Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When Coyotes Choose Fight Over Flight "Horse Helping Horses" Trail Ride to Benefit MSPCA at Nevins Farm Introducing Aki and Vincent

        Last Sunday Zoe, a student here at Windflower, went with me on a trail ride in Great Brook State Park, Carlisle, Massachusetts. The photo above is of Firefly just after she got glammed up for the adventure.  However, my last blog entry promised Part II of "When Coyotes Choose Fight Over Flight," so I start with the most unsettling wildlife encounter of my life.

When Coyotes Choose Fight Over Flight,  Part II

       I introduced you to this magnificent fellow in my last entry.  I took this while he was having a leisurely, self-guided tour about my farm.  Handsome, isn't he?  And big!  He had to weigh at least forty pounds.  He'd seen me standing at a respectful distance with my camera and trotted off seconds later.  As described in Part 1, this encounter was little different from others I've had.  Some coyotes disappear into the undergrowth in a flash, while others walk or trot slowly away.   However, two weeks ago I had a different sort of encounter and, for the first time, it involved not one but two of these extraordinary creatures.

       We are fortunate that our farm abuts several hundred acres of conservation trails, as well as private land whose owner welcomes selected horses, cross-country skiers, cyclists, and hikers. Unfortunately, the conservation trails, over years of use and erosion, have become increasingly rocky and gnarled with hard tree roots, allowing for little more than a walk in most sections.  However, if I travel a bit further afield I get to the private land with unmarked trails suitable for trotting and a good gallop.  One trail runs up a large hill and is great for conditioning, as well just having some plain old fun.  I was trotting up that hill on Elementa, along with our dog Clem and our neighbor's dog Lucky, when Elementa screeched to a halt.  There up ahead on the trail was a coyote and it was, with the exception of one pup, the smallest I'd ever seen.  

   Elementa                                                                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

                              Clem                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014


     Lucky                                                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014 

       How fortunate, I thought, to catch yet another glimpse of this animal I found so fascinating!  However, within a few seconds it became apparent that this was not going to be a fleeting glimpse but rather a confrontation driven by this smaller female together with a large male who appeared immediately on the scene when she emitted a series of high-pitched barks.  

      The small one began arching her back, gaping her mouth (something I'd not seen before), scuffing the ground with her forelegs, and continuing to bark.  The male dashed into the woods and began what I can only describe as the beginning of an encircling maneuver.  Meanwhile, Clem thought these oddly-behaving dogs deserved a closer look.  Thankfully, between my yelling for him to come back and the coyote's non-inviting posturing accompanied with rapid-fire barks and howls, he backed off.  Lucky, the older and more sensible dog, kept his distance.  Meanwhile, Elementa, having thought her human had gone nuts, wanted nothing more than to go backwards, forwards or sideways, anything other than to be kept at a halt.

       For this reason, as well as believing that I might have to go after the coyotes if they attacked the dogs, I dismounted.  I didn't turn away because I feared my retreat might trigger a predator response.  I picked up a thick, six-foot long branch and waved it at them while yelling, "Get back, get out, go away!"  Meanwhile Elementa, thinking I had picked up a new and terrifying kind of dressage whip, continued to dance and whirl around me.  This was taken last winter but this is where she was headed, minus the snow, if I hadn't gotten off:

       The coyotes seemed increasingly upset.  The female was now within ten feet of Clem and only fifteen feet from me and closing. My acting more aggressively seemed to confirm to them that I was a clear and present danger.   It was May, so I was pretty sure the security of a den was at issue.  Hmm, maybe acting like prey was the ticket.  I turned and started to walk down the hill.  The female trotted after us while the male stayed parallel to my shoulder about ten yards into the woods.  I began to run a bit.  No dice, she continued trotting.  This was not good.

       Behaving like a predator hadn't worked, neither had behaving like prey.  Maybe a little bit of both would work.  I decided to walk backwards down the hill.  I kept one hand on Elementa's shoulder for balance while I continued to wave the stick in my right. This predator-prey behavior on my part seemed to help.  The female continued to follow but moved a bit more into the woods.  The male also put himself deeper into the woods but continued to remain on a point parallel to my shoulder.

