Trying to Keep the Glass Half Full


I have always considered myself “happy”…as in I tend to see the glass half full, not half empty.  I’m not saying I have had a perfect life, and I have my “sob” stories…but all in all, I tend to feel happy!  I loved my childhood, my family, and my life in general.  I have been blessed to not have a tendency to dwell on the unpleasant stuff.  I guess I have been able to see the “big picture” and all in all, it’s been a great ride.  I had a great career for 20+ years (then had an opportunity to enjoy a “second” career), I’ve been married over 27 years (after an early divorce…see not perfect), and I have two great young adult kids (drove me nuts at times, but don’t they all).  I also have had the ability to “go for it” when I want to pursue something new.  Now I could go and dissect each of these areas and find plenty of not so great issues, but that’s not my inclination.  I basically, feel blessed.

But… and here it comes, I have to admit…my happiness is being challenged. I read recently where someone mentioned a “sadness” had crept into their life.  All the family and friend’s difficulties and illnesses…the declining health of an aging parent bringing home the inevitableness of it all.  I had to admit, I feel “sadness” more often, and it is not that familiar to me.

There comes a time in life, I am learning, that things begin to “pile up”.  Here I am, at the Baby Boomer cusp of turning 60, and I am living out a dream of owning property where I can have horses in my life again.  I have born and raised my children. My oldest (son) has graduated with a viable degree and is working and supporting himself.  My daughter is thriving and making straight A’s at a competitive University, and is in a great relationship with a guy we love.  I am grateful and have much to be thankful for.  The counter balance, however, is that simultaneously I am witnessing the reality of evolving life.

There is the beautiful long-time acquaintance gracefully battling lung cancer, that has recurred and spread.  There is my sister-in-law (she lives on the opposite side of the country) who is juggling my failing mother-in-law (we moved her from assisted living here to where my sister-in-law lives so they could spend some last years together) and her husband who is now battling a difficult cancer. My 87 year-old mother needs increasing attention.  After my Dad’s death in 2012, we got her house sold and she moved to an independent senior high rise that she is enjoying, but she gets lonely.  On top of these scenarios, I have been watching my close friend of 30+ years, lose the life as she knew it, over the past year and a half.

In September of 2013, I noticed my friend Debbie was “forgetting” things. Every recent thing. She is newly divorced, has no adult children or living parents.  It would be her close friends and far away siblings (who live in the Northeast and are decades older) who would be trying to navigate this crisis.  After many hospital stays, and insistence on our part (after researching and forcing the doctors here to “hear” us), she was finally diagnosed with a rare form of Auto-immune encephalitis. (Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis). Her antibodies had attacked the two frontal lobes of her brain.  By a miracle, we found information on the internet, and a book  just published in 2012 chronicling the experience of a young New York Post Journalist, Susannah Cahalan, who had experienced this nightmare.  The book,  entitled “Brain on Fire” takes you through her journey.  She, with the determination of her wonderful doctor, Dr. Souhel Najjar, eventually recovered.  Dr. Najjar has been trying to help spread the word of this rare and often misdiagnosed disease.

Through the help of a newly formed advocate group out of North Carolina, The Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance, started by families and patients affected by autoimmune encephalitis,  we got Debbie admitted into a treatment program through Mayo Clinic.  After four, two-day trips to Mayo clinic with her, and treatment carried out here at home, her prognosis came back bleak.  Her treatment stopped the anti-body attack, but her brain’s two frontal lobes (responsible for short-term memory) would be permanently damaged by the brain swelling from the encephalitis. My friend’s Debbie’s life as she knew it is over.  Her new life consists of waking up every day with her intelligence and long-term memory intact, but “feeling fuzzy”, having to relearn through detailed notes, what has happened to her.  If you have watched the movie, 51st Dates, you get the picture.

Debbie had a successful business.  She was a youthful 62 year-old who water skied on our lake every day.  As I live two doors down, I have taken on a lot of the responsibility of helping with the  “managing” of her life. We have been unsuccessful with her allowing anyone to live with her permanently.  She is fiercely independent, she runs off any of her siblings attempts to stay with her, or have her with them.   I get a lot of the “panicky” phone calls when she forgets where her keys are, her house alarm gets set off, or she is reading her notes on her new reality.  My frequent weekend trips to the farm and horses help me to maintain a balance.  But the texts and sobbing phone calls are always within reach.

