Long Days, Late Nights and Some Goofiness!

In the extreme cold, even though Lessons, Bodywork and Horse Training are all on hold, the workload is not decreased…..

The Well House froze overnight Monday, causing all water to be lost on the property and the non-freeze spigot by the barn to freeze. We hand watered from the kitchen sink after thawing the Well House Tuesday morning. We only provided enough water to the herd of 23 to make it until 4pm (120 gallons). We then set enough hose in the feed room to thaw throughout the day in order to reach the spigot in our cellar for a full watering Tuesday afternoon.

The loss of water pressure from the Well House to our Cellar and back to the troughs, as well as the 1/2″ pipe where the cellar spigot is connected, turns our usual 20 minute task into a 1.5 hour task…. twice a day. To add insult to injury, I have to be available for all feedings, regardless of whether or not I’m feeding so that I can connect and start the hose, then shut off and disconnect the hose 1.5 hours later.

After 3 days, I was going stir crazy. I went out to dinner with my family and committed to watering the herd without staff after my daughter went to bed. Then, tonight, my staff and I didn’t get the hose running fast enough and it froze before we turned it on….. so the hose was recoiled and stored to thaw for yet another late-night watering.

All this, plus illness running through my family and staff has made for a very crazy week! It also made for a few very late nights!

This silly, albeit ancient, kitty opted to keep me company! Can you find her hiding away in the depths of my desk? Nala made me laugh, even with the late work night!!


Students and Staff Focused on Stress Relief Gifts for Christmas

Now that the holidays are over and the new year is beginning, I’m reflecting on the gifts I was given for the season from my students and staff.  Almost all were stress-relief focused….. facial masks, neck wraps, anxiety relief lotions, bath bombs, a few bottles of wine, sweets, and comfy socks (my daughter, at 2.5 years old, already knows that comfy socks “make Mommy happy”).  That’s when it hit me…. I have spent the last 5.5 years focused on making Holistic Horsemanship Institute of America (HHIA) a reality so that I could care for EVERYONE ELSE….. My horses, child, husband, students, students’ horses, other clients’ horses, non-horse animals and staff.  I stopped taking care of myself in order to make it happen.

My first trainer sacrificed everything, especially herself, for everyone else.  She did it for 50+ years and the toll was obvious.  We lost touch through my early professional life and reconnected just a few years before she passed at 73.  She told me over and over again, “I cannot take care of anyone else anymore.  I have no pets, not even a cat.  I have no husband, I live alone, I’m happy alone.”  No, she was not an introvert.  She was a life-long over-extended caregiver.

Sure, you hear that you should never make that sacrifice, but it still happens and all too often.  Its not an easy thing to work through either.  Its a problem that goes on for years and is often left unsolved.  Look around your office or within your family.  I can guarantee you that there is at least one person you know (probably more) who burns the candles at both ends and remembers that they need to shower, but can’t find 5 minutes to do so.

Showering daily is a true LUXURY for me.  That means, it rarely happens. 2-3 showers a week is closer to reality.  I have a newer boarder/staff member on my farm and she’s heard me tell her a few times now, “I’d like to talk, but I haven’t showered in 3 days and I have to work again in 30 minutes!”  I’m a little surprised she didn’t gift me with 4 or 5 bottles of deodorant for Christmas!  Rather than pedicure gift certificates (which I also love since I spend my life in boots), I often think a few homemade “Go take a shower for 15 minutes and I’ll cover the farm” coupons would be heavenly, some bonus coupons granting me another 10 minutes to also shave my legs would be priceless!!

With horses, we have learned to expect the unexpected.  If you think you have time for something extra tomorrow, you probably don’t, even though you don’t know it yet.  Social plans got cancelled so often that I stopped making them.  Some friends understand or tolerate it, others haven’t and are gone.

SO, my Christmas Gift to myself? I made my first dentist appointment in 1.5 years.  I chose a new Family Practice Physician and actually saw him (mine moved away….. 2.5 years ago).