      After about a quarter of a mile, the female was nowhere to be seen but the male still accompanied us.  At certain points I thought he might be gone but every so often Elementa would freeze, and when I followed her gaze, there he was, camouflaged in brush but definitely there and staring straight at us.  Of course, I didn't want to linger, but Elementa did, at least until she'd evaluated the danger.  I tapped her on the flanks with a branch to encourage her to move forward.  The time for evaluating this threat had passed.

       It was a half mile from the point I first sighted the female that I thought the coyote might truly have decided to call it a day.  I phoned my friend Dave, Lucky's owner, and relayed what had happened.  I continued to walk.  When Elementa relaxed enough to grab a few leaves, I got back on her and booked until I saw my good friend and neighbor coming up the path.

       In the midst of the threat perhaps I didn't have time to feel afraid, or fear was being overridden by adrenaline, or it was a little of both.  However, by the time I phoned Dave I felt a  wave of relief while my heart simultaneously pounded against my rib cage. 

      Though very few people transit that area, there were houses nearby so I decided to call the Acton police.   They determined an interview was warranted.  Once I told the arriving patrolman that I was neither hurt nor did the coyotes appear sick, he informed me that the landowner allowed his uncle to hunt on the property and his house was full of pelts.  I was horrified!  I told him I thought they were protecting a den, and that their response to me was totally understandable.  After all, maybe these were first time parents.  How much did I overreact in his first months of my son Alec's life.  Fortunately, he promised to keep the information in official channels.

       I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.  I didn't want any human or any coyote to get hurt.  Should I put signs up at both ends of the trail stating that there were aggressive coyotes in that area?  No one would want to walk that way if they knew.  Or would they?  What if some gung-ho hunter or group of foolish children saw the signs as an invitation rather than a warning?

       In the end, I decided against the signs, but I did call the daughter of the landowner who lived near the trail.  I'm glad I did.  She told me that her children often cut through the woods to visit their grandfather, and that she would go to the houses in that area to warn them about what had happened.    

      Did this incident change my feelings about coyotes?  Aside from increasing my respect for the extent that they will go to protect their little ones, not a bit.  As you know from my last entry, I don't like that they are hunted.  Many people around here whine about the exploding deer population.  I dislike the idea of deer being killed, but coyotes taking out sick deer or precious newborn fawns (sob!) is Mother Nature's way of controlling the deer population.   

       I should mention that I do not believe the smaller coyote was the mother of pups.  Pups are born in May and their mother will not leave the den for five to seven weeks.  It was late May at the time of this incident.  Rather, I think she was a helper auntie.  As I wrote
in the last entry, a member of a previous litter will often stay, hunt for food for the mother and babies, and protect.   That's who I think that female likely was.  The large male, I believe, was papa. 

        That night I did more research on my computer.  Several articles confirmed that coyotes bark for two reasons, to protect a kill, or to protect a den.  Here is a YouTube I found of a coyote barking.  The barking exhibited towards me was much more animated and frequent, with short interspersed howls.  But this will give you some idea of what I heard.  Just ramp it up by a factor of ten:

       I do think that if I hadn't been with a horse, it is likely that the dogs and I would have been attacked and seriously bitten, maybe worse.  The Division of Fish and Game then would want to have known where the encounter had taken place but I would not have told them.  They might possibly shoot the pair and send their brains off to a lab to determine if they were rabid.  (I don't think they were at all.)   However, my ever-cautious and loving husband would have encouraged me to take that series of rabies shots to make sure I was okay.  For his peace of mind, I would have.  Anyway, the series of five shots is no longer a large needle inserted into the stomach but a smaller one into the arm or thigh, causing no more discomfort than a tetanus shot.

       I won't ride on that trail for at least a month and a half.  By then the pups will be out of the den and, along with the other members of their family, be more inclined (I hope) to choose flight over fight.  I'm sorry that I caused this family distress, and I am so glad they threatened but in the end didn't attack.  I hope that from now on they can raise their pups in peace.