Her beach condo has been sold to give her funds to live on, as she has been unable to work for the past year and a half.  The business is now shut down.  Her house is on the market, and the courts have had to establish rules for guardianship.  Through all of this, I have had to walk her through this nightmare almost daily, and help her understand why this has happened to her.  She is a fighter, and every day wills herself to “beat” this thing.  Remember, her most recent memory is about two years ago, when she was vibrant and working.  She has to relearn every day this nightmare that has become her new life.  How this will all end up, and where she will live next is still unknown.  The saddest part for me is that she always believes, after relearning of her condition, that she will recover.

I am trying to accept the things I cannot change, be grateful for all the good stuff.  Trying to keep that glass half full.

Brain_on_Fire_Susannah_Cahalan

Bet You Can’t Just Have One!

HorseGirlSurprise

So just how does one end up with a herd of four horses when you start out saying “I’m getting a horse!”  Maybe I should start from the beginning…before we owned 200 acres in North Florida.  In the aftermath of the real estate downturn around 2010, I decided it would be an excellent investment to buy a lakefront property near my alma mater, Auburn University.  There were deals to be had on Lake Martin, and I was headed up to “shop”.  With an appointment with a broker scheduled for the following Friday, I get a phone call from my then 83-year-old father.  “I need you to go with me to Madison this week…what day can you go?”  Now this was an unusual request, as my father had been leasing a hunting camp up there in North Florida for about 15 years.  Women had not been encouraged or invited to go to this hunting camp.  So why now?  I told him I was busy this week…traveling up to Auburn and all, so how about next week?  No, he wouldn’t hear me, and insisted I was needed in Madison BEFORE I left for Auburn.  It’s your 83-year-old father…so you go.  I tell my husband, Matt, “I have to go to Madison on Wednesday this week with Dad.”  “Really? he asked.  Think I’ll go with you guys”. Hmmm.  On the three-hour trip up, they were like kids in a candy shop.  Something was definitely up.  Long story short, they had already picked out a 200 acre neglected farm, and I was just along to write and sign a contract, BEFORE I could find a property on Lake Martin.   I got hoodwinked.

The property consisted of 80 acres of timber, 80 acres of pasture, and 40 acres of live oaks and woods with an old house on it. The next two years were a lot of clearing and house cleanup.  It was a “guy’s” project.   The gift was that it gave my Dad, a retired orange grove and land owner, a chance to again be on a tractor and enjoy watching the land transform and come to life again.  Huge live oaks that were barely visible began to emerge as 25 years of neglect was cleared away from them.  That was worth the “bait and switch” right there…watching my Dad enjoy the property.  Within two years my Dad’s health began to fail, and he passed away after heart surgery and a brutally long period, in which he never recovered.  After his funeral in January 2013, just over two years after purchasing the property, I was up for the weekend with my family and was standing at the kitchen window gazing out at the 80 acres of beautiful Coastal Bermuda pasture and really missing my Dad.  Matt asked me if I was going to start coming up for some of the weekends now that the house was livable and our youngest would be going off to college in the fall.  I turned to him and said, “Yes…because I’m getting a horse.”  Not knowing anything about horses, he thought this was a fantastic idea!  Would give me a reason to come and something to do at the farm!  Poor guy, he had no idea what this meant.  I felt a tad guilty, knowing what he was unknowingly walking in to, but then remembered how we had come to own this property.  All guilt vanished and the journey began.

So the first horse shopping yielded two fine creatures, Pretty Boy and Dizzy.  I had to explain to the husband about horses being herd animals and shouldn’t be kept alone, so we were getting two horses, not just one.  “Oh,” he says, and looks somewhat concerned, which I just chose to ignore.   There was a lot to learn with those two, and I came to realize that they were not quite the horses I would want to put inexperienced riders on.  Oops.  So I started the search for the third “babysitter” horse.  Now I did try to explain all of this to my husband, but he just didn’t see the “need” for a third horse and would change the subject and say something like “maybe later”.

