Saturday, July 31, 2010

Perspective at Horse School

I went to visit Annie at the horse school Thursday night. She recognized me and came right over. She might have been looking for treats, but maybe she was just glad to see a familiar face. She has to do new things, and pay attention, and actually get bossed around by a human being - all entirely unfamiliar events to her.

Annie apparently took the opportunity to exercise the dominance skills she has been learning first hand from Ginger the Terrible, and attempted to boss every horse she was penned with, so now she is in a pen by herself. Maybe she will stand up to Ginger when she gets home. I can only hope. She also continued to play in the water tanks. Irritating at home, but not tolerated at horse school.

All the burrs were out of Annie's her mane and tail, and so were the tangles. She almost looked like a civilized horse. She had lost some weight and I do not think she is happy there. Her usual playful demeanor was subdued. Of course it was so oppressively hot and humid that all the horses were sweating where they stood. I am certain that Rebecca is not mistreating Annie. Everyone is subdued when they have to go off to school and learn new rules and live among unfamiliar people and surroundings. Everyone misses their home and their family when they are away, even horses.

Next Thursday, I am going for some training myself. There was no hint of criticism from Rebecca about my indulged and spoiled horse, but I could see my habits were in stark contrast to hers. It is always good to get some perspective in life.

There was also a flock of big chickens scratching about the barns and corrals. Annie normally would have loved to chase the hens, but she just stood next to me at the fence. The rooster was a regular sized guy, about two feet tall. He looked like a giant to my eyes accustomed to bantams. Out of sheer habit, I braced for an attack when I first noticed him giving me the eye. If a rooster that large attacked it would be a serious altercation - nothing like the mini-attacks from the Evil Roo at home. Large roosters that attack people are normally not long for this world simply because they are so big and can inflict painful injuries. I doubted he would attack, but I kept my eye on him just the same.

Rebecca is a young woman, probably in her mid twenties. I stayed a few extra minutes to watch one of her young student's lesson, a very nice little girl about ten. That rooster engaged in normal roosterly behavior with one of the hens. The little girl innocently asked Rebecca why the rooster was standing on the hen. At that moment, I was so happy to be simply an observer. Better Rebecca than me. She paused for a moment, then said, "Oh that silly old rooster!" Well done, Rebecca. It has been such a long time since I was around the innocence of childhood.

It is always good to get some perspective.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oklahoma Where The Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plain...

I had to travel to Oklahoma again so I took a scenic route. I drove to Ponca City, then through the Osage Reservation. Of all the tribes forced to Oklahoma, only the Osage have retained a reservation. In looking into the history of the Osage, I discovered that in March of this year, a court in Denver ruled that the Osage reservation had been dissolved over one hundred years ago, in 1906 at the time of Osage allotment. No one knew it, though - not until the court of appeals decided it was so in 2010. The Osage are fighting being taxed in their own country, but lost - this round.

"The tribe’s appeal was filed against members of the Oklahoma Tax Commission, but 12 groups supporting the commission as friends of the court included state and local farm bureaus and cattlemen’s associations, electric cooperatives, petroleum interests, wildlife and environmental associations, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce, and others." From Indian Country Today

The white man circled the legal wagons in grand fashion against the Osage this time. If you want to incite a riot of white folk, just hint that they might be paying more taxes than you, or let them get the idea that you have something they have not already stolen from you.

I do not understand the evil wind that blew the Mayflower's first immigrants to the eastern shores of this continent. It has never ceased its destructive and voracious howling to annihilate the Indians, even to this day. What if there had been some basic belief that the people already living on these lands had an inalienable right to exist? What if there had been some shred of wisdom in the invaders' collective heart that guided them toward respect, to value the wisdom these old cultures may have had to share? If there had been some meeting of the minds, some small willingness to share, what manner of country may have been built? Perhaps we would not be facing environmental extinction at this point. Clearly, that evil wind continues to blow.

The good news is that the Osage people are alive and well and still fighting.

Osage to check out the Osage web site.

Native American Rights Fund if you would feel so inclined as to donate to the Native American Rights legal fund.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tall Prairie Tales

The prairie grasses are getting tall with the rain and heat. My two horses do not graze enough of the pasture to keep it from growing five and six feet tall. The path that Duke the good dog and I have made walking to the barn is still there, but the vegetation on either side is mostly taller than I stand now. Walking to the barn is not a pleasant experience. In the mornings my clothes become entirely soaked from the dew, and I mean wet, as if I have been in the shower. Dew or no dew, chiggers get on me and that is something to be avoided at all costs.

