Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tica, Linda, Gil Merrick, The Chiropractor/Vet and Dolly, Clem's Homeschooling

Tica                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011         

       You read about Gil Merrick in an earlier posting:  now, five months later, he returned for another clinic at The Ark.  But this time Linda and I were able to afford two sessions rather than just one.  It was wonderful to see Tica, with Linda riding her, progress so quickly within the space of two lessons.  I wish I could show you them on day one as well, but I didn't have my video camera.  Though on the second day Tica was more relaxed, she seemed a bit tired so her trot and canter weren't quite as expansive as they'd been the previous day.  Here's a brief sample of the work Gil, Linda, and Tica did:

        One of Mr. Merrick's numerous pedagogical gifts is that he seamlessly slips into the combined role of teacher, coach, and friend to you and your horse.  There is never a hint of the irritation, sarcasm, or superiority which I, and I'm sure most of you, have experienced at least once in your efforts to progress in your sport.   By way of underscoring Mr. Merrick's civility and supportive manner, I thought I would jot down, by contrast, some of my least happy (and least productive) encounters with instructors.  Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

       While I was teaching cadets international relations at West Point in the early 1980s, I rode in a dressage clinic hosted by an Englishman named Tony.  The invited clinician, his former instructor Hildy Schmidt, had flown over from Europe.  Though I did have a vague idea what shape qualified as a circle, I didn't have a clue what constituted twenty meters.  My horse, being ridden by me,  wasn't helpful with the metric system either.   Early on, Frau Schmidt gave up on us and turned her pedagogical Klieg lights on Tony.  All was apparently going well--how could I really tell?--but then Tony's mount began to rear.  I halted and glanced over.  A horsefly the size of a well-fed hummingbird had attached itself to the animal's neck.

       "Forward!  Forward!!  For-waard!!"  Frau Schmidt screamed.
       (A thin stream of blood now ran down the poor chestnut's neck.)

       "I'm sorry, Frau Schmidt, a fly is bothering--"

       "If he vas concentrating he vould not be sinking of flies!" 

       On another occasion, I called a friend's cell number.  It turned out she was auditing a clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, given by a member of Germany's gold medal dressage team.  This instructor's style was akin to Frau Schmidt's.   But even louder:  I heard every impatient word.

       "Forward!  Forward!!  For--waard!!!"  Then "Outside rein!  Outside rein!!  Out-side rein!!!" 

       I could have audio-audited the entire despotic clinic from my sofa here in Acton, Massachusetts.  That is, had I wanted to.

       In Munich, over twenty-five years ago, I proudly showed a university professor and fellow rider a photo of my young Andalusian mare with whom I was planning to have an exciting dressage career.  He glanced down at my stomach--he had just learned I was two months pregnant--and said with a dismissive shake of his head:
       "No, you are too old (I was thirty-five).  After zis baby you will ride only in za park."
       If he showed up today on this side of the Atlantic I would happily have him accompany all my silver-haired friends, now finished with our competitive season, for a five-mile gallop along the sands and tide pools of Crane Beach.  Park, indeed.

       Lest you think I'm focusing unfairly on one nationality, here are two more examples.

      A friend of mine accompanied by one of her own friends was en route to a clinic given by a former member of the U.S. Olympic dressage team.  Already acquainted with the sharp tongue of this high-level rider, they made a pact:  they were not going to cry, no matter what was said or how it was said.   They succeeded, but others did not.  As my friend entered the ring, two weeping riders were leaving.

      A few years ago I entered a clinic given by a "gentleman" from Scotland whose Sally Swift-like work is known world-wide.  He'd written a book which I greatly admired.  So, I was totally taken aback when he sarcastically tore me into little pieces, and scattered my remains, metaphorically, about the arena floor.  In a flood of tears, I dismounted and began to walk out.  The organizer of the clinic caught me at the door and convinced me to get back on.  I shouldn't have.  I did, however, have enough residual pride and common sense to sell my next day's ride to someone else.  The teacher was back the following year for a November clinic.  The person in whose house he was staying remarked with some amazement that he had willingly peeled a whole bag of onions for their Thanksgiving dinner.  I peevishly remarked that I hoped they'd made him cry.

       These personality types are not confined to clinics and lessons.  One British woman studying dressage in Germany was told by a fellow boarder that she had a world-class horse but that he was never going to win any serious competitions with her riding him.  That person--together with that same horse--went on to ride in the Olympics and win a bronze medal.