Of course, I found the perfect horse, Ernie.  Ernie lived in Tennessee and was to be delivered in a few weeks.  Plenty of time to break the news to the husband…until the transporter called and said he was making a delivery in  South Florida the coming weekend and could have Ernie there on Sunday.  This was Wednesday and we were driving up Friday.  Plenty of time to explain.  Somehow it just never seemed to be the right time.

Saturday yields tons of rain. Tons.  This is a problem as I need our caretaker Joey to mow the second pasture so I can keep Ernie separately from the herd across the fence until they are acclimated to one another.   I ask Joey on Friday, without any further explanation of course,  if he can get the second pasture mowed by Sunday.  He agrees to do so as soon as the rain lets up.  The rain does not let up.  Early Saturday morning I am over at my neighbor (and horse trainer) Barbara’s house.  She is conducting a small horse clinic for a few of her students and has invited me to come and observe.  As it is pouring rain, we are gathered at her kitchen table drinking coffee.  I am thoroughly enjoying her students who are ladies my age and have gotten back in to horse ownership later in life like me.  We are laughing about our horse escapades and I confide in them that I have a horse coming tomorrow, and I haven’t told my husband yet.  They immediately burst into laughter and tell me to join the club!  Apparently most husbands of horse gals just don’t quite get the need for multiple horses and it is commonly necessary to have them just show up.  This made me feel so much better…for  a while.

Throughout Saturday and early Sunday I am receiving text messages and pictures from Rodney the Horse Transporter’s wife, showing me how well Ernie is traveling and updating me on their arrival time.  The rain finally turns to a drizzle, and at my constant nagging, Joey gets the second pasture mowed.  We are standing under a shed and he asks what was the big deal of getting the pasture mowed?  I tell him it’s because of the third horse who will be here in about 30 minutes.  “THIRD HORSE?!” he exclaims, and quickly announces that he is getting out of there before Matt finds out.  I grab him by the collar and tell him he is not going anywhere because I need him to be there so Matt doesn’t kill me.  With that we both burst into uncontrollable laughter.  Just then my husband comes over and says what are you two up to anyway?  “Well”, I say, I was just telling Joey here that I needed the second pasture mowed so we can put Ernie the new horse there when he arrives…in about ten minutes.”  At that very moment a huge semi-horse transport is pulling into the front gate.  I run over to greet Rodney, who immediately unloads Ernie and asks where to put him.  I point to the second pasture and Rodney, not missing a beat, jumps into my golf cart and ponies Ernie to the pasture gate.  I pay him and he is off.  Horse transporters are on a deadline and don’t mess around.  I like Rodney.  No time for lengthy discussions.  Matt comes up to me and is basically speechless.  Here’s the best part.  Ernie is a beautiful Buckskin and the friendliest horse on the planet.  We drive into the pasture and Ernie comes galloping across the pasture to greet us and sticks his head into the cart right at Matt’s chest.  Guys love Ernie.  I think it’s the “John Wayne had a Buckskin horse” thing.  Thank goodness.  My husband didn’t say a whole lot until he said, “That’s a nice horse”.  I got real lucky.

Oh yeah, horse number four, Bear.  You see, in my world, four horses is the perfect number.  You ride off on two and the two left behind are content because they have each other.  It’s a herd thing.  Not to mention I needed another “babysitter” horse, or that he looks just like my first horse, Little Man.  You understand…and this time I told my husband in plenty of time.  The week before.  And that is how I ended up with a herd of four horses.

The Buckskin

The Buckskin

The Herd

The Herd

If My Friends Could See Me Now (Or How I Spend My Friday Nights)

I have a horse manure vacuum machine. You heard me right.  I vacuum up horse poop. A lot of it. Here is how this happened.  I have had to research every aspect of this mid-life horse thing.  As a kid with a horse…you did not worry about managing horse manure.  That was someone else’s problem.  My horse was a “pasture horse” in that he was turned out 24/7, so I didn’t even have a stall to muck out.  See how easy it was? That horse lived until his 30’s by the way.