My New Years’ Resolution?  To brush my teeth twice a day, wash my face and apply sun-damage control lotion once a day, and wear mascara and eyebrow liner regularly because those little things remind me that I am a person worthy of simple hygiene care and they make me FEEL good.


Chickens – Juggling Farm and City Standards

When my husband first suggested that we add chickens to our horse farm, I was not thrilled. The last thing I needed was more work. I am fond of saying, “I run a HORSE farm. Any other animals that come here and need care must fall to someone else.” Typically, that someone else is my husband. And he does a pretty good job. Water, food, bedding, egg collection….. Well, egg collection is becoming more and more rare of a chore because my young students like to collect them.

I never expected chickens to become an integral part of the farm, but they have. For many, this is their first experience collecting eggs, petting a chicken, or getting pecked by a chicken. And the all natural free-range chicken eggs are well loved among everyone as well. I must admit to being properly spoiled- I never craved eggs until I had “real” ones. I will never buy from the store again!

What is unique to me is that we find ourselves bridging the gap between farm and city mentality when it comes to these birds……

The farm take on things is that you give your chickens food, water, and protection in the form of a chicken coop that you close every night and open in the morning. You will loose chickens to hawks, fox, and coyote over time and replenish each spring as needed. We certainly agree with this and have lost 3 chickens since bringing them home in June….. But then there’s the city side of things….

“Backyard” chickens are people’s pets for the most part. They live in people’s backyards in suburbs and cities. They receive much personal attention and vet care as needed. Their quality of life isn’t necessarily any better, just more protected.

So on our farm…. Introduce 50+ riding students, mostly from the city and….. my general inability to accept the farm mentality that a chicken hurt is a chicken dinner….. and the end result is a funny combination of city/farm chicken care.

So how do I bridge that gap? First, I draw the line at vet care. We have a working farm where chickens may disappear to predators on a regular basis. I’m not paying for a vet. And when we had an aggressive rooster, I took him for a “walk,” which the creature even returned from the first time to attack our friendly rooster (Theodore). The attack rooster never returned from his second “walk” – thank you coyotes! And I nursed Theodore back to health.

One of our dogs has killed one chicken and, recently, broken another’s leg. This is a case of city-dog-meets-farm-life. My lovely dog has no clue how to kill a chicken or that a chicken could be tasty. All he knows is that they are fun to chase and to catch. It frustrates me to no end….. The answer is to get a screen door that he can’t open by himself…… It’s on the shopping list!

Today, I found myself googling to determine how to help a chicken with a broken leg. Nope, I can’t turn her into dinner. Nope, I won’t call the vet. She screamed and screamed until she had several minutes in my arms to recover from the initial shock (and people wonder why I socialized these chickens…. Just for cases like this!). When she started her usual contented chatter again, I knew we were ok. Yes, I will give her all of the extra time and attention she needs to recover. She will need help eating and drinking over the next several weeks. She will also need to be separated from the flock. One extra large dog crate coming right up!

When I went to help her drink water this evening, I found it fascinating that she would not drink until I demonstrated “drinking” with my index finger. Then, she would drink. No food for the girl tonight. Hubby is picking up some crumbles to entice her tomorrow. I left her cuddled up nice and warm in a fresh flake of hay. Tomorrow, I will play nurse to the little lady again…. And again, and again, until she’s healed and back with the rest of the flock!

Smartphones, Equines and Tactics for Living in a Digital World

A very young student recently got me to thinking more about smartphones.  “You’re the only adult I know who isn’t on their phone all of the time,” she told me.

My heart broke.  It likely means she isn’t getting one-on-one attention from another adult.  I pointed out that I do use the smartphone to check the time during lessons, but explained that when she’s with me, she is my number one priority…. not whoever is texting, calling or emailing me.  The experience got me to thinking about my smartphone use.

My students and business partners text, call, Facebook and email me all of the time.  The earliest communications start around 7am and don’t stop until 11pm.  Every single day.  Sound familiar?  It should. It seems all people are sacrificing face-to-face contact for the immediate satisfaction and perceived reward of digital communication.