Chiggers are tiny, nearly invisible insects that live in the grass. Once they get on your person, they migrate upward and find areas beneath tight fitting clothing. There they burrow into your skin and produce the most maddening itching for the next two weeks. The tender skin on your thighs, right were the elastic in the legs of your underwear is a favorite spot for chiggers. When a big itching spell comes on, you have to scratch yourself - even if you are in public. You hope the public would be sympathetic but you really do not care. You will scratch yourself and hope a video taken by a random phone camera does not appear on YouTube. No one wants their fifteen minutes of fame to be a video of them scratching their crotch in the New Age aisle of Barnes and Noble.

I bought myself a machete last year and have used it to hack through the six foot horse nettle and sunflower stalks that block about a fifteen foot stretch of the path. Those big plants went down like butter, but the big blue stem is basically impervious. In addition to the soaking dew and chiggers, at the bottom of the prairie "forest" poison ivy grows exactly two inches taller than my boot tops. Six feet of prairie is perfect cover for snakes, too. All of these difficulties coupled with the heat and humidity make getting to the barn in the summer a horrible experience. Of course, I could mow - and I intend to mow - but once again the window for mowing the prairie when it is short and manageable disappeared when the tractor was out of commission early this season. Now the plants are too tall and tough to mow with my little yard tractor. It requires a big tractor with a mowing deck.

Once I get to the barn in the mornings, Ginger is waiting for her ration of fly spray and brushing. Annie is off at horse school, so it is just Ginger and me, like old times. She seems genuinely glad to see me and always wants to rest her head on mine. She discovered that the top of my head is a perfect match for the space beneath her jaws. If I allowed it, she would gladly rest her big heavy head directly on mine. It makes me laugh, but I do not think my neck is OSHA rated for holding up horse heads, too. She has to settle for resting her head on my shoulder. With no one of her own species to boss around, she is a pretty nice horse. She is worth the chiggers and the poison ivy and the sopping wet clothes.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blowing Wind

Ever wonder why the wind blows? Oh yeah, I know that some people say Kansas is so windy because Nebraska sucks and Oklahoma blows. There is a small group of people who claim the opposite, that it is Oklahoma that sucks. I remain mostly undecided, except on certain days of every week when I am easily convinced that is it Oklahoma - all Oklahoma- and Nebraska is a non-factor. If you go to Kansas City, a city that spans two states, there is an entire metropolitan population that claims Kansas both sucks and blows, but that has never made much sense to me because Missouri is the show-me state. You think they would know.

I think human beings are too easily manipulated. They see the leaves waving madly about and assume that causes wind. They see Sarah Palin's mouth moving and think she is talking about something worthwhile, like grizzly bear moms. I do not think grizzly bears are happy to be discussed by Sarah Um-All-of-Them. I suspect that any Alaskan grizzly has read at least as many news magazines as Sarah. I hold that suspicion because it is likely even grizzlies know that Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America.

Not every mom is happy to be thought of as a mad grizzly, either. Sure, mad women have axed their husbands to death and ran over men with cars. (Let's not even think about Lorena Bobbitt.) Justifiable homicide is an honorable defense. I am talking about a country full of emotional women running around thinking of themselves as mad grizzly bear mothers protecting their cubs, fired up by an ex-beauty queen. Remember Anita Bryant? Sarah Gal works diligently to appear to not be so danged smart that she intimidates the mothers. I may have misspoken when I said "works diligently". It may be as easy as the wind blowing.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Off To School

The horse school bus came for Annie yesterday. Rebecca, a young horse trainer who lives a mere twenty miles away came with her horse trailer to take Annie for sixty days of training. I was certain that Annie would load easily into the trailer, though no one else believed it. I knew her curiosity would win out and she would step right into that trailer, ready for a big adventure.

I got out there early to get both horses ready. I put halters on them and separated them, which was easy. Annie, always first to arrive and follow me anywhere, went right into the round pen full of scrumptious untouched prairie - and safely away from Ginger's bossiness. Ginger, always afraid someone named Annie might get a treat before her majesty the queen gets one, came to me straight off, looking for peppermints.