Fast forward 40+ years and I am a horse owner trying to figure out all this out.  Manure management is a big topic of discussion.  So is turnout versus stalls…blah, blah, blah.  Everyone has an opinion, and here is mine (because I know you are dying to know!)…after tons of reading I have come to the conclusion that the most natural and healthy state is for a horse to be turned out 24/7.  They are designed to walk and graze for basically 18 hours a day.  Stalling a horse is for people!  It makes our lives easier, and enables humans to keep their horse’s coats from bleaching out in the sun and things like that.  Horses do need shade (we built a shade barn in the middle of the pasture where they can stand out of the sun), water, and hay in the winter when the pasture is dormant.  I also feed daily a small amount of grain to give them supplements.  I live in North Florida, which means the weather issue is easier for me, but we do get below freezing and I do not blanket my horses.  I let their coats grow out as nature intended, and blanketing them would interfere with their natural way of heating and cooling.  I do not stall them in cold, rainy weather (unless I am at the barn and grooming), because it is my opinion that as long as they have a shelter to stand behind out of the wind, they are fine. My horses are also barefoot because I believe shoeing a horse interferes with the natural flexing and blood flow to their hooves. I do have them trimmed monthly.   If I have offended anyone with my opinion, I am so sorry and will ask you to go to http://www.thesoulofahorse.com and see that I am grateful for Joe Camp’s wonderful experiences and for helping me to “get it”.  So to end this little rant, I have built a barn that is great in the summer (each stall has a fan) and winter to get out of the elements when that works for me (see how a lot of what we do with horses is about humans and not horses?).  I bring the horses in to feed some days, and some days they feed off from buckets on the fence.  During the time they are in the stalls, they poop.  Horses standing in poop is not good.

I have digressed.  What about this poop vacuum? Here’s how THAT happened.  So I am worrying about shoveling poop (not great for the back and horses poop a lot).  This horse thing is my deal, and I don’t have a stable boy (I need one) who is shoveling poop every day.  Since my horses are not in my barn constantly, when they are and they poop, I just pitchfork it out the back door of their stall into a little pile in the paddock behind the barn.  I then can come around on the golf cart with my hitched up poop vacuum and suck that stuff right up.  Voila!! No accumulating poop, which is a big deal in fly control.  I then go out into the pasture and vacuum up a full load (keeps the pasture poop down until time to drag it).  This nifty machine, by Greystone Vacuums out of Australia, (I bought my online through http://www.pasturevacuums.com, an American dealer) is a pasture vacuum.  Call me nuts (my ranch manager likes to introduce me as the lady that vacuums up her horse poop) but I like things tidy and it keeps my barn area really clean, and less manure is healthier grazing.  When I fill a tank, I ride out into our timber pines and dump the tank where I have manure piles.  Back to nature!

Thus the title of this post.  My city friends would be shocked to know that one of my favorite things to do when arriving at my farm, is to go and vacuum horse poop.  I have been known to be out until sundown, trying to get one more load up before dark.  Not too long ago our caretaker drove out to where I was on the golf cart and said “You know it is dark out?!”  Well of course I knew that…but I had the lights on!  I have been out in the pasture like that working  (and the horses always come over to check out my progress), I often wonder what would my “city friends” would think if they saw how I spend a majority of my Friday nights these days?  I have to admit there are not many other places I would rather be.

PoopMachine Shadebarn  Horsesinbarn

Today I Connected

Today was a beautiful, if not chilly, day in North Florida.  My neighbor down the road, works with and trains gaited horses. She is coming over for the afternoon with two of her friends (and their horses) to work on our natural horseman skills and then to trail ride.  I choose Bear, the newest member of my herd, to be the student for the day.  He is a Quarter Horse and Morgan mix.  He is proving to be an awesome horse.  Non-reactive but has some get up and go.

We work the horses through some basic ground work and do some stretching and flexing exercises. Bear does well but at times gets impatient with the exercises and paws the ground.  We finish with a pleasant trail ride through the woods and pines and finally head back across the second 40 acre hayfield.  The gals load up their horses, and after I say goodbye and see them off, I groom all four of my guys before turning them out.

The horses are in the paddock behind the stalls and I walk to open the gate to the pasture. They follow me and then do their usual showing off by running through the opening, kicking up their heels and racing out into the large pasture.  Bear is the last one out.  I am standing holding the gate, and just as he is turning to run and follow his herd, he  stops and walks over and nuzzles his face into me.  I rub his forehead for a few minutes and then he turns and runs after his buddies, kicking up his heels.  It was a good day.

