The View From My Office: Oh, the Unbearable Cuteness

One of the benefits of being a traveling trainer/instructor (as in not based at just one facility) is that every place where I teach has something different to interest and entertain.

Especially at the private barns, that includes the owners’ family of miscellaneous critters, many of whom inevitably become my friends. These are and have been, of course, assorted dogs and barn cats plus goats, mini donkeys, miniature horses and a fascinating alpaca nicknamed Dave who has watched so many lessons with rapt attention that surely he could open his own riding school if only he could master speech.

This spring Dave’s owners acquired a friend for him, a lovely chocolate-brown female Alpaca called Java. A pregnant female, whose baby was born just a few weeks ago. While he’s small enough that coyotes are a risk, the little fuzzy youngster and mom live in a stall and run with a front-row view of the round pen where I often work.

Momma is very sweet and for the price of a handful of Equine Senior she’ll let visitors come in and scritch the baby on his neck, which he likes very much.

My Horse is One Hundred Today

In my world May 1 has nothing to do with maypoles or the anthem of the workers’ collective. May Day is Ichobod’s birthday and this year he reaches a big milestone. Sort of. Probably.

There seem to be a number of ways to calculate the horse:human age ratio — even some that require considerably more math than one simple multiplication operation. (That’s not happening.)

For my very old and slightly senile but much-loved bay gelding, I picked the method that assigns an average of 3.33 human years to each horse year. So, on the strength of that random bit of cyber wisdom, I declare Ichobod to be 100 years old today. Roughly. Maybe. Close enough. (That’s 31 in horse years for those who don’t want to do the math backward.)

To celebrate this momentous occasion, there will be a party on Sunday, May 11. If you’re one of my Tucson friends and/or clients, you’ll get an invitation with more details in the next day or so. Just save the date and plan to come have some fun. If you’re one of Ichy’s many fans/students who don’t live near, consider yourself welcome should you plan to be in the area on that day. Just email me for details.

Also in honor of Ichy’s big day I am sharing a letter written to the woman who gave him to me way back in the spring of 1997, telling her about how much both she and this horse have shaped the horsewoman I have become. In it I share a bit of my history with Ich, as well as a bunch of pictures of him over the years. I’ll excerpt a bit here and provide a link for anyone who is interested in reading the rest:

“Dear Dana,

I have been thinking for a long time of writing to thank you for inspiring me to become a better horsewoman, both by the knowledge you shared and most of all, bysending me Ichobod, who has been a great (and sometimes demanding) teacher. Finally, on the occasion of his 31st birthday, I’m doing just that.

Over the years I have thought of you often while working with horses and riders, helping them to move better together. You were one the people who first challenged me to think about horses in a different way and to keep learning about how they function. I was in awe of your knowledge and your insight, of the way you seemed to see inside horses both physically and emotionally and how you knew both what they had been through and how to help them. I felt the breadth and depth of what you knew about horses and I knew my knowledge was inadequate if I, too, wanted to develop the ability to see and understand. Your example helped to put me on the path I travel today, and your gift of Ichobod ensured that I wouldn’t be allowed to shirk my studies.

For many years, his job in my life was to get sick or injured in ways that traditional vets couldn’t address or didn’t even recognize, so that I would have to find and figure out new ways to help him feel better.”
(Read the rest of the letter here.)

Happy Birthday, Ichobod! I wish you 31 more years of health and bossing people around.

Springtime in the Desert Means Wildflowers

Though we had a cool, windy day with a bit of rain yesterday, here in Southern Arizona spring is definitely in full swing. We’ve even had a few days in the 90s to give us a taste of the summer to come.

Hard to believe much of the rest of the country, and even our neighbors in northern AZ, are still in the grip of winter. Snow, cold, high winds, severe thunderstorms, hail and even tornadoes were all over the news the past couple of weeks.

Here the wildflowers are brightening up the desert. Hope these photos brighten up the day for all those of you longing for spring.

(Select the thumbnails to see larger images)



Animal Massage in Arizona: A Constitutional Fight For Rights

Anyone who has been acquainted with me for more than about 20 minutes knows I am inclined to explore a variety of non-medical (as in conventional western medical) approaches to caring for and healing horses. Why? Because in 46 years of owning and working with horses, I have found that while conventional veterinary care is essential in some situations, in others, it just doesn’t provide the answers I need to keep my horses healthy and happy.

I’ve written about this issue before, questioning the irrationally broad definition of what supposedly constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine in Arizona.