       And then there are the instructors who pounce on the most vulnerable segment of the riding population--children.  I worked as an instructor at a local riding school (factory) for nearly a month.  But when I kept changing the horses out of their severe bits into loose ring and d-ring snaffles, it was determined that my knowledge of the horses' mouths was not nuanced enough.  And I stopped lessons too many times to work on body alignment.  They decided I needed to shadow one of their instructors in a group lesson.

       I did indeed learn, but not the lesson they had in mind.  There was one little girl, about ten, who was obviously terrified of jumping.  As she approached an in-and-out on her large pony, the little girl would invariably, out of fear, haul on the reins.  Thus, she was screamed at.  It was an accident in the making.  The more the teacher screamed the more she hauled.  All this was a normal reaction on her part.  She was in what I call the riding death spiral, a figure of speech occasionally all too literal.  When riders are afraid, they hang onto the reins but then do not release the pressure.  The horse learns there is no reward for his having slowed, so why should he bother?  Therefore, the more the rider hauls, the more the horse responds in kind--the other way.

       I was witnessing the evolution of a disaster.  The next go-around the pony tried to take the in-and-out as a bounce rather than a one-stride and crashed right through the second fence.  His little rider went flying and landed with a thud--her worst fears now realized.    She was then scolded for making all this happen.  The poor little tyke managed to hold in her tears and climb back on her now equally traumatized mount.  When it came time for the next jump, the little girl blasted over the obstacle,  precariously managing to stay on.  She received much praise for facing her fears.

       But when she dismounted she nearly crumpled to the ground.  She'd hit her head on the previous jump and said she felt dizzy.  This was the instructor's now sympathetic and thus, even more emotionally destabilizing reply:

       "Don't you know that when your head hurts you're supposed to get off?"

       OMG!  In that environment no child would dare think of dismounting--even if her own head was about to fall off.  I ran into the mother, whom I heard saying to another parent, "I guess you've just got to get back on when you fall off."
       I walked up to her.  "No you don't," I said, "and certainly not when your child is terrified and in circumstances that are increasingly frightening--and dangerous."
       I quit that farm that day, resolving that if I ever got another job teaching I would never force a child to ride through paralyzing fear--a modicum of uneasiness or apprehension, yes, certainly--but never ever the kind of self-fulfilling fear that actually causes accidents.

       Of course, the psychological roots of this kind of pedagogical tyranny are well known.  But I think the great Czech poet Ranier Maria Rilke sums it up better in "Imaginary Career" than any shrink ever could:  

               "The child bent, becomes the bender."

       Like some of you more advanced riders, I've been to clinics where the message and the messenger are both sub-par, to clinics where the message was appropriate but the messenger would have been shot in some cultures.  I have zero financial or any other kind of stake in this advice:  If you have a chance to ride or simply audit with Gil Merrick please take it.  In him, you'll see that the message and messenger are one, and that such oneness in a dressage trainer is to be cherished.

       This little girl below, Amalia, age seven and a half, hails from Switzerland, and is at the very beginning of what is sure to be a great equestrian career.   She has been riding at Windflower only three months and is already an expert at round penning.  Here you see her driving Kip forward: 

   Amalia and Kip                                                                                                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       And in this next photo she has achieved join-up.  By moving Kip forward then making her change directions (but without direct contact of a lead line), Amalia has established herself as "herd-leader."  Thus, no reins or lead are required for Kip to follow her obediently:

     Kip "joins-up" with Amalia                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

              And now Amalia demonstrates a gesture of her own invention:  "The Mother Stroke."

              Amalia's "Mother Stroke"                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011 

           After a recent lesson, Amalia was administering huge strokes all over Kip.  I asked her what she was doing and she replied,  "Giving Mother Strokes."  This was news to me.
       "Amalia, what are 'Mother Strokes'?"
       "Well," she said, "remember when you told me how mother horses lick their foals all over when they're born?  You said you thought that was why horses liked to be stroked all over, and that it helps them relax.  That's what I'm doing, and I call it Mother Stroking."

       Dear Readers, having read the above, I expect to hear a collective "Awww" in cyber-space.  And since there is now an official name for it, I recommend that all of you give your horses "Mother Strokes" after each ride, which may be done with or without the slurping sounds Amalia makes with her tongue.

       I received this charming Christmas tree ornament from Amalia just this afternoon.  She made it out of polymer clay.  It will grace our trees for many holidays to come.  (The sloppy handwriting is my own.)

                                Amalia's Xmas horse             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       Here is where I planned to include photos of Firefly, Elementa, and Dolly.  We took them to Foss Farm in Carlisle twice to use the jumps in the lovely ring there and then took them on a little hack.   But both times I forgot to insert my CF card!  I happily clicked away both times until I paused long enough to note that the 'no cf card' was flashing.  Argghhhh!!   There will now be an extra card in my camera bag at all times.  Otherwise, it went very well.