Smartphones certainly have their place, but they need to stay there and not take over our lives.  I can often send a quick text between things I need to be doing like after a lesson and before feeding or as I’m walking from the barn to the feed room.  I don’t get regular laptop and keyboard time and I often can’t talk on the phone at reasonable hours of the day.  At the same time, if I always responded as communications came in, I would not be in tune with the “real world” going on around me.  I would lead a sort of half life; constantly interrupted by digital communications.

Let’s do the math.  I looked it up and on average, I get  between 65  and 100 work related texts and emails each day.  That does not count correspondence I instigate.  We’re talking about a potential interruption to the “physical world” approximately every 14 minutes.  14 minutes is not enough time for dinner with the family, training or riding a horse, teaching a lesson, walking the dogs, mucking the barnyard, feeding the horses, or really anything.

When I worked for other companies, it was easy enough to turn off the work phone at the end of the day and wait to turn it back on again until the morning commute.  Now, my business, my passion, my home, and my life are all in one place – my horse farm.  My smartphone (and the people on the other end of it) would single-handedly destroy my work-life balance if I let it.

One of the great things about smartphones is the immediate access a client can have to a service provider.  Immediate access is supposed to equal good customer service, right?  Not so.  An interrupted family dinner means more stress for you and for whoever is at the table with you which leads to deteriorated home life.  Your response to your customer will be strained as well.  So what are you supposed to do?

I respond when I can, but there are times when I’m simply not available…… Its a rule I have set up for myself because no one else is responsible for my smartphone use or management.  I am responsible.

I’m not saying its easy.  We have all become so connected digitally these days and most everyone expects an immediate or almost immediate response to whatever they are contacting me about.   I do not answer my phone if I’m with a student or a horse, which is most of the time in my 14 hour work days.

But this little girl reminded me that I need to be better about ignoring my phone, too.

Here’s some guidelines I try to live by and that may help you in your smartphone use:

  1. Set phone priorities.  If I’m with a horse or a student, I will ignore my phone.  My students who are with me in person (or horse) get number one priority.  Period.
  2. Numbers that are not in my address book do not get answered.  I can’t afford the time to be side tracked from my work or my family.  If it’s important, they can leave a voicemail and I’ll return the call when I can (It’s typically 1-2 weeks from the time I receive the call before I have time during reasonable hours to call back and usually when I can call back, others aren’t available because my work results in an opposite schedule from everyone else : when you are free, I’m working.  When I’m free, you’re working.).
  3. No cell phones at the dinner table….. breakfast table….. for morning coffee, etc.
  4. Do Not Disturb is enacted from 9pm to 7am every night.  I set up my “favorites” to include only family so that they can still call if needed.  No one else can.
  5. Family designated ring tones.  If my husband calls, I know it’s him without even looking at my phone.  If he calls a second time immediately following the first call, I know to get to a stopping point with my student or horse and pick up the phone because there’s an emergency.
  6. Quiet ring tone, text tone, email notification sounds selections: I choose tones that are not interruptive.  A short tone informs me of a text and a quiet ring tone keeps from increasing my blood pressure or from startling a horse.  If I get a phone call, I silence it almost immediately.  Emails do not have a tone.  I don’t keep my phone on silent in case of emergency.
  7. Give my family 100% of my attention when I’m with them.  I do keep my phone on me most of the time when I’m with my husband so that if he leaves the room for a minute, I can take a moment to answer a text.
  8. Explain what I’m doing before using a smartphone in front of a family member.  If I need to use my phone to do something while my husband is with me, I explain what I’m doing before I do it.  “Give me a minute, I need to change this appointment on my calendar” or “Let me check the grocery list” or “Let’s see what the weather is going to do today.”  That way, its clear what I’m doing on the phone and why.  I’m not ignoring my husband to answer a text, email, or play a game and he knows it.
  9. Digital free time alone. Identify alone time to turn off the phone and be immersed in something else or nothing else – a magazine, meditation, cleaning the house, etc.  This let’s me “reset” myself mentally to improve my tolerance for interruptions from my smartphone the rest of the time.
  10. No texting and driving.  Driving is not a time to catch up on texts, emails, or anything else on a phone.  Concentrate on the task at hand.  Even though we talk about multi-tasking all of the time, the reality is that the human brain cannot multitask with anything that requires conscious thought.  We can change tasks quickly, but we cannot do multiple tasks at the exact same time.

