Willow and Juliette’s First Horse Show

It’s always a big deal in the barn when a little horse crazy girl and her pony enter their first Lead Line class at the horse show.

And so it was on July 14 when the wee Juliette and her fair steed, the proud Willow, made their debut at the Lord Simcoe Hunter/Jumper Show at the Essa Agriplex just outside of Barrie. Just had to bring my camera and go to town.

Cuteness overload, wouldn’t you agree?

Let the story begin … Click on the image for commentary.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

 

Sweet Relief

Weather Vane

Every season poses it’s own special challenges. Last week, heat and humidity dogged us for an extended, uncomfortable period. Too hot to do too much. No riding. Lots of hosing off horses hot from standing in the sun all day. On Thursday stormy chaos was followed by sweet relief. And then, as always, the promise of better things to come.

The next day was better. Fresh air; fresh outlook; fresh vitality. The horses were almost nuts with it.

Sophi and I had our first outing since Tuesday. With the temps having dropped substantially, and blustery winds blowing about bringing in all the nice, new, fresh air, it wasn’t surprising that my darling girl had springs in her toes. The muggy malaise a distant memory. She, like I, was ready to work again. But she was twitchy. Cracking and rustling noises in the woods beside the sand ring where we were communicated the presence of monsters. After about 10 minutes and one breaking branch too many Sophi spun out. Unable to grab a piece of mane fast enough, I had an unscheduled dismount.

Over the Valley

No harm done. I stood up, brushed off the sand and walked over to Sophi who was standing some 20 feet away patiently waiting for me to collect her. After reassuring her that everything was okay we walked together to the arena. I hopped on and for 45 minutes we trained our third level test movements. If she had wind in her sails we had to ride it out. Safely inside and protected from the woodland gremlins she was happy to oblige.

The potential for falling of a horse is part of the risk of riding. Getting back in the saddle is one of those personal triumphs that can’t be over-stressed, especially as we age. For me, like most dedicated horse people, it’s an automatic impulse. Unless you’re sporting some kind of prohibitive injury, back on the horse you get.

Still, riding creates wear and tear on the hips, back and knees even under the best of circumstances, and a good maintenance program, as I’ve discovered, is a must. Fortunately, my regularly scheduled fortnightly visit with the chiropractor is today.

Sweet relief after my own moment of stormy chaos.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

 

Beat the Heat

 

MultitaskingThis multi-tasking groom-in-training already knows it’s really important to keep your pony cool in the summer heat.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

 

 

The Ducks Went Marching …

Duck Duo

When we took possession of the farm three years ago we inherited a couple of old ducks. They’d been a fixture at the pond for many years, as I understand it, happily swimming, eating, snoozing, waddling and quacking.

Occasionally they liked to make a great escape by ducking under the fence or gate when no one was looking. Oh yes, they knew they were not supposed to leave their enclosure. I believe the white one, Huey, was the prime instigator as he was often the one in the lead as I tried to corral them back into their enclosure. I could almost hear him quacking marching orders to his accomplice as they scurried back to the pond with me in slow pursuit. Sometimes they would re-enter the way they got out and I could fill in that hole in the hopes that would be the end to their wanderings. Somehow they always found another way.

Escapees

However, lately things had changed. They were escaping more often. The last time I saw it happen they squeezed between the slats at the bottom of the gate. (Shakes her head.) And, strangely, they stopped being able to find their way back in through their chosen escape route. So, lately there’s been a lot of “Keep your eyes on the ducks!” and hoping we could catch up to them before they got into trouble.

It seemed to me as I watched them one morning (they were usually waddling about early morning but lately any time of day was a concern) that they had a death wish. They were old. Perhaps, like the mother dog who instinctively smothers a sick newborn puppy, the ducks had an instinct that their time had come, for they would not be contained. If you search for death eventually it will find you. There are several packs of coyotes in the area, and raccoons and other menacing creatures. An escaped duck that cannot fly is a  sitting duck.

Naughty ducksSo yesterday, while I was riding in the outdoor ring, my attention was caught by a glint of white just outside the pond. Feathers. My heart sank. I rode Sophi up to it and, sure enough, there lay Huey. Some time within the previous 18 hours he’d met his maker. As he lay there cushioned in soft down I wondered at his struggle. There was no blood. Whatever got him was not hungry. I felt angry and sad and … well, what can a person do but surrender to the process of nature?