Photo of Bear Below!

BEARthehorse.      TrailrideTrail riding

HOW NOT TO BUY A HORSE AS AN ADULT (Since Your Dad is not paying for it)

So hopefully you read the previous post, How to Get Your Dad to Buy You a Horse.  Life was simple then…get your Dad to buy you a horse, have him figure out where to keep it, then go ride whenever you can get dropped off at the pasture (this is easier than it sounds because  you are talking parents having a teenager totally occupied and away for an entire day).  Horse is cared for by pasture owner, and Dad foots the bill.  This was a great system.

Forty years later, I decide it is time to start working on my bucket list.  I now have 200 acres, 80 of which is beautiful Coastal Bermuda grass.   I am getting a horse.  Just the mention of this “yearning” to a friend of mine who has had 11 horses over the last 25 years and she says there is nothing more fun than horse shopping and when can we go.  Now the clue here is “11 horses over 25 years”.  Horse shopping is apparently addictive.  Things quickly got out of hand.  It’s the darn internet.  You can actually find every and any kind of horse you could possibly want on the internet.  Websites of horse “traders” with beautiful videos.  I was doomed from the first click.  Two weeks later we are on a flight to a remote part of Kentucky.  Seems Kentucky has lots of gaited trail horses for sale.  We visit two barns of beautiful horses.  It is February and snowing. We are oblivious.

Now here is what I now know, that I did not before horse shopping in my late fifties.  Just because you have owned a horse as a teenager, a horse you could do anything on and with (remember, my first horse came from a girl’s summer camp)…this does not mean you are the expert rider you think you are.  Bomb-proof horses, teenage bones and confidence are a thing of the past.  The universe has a funny way of letting you know your place.  My place ended up being on the ground after a 4 year-old gelding threw me off when my heel crashed into his back girth (that turns out he was not accustomed to wearing) because he spooked and literally jumped sideways, slamming my leg into a tree and back into that girth.  This could have been a true disaster.  The side of my head hit a tree on the way down. Luckily, pumped with adrenaline, I jumped back up and on him and rode back.  Maybe it was stubborn pride, but think it was being in shock.  My friend who was riding with the owner behind me tells me that the owner had just commented on what a good, confident rider I was.  Apparently that was just prior to the nightmare that unfolded.  All ended  up well…no concussion or broken bones and I learned a valuable lesson.  I did end up with two horses from that Kentucky trip (can’t have just one horse…they’re herd animals!!).  Probably bought them two young and inexperienced, but we’re learning together.

Turns out there are all kinds of articles, books, etc. that describe this phenomena of women in their 40’s to 60’s who never got over the love of horses and come back to it at an age when they can afford it and have more time to devote to it.  They also have to basically learn all the things they were too young and naïve to worry about their first go round.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely. The learning is constant.  We figured out how to fence, house and care for horses on our property. Two more have joined our herd, and they are bomb-proof and a little older and wiser.  Four Horses. Yep.

One of the best parts has been learning about Natural Horsemanship and striving to provide my four guys with the best environment for them.  The pleasure I get from learning their personalities and traits is pure therapy.   I have gained true insight from  a great book by Joe Camp,  entitled “The Soul of a Horse”.  If you love horses, it’s a must read.

The Herd

The Herd

Goodbye to 2014

Whew. Why do I feel like I “survived” the last two months of 2014? Let’s see…out of town company mid November for 10 days (love my friend and her husband so not complaining). Put friend on plane Sunday Nov. 23rd and commence to prepare for 30+ relatives coming to my house for Thanksgiving.  Get Christmas tree up Sunday after Thanksgiving before leaving Thursday for three days of consulting work in D.C., that for some reason I have agreed to for the first weekend of December.  (There should be a federal law not allowing less than four full weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas).

Back up to farm to spend time with horses the following 2 weekends (and try to not panic that Christmas is gaining on me and I’m not ready).  My daughter announces that she and her boyfriend want to mosaic a table for his folks for Christmas. Now she knows that since I love to mosaic and consider myself quite good at it, that this will warm my heart (because that means she appreciates my interests and talents) and I will want to “help”.  Not to mention that with my slightly controlling personality, I will end up doing most of the work.  With the two of them finishing college finals, I use that as an excuse to almost complete the entire project and leave the grouting and sealing for them to do when they arrive just prior to Christmas Day. Yep. Part of my mantra…take on a project on top of the busiest time of the year.