Smartphones have become a necessary evil.  We can all work on better managing our smartphone use to improve our quality of life and the lives of those around us.



A Day in the Life of a Trainer

13 hours into my 14 hour day, after the day-to-day work is done, lessons are taught, and night feeding begins, I find myself reflecting on the idea that running a horse farm is not for the faint of heart.  I’m a day into a head cold, the temperatures are dropping into the teens and I’m experiencing that bone chilled cold feeling most people only get after a day of skiing.  You know, the one that takes about four hours to warm up from.  I don’t mind the cold until I’m sick, too.  I would like nothing more than to settle into a hot bath with a good book and nurse my cold.  But guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  Nothing matters more than meeting the needs of those around me.

I tell my body to “MOVE” just like my younger students tell my “efficiency expert” horse, Ace, in a lesson.  Keep the momentum up, put one foot in front of the other, complete one feeding task at a time until I’m done.  All must be accomplished with quiet centered peacefulness.  At any moment a horse may need something above and beyond the usual feeding routine and I must be prepared to provide without frustration and with a clear mind even though its 8pm.

No wonder I consistently hear about barn owners, managers and trainers self-destructing.  Many become angry, unhappy and turn to alcohol or drugs.  Even though I could never picture it for myself, I can understand how it happens.  They are the faint of heart.  They got into this business without a passion for ALL of the work.  They love horses, yes, but that’s not enough.  Each day requires the ultimate act of selflessness….. constant selflessness.  Dogs, cats and horses all need care and attention.  I must provide, all while keeping my center.  Hay, supplements, water, first aid, a clean barn, medications, vet care, hoof care, exercise, training, affection, and more.

And that’s all before there are any people involved.  For anyone who loves horses and wants to run a farm, don’t ever forget that this is a people business.  You will be exhausted and drained from the farm work alone.  Then add in dozens of texts, phone calls, and e-mails each day.  And each one needs to feel supported and that their needs are met.

To truly succeed in working around a horse, your guard must be down and you must be open to the emotions and thoughts that come your way.  If your guard is up, as it often is in the “human” world, a horse will refuse to work with you to its fullest potential.  With guards lowered, my students bring the best, the worst, and everything in between that is going on in their lives to the farm.  The horses and me are a key part of their support network.  Amongst the learning, there’s laughter, tears, pride, fear, and more.  I am honored and overjoyed to be a part of it.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Somehow, I have become a master project manager and the project is “life on a horse farm.”  Most days end with sore muscles, exhaustion, the realization that I haven’t seen or talked to my husband all day and a debate: Take a shower or make a decent dinner?  Because I don’t have the energy for both.  But I’m happy.  I truly love my life.


When a Horse Attacks

I walked into the pasture at dusk with nothing more than a halter and lead rope.  The pasture was a good 10 acres and contained 7 or 8 horses.  It was going to make for quite a ground work session.  I much prefer the round pen, but when you can’t even get a horse to the round pen, what else are you going to do? The buckskin’s owner was struggling to catch him and then IF she did catch him, he was generally disrespectful throughout his time with her.  That’s why she called me out to work with him.

I walked calmly towards him.  The rest of the herd, one by one, picked up their heads to acknowledge me and see if I wanted them.  When I dismissed them, they returned to grazing.  I got to within 50 feet of the buckskin and his head shot straight up.  He knew then that I was there to engage him in a conversation.  He turned to face me, head high, ears forward, eyes challenging.  This wasn’t a curious horse.  This was a potentially aggressive horse.  He had his owner right where he wanted her; below him in the hierarchy – way below him. No wonder she couldn’t catch him.