     Last blog I wrote about Rufo, the half-shepherd, half-pit bull who has been in a Yonkers, New York, shelter four out of the five years of his life.  The staff has refused to euthanize him because of his loveable nature.   I'm happy to report that as of April 1 Rufo will be adopted by my friend Jon.  Many years ago Jon adopted a dog I had found languishing in a local shelter.  Robbie became an adored member of Jon's home for many years until he died two years ago.  Since then Jon has been dog-less, a state which needed an immediate fix. 

       Unfortunately, the nature of Jon's work precludes him from adopting Rufo until Spring, but the people who run the rescue group,  and who were the ones who initially informed me of Rufo's plight, are trying to find Rufo a foster home until then.  They are even arranging obedience training for this lovely boy.   Though he is super-friendly, the nature of his living arrangements have precluded Rufo's being up to speed on social skills.  

       And now a Clem update:

             Clem chez lui                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011


       Master Clem wins all hearts who have the good fortune of meeting him.  He is a charming puppy who continually amuses us with his adorable antics!  Even things for which he must be admonished--constantly stealing shoes and socks--brings smiles to our faces.  He loves his long walks, loves his food (turkey got a big "paws up"), loves to hop into bed with us, and even loved his trip to the vet.  "What needle?  Was that a needle?  Oh, this man in the white coat likes me.  I will lick him all over because I like him, too." 

       Next week Clem and Jim begin four weeks of obedience training at our local pet store.   At four months Clem is now too old for puppy kindergarten.  Not that he is without training:  he's just been home schooled.  I'm going to attempt to video the sessions and if any are blog-able will post them. 

                  Clem at liberty!                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

    Great leap forward, flaps up!                                                           Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

     Clem in repose                                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

             I don't quite understand!                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011  

       The above photos say more about this little man than my words can.

       I don't know if you've heard this, but their are "laughing clubs" springing up all over China.  It has been decided there--as it has been in many places--that telling jokes, that is, good ones--are beneficial for one's health.  Chinese routinely meet to laugh their heads off!  I thought I'd make a modest attempt to elevate my readers' endorphin level (mine, too, BTW) by occasionally including a humorous fact, story, or joke at the end of a blog entry.  This is from the classified section of a newspaper:

      "Free puppies.  1/2 cocker spaniel--1/2 neighbor's sneaky dog."

Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly and . . .

                Clem's silhouette                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011











Friday, November 11, 2011

Winter Beach Season, and a Southern Boy Comes North

     Ice (formerly Nitelite), Firefly, and Brit                                                                           Photo credit: Obliging Stranger

       October 1 is the day many riders in this area eagerly anticipate:  it is the day that Crane Beach, just northeast of Boston, opens to horses.  But, as usual, and though I swore otherwise, we Windflower folk didn't make it there until yesterday.  We left early because I knew I'd need to fill out the requisite form at the gatehouse and pay the usual fee of four dollars per horse in order to get my trailer sticker.  I handed the gray-haired man twelve dollars and said I had two horses and a mule.

       "A mule?  Really?  Can I see?"
       He reached up and stroked her nose.  "Awww, why the long face?"  (Sigh--another ear joke!)  "Where did you get her?"
       "She's a rescue."
       Brit shoved her muzzle into his hand.  "Awww," again.
       We went back to the booth and I handed him twelve dollars.  He returned four.
        "But I have three."
        He held the ticket up for me to read.  "See," he said, "'horses, four dollars.'"  He smiled.  "I wouldn't know what to charge you for a mule."
       "A mule is half horse-half donkey.  I could give you two dollars for the horse half," I offered.
       "Sorry,  regulations are complicated enough.  Anytime I'm at this booth your little mule is free." 

                                                               Anne Dykiel copyright 2011

       What a glorious day it was!  There was a mild onshore breeze, the deep blue sky shot through with bolts of sun gold.  One of  Mother Nature's unique Massachusetts playgrounds looked her best.  Kites snapped in the wind, children in bright jackets gamboled in scattered little flocks, joggers jogged, lovers walked, dogs leapt waves to retrieve balls and sticks, and horses galloped through the tide pools.

      That was the scene Anne, her daughter Dana, and I saw as  we crested the path between the dunes leading out to the ocean.  It was a total celebration--maybe too much celebration for my novice group.  This was but Ice's second trip to the beach and Brit's first!  We pressed on.  Firefly, always forward, was more so, and Anne had her hands full convincing Ice that a nice walk would be, well, nice.  Little Brit walked resolutely forward, big brown eyes agog with amazement, her long ears rotating like radar dishes.