And then I wondered about Lewey. What had happened to him? The two old boys were inseparable. They were a dynamic duck duo ~ Mutt and Jeff; Laurel and Hardy; Daffy and Donald. Had Lewey run off into the nearby woods in sheer terror? I examined the pond enclosure from where I sat and couldn’t see him. Only the three Muskovy ducks were there. Where was he?

I rode Sophi away and returned to the barn to cooled her down as it was a very hot, humid day. When I took her outside for a short hand graze I noticed on the other side of the driveway a patch of grass glinting in the sun. I knew immediately what it was. I put Sophi in the barn and went to check. Lewey lay there surrounded in a mass of green and grey Mallard feathers. Again, no blood. Just death. His location on the other side of the pond from his fallen brother. Somehow they had become separated. Divide and conquer. The predator’s play.

Pond III walked back to the barn and grabbed the wheelbarrow and a pitch fork. As I gently scooped up each little body and its feather bed and placed them in the barrow the Muskovys watched, following me from one side of the pond to the other. They were curious and, perhaps, a little traumatized. They seemed to be talking it out as I spent a little time with them. I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d witnessed the terrible event. I commiserated with them and assured them that as long as they stayed in the enclosure they would be safe. The poor things seemed quite confused.

The old boys were laid to rest at the back of the farm under a pile of manure where Mother Nature will nurture them to dust. The cycle of life.

The ducks went marching home. One way or another, it will happen to us all.

RIP boys …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

The Horse World’s Unsung Heroines

 

~*~

Women in the horse industry work very hard. I know because I’ve done it.

Each day is a grind of activity that wears you out and wears you down. You work in all weathers; under all conditions. For good owners, and bad. With well-mannered horses, and with demons (largely a reflection of their owners either way.) You don’t call in sick, and if you’ve broken something in the line of duty, you work around it.

You muck, you sweep, you clean tack, you feed hay (and grain), you scrub toilets, you pick the s**t out of paddocks, you groom, you ride, you de-cobweb the barn, you dust, you clean the kitchen, you do first aid. In many barns you do your best to manage uncomfortable feelings caused by the disdain of those who look down upon you while you’re doing all you can to ensure their horse(s) are happy and healthy.

You must be vigilant; resilient; detail-oriented; take initiative; be observant; empathetic (difficult for some); patient; skilled at what you do and be quick at it. You get back on the horse if you fall off. The horse always comes first.

The Mane Tamer Marked

“The Mane Tamer” on display at the Urban Gallery, May 2018, for the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival

At the end of the day you leave the barn filthy and saturated in Eau d’Equine. Exhausted and maybe even bruised or broken from an unfortunate altercation with one of your charges for which you are always to blame (always!). You stand in line at the grocery store to buy dinner, somewhat self-conscious of your malodorous presence, yet unable to motivate yourself to care too much because you don’t have the energy to go home and clean up first. Oh, and a social life outside of work? Good luck with that. Almost killed me to sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir during concert weeks after a 10-hour day at the barn.

For most who follow this path it is a labour of love. There is no glamour and certainly no big money to be made. The best you can hope for is an environment where you and your work are appreciated; where you can find your niche and from there build your life.

When I was interning at a hunter/jumper show barn in my mid 30s I was at a crossroads in my life, trying to figure out what’s next. And for some that’s exactly what working in a barn constitutes. It’s a weigh station for figuring out the next step. Some choose to pursue the equestrian path; others give thanks the equestrian path led them somewhere else. Those who are fortunate enough to have built successful careers from the ground up in the equestrian world have slogged in barns aplenty. This does not include the (very) few who are born into money and have it all handed to them on a silver platter. Most in the business have done the grunt work, and have a few tales to tell because of it.

To celebrate the unsung heroines of the equestrian world, six equestrian-themed images from my new series Barn Mavens will be on display in May at the Urban Gallery in Toronto. The gallery is one of 200 official venues in Toronto during the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival.

The gallery theme for this exhibit is Women at Work, and in my showcase I’m pleased to feature two of the knowledgeable and hardworking horsewomen of Santerre Show Stables in Mono, Ontario.