Christmas shows up as scheduled.  After Christmas dinner, I look at the tree and realize since we were leaving for Maine on Saturday…everything needs to come down. Now.  Stayed up until midnight and got entire house un-decorated.  Up Saturday at 5 am to catch flight to Maine. Yes, people from Florida think it’s cute to see snow during the holidays. Maine is extremely cold, but tons of football to watch…and just enough snow to enjoy.  Hello 2015.  Maybe this will be the year I learn to say “no” to the voices in my head that continue to say “you can do this!”.

FSUtable

How to Get Your Dad to Buy You a Horse

Like most 12 year old girls, I had a slightly unhealthy obsession with horses. I had to have one.  We lived near the heart of Downtown Orlando, miles from a pasture.

As soon as I was old enough, my parents shipped my sister and I off to a wonderful camp in Clyde, North Carolina, Skyland Camp for Girls. My Mom was a local rep for the camp and we got to go at a discount (therefore the 2 month stay for both of us).  We felt very privileged and were so grateful our parents loved us so very much that they would sacrifice to send us off to camp for the summer.  Uh no, after I became a parent I understood that little fallacy! Well they may have had their freedom for the summer, but those were the best summers ever and it was at Skyland where I fell in love with a Quarter Horse named Little Man.  I was determined to not leave there without him.

Now while at camp, you were not allowed to call home except in case of an emergencies.  In those days long distance calls were only made on Sunday evenings, if at all.  I had to call my Dad and make sure he was coming up with my Mom for the Horse Show at the end of the summer…so he could write that check for Little Man!  Miss Hemphill “Hempy”, the camp owner, would not let me call.  I came up with some crazy excuse and she finally relented. To my horror, my Dad said due to his heavy workload, he would not be coming up.  My Mom was already at her parents summer home in Franklin and planning to pick us up.  So I proceeded to start sobbing about how “hurt” I was that he was not coming up to get us after being gone ALL summer (anything to guilt him into coming up so he could buy me that horse!)

Next little obstacle was the fact that Mark, the owner/horse manager for the camp, said the horses were not for sale.  Apparently I drove him so nuts by stalking and begging him to sell me the horse, that he finally relented and gave me a price IF he were to sell Little Man.  OK I am thinking, done deal.

My cabin counselor at the time was one of the esteemed riding instructors.  She was totally in on my scheme, helping me groom and get Little Man ready to show my Dad.  I told her that if we could get him to ride him, he’d go for it.

The day came and we had my Dad down at the barn, got him to ride, and I am convinced we’re taking that horse home.  But we left Skyland without a horse.  At some point I must have driven my poor parents completely insane, because my Dad tells me that IF I can find a way to get Little Man home HE WILL CONSIDER IT! And so, at the ripe old age of 12, I get on the phone in Franklin, North Carolina, looking for a horse trailer to rent. In the late 1960’s in Franklin, nothing.  But then a call to a gas station produces an open U-Haul trailer that the guy convinces my Dad will work with a “tarp” tied to the front.  And that is how we drove down to Orlando, pulling a U-Haul open trailer with Little Man.  He stayed in our backyard for 4 days while my poor Father found a place to board him. Turned out my Dad’s barber lived out on Clarcona Road on acreage with horses and that’s where Little Man lived until I went off to college and he became my Mother’s God Daughter’s first horse.  He was the best horse ever. My Dad?  My Hero.

Fast forward 25 years, I am pregnant with my second child, accompanying my sister who is picking up her two girls from Skyland Camp.  Sitting outside I see a pickup truck driving up the “hill” to camp.  I say to my sister “Oh my god…that looks just like Mark the horse guy!”  She informs me it is!  He is still there!  Very pregnant (remember the last time he saw me I was 12), I waddle up to him and say “You probably don’t remember me but I’m the girl who bought Little Man in the 1960’s.”  After a few minutes he sighed heavily and said, “Oh yeah, I remember.”  Yikes.

LITTLE