    Brit and Firefly                                                                                                         Anne Dykiel copyright 2011

      Crossing through the tide pools--like the one you see in the photo above--was more of a challenge.  Wind-blown water slid sideways, creating the unsettling illusion of a powerful, quick current.   But after some strategic cajoling they all crossed, enjoying the splashes of water their legs and hooves created.

       A number of parents and children asked if they could pet our ponies and we were happy to oblige.  As a little girl I remember the magical feeling of touching a horse's muzzle for the first time.  He was in a pasture in Old Brookfield--Long Island's horsey, old money area.  When I squealed at the sight of him my father obligingly pulled over.  I had to stand on the middle rung of a split rail fence to reach the velvety nose. 

      We rode out to where the beach ends and Ipswich Harbor begins.  It's a lovely view:  fishing boats were already returning with the day's catch, the charming New England town of Ipswich on the opposite shore, a very different scene from our ride almost exactly eight years ago when it was cold, rainy, and very windy.  Then the sky was grey, the water grey, even the sand had a grey caste.  When it rained we didn't know whether is was salt water blown by the onshore gale or fresh water falling from the grey stratus clouds above.  

       No one was on the beach that day but us, that is, Hadrien and Juliane, another two of Anne's children.  At least, that's what we thought until we reached Ipswich Harbor, the turn-around point of our ride.  There in the sand, twenty or so feet up from the water, was a seal pup staring curiously back at us with dark, liquid brown eyes.  We wondered if he was okay.  From time to time a sick pup would be found onshore, but more often than not Mom has placed them there in order to do some serious fishing.  That's why the occasional signs posted about say, "If you care, leave it there." 

      I looked past him into the waves.  There, swimming in the breaking waves, was an adult seal.  We got within fifteen feet of the little critter on the sand, but that was too close for him.  He awkwardly humped his way down to the water and his mother.  We were cold and wet by the time we got back to our trailer, but we didn't mind.  The beach, so inhospitable to humans that day some years ago, had as consolation granted this wonderful seal encounter.

       Now (back in the present) at the end of our ride, we dismounted, took the saddles off, and let the horses have a good roll in the deep white sand.  They were sweaty, wet, and itchy, so this had to feel incredibly good to them.  Some riders have told me they would never teach their horses that it's okay to roll while on the beach.  But we teach them it's okay only when the ride is over, we've dismounted, and their saddles have been stripped.  They do love it and it seems only fair after their having given us such fabulous rides.  I'm sorry I don't have a picture of those who rolled this go-round, but here's one of Quilly on a different day:

    Lindsay and Quilly                                                                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011


                Ice, tired but oh-so-content!                                                                              Anne Dykiel copyright 2011  

          Brit                                                                    Anne Dykiel copyright 2011

       Just last night Anne sent me a short clip of Brit rolling.
You'll also learn that Brit is getting a bi-lingual education:

       After several rolls each, the saddles got put back on and we walked the remaining quarter mile back over the dunes to the parking lot.  This allows the horses to stretch out their back muscles without the burden of us.

   Hoofprints and Footprints                                                                                                      Anne Dykiel copyright 2011

              Now at the trailer, one and all get a long drink of water laced with a handful of sweet feed as inducement:

    After Ride Refreshments                                                                                                    Dana Dykiel copyright 2011

       Then it's a stop for some hot chocolate before heading back home to consult the tide charts and plan our next trip to Crane!

       You glimpsed him last blog and here he is again--meet Clem! 

        Clem                                                                                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       Clem is an eighteen-week Lab mix we found at Forever Home Rescue New England  He's a southern boy hailing from the great state of Mississippi.  It seems his very pregnant yellow lab mother wandered up some kind soul's driveway.  She was taken in and soon after delivered seven yellow lab mix puppies, every one a boy.  So Clem (he was then called Lamar) has never known an unkindness, save perhaps his two-day truck ride to a Massachusetts foster home, where he stayed five days prior to our adopting him.  He is as happy-go-lucky as they come:

                  Clem                                                                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       And bold: 

               Clem's Descent                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011



              And a retriever through and through:

                                 Retriever Clem                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

              We are incredibly lucky to have this little fellow enter our lives.  He is Life Force itself, reminding us at every moment to eat, play,  love, and even sleep with gusto.  But one member of the household doesn't share our joy.  Bella is our son Alec's ten-year-old Springer Spaniel mix.  I took Alec to the Lowell Humane Society just a week or so after Alec's first dog Toby (whom he had for over eleven years) died.  Alec said he wanted to get another dog--no waiting.  I told Jim that Alec said he didn't want to sleep alone, and Jim was right on board.  When your seventeen year-old son says he doesn't want to sleep alone and that the state of aloneness he is referring to is aloneness without a dog, You Get That Boy A Dog!