When I walk into a pasture, I’m used to commanding the herd (just about any herd) quickly, quietly and easily.  I let the heads of the herd know what I want and, in an incredible display of respect and partnership, they often assist me in catching the horse I’m looking for.  This horse wasn’t having it.  This horse was going to charge.  I had invaded his herd, his territory, and I was another dominant horse to him.  As far as he was concerned, I didn’t belong there and it was his job to fix that.

I shook my head and sighed,

“Ok, buddy, if that’s how you want to do this, I’m good with that.”

I continued my approach calmly and unhurried.  He snorted and watched.  When I got to within 30 feet of him, he moved.  He came full speed ahead towards me, slightly angled to the right, prepared to use his teeth in a classic display of herd dominance.  I stopped and waited for him…. when a horse moves that fast, aggressive or not, they have calculated your position to the inch.  As they approach, their eyesight looses focus (they are far-sighted), and so if you move from that spot, whatever they have planned can go awry very quickly.  If you step aside, they are more likely to hit you than if you hold perfectly still.  They have already determined how to go around you safely.  Or in this case, how to attack.

I would need more length than a simple hand response to be able to keep him off of me, but get my point across.  I had the halter and lead, so that was my tool.  1300lbs of horse came at 20mph.  Timing was everything.  When he got to within one stride of me, I knew his track wasn’t going to change and I could safely step to the side.  I took one step and the halter and lead took my place.  With a slow arm movement, the halter and lead crossed his right shoulder.  I only needed enough momentum to make sure he would run into them – The horse provided the rest.  Connection at the shoulder.  Firm enough to let him know I was standing my ground, soft enough to keep from bruising him.  He veered off, surprised at my response.  It’s unlikely a human had ever faced him head on and not bowed out of the negotiation regarding who was dominant.

He moved off and circled to try again.  We continued this dance for nearly 30 minutes before he stopped and stood quiet.  His nostrils flared as he caught his breath and looked at me.  He was no longer challenging me, but as a dominant horse himself, he would treat me as a dominant herd partner.  He would not submit like a horse lower in the hierarchy.  He would submit like a herd leader…. accepting and meeting on equal ground.  I began my approach softly and quietly again.  His head came down to my level and he took several steps to close the distance and meet me halfway.  When I offered, he touched my hand with his nose.  I put his halter on and we left the pasture together.

He never came at me, or anyone else, ever again.  From that day on, he always openly greeted a person in the pasture, as a head horse should do.  He never attacked and he never ran.  He was in training with me for two more months to improve his relationship with his owner and expand on his dressage skills.  He has since changed owners and become the proud guardian of a young child.


Lessons for Management: Horse Herd, Household, or Office

My Saving Grace’s understanding of herd hierarchies and responsibilities continues to grow. Last summer, she spent nearly two weeks separated from the herd, in her own pasture, to make it clear that if she wanted to interact with anyone, she must do it through me; her herd leader. She could still see everyone and talk with them, but she could not touch them. Within two days, I could catch her because her craving for attention and physical touch surpassed the fact that only a human could meet her social needs. I caught her and approached her easily multiple times a day since. We have even had several training sessions and she accepted them.

When I let Grace back into the herd. I didn’t just open the gate and stand aside. I met her at the back of the pasture and walked her unaided (no halter or lead rope), in the dark, 500 feet to the front yard where the rest of the herd was grazing. She nuzzled me, I kissed her cheek and she returned to the herd. She did not find it necessary to leave my side and greet everyone. Instead, she simply put her head down to graze. She finally got what each and every horse needs to understand: That a human can be a part of the horse herd.

In the months since, Grace has grown emotionally in tremendous ways. She is still cautious, but less so. She is becoming more trusting, but still prefers a fence between her and people she interacts with. She thinks and reaches conclusions much faster than she used to. She has a set of rules and guidelines to work within that Hudson, Ana, and I have established for her. I continue to build on those guidelines and her skill sets in my work with her. She adds them to her repertoire within minutes now that she understands a human can be a positive impact as a herd leader.

