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

 

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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

The Ice Storm Cometh

Ascension

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Got up at my usual early hour this morning and was privileged to watch the sun ascend on the other side of the valley. Always a thrill for me, as the vista is quite magnificent, however especially today as according to the weather prognosticators there’s no chance of sunshine in this area again until the middle of next week. Between now and then southern Ontario is expected to see a menacing ice storm which, as those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know, has the potential to wreak havoc. (See Ice Storm Aftermath, March 2016) So, I’m grateful to have had this moment today to commune with the great, and seemingly elusive, fireball in the sky.

So, ice storm. Our lives disrupted by Mother Nature’s need to vent. (Don’t blame her.) A check list of things to do to prepare in case we lose power for a few days. Firewood brought inside to dry. Water stored in containers. Bran muffins to be baked. Perhaps most importantly, breathe. It will be what it will be.

As for the horses, I am told by the lovely ladies holding down the fort at the barn that if the ground is not safe enough to escort grandma it’s not safe to turn the horses out in the paddocks either. So, when/if we get this ice storm the horses will be kept inside and ridden and hand-walked and free-lunged to get the bugs out. And then, when grandma feels it’s safe, our equine kids can go out again.

Spring on the farm can be quite the roller coaster ride.

Nurture what you love,

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiottii … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Daily Prompt: Disrupt

My Lucky Charm

 

Going Home

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

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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

 

Planning to Shine

It’s been just over two months since Shakespeare departed and the Wednesday wave of grief continues to roll through. Each week its impact is less, still, I  choose to be gentle with myself on this day when the waters are stirred once more.

Today my thoughts begin to turn away from loss to what may be found from its experience. The silver lining, I suppose.

Bear was a huge part of my life for a long time, and for the past two and a half years our journey was shared by a beautiful Hanoverian mare, Sophia Loren (Sophi). Now she is the full focus of my attention so, in the spirit of getting on with life, I would like to tell you about her.

Sophi

This little mare is as larger-than-life as one might expect from one bearing the same name as a cinema icon. I didn’t name her. Like Shakespeare, she arrived in my life offering a challenge. Shakespeare, named for one of the greatest wordsmiths of the ages, helped me to find my heart, and my voice, as a creative writer; Sophia Loren, named for one of the brightest shining stars in the firmament of Hollywood, is helping me to shine. I’m not going to get into all the complex ways this is meaningful to me. I believe, however, that my experience with these two horses rather underscores the idea that the Universe will send you what you need, when you need it. You just need to be open to recognizing and receiving it when it lands on your doorstep.

Sophi and I struggled, in the beginning. Not that we weren’t well suited. Not at all! Like Bear, she was only the fourth horse I looked at and we fit like a glove. No, our struggles came through outside influences. Finding our groove in that first year proved difficult as our coach, it seemed to me and for whatever reason, chose to dumb everything down. Sophi was training Third Level dressage when she passaged into my life, and our coach was keeping me stuck at First Level, a place from which I was determined to rise.

That coach and I parted company after a year for a variety of reasons. Four months later I was introduced to Nancy. A brilliant, accomplished coach whose only agenda was to help Sophi and I realize our potential. Within a couple of lessons she had us training Second Level movements. Six months later we were preparing for our first dressage show ~ my first time in the ring in 10 years! In such a short period, Sophi and I had risen together through the watchful eye and skillful teaching of a coach who truly cared and wanted us to succeed. No quick fixes. Everything I had learned over decades of training had been held within waiting for the right person to draw it out. It was a matter of trust.

Shoulder In

Shoulder-in … Image: Victoria Sambleson

In July and August of last year Sophi and I participated in our first shows together. Three tests over three days at each show. I learned all the Second Level tests by memory and Sophi was an absolute star. Sure, I was nervous, and adrenal fatigue was a concern as always, but feeling Sophi’s confidence, and the encouragement and support of those around me helped to override that. Our scores improved from test to test and we ribboned in the top four in all six classes.

We had so much fun. I’m so grateful to all my friends who encouraged me to take that uncertain leap, and to my coach for showing me it was possible. I’m grateful for Victoria who groomed for me at the show, and JF who transported Sophi in the horse box, his journeyman show confidence underpinning the whole adventure (“Go get ’em, tiger!”) For Eira who did such a lovely job braiding Sophi’s mane; and Courtney for doing such a beautiful body clip on her. Sophi looked immaculate and so proud of herself. And, naturally, I’m so grateful to Nancy for working with what she saw in me, not with what someone told her to see.

Extension

Extension … Image: Victoria Sambleson

Sophi thrives in the show ring and this gives me confidence, and as we share in each other’s confidence we thrive together.

Now we’re training Third Level, starting to introduce all the fancy moves that Sophi already knows (lead changes, passage, etc.) and loves to pre-empt. (“Oh, I know what you want…” and gives it to me before I even ask.) She’s a very smart mare.

We’re planning to show next summer. We’re planning to shine.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 

 

 

Review and release

 

My dearly departed Bear is the focus of this post. Final respects and then it’s time to let go and move on as he taught me.

Please enjoy this review of some of the images posted to this blog since 2011 celebrating my beautiful boy and all he was to me.

I give you “Variations on a Theme.”

Nurture what you love,

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~