       When Bo died, Bella seemed thrilled to be the only dog.  She was the only recipient of our attention and of the tasty morsels she usually had to share.  Enter a four-month-old bundle of in-your-face competitive energy!  Bella initially expressed only depression, sadness, and irritation.  It's been two weeks now and she is finally  coming around.  Yesterday she actually ran a couple of happy loops with Clem in the front yard.  Still, I think she's hoping he's just one more of my friends' dogs that occasionally overnight here and that someone will relieve her of this intrusive ball of happy fire.

       Bella about to fall asleep and dream that Clem is leaving:

                             Bella                                                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011       
      Clem, of course, is one of the fortunate ones.  He never was in a high-kill shelter--the most common source of these southern dogs.  The southern states do not have a monopoly on producing these castaways but they certainly are up there.  My friends run a rescue in southwest Virginia and were quite frank about what they see.   Shelters automatically put to sleep the many pit bull litters that come through their doors.  There are two reasons; the breed itself as well as the sort of people who often are interested in adopting them.  And they have so many other litters to place.
       After hunting season, hounds are sometimes discarded on the side of the highways and picked up by the police--if they have survived--and turned in to a shelter.  Abuse cases are legion.  A few months ago another friend took in a young, emaciated, collar-less German Shepherd who was hanging out at a bridge crossing in South Carolina.  A search led to no owner, or at least the owner wasn't looking or caring.  To this day, whenever the dog sees a dark pickup truck, he begins to wag his tail joyfully and bark with happy anticipation.  Let's hope the low-life who dumped this poor guy will eventually transform into--as the bumper sticker says--"the person my dog thinks I am." 

       A couple of years ago I was in Kentucky--a gorgeous state--with my husband.  We saw a good number of stray dogs along the road or crossing pastures.  There--at a conference-- I met a gentleman from Tennessee active in his state's politics and a farmer as well.   I asked him why there isn't more action taken to end this problem.  Many rescued dogs come from the state that entreats tourists with the slogan:  "America At Its Best!"  This was his reply:
       "Are you kidding?  We don't even have the money to treat the meth-amphetamine addicts."  He then said he periodically has to shoot packs of dogs, mostly shepherds and lab mixes, that come onto his property threatening the livestock.

      But, of course, the problem isn't simply lack of money.  True, south of the border that is partially the case.  In Mexico wages are low and it costs approximately one week's salary to neuter your dog.  The humane societies there struggle valiantly.  Please check out the wonderful Cozumel Humane Society at  Also click here to read about an amazing YouTube, "Friendship Among the Garbage."  The YouTube is also there at the bottom of the page:

       Closer to home, one of my husband's colleagues at work brought to our attention a wonderful dog much in need of adopting.  He was brought to a shelter at the age of one and at five is still there.  His cage is way too small.  The staff just doesn't understand why no one has adopted him.  In fact, they think he is so exceptional that they will not euthanize him.  Rufo is very gentle, loving, and so patiently waiting for someone to love him back.  Please, please, I know many of you are friends who already suffer from "heart-overload," but if you or anyone you know could just bear a little more "love-weight" and could provide a home for this terrier-shepherd mix, click here for info and a photo:

       Next week Dr. Liz Maloney will be here to evaluate Dolly.  On her last visit six weeks ago, Liz, who is also a chiropractor, confirmed what I had already thought, that Dolly's pelvis--due to her traumatic breeding and foaling--was way out of alignment.  So we haven't really done any work under saddle.  But I have been ponying her behind Tica on trails to build up her back muscles, as well as doing the usual natural horsemanship groundwork.  I'm hoping to get the green light from Liz so that Juliane and I can begin our mounted work.  I will keep you posted.

              Dolly 11/10/11                                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       Our dog Bo is gone but still very much here.  I pass her grave at least once a day as I go out on the trail with Clem or the horses.  Clem does pull us away from our grief, but the grief is still there.  When the same colleague who is trying to save Rufo heard we were getting a puppy, she e-mailed this quotation from the American poet Galway Kinnell:

            the need for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

      That's it for this week's edition of The Windflower Weekly.  See you next week and

                   Clem's First Evening At Home                                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

good night,