The end of 2013 brought a distinct change in Grace’s relationship with Anastasia (her sister), Hudson and me. Us herd leaders are of interest to her. She has realized she cannot have my job as overall herd leader, but she would like Ana’s job as head mare. Grace is spending more time with Hudson; using him as her guide and even becomes jealous if he gets too much of my attention!

My Saving Grace is still too selfish in her thinking to be head mare. She doesn’t care for the others yet, like she needs to. She’s starting to care for Hudson and me in addition to her sister, Ana, and Cherokee, who she loved from the day they met (he’s a pretty lovable guy). Caring opens up a new way of thinking and allows a horse to lead. You must care for the welfare of the others if you want to run the herd.

Grace is still learning that every action has a purpose and every reaction must be a measured response. There can be little to no lashing out because you are in a poor mood that day. Flattened ears from another horse doesn’t warrant a full-on double kick with the hind legs.

These requirements for being a herd leader also apply to our lives as business owners, project managers, household managers and more:

Lessons in Leadership

1) Think quickly, but thoroughly
2) Care for the welfare of those you are responsible for
3) Have clear expectations: Work within a set of pre-established rules and guidelines
4) Act with a purpose and for a purpose
5) Every reaction to someone else’s actions must be a measured response.
6) No matter what is going on in your life, when someone you are responsible for is in need, you provide. And you do it calmly, firmly, and with a clear head…… every single time.
7) Know how to define whether or not a person is in need and what the appropriate response is. Sometimes the best response is refusal to assist or no response at all.
8) Continue to learn and develop yourself so that you might be a better leader, or so that you may become a leader someday if you choose that path.

What Lesson in Leadership do you need to work on? Number 8 is my self improvement project. Taking 19 years of equestrian learning and turning it into 20. How fitting that 2 decades for me is also the Year of the Horse!

Introducing “My Saving Grace”


My stats are simple:  I am five years old.  I’m a Government Morgan Horse.  I am 14.2hh with a short back.  I’m a liver chestnut color.  Those things don’t matter to me very much, but I’ve heard people say them over and over again so I’m repeating them here.

My name is My Saving Grace, but everyone calls me “Grace.”  For all intensive purposes, I was a wild horse for my first five years…..

My sister and I were both born on a farm in Illinois.  It was a quiet place with several other horses.  An extremely nice woman made sure we had food and water.  Our stalls were spotless and we had lots of pasture!  I had it pretty good – I never had to touch a person if I didn’t want to.  I lived in the pasture and ran into my stall to be fed every night.  People only ever interacted with me on my terms.  No one ever made me do anything I didn’t like or that I was afraid of.  It was a good way to live, I thought.  Now, looking back, I was probably truly loved by humans my whole life, but I was too scared of humans to pay attention to it or to understand it.

We lived with several other mares.  The stallions weren’t allowed out with us.  I befriended three different mares, but it never worked out.  Every time I became close to one of them, a trailer would come, people would talk for a while and then take my best friend away.  It made me realize that people can be tricky; they don’t make you do anything you don’t like and yet, they get you where it hurts the most by taking your friends away.   I’ll never know what happened to my friends.  It was like creating a black hole underneath me so that I had no choice but to fall in.  What little trust I had in people disappeared.

My turn came in December 2012.  The funny thing is my older sister, Anastasia, got to go with me!  Anastasia really wasn’t scared.  She told me she’d been in trailers before and that everything would be okay.  I trusted her and after a few hours, we were let out into a new pasture.  I thought life would be the same, but just with new surroundings.  How little I knew then!