So I am very pleased to be one of three practitioners representing both my fellow certified animal bodyworkers and fellow horse owners in a constitutional legal action asking the state of Arizona to stop being so ridiculous as to consider animal massage as “practicing veterinary medicine.”

Massage, both for humans and for animals, has become a mainstream healing modality both for elite athletes and for the general population. And I don’t expect there is a single sensible person who expects his or her own massage therapist also to be a physician.

So why does the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board seek to require animal massage therapists to spend the money and time to attend vet school where, incidentally, massage is not part of the curriculum? Good question.

All the Board’s interpretation of the Arizona statute really does is interfere with the livelihoods of people who seek a career in animal massage and limit the choices of Arizona’s animal owners seeking to provide the best possible lives for their horses, dogs, etc.

Hair, Hair Everywhere

With apologies to all my friends in far-flung places being pummeled by winter weather, I have to note that here in southern Arizona it’s full-on horse shedding season.

You know, that time of year when you studiously hold your mouth closed and squint behind your sunglasses while raking mounds of hair off your horse. And have to examine your clothing as you leave the barn to decide whether you’re likely to disgust the people in line behind you if you stop for groceries on the way home.

In theory, horses start to lose their coats as soon as their endocrine systems react to an increase in the number of daylight hours. Due to other factors, including nutrition and temperature, every horse seems to have a personalized shedding schedule.

My senior citizen Ichobod grows a longish coat and always, always starts shedding in January, right after the solstice tips the balance to give us a few more seconds of daylight each day. I always worry he’ll shed off too much hair before the last cold snap, which usually hits in our desert home in mid- to late February. (Back in Colorado it seemed like he shed from January through to June; he should have been bald by then, but he never was.)

Sport, on the other hand, grows a short but very dense winter coat, which he proceeds to shed off in a couple of weeks. In Colorado he’d hold his coat until May and then slick off in what seemed like a matter of days.

Junior, whose winter nickname is “yak boy,” seems to fall in the middle. He grows a long coat –including an impressive goatlike beard – and sheds for several weeks. Which pretty much means I have shedding beasts from New Year’s to April Fools.

I know horse owners tend to moan and complain about the inconvenience of the annual hair fest. I’ve done my share of grumbling – especially on a breezy spring day when it seems no matter where I stand while grooming, I’m downwind. (And just put on sunscreen or lip balm in time for a big gust to paste fur to my face.)

But as my horses have aged, I have to say I’ve come to think of shedding as something to celebrate. As in, “Yay! The 20-something-year-old gelding is shedding this spring! No Cushings worries this year!”

So, in honor of Ichobod’s 31st spring as a fuzzy four-legged shedder, I’ll be happy to get a face-full of fur or feel itchy because my clothes have sprouted horse hair.

The Blissed-Out Pony

How do you explain the positive ways horses react to bodywork for someone unfamiliar with the four-legged beasties? Take a picture!

During her massage earlier in the week one of my clients mentioned to the therapist that her horse was having bodywork the next day. The therapist wanted to know what a blissed-out horse looked like. Here’s one of the photos that might give her an idea:

We decided horses have it even better than humans in some cases. This horse got to munch on his lunch hay during most of the session. Now how can I figure out how to eat chocolate the next time I’m on the massage table? That would be bliss!


Happy Holiday, Scandinavian Style

Wandering the internet for something else entirely, I came across these charming images by Danish artist Anders Olsson of the traditional Scandinavian gnome-like beings known as a “nisse” or “tomte.”

I learned about the Julenisse, a kind of Christmas elf, when I lived in Norway years ago. And about how other nisser – distinguished by their bright red hats – had been considered to be part of everyday life, helping people in their daily tasks. But I didn’t learn about the barn nisse, who helped care of the farm animals. So I enjoyed following these images through cyberspace to read a bit more about the gnomes who help farmers take care of their animals.

“They are both solitary, mischievous domestic sprites responsible for the protection and welfare of the farmstead and its buildings. Tomte literally means ‘homestead man’ and is derived from the word tomt which means homestead or building lot. Nisse is derived from the name Nils which is the Scandinavian form of Nicholas.

“A tomte is described as an older, little man about the size of a young child. He wears old often ragged clothes, usually gray or navy, and sports a bright red cap on his head. He resides in the pantry or barn and watches over the household and farm. He is responsible for the care of the farm animals, especially the horses.”
Legend of the Nisse and Tomte

Of course, I’m going to like any creature with an affinity for horses. So in this season of celebration and looking forward, I wish you the best and hope the nisser take good care of you and your critters!