MSPCA Horses Helping Horses


       Here is Elementa cavorting after an invigorating bath while Zoe was combing out Firefly's luxurious and time-consuming mane.  (Like a lot of horse people, I spend much more time on my horses' coifs than I do on my own.)  In one of their many efforts to raise money for animals in need, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) holds a trail ride, "Horses Helping Horses," dedicated to raising money specifically for horses that are turned in or seized by the MSPCA.  Comprising one thousand acres with over twenty miles of trails, Great Brook State Park couldn't be a better place to host this event.  These woods held sacred sites for Native Americans, and a number of settlers called it home in the 1600s.
       I've been on numerous organized trail rides but this was eleven-year-old Zoe's first and her mount was Firefly, our very forward thinking, hot-blooded Haflinger.  Zoe, however, is a positive, talented rider and matching Firefly in her boldness and determination.  I was on Elementa.  We had both recovered from our trip to what I now refer to as "Coyote Hill."  However, just one week after that, I was riding Elementa in that same woods.  We were crossing a wooden bridge when one of the planks broke under the weight of her right foreleg.  She managed to regain her footing. And, miraculously, I managed not to fall off.   I dismounted and examined Elementa, who was holding her foreleg off the ground.  I was so afraid that it was broken, but it had just been stung.  I hand-walked her for about a half-mile, then got back on and rode the last couple of miles home.
      Back to "Horses Helping Horses."  We started our ride at a walk, Elementa leading.   We were to be the babysitters to inhibit Firefly's ever-present desire to increase the pace.  That arrangement changed almost immediately at our first wooden bridge.  No way was Elementa going to risk crossing one of those horse-eating contraptions again!
       So I asked Zoe and Firefly to take the lead.  Success!  Elementa thought the more prodigious Firefly was a fine guinea pig, and after Firefly crossed Elementa went, too.  Hardly elegant enough for a judged trail ride, but after what she and I had experienced a few days earlier, it was a blue-ribbon crossing.
      Now in front, Firefly continued to comport herself like an experienced trail horse.  Zoe's confidence and command kept her literally on the straight and narrow.  After a few more bridges that failed to collapse, Elementa was now truly enjoying herself.  She'd been to Great Brook previously but never with so many horses.  Because we were now out of second gear we needed to pass quite a few.  There were a number of inexperienced horses and riders so we took care not to cause any disruptions when passing.  Also, there have recently in the area been a few cases of equine strangles--a highly contagious respiratory infection--so we gave other horses a wider berth than usual.

       Great Brook trails are well-maintained, so if the way was clear of other horses, we were able to trot and canter for long stretches.  The ride had been advertised at over seven miles but had to be cut down to five owing to some busy little beavers who'd recently built a few new dams that flooded two miles of trails.  

       By the time we got to the finish the sun was high in the sky and the horses sweaty.  Zoe and I had worn protective vests so our shirts were wet through.  (And, of course, helmets--always helmets!)  We hand-walked the horses before washing them and offering them water.  After hand-grazing Firefly and Elementa, we loaded them onto the trailer.

       We then reported our return, where we learned that one the raffle tickets we'd been given entitled us to a three-pound bag of horse treats.  There was also a wonderful lunch of pasta, salad, desserts, and beverages.  However, because we were afraid the horses would soon get uncomfortable in their hot trailer, Zoe and I opted to drive to nearby Kimball's Ice Cream Stand.  There we were able to park the trailer in the shade and enjoy a large sundae (Zoe) and and milkshake (me).

       We had a great time.  The event was wonderfully managed by helpful, friendly MSPCA employees and volunteers, cheerful and helpful, giving their time, not only that Sunday but also the many advance hours needed to organize such an event.  Over five thousand dollars was raised, and I want to thank everyone at Nevins Farm for a great day.  I hope to get some photos that I can post in my next blog entry.