The new farm has lots of land, just like we had at the other place.  Its part of a valley, so it’s easy to hide and feel safe during storms.  We don’t have stalls, but we do have a gigantic shelter and I have my own little territory within it that is about the size of a box stall.  I like it better than a stall because I’m never without another horse.  Being in a stall can be lonely and sometimes scary.  There’s a shallow wet-weather creek that runs through our pasture several months out of the year and its my favorite.  The water trough, although clean, just isn’t as fresh tasting.  There’s an established horse herd, too.  Anastasia and me were the new ones this time and had to learn how to be a part of it.

To describe myself back then, I would say, I was fearful and anxious about most everything.  I didn’t used to have any control over it and the simplest things would set it off; things the other horses didn’t even bat an eye at.  It was like something in my brain added pressure to the situation and then I couldn’t cope with it anymore except for by running away from it.  I’d widen my eyes, sweat and shake uncontrollably.  Gate chains, treats, buckets, halters, brushes, lead ropes, dark corners, artificial lights, bugs, cats, a human in the pasture – heck, a human at all unless there was a fence between us.

I still worry a lot, but I’m not blinded by fear anymore.  Managing anxiety is never easy, Lisa tells me.  It took me months to understand a human could help me but, for the first time in my life, I have a human partner.  Lisa faces everything with me now.  I don’t have to do anything alone anymore.  Now, if I’m uncertain, I can put my head in her arms and she will reassure me.  It was a long and hard journey to get to this point.  Lisa and I will share it with you over time.  Hopefully, if you struggle with anxiety, it will help you, too.

Message from the Trainer:  Managing anxiety, whether in a horse or a human, is exactly that.  Managing.  Coping mechanisms go into overdrive and the ability to think clearly or to learn is diminished.  It can be a vicious cycle because in order to cope and manage anxiety, new methods and ways of thinking must be learned, but learning is a veritable impossibility in a stressed state.  Retraining the brain takes a very long time.  With careful work and baby steps, anxiety levels can become better controlled and even self-regulated.  Grace’s overall stress is reducing and she is finally beginning to express herself in other ways: affection, curiosity, gentleness and even some orneriness and stubbornness!  These are all signs of mental health and growth in a horse.  We look forward to sharing her story and progress with you.

Country Neighbors

When you move to the country, I’m learning, one reason is to get away from other people…. No loud neighbors, finicky neighbors, odd neighbors- no neighbors to deal with at all, really.

Unless you buy a house on a farm like ours where bits of property were split among family members and later sold off to the public. Not 500 feet from our front door is our neighbors’ front door. Originally, their house belonged to a sibling, and then (as time passed and a new generation took over), a cousin, of the people who owned our house.

The cousin sold off the house, but kept most of his land, leaving a house and 2.5 acres like a little oasis among the farm lands. Hence, neighbors 500′ away.

When there is no one else around, that neighbor can make or break your home life. Our neighbors, luckily, are a nice family with 3 boys at home and 2 girls grown and moved on to make their own lives elsewhere.

Before we bought the farm, this lovely family had the unfortunate experience of having a difficult neighbor. When the dairy farmer passed away seven years ago, his wife left the farm to a family “black sheep.” For six years, the new owner let the house, out buildings, and land fall into terrible disrepair.

He brought in other people’s trash and dumped it in one of the pastures (probably to make a buck or two). He ran away with the road maintenance fund money two years in a row, leaving an extremely pot-holed and creviced one mile long gravel road. He painted brightly colored “keep out” signs on old bedroom doors and braced them up facing the neighbors’ house with rusted out old twin bed frames. He blared music from his porch towards their house with a boom box and speakers. He took down every shade providing tree near their property “just because.”

Our neighbors became concerned for safety and stopped letting their children play on the side of the house closest to the farm. The father runs his own logging business and he refused to prepare lumber on the flattest part of his property because it abutted the farm.

The stories about the previous owner keep coming up from other people on our road and even in town; each story crazier than the last. No story surprises us anymore.

My first act when we bought the place was to remove the “keep out”signs from our property’s borders. We trashed the then weather ruined boom box and speakers. And we introduced ourselves to our neighbors. We learned things were bad enough that they were considering selling their house; a home they had wanted to have be their “forever” home. And then, as luck would have it, the farm went up for sale and we moved in.