I brushed the horses and sprayed them both for flies. I combed their manes and picked out burrs and searched for ticks. I simply enjoyed being in the company of my horses. I think it is a mutual enjoyment. My horses rest their big, heavy heads on my shoulder and sigh with contentment. I feel the same way.

Both horses were calm and sleepy by the time Rebecca arrived, but Annie began to circle the pen and to stand on the bottom rung of the panels when she saw the strange truck and trailer. Those are cheap fence panels, not designed to hold up the front half of horses. A lot of things can go wrong with excited horses but I continued to have confidence.

Rebecca put her own halter on Annie and led her calmly to the trailer. As soon as Annie left the round pen, Ginger went in, just to make sure there were no peppermints laying around or special favors floating in the air that rightfully belong to her alone. After closing the gate, I stood back to watch, hardly daring to breathe. Was it going to be a horrible rodeo, or a calm loading?

Just as I expected, Annie walked right up to the trailer and calmly looked around, sniffing and debating whether she should trust this new person. After a brief sidestep or two, I could see Annie was wanting to do what Rebecca was asking, even though it was scary. In just a few moments she stepped right onto that trailer. I was too far away to close the trailer door, so when Rebecca stepped toward the back, Annie also turned. When Annie realized the gate was closing, she bolted off the trailer. I think Rebecca's heart sank.

Instead of running toward the far corner of the pasture in a mad panic, Annie just ran back to the round pen, bucking and playing in her usual high spirits whenever something fun is happening. Rebecca calmly took up the lead rope then led Annie back to the trailer. Again Annie hesitated, but with Rebecca calmly urging her forward, and with me calmly assuring her, she stepped right into the trailer again. This time I was there to close the gate. Annie's eyes where ringed with white in fright, the way they were when she was delivered to Spirit Creek, but she did not fight or struggle. I gave her a final peppermint treat and then she and Rebecca were off.

In the meantime, Ginger realized something was amiss. Annie seldom makes any noise and I do not believe she called for Ginger one time. Who would want to tell the bossiest horse alive goodbye? But Ginger was worried, circling the pen and calling. I tried to calm her with a few peppermint treats but she was already sweating with anxiety. After about fifteen minutes, when I thought Annie was far out of Ginger's hearing, I opened the round pen. Ginger trotted up to the gate calling for Annie. She apparently did not see which direction the trailer left, so she was calling in both directions. She followed the fence line all the way to the east, then came back in a lope, calling, her head high listening for an answer. I felt so sorry for her. She ran back to the east again, searching the road for any sign of her friend.

I gathered up the halters and a few other items and made for the gate. Ginger followed me to the gate, calling and calling. It was sad to see her in such a state, but I expected it. She was once taken from her mother and herd via a horse trailer, never to see any of them again. When she came to me, she was taken away from Mack, her beloved stablemate, never to see him again. She has no reason to expect that Annie will ever return. Later in the day I went to check on her, and she was facing the east, her head down, as sad as any horse I have ever seen in my life. I wish there was some way I could let her know that Annie will be back, some way to reassure her it will turn out well.

We think we know more than horses but there are an infinite number of things human beings do not know either. I hope it all turns out well. We all do.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I stepped outside last night to a partial yellow moon glowing on the horizon. It was not high enough to cast much light. The usual oppressive humidity has been absent the last few days, allowing for comfortable summer weather including very cool nights. There was a gentle breeze. It was perfect.

Fireflies, unless you are in Kansas where they are 'lightning bugs', were rising high into the heavy canopy of the trees. In the absence of local light pollution, their luminescence is remarkably bright. A single flash illuminates a surprisingly large area, most easily judged when the insect is among the leaves. They are not always as high in the trees as they were last night. It was difficult to tell the stars from the fireflies glittering in the limbs. I had to look directly to see the difference.

Their curving silent flight, their slow cycling glow in the deep summer darkness must surely be the source of our belief in fairies. To the patient eye, the random flashes will, every several moments, all light at once, as if the courting insects are participating in a silent song of light.

There are always lightning bugs in my house, on the windows, in the curtains. I have even found them in my hair. I always put them back outside so they can find a mate. The world can not have too many fireflies.