  Glass Light Box Update

       I've been having quite a bit of success selling selling my glass light boxes.  My two best customers to date have been veterinary clinics and hair salons who place them in their restrooms as a sort of welcoming night light.  Not surprisingly the animal hospitals are drawn to the  ones with horses, dogs, and cats, while the hair salons go for flowers, garden scenes, and cats.  Here are a few of my latest designs:

       These will be available within the week at my online shop Windflower Glass Blocks at Etsy.  Here's the link:  Those glass boxes listed in my last blog entry  ( may also be found there.
          Next entry will be about the Cutter Farm Two-Phase Event--dressage and stadium jumping--as well  introducing you two new Windflower residents.  Vincent and Aki  are eclectus parrots and are the most enchanting parrots I've ever met.  Here's a sneak peak:


       Thanks for reading The Windflower Weekly, and I'll see you soon-- Ainslie

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Monday, May 26, 2014

The Kindness of a Stranger, White Horses Save!, Coyote Encounters, Glass Box Lights For Horse Lovers

       The Kindness of a Stranger

      On Sunday afternoons when the weather was nice, my father often took my brothers and me on hikes at the various parks, arboretums, and beaches on Long Island.  One day we went to  West Hills County Park in Suffolk County, a conservation area known for its lovely trails.

       As we stood on High Hill, reputedly Long Island's highest at an underwhelming four hundred feet, a woman emerged from the wood.  She was riding what to me seemed the most beautiful horse in the world.  (You can see that he wasn't even close.)  His name was Major, and when I told the woman that I loved horses, she picked me up as if I weighed no more than a leaf, and placed me in the saddle.

       There I was, a little girl laid low from years of abuse at the hands of my father, now seated on a giant of a horse standing on the highest hill on Long Island.  For those few moments I was the tallest person on Long Island, taller even than my father. 

       I don't know if I ever knew the woman's name, but I do remember her as beautiful.  Her jacket, breeches, and hair ribbon were all a matching forest green.  How I wish I could tell this woman what she had done for me that day.  For me it was so much more than a simple act of kindness.  She'd lifted me up and placed me on a living throne.  Until then such a moment had seemed as out of reach as the gold ring my extended hand failed to grasp when I rode the white Merry-Go-Round horses at Nunley's Happyland. 

        "White Horses Save"

       One Christmas Eve, nearly fifty years later, I received a wonderful and touching gift from my husband Jim Engell.  He knew all about my childhood, indeed, and when I started remembering long repressed memories, he was at my side with love and support.  Aware of the symbolic importance that horses, especially white horses, held for me, he presented my with this poem:

       "God's Dog," the Coyote   (Part One)

       That's how southwestern Native American tribes reverentially refer to the coyote.  For the past twenty-one years I've had a number of chance encounters with the Eastern coyote.  Larger than it's western cousin, it's now thought to be a wolf-coyote hybrid that a number of biologists and naturalists believe should more accurately be called the Eastern coy-wolf.  The theory is that when farmers in the northeast nearly eradicated the red wolf, the few that remained mated with the next best thing--coyotes.  The wolf-like characteristics seem to vary in the coyotes I have seen, but they are definitely apparent.

       Here is one bold fellow surveying my pasture with equanimity.  Taking into consideration the dimensions of his surroundings, he seemed at least forty pounds.  (The Western coyote averages 15-35 lbs.)

    Eastern coyote (Coywolf), Acton, MA                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

      Here is a different coyote, also more wolf-like than his western cousin:

                     Eastern coyote, Acton, MA                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

       The majority of my sightings have occurred not on our small farm but while riding my horse in the conservation areas and private riding trails that abut our property.  On those occasions I usually traveled in the company of one or two medium- or large-sized dogs.  When we were spotted, the coyotes would disappear quickly into the underbrush, wanting absolutely nothing to do with me and my entourage.  One winter, when I rode without dogs, I happened on a pair walking along the trail ahead of me.  When they saw me, they started to trot ahead but didn't seem terribly worried.  They glanced back over their shoulders but more out of curiosity.  I lost sight of them after they crossed a frozen pond and disappeared into the woods.  