The top images are not on show for this exhibit, but will feature in an expanded exhibit sometime in the future, or possibly even a photo book docu-tribute to women who work in the horse industry. In the meantime, it is an honour to have my work featured along with three other talented photographers at the Urban Gallery for this international event.

If you’re in the area feel free to check it out. Ten percent of the proceeds from all sales of  Barn Mavens series images will be donated to Whispering Hearts Horse Rescue in Hagarsville, Ontario.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Daily Prompt: Notable

My Lucky Charm

 

Going Home

Shakespeare, age four, comes homes … March 17, 2006

~*~

Twelve is a popular number in cycles.

The 12 months of the year.

The 12 signs of the Zodiac.

The 12-year cycle in Chinese astrology … and on.

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the day Shakespeare trotted into my life. This day does, I feel, mark the end of an important personal cycle. As I contemplate movement forward in my life I must make room and allow the past to be the past.

Shakespeare was a change agent. He was a catalyst for self-awareness and made me a better person because of it. Taught me to stand up and be counted. Taught me to open my heart. Taught me I had a voice and that I needed to use it.

He was my comic Shakespeare. My little leprechaun who even now teases my memory  bringing laughter and tears and joy.

To mark the end of this 12-year cycle I have started to build a cairn in his memory at the highest point on the farm. My monument to him and his great spirit and everything he meant to me.

And so, life goes on.

Shakespeare will always be my lucky charm.

Wise Guy

Shakespeare, age 15

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

 

Weathering

Weathered

The ravages of time take their toll. We are weathered by the challenges we face; the people we encounter; the experiences we have, and the joys and troubles we share. For good or ill, life weathers us, and we either wear it well or we allow it to wear us down.

I know as an equestrian that while I still ride and love it, my limits are now set by the wear and tear on my body and a sense of my own mortality. Life has weathered me to a new level of self-awareness and taught me to respect my own boundaries. Just as I cannot expect an old performance horse to perform the strenuous tricks of his earlier career I, too, must cut myself some slack.

When it comes to our farm everything about it is weathered to one degree or another, and since landing here in autumn 2016, we’ve committed to sprucing it up a little at a time. Taking on a run-down 100-acre horse farm is no picnic and presents all kinds of challenges. Priorities must be set, and accepting the fact that some things are perfect in their imperfection is an important thing to bear in mind. Our schedule for improvements must not compromise the integrity of the farm’s character.

Old Shed

This old place has seen a lot during its 150-plus year history. To the extent that it’s possible I want to work with the local museum and archives to discover who put down roots here and how the property evolved and changed over time. Who had the vision; built the original buildings; planted the trees. We’re going to acknowledge those who pioneered here with an historic plaque and place it by the original hog barn (above), the weathered foundation of which was built with stone found on this property.

Barn Quilt

In 2017 we had a barn quilt created and installed as an initial tribute to the farm’s history. It adorns the front of the original bank barn which was modified to accommodate horses in 2000 as part of a major building project by the then owners. The pattern is called Hunter Star, and the colours  we selected bear some meaning. The green represents the proliferation of trees on the farm. The blue is for the headwaters of several rivers that have their source in these rolling hills. The plum is for a previous name of this farm (Plum Tree Farm) which we discovered while going through the basement and finding a piece of folk art of the original farm house and the barns (pictured below). And the maple leaf, of course, is to commemorate Canada’s 150 years of confederation. For point of reference our farm, homesteaded some time in the 1840s, is older than Canada.

Plum Tree

Of course, there are lessons to be learned on a more personal level as well. One of my greatest challenges is accepting that I, too, am perfect in my imperfection. Time and its ravages have indeed weathered me, but they’ve also helped me to identify my priorities. Good health. Good works. Healthy relationships. Experiencing and sharing joy. And creating and maintaining an environment here on the farm where horses and people can thrive on every level.

Weathered barn

 

Some days I feel more weathered than others. Bear’s passing was a harsh excuse for the building of character. Still, even as I rebuild and repair from that unexpected blow I remind myself that I want to thrive on the other side of life’s storms, not end up a broken relic. Resilience is its own reward.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

The Kiss

~*~

Weekly Photo Challenge: Weathered