I’m the sort of person who takes a while to get to know someone really well. I’m personable right away, but much slower to let someone become a close friend. I had no idea when we moved in that our neighbors could become such great friends. Here we are, 10 months into our farm endeavor, and our lives are so contentedly intertwined that it seems like we’ve known each other a lifetime.

Afternoons playing in their pool and eating Popsicles, dinners together, throwing hay together, being around and riding the horses, playing with the dogs, working out together, sharing in fruits and vegetables from each other’s properties…. And the list goes on.

For the 6 and 9 year old boys, understanding the passage of time in their lives has become about the change in farm ownership. Most conversations about memories in their short lives start with, “Before you were here” or with “After you came.” “After we came” marked a distinct and drastic change in their lives.

The kids play near the property line again. Their dad saws lumber near our property line, too. We keep the path to the concrete bridge the crosses the creek between our properties mowed so they can easily walk to our house. The family has even started fixing up their house now that they plan to stay and to be a part of our “farm family.”

We all had a lovely walk on Ace’s Alley (one of our trails) tonight. Conversation was varied and relaxed, ranging from vegetation and bugs we saw to talk of dogs, horses, logging and child-rearing.

The youngest boy, at four years old, casually slipped his hand into mine as we all walked and talked. He’d leave to explore a spider, snake skin, or the creek with his two older brothers, but always drifted back to my side with his little hand in mine.

It reminded me what peace and love we all share together at Hidden Acres Homestead.

Managing Back to School Stress – For Parents!

Well, this is it!  Most children are headed back to school this week or next!  They seem pretty excited about seeing their friends everyday again and playing fall sports.

But most parents are completely stressed out about their to do list:  School supplies, school clothes, orientations, locker decorating, meeting classmates and teachers, hair cuts, packing backpacks and lunch boxes…. oh shoot!  We need new shoes, too!…. on top of everything else that normally occurs in a household!!

As a riding instructor, I get to know the parents pretty well and each year, I hear the voices become strained, see the smiles become forced and watch the bags develop under their eyes.  Countdowns at the end of the day are different for everybody, I’m sure….. “Two more days until school starts for the first time,” “Six more days until the homework routine kicks in again,”  “This is the last week I can go to work early because I’ll have to drop the kids off at school,” etc.  The pressures build and build and parents forget about themselves.

It’s all about finding the small quick things that you can do to help relieve the “bad stress” and/or turn it to “good stress!”  Here are a few tips and tricks from the horse farm where daily demands and the to do list just compound each other and NEVER end!

  1. Drink one less cup of coffee a day and add white tea instead!  It’s light refreshing taste will calm your nerves.  Besides the fact that its full of anti-oxidants like green tea, but hydrates instead of dehydrates you.  Check your local grocery store – there will only be one or two white teas to choose from.
  2. Set a small pad of paper and a pen on your night stand.  When you can’t sleep because your “to do,” or more likely your “don’t forget” list is running through your head, sit up and write it down.  Then you can stop telling yourself to try to remember to pick up those extra notebooks and instead tell yourself to check the list in the morning.
  3. Clear your head midday with a 10-15 minute reading break.  A real one – no self help books and no educational books because it keeps your brain thinking in high gear.  Read excerpts from your favorite fiction book – make sure it’s a page turner so it can downshift your warp speed thinking.  You’ll think more clearly and be more productive after this break!
  4. If you feel the tension building, but you have too much to accomplish in the next two hours, put your favorite scented lotion or oil on your neck so you are breathing it in while you continue to work.  Lavender calms, Rosemary clears and energizes, but any scent that “speaks” to you, will relieve tension.
  5. Give your child (in my case, horse) an extra hug today.  Not a quick squeeze – a real hug.  Affectionate physical touch like hugs, take your stress levels from code red back to the normal range in no time!  And of course add an “I love you” and “I’m so excited for you on your first day of school because…..”  They need to know that even though you are stressed, you are happy for them and committed to meeting their needs!
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