       Over the years I've seen a variety of colors from the typical gray with touches of brown, to a light cinnamon (almost yellow) to a stunning all black one.  I'd never seen hide nor hair of a pup until last year.  It was July and the pouring rain put a temporary stop to the voracious deer  flies.  Accompanied by three dogs this time, as I came out of a wooded trail into a small field, I saw him, a pup certainly no more than four months old.  He took off pursued by the dogs.  I got off Elementa who was dancing around and thinking of bolting.  Miraculously, the dogs came back when I called, not right away, but in a minute or two.  We must have given the little thing a fright.

       The sliding glass doors of our family room look directly out onto our pasture.  Over the years I've seen foxes, turkeys, deer, snapping turtles (they come to lay eggs in my sandy dressage arena), as well as coyotes.  Though the coyote encounters at my farm have been fewer in number than those in the woods, they've been longer.  Why?  Food, I think.  Those of you who have been around horses know how dogs love manure.   Coyotes are no different.  They are also drawn to leftover grains of feed, mice, those buried snapping turtle eggs, and, of course, my one duck, my one chicken, and my one rabbit.  Depending on the time of year, I've seen them in the pasture lying under the shade a tree, or sunning themselves in the soft comfort of my dressage arena.

       At night we sometimes hear a howling coyote chorus of such stereophonic volume it feels as if the sounds are coming out of our very own bones.  When I first heard it I was certain there had be a large pack right under our window.  But, no, they were nowhere in sight.  Also, coyotes are capable of what is called "the beau geste," an auditory illusion created by a single coyote's ability to emit multiple sounds that can become distorted as they travel through the environment.  You might think you are hearing ten coyotes, but it is probably just two, maybe three.

       Just as wolves have had to endure centuries of uninformed bigotry and aggression, so, too, has the coyote.  What twenty-one years of living at Windflower Farm has taught me is that coyotes would much rather run than fight.  The number of invectives directed towards them run from unfair to chilling.  They are regularly referred to as vermin and pests, with men of "a certain age" calling them "Charlie."  For those of you too young to remember, that is what US troops in Vietnam called the Viet Cong, our enemy at the time.  Milder forms of uninformed bias simply assume that people are under threat by coyotes even when the animals are moving in the opposite direction.

      Coyotes mate for life, though that life is often harsh and short.  Litter size is usually six but can be as few as one or as many as nineteen.  Only five to twenty percent survive to adulthood.  The mother stays in her den with her pups for nearly five weeks, not allowing any other family members in.  She lives on food her mate brings to her.  When the period of nursing is over, she feeds her pups by regurgitating food into their mouths.  The father and an aunt or uncle, usually members of a previous litter, all help in raising the pups.  They are also known to adopt pups of a litter whose parents have been killed.  

      Hunters complain that coyotes decimate the deer population, but coyotes, like wolves, generally attack the small, the weak, and the sick.  It is the human trophy hunters--those who want the biggest buck with the most points--who endanger the deer population by depriving them of their strongest members.  And then there are those who seem to think coyotes must spend their nights dreaming how to attack and dispatch humans and must, therefore, be eradicated.  In the United States in 2013 deaths from homicides was 263, 260.  Death from coyote attacks that same year--zero!

       Coyotes perform a vital function for farmers and ranchers by keeping rodent and insect populations under control.  If coyotes turn to sheep, it's often because the land the sheep are on has been overgrazed and can no longer sustain a viable rodent population.  One rancher in Washington state moved his stock to different pastures before they became overgrazed and incurred no losses due to coyote predation.  Farmers and ranchers are also less inclined to use breeds of dogs that the Europeans have for centuries to protect their sheep and goats--the Kommodor, Kuvasz, Anatolian, and the Great Pyrenees, for example.  There has been some success with donkeys and llamas, but the deterrent of choice in our good ol' USA remains a gun.

       Coyotes are usually shy animals and will almost always retreat rather than fight.  There is, however, one caveat:  when  coyotes believe that their pups are threatened, they will do what they think necessary to protect them.  Two days ago, while on a ride on my horse Elementa, and with our dog Clem and our neighbor's dog Lucky, I unintentionally became that threat.  I've never in my adult life encountered such ferocity, nor felt so terrified.  Stay tuned for Part Two:  When Coyotes Choose Fight Over Flight."

