs would become fewer and fewer until she finally could graze side be side with members of the herd.  And so this would continue in her interactions with each member of the herd until she had established her rank within it.

       But where is the stallion? you ask, the fellow in charge of all these ladies?  First of all, despite what Hollywood with all its westerns over the past six decades would have you believe, the stallion is not in charge, except to the degree that he will drive off any other stallion who attempts to take over his herd, including any of the young males in the herd who’ve become old enough to challenge his reproductive authority.  (These exiled youngsters go off to form bachelor bands until they are older, strong enough, and lucky enough, to take over their own herd, which doesn’t usually happen until they’re at least ten years of age!)

       All this male rivalry aside, it’s the alpha mare who determines when and where the herd migrates, how to find the best grass and water, and if and when the stallion may breed!  So, the herd stallion might gallop up to introduce himself to the recent addition, but he would have to get the nod from the alpha mare as well as form the newcomer herself.  It’s a matriarchy.

       In the artificially constructed world of the round pen—lunge whip in hand—I set out to become Dolly’s herd leader, and, as you read in an earlier post, by moving her around, causing her to change direction, then softening my body posture, turning my shoulder in toward hers, and lowering my eyes, she would turn in.  But because of the winter ice I could neither move her forward nor change her direction as quickly or as frequently as I wanted to.  Though she would not come up to me (often referred to as "join-up" or "hooking-on"), she did allow me to approach and scratch her withers and neck.  But if I sought to draw my hand up closer to her face or back towards her tail she walked away.   In short, I had failed to demonstrate that I was adequately credentialed to be herd leader.

       So, how to get that halter off?  Fortunately, the ill weather that compelled us to shut Dolly in a stall yielded an opportunity.  Handling a wild horse in a closed space brings its own problems.  Aware they can no longer flee, a horse might resort to her second line of defense—fight.  But from the time of her pitched trailer battle through the two weeks she’d been with me, I’d not witnessed a single act of aggression on her part.  Yet, once Dolly was in the stall, she knew she was at a disadvantage.  She acquiesced, and within two visits to her stall, she permitted me to brush and curry her from neck to tail.

       By the third visit she demonstrated obvious pleasure in having her chest and the side of her face rubbed with the tips of my fingers.  This was the opening I needed.  Each time I scratched her cheek I’d also move my hand around the halter, sometimes touching it.  A lot of seemingly simple things with horses take small steps and several days.

       I would then immediately resume with her pleasurable rub.  Within minutes I was able to hold the halter and wiggle it a bit.  This I repeated until Dolly thought nothing of it.  A few more breaks, a few more scratches, and I was able to pull and push up on the part of the nylon strap that ran over her head and through the buckle.  I pulled my hand back and scratched the area of her neck I knew she was most accustomed to.  A few more tries and I was able flip the buckle's tongue out of the hole in which it was set.  I stepped back and the halter slid off on its own into the shavings.  Dolly calmly enjoyed a few more rubs.  Then I picked up the all-nylon halter and tossed it into the trash.  Good riddance.

       A word now about my own domestic life.  I've spoken little about my husband Jim but he has been much in my mind and always in my heart.  He is, in the words the poet  W.H. Auden, my North, my South, my East and West.  And we have had to be apart much of this year because Jim was given the wonderful opportunity to be a fellow at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina.  After six very busy years of chairing the English Department at Harvard, this gave him the time and distance from work to concentrate on his next book.  But it's been hard on us both.  We've tried to see each other twice a month but between the farm and Jim's other commitments this hasn't always been possible.   So we formulated a plan for early March:  my daughter would house-sit,  Jim would fly up to Boston, and we'd then drive up to Bretton Woods in New Hampshire for two days of skiing, good food, and rest. 

       Well, delete skiing for me.  I'd find other things to do.  I packed my dressage Omnibus and set of DVD's on cross-training your horse, Spanish language tapes, my recorder, and my Kindle.  I was going to get things done as I sat in the grand hotel room, drank latte, and took in the magnificence of Mount Washington, the tallest mountain east of the Rockies.  But as soon as we checked in and I lay on my bed my plans derailed.  I slept the entire afternoon.  The next morning--it was snowing and a bitter wind put the temperature at -12F--we watched a movie and walked about the historic hotel.   When it first opened in 1902 guests arrived by train at one of three(!) local stations and then were transported to the door by horse and carriage.  Jim and I came by car, of course, but with the majestic French Renaissance Great Hall, conservatories, and the Gold Room, where the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were signed into existence, I felt like a walk-on in a Henry James novel.

       Joseph Stickney, who had made his fortune in coal and railroads (perhaps we now know about those three train stations) was the hotel's founder and demanded the very best that the early 20th century had to offer his guests including over a half-acre of window glass, much of it facing east to grand views of sunrises and Mount Washington.  It's interesting to note that when Joseph and Carolyn Stickney marrried in 1892, he was 52 and she but 25.  When it was dinnertime at the hotel, Carolyn would observe the women arriving for dinner from behind a balcony curtain.  If she thought that any female guest better dressed than she was, then Mrs. Stickney would retreat to her wardrobe and don a different--and, of course--superior gown.  When she wished to go swimming, the pool would be emptied of guests until she'd finished taking to the waters.   One year after her beloved husband's death Carolyn married a member of French royalty and--as the hotel's brochure states--was "affectionately" known as the "The Princess."  It also adds that "some say her hospitable spirit still resides in her beloved hotel."  Everyone out of the pool!

      The next day brought skiing for Jim.  After luxuriating in bed--something horses and home never allow me--I made my way to a comfortable chair with mountain view, and between sips of latte, thumbed through the Omnibus, entertaining what shows I might be able to enter this year.  Then Ingrid Klimke's newly-released DVD set on cross-training and Greg Mortensen's Stones Into Schools.  It was a lovely afternoon!  This followed by drinks and yet another lovely evening meal.

      Next morning we returned  home.  I felt rested but not rejuvenated.   It is the farm that rejuvenates me but, ironically, it is the farm that exhausts me.   I'm certainly not the only horse owner who experiences this dilemma.   I head out to the barn to check everyone.  Dolly seems even friendlier.  My daughter Marleny had spent a good bit of time just sitting near her in the round-pen.   She seemed to enjoy a hearty finger scratch on her hindquarters.  It was time for those horrible green "613" squares, so strongly adhered to her coat, to go.  And go they did, the very next day.  I scratched and picked the first one off and Juliane the second.  Done without trauma and fear, to the great relief of us all.   The only number Dolly would ever wear again would be on her bridle as she enters the show ring.

 You Tube videos of Dolly's auction sticker removal:

       And here is a You Tube of the Berceuse from Gabriel Faure's Dolly Suite, written for the one-year-old daughter of Emma Barduc.  The French composer was in love with Mme. Barduc, and it is said that he hoped it would help secure her affections.  Though our Dolly hails from Tennessee, it's this charming, intimate piece of music (rather than Dolly Parton) that contributed to the selection of our filly's name.  I hope you'll have time to listen; it speaks to the sweet vulnerability in all young things.

   Next week's blog:  Weather and footing willing, we will describe and present a You Tube of Dolly round-penning and, if we do it well enough, joining-up with us for the first time.