Glass Light Boxes

  Sleep Magic                                                                    Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

       I have always been searching for alternatives to the usual picture frame to display my images.  The above is a copy of hand-colored photograph I took of my Andalusian Navarro (now  owned by a dear friend).  The glass blocks are 8"x8"x3".  These have an opening at the bottom which allows me to insert the photograph as well as a short strand of toile-wrapped holiday lights.  These backlight the photo to give it a three-dimensional effect.  Here are a few more examples of horses:


      On to Cats:



 Dog (in future more to come):

       I collect Victorian images and this is one of child and dog captured my heart:


       With the exception of the poppy and alium garden photo, I took these in a friend's Concord garden.

       Upon seeing the finished product, a well known crafter urged me to sell them as gifts.  So, in my never-ending quest to pay my yearly horse show fees, I am in the process of opening a store on Etsy, an e-commerce site that focuses on vintage and handmade items.  The light boxes look wonderful on mantle, countertop, or bookshelf and make a comforting nightlight for adults or children.  I have one in my bathroom, which saves me from having to switch on the overheard light.

       They are currently selling for $25.00 plus shipping and handling.  Each one is assembled by hand.

       I will post my online Etsy shop shortly, but if any of my readers want a light box now, please contact me via e-mail: 

      I promise the next blog entry will be within a week.  There is lots going on here.  Next week I am taking on of my students to a hunter pace, the next to a horse show.  There is a huge patch of dirt in my backyard begging me not to forget my promise to turn it into a garden before weeds overtake it, again!  

Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly, and I will see you soon--



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Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow Play For The Ponies and When Good Horse Go Bad

 The Snow Must Go On!

       At least that's what Mother Nature is telling us.  Just when I was beginning to see traces of my dressage arena, enter snow storm Nika!  Another ten plus inches.  And another twelve added by storm Pax. Fortunately, I'm still able to use my large front paddock.  The plow comes in, pushes everything to the side, and then I take my trusty snow shovel--it's the kind skaters use to clear snow off their ponds--and level it some more.  Since the days are getting longer and the sun stronger, the snow melts fairly quickly.  Most of our students would be happy just to take galloping snow rides on the trail, but we've got to strike a balance for a couple of reasons.  First, the horses really shouldn't go out in deep footing for more than one lesson.  We can't risk the possibility of pulled or torn ligaments.  Second, we need to continue to work on horsemanship, proper core alignment, balance, and communication. 

    Here's Elementa in the front paddock just after the plow came through.  She is doing a great job with her own natural balance and alignment:

         But then sometimes, like my students (and me), you just gotta kick it:

      Onto the more sedate Dolly:


If you don't think horses have a sense of humor, take a close look at Dolly below.  I think that's smirk.

          I should have said, " . . . the 'usually' more sedate Dolly":

        If you look closely at the above you will see why we think Dolly either gave birth to a foal or miscarried very late in her pregnancy.  You can see the enlarged nipple.   If she hadn't had a nursing foal, at the very least she once had an udder full of milk.  I will never know what happened that terribly painful and, perhaps, sad day for Dolly. 

       Here taking a sun snooze--no pain, no sadness--just warmth and contentment:

       Here is the only reasonable shot I took of Firefly.  Her mane and tail were dirty, so not much was fit for publication.  In this shot, her normally glorious coif is thankfully on the other side of her neck, and I simply cropped out her tail:

                Firefly                                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014 

       The Lessons Must Go On!

       I have been remiss in not blogging enough about my students, but I'm going to make amends right now.   You last met Caitlin when she went to the Cutter Farm horse show a couple of months ago on our little ten hand Kip.  Here she is more recently:

         This was taken last Saturday and, as you can see, we're not lacking in snow.  The question was how to teach Caitlin, an intermediate rider.  I couldn't take her out on the trails because I already planned to take Elementa out with two other students.  A third time in this snow would be too much.  Caitlin and I decided the best thing would be for her to go bareback.  I sent her out onto a trail by herself, though she was always in sight.  Her job was then to keep Kip at halt until I called them.  Then she was free to trot, canter, gallop and gallop back, whatever she wished.  This took quite a bit of skill, particularly since she was bareback.  Kip was not inclined to turn around and head back out on the trail,  nor was Kip eager to halt until I called, but Caitlin handled all this very well, as you see in the above photo.

             Next lesson was with Jenna, who's been riding at Windflower since she was eight.  Here she is at about age eleven:

      Kip and Jenna                                                                        Ainslie  Sheridan copyright 2014

       And here she is at sixteen, just six days ago, flying around the dressage arena--yes, it is there under the snow somewhere--on Firefly:

       Jenna's lesson started with lungeing Firefly in the snow.  This she did for two reasons:  first, it was cold and it really wouldn't have been in Firefly's best interest to toss an adolescent up on her back and immediately get her going in trot and canter.  Why couldn't Jenna just get on an warm Firefly up at the walk, you ask?
A reasonable question, which brings us to the second reason:  Firefly--as you can deduce from the picture above--is an energetic lady and would have declined to keep herself at walk. 

       Katie was next up on Quilly.  Like Jenna, Katie has been at Windflower eight years.  Here's a picture taken when she was thirteen:

       Snap, Katie, and Firefly                                                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

          And six days ago on Quilly, our Welsh pony: 

        As you can see, Katie rides well, and though Quilly's ears are back, it is not that she's annoyed, but rather, because she is listening to Katie who is asking her to be a little more forward.

       Next in the Saturday lineup is Tess.  She is a beginner, but, boy, does she learn quickly.  She is already cantering Kip bareback on the trails:

       When Good Horses Go Bad

       I would like now to tell you a bit about Quilly, the Welsh pony pictured earlier with Katie.  About twelve years ago Quilly, like Dolly later, was headed for an auction, and while not strictly a meat auction, those who buy horses for slaughter houses, "the killers," would be there.  Why would such a lovely, registered Welsh pony with an established show record be sent to such a place?

       It wasn't because Quilly was part of a bankrupt enterprise, which I believe likely the case with Dolly and her feral herd shipped to a wholesale auction.  Quilly was well-fed and sheltered.  She resided at a large and well-known riding facility in Connecticut.  Initially privately owned, she was a successful pony jumper and did well at numerous shows.  But as children will do, Quilly's rider grew up and then went off to college.  Quilly was demoted to school horse, and it did not take long before she made it clear that she hated her job.  Quilly held to a zero tolerance policy when it came to inexperienced riders, their inability to balance and tendency to pull, sometimes rip, on her mouth.  She skillfully dumped them with sudden halts, bucks, or combinations of the two.  She also liked to bite those who came too near.

      Thankfully, however, this talented mare did not end up at that  auction.  A boarder at the farm agreed to take her home to her own place in a nearby town.  However, Quilly's bad behavior continued, one time resulting in a broken bone for her rider.  When patience and hope ran out, I was asked to take her.

      Quilly arrived at Windflower angry and aggressive.  As I first led her from the trailer, she tried to bite me on the arm.  We gave her a couple of days off just to watch her.  I could tell by the bulging overdeveloped brachiocephalicus muscle running along the underside of her neck that she had been trying hard to protect her body while being ridden.  Additionally, the splenius muscle just below her mane was not developed at all.  A horse will attempt to avoid a heavy-handed rider by inverting its neck. It was even more obvious when we lunged her over a jump.  She not only inverted her neck but her body as well.  In protecting herself she'd reversed the normal, ideal muscle development.  In the head shot below I've marked these two areas with 'x's.

      Before we put a rider on Quilly, we did a great deal of ground work.  She became less sullen and aggressive.  But when we put a rider on her--Juliane's older sister Laurene--she bucked, and bucked, and bucked!  Laurene, being an excellent rider, stayed on through the rebellious wave, but I had her get off immediately afterward.  Better to solve the problem on the ground.  We also needed to rule out possible back pain.

      With a clean bill of health, and after a couple of months of Natural Horsemanship, coupled with lots of fun--hunter paces, trail rides, and beach rides, Quilly became a mainstay in our riding program. 

       It is the Dykiels, Anne, Laurene, Hadrien, and Juliane, who deserve all the credit turning this pony around.  Hadrien did the majority of Natural Horsemanship work.  Here are some photos that his mother Anne took just after Quilly arrived here:

       In the above picture Hadrien is making it clear to Quilly that she must stay out of his space.  She may only come forward if he softens his posture and tugs gently on the lead.  He then will teach her to back up.  Backing a horse in hand is a valuable exercise.  It teaches the horse to respect the handler as well aiding in the development of back muscles.

     Here Hadrien is about to begin teaching her to lunge in a circle around him.  As you can see, Quilly's focus is elsewhere, but Hadrien's is not.  He will get her attention by standing straighter and wiggling the rope.  Then he will  raise and point his arm and hand.  Quilly, like all horses, will not understand this cue at first, so Hadrien will approach her just behind the left shoulder with the stick and drive her forward and out onto the circle.

      In subsequent sessions, Hadrien taught Quilly to change direction while on the circle and to come to him only when he beckoned her.  This is what happens in a herd.  The lead herd mare will drive another mare who is failing to demonstrate expressions of submission--a lowered head, licking of the lips, relaxed body posture--to the perimeter of her herd.   That horse is, in effect, marginalized.  That is not where any horse wants to be since that is where any horse is most likely to get picked off by predators.  Survival instincts tell her that she should yield.  However, a mare with a more dominant personality may think that she can upgrade and dethrone the herd leader.  Guess who became the dominant mare here?  The one who told so many humans to take a hike--Quilly!

    Here she is a few days later, ridden by Hadrien.  Her expression is soft, as are Hadrien's reins:

Quilly gets a hug from Juliane at Crane Beach:

  At the end of the ride we take the saddles off all the horses so they can have a good roll in the sand:

Quilly only kept getting better.  Here's Juliane riding her bridleless:

                                                                          Anne Dykiel copyright 2014

No bridle, no saddle:

       Quilly has become a Windflower favorite.  One of our students even sports her likeness in the form a a tattoo.

       Dana, Juliane's younger sister, standing tall: 

                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

Winning ribbons with our student Zoe:

      Taking a blue with Juliane, as well taking a little watermelon sherbert:

        It is painful to think how many horses come to a bad ending because those around them often have neither the requisite skill, education, or inclination to train them patiently.  We take our horses out of their natural world into ours.  It seems to me that, at the very least, we should try to do a better job understanding and caring for them.

                Juliane and Quilly                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014
Pax on Earth

       Now that's a bit of an ironic name for a snowstorm that dumped over a foot, on top of another foot, of snow here in Metrowest Boston.  And we're to get four plus inches tomorrow night.  There will be a lot of aerobic training on the trails for the horses.  

       Poor Elementa!  She has a high head and neck set, so snow tends to move underneath the front of her blanket, and then it melts.  When I went out to check on everyone, she was shivering.
I brought her in, put her under the heat lamp, and blanketed her anew.

                                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

       During the storm named Pax, Dolly and Firefly had the option of taking shelter in their run-in shed, but they preferred to stay out in the elements:

            Pax meets Dolly                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

                  Pax meets Firefly                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

Saint Valentine's Day 

       Today is Valentine's Day and the clouds yielded to the sun for a brief period this afternoon.  I usually have seven lessons on Saturday, but because it is now school vacation a number of my students have headed either north or south.  I have only three lessons tomorrow, but we'll have fun.  Not only will there be riding, there will be a Valentine box full of chocolates as well as cups of hot chocolate to keep us warm.  I may even have time to take Elementa out for a gallop in the woods.

      Later tomorrow it will snow again, but by then I will be snug and warm indoors with a fire, a glass of wine, and the loving company of my husband.  I wish you all love and happiness this Valentine's Day and every day.

      This from our dear little rescue Clem:

        Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly.  See you soon--

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