Friday, March 29, 2013

Honeybees in Spring

I don’t think about our honey bees during the winter months when their hives sit covered in snow.  But, by March, I start wondering if they will fly again to gather their nectar and make honey.  March and April can be deadly months for the honeybee.   I secretly pray for them, and hope warmer days are not followed by frigid nights.

Their food supplies are low and if it’s a cold spring, like this year, they could succumb to the harsh spring weather.   To assist them thru this period, my husband feeds a sugar water solution which bolsters their food source.

The honeybees are an important part of our farm.  They’re just as significant as the sheep, horses, and chickens.  I have long passed the stage where I thought of them as a menacing bunch of insects out to sting me, but now see a magical collective with a unique and fascinating behavior.  They provide us with a prized food, and make sure our gardens are bountiful.  I have a reverence for them, and a loss would be upsetting.

I look forward to sitting on our porch watching them work, bringing pollen back to the hive.  It lets us know their feeding brood and building strength.    It also tells me they’ve made it thru the winter and for the moment all is right with the world.


Saturday, March 23, 2013


Every morning, after feeding the horses, sheep, and chickens, I walk inside from the cold winter air happy to be embraced by the warmth of our wood stove.  Louise is lying so close to the fire I wonder how she can stand the heat.  She wakes from her slumber feeling the cold air I bring in and sniffs the air smelling the scent of the barn.  She yawns, smoothes her fur and settles back into her nap.  She’s been my constant companion this winter rarely venturing outside.

Her children on the other hand, find the house too confining.  They need to go outside every morning even on the coldest winter days, while Louise is content watching me clean, organize, talk on the phone, and cook.   I wonder if she remembers those days scrounging for food and shelter.   

It was springtime when my son informed me there was a cat living in our barn.   I’m pretty sure I would see a cat hanging around the barn I tell him.   “I see her almost every day,” he insists.  Sure enough, the next morning going into the barn was a sort of tabby speckled cat.

As we climbed the stairs into the loft, curled on a bale of hay, was a small skinny cat, her coat a mottled patchwork of orange, tan, and black.  She didn’t run like a feral, but was eager to greet us.   We spent most of the morning pouring our affection onto her, and she stayed drinking the love like a bowl of milk.  We both agreed she was only a year old, and definitely pregnant.   

“Can we keep her,” my son asked?  She had already won my heart and a cat taking refuge in our barn must be special in some way.  It might be a good to have a barn cat around, I thought.    “We’ll call her Louise,” my son said. 

When we called the vet, she told us this happens all the time.    People don’t get them fixed, and then drop them off along the road when they become pregnant.  “You better bring her in the house before she delivers.  If the Tom is around he may kill the babies to get her in heat again.” She said.   Louise ended up having the four babies the next day in the barn. 

Once mom and kittens were all safe in the house, I made it clear; homes will have to be found for the kittens.   Well, it’s almost two years later, and my daughter’s is still in love with the two grey kittens.  They only tolerate being held by her and are happiest outside hunting in the woods; I call them the grey beasts.  Louise never went back to the barn to live and the yellow tabby and black tabby were adopted by friends.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

My Weasel Doesn't Pop

One day, my brother-in-law, George, who knows I’m attracted to all things to do with spinning, called.   He found something at an estate sale. 
What is it?

“It looks sort of like a spinning wheel,” he said.   “Is it a niddy noddy?” I asked.  “What’s a niddy noddy?” was his reply.  “A tool you wind yarn onto.”   “I don’t know, but it definitely has something to do with spinning,” he said.  I tried hard to come up with some yarn tool matching his description.  For all I knew, he was looking at a wine press, so, in the end, I told him not to buy it. 
This is a Niddy Noddy

George not only bought it, but gave it to me as a birthday gift.  When I first saw it, I was a little confused.  It was big, old, and I didn't know what to do with it.  It sat in my room until my son figured out it clicked at one rotation.  That's when it clicked for me (sorry for the pun). I jumped for joy. George found a spinner's weasel. 
Winding yarn on weasel

It turns out a spinner’s weasel, is a mechanical yarn measuring device.   Spun yarn is wound off the bobbin onto a reel or weasel, which makes a popping sound when a given yardage is reached, hence the saying; Pop goes the weasel.
Now, when I sell a skein of yarn or use it for a knitting project, I  have the yardage-Yeah!
 weasel with full skein of yarn

Thank you, George, for following your instincts and giving me my Weasel.

yarn ready to be washed


Sunday, March 3, 2013

How to Beat the Winter Doldrums

This is about the time I start noticing a few extra pounds right around the hips.  I start aching for the snow to melt on my arena,  and for the ground to be soft enough to plant.  Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait a little longer, but there is one bright spot in full swing right now - lambing.  Lambs are the best way to beat the winter doldrums.   There will be no lambs for us this year, so I have to be content listening to my friends tell me about their new lambs.  I'll will go visit, but it’s not the same as having lambs in your own backyard.

The anticipation starts growing in February.  I would watch the moms every day waiting to see if their milk was coming in.  By March I’m running out every morning hoping to find baby lambs waiting for me.  I try putting pregnant ewe's in lambing jugs when they start to showing signs of labor, but that always doesn’t happen. One cold, rainy morning, while looking out the window, I saw a mom standing next to her new lamb.  She delivered outside in the early morning.  I quickly ran out and grabbed the shivering lamb, and slowly coached Mom into a stall, where I then tried to warm baby up.
Once the lambs are delivered and all are healthy, the fun begins.  Lambs running, jumping, skipping, and hopping, then nurse and fall asleep next to mom.  This cycle keeps going for weeks as we watch them grow.  Lambs are the best wayto beat the winter blues.

- Trisha

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I am the Sun

During the recent cold snap I worried about the animals living in our barn.  I gave the horses extra hay and even the sheep with their 4 inch wool coats got a larger ration of grain.  But I'm concerned a little more about my Thoroughbred mare; Ceci.  She’s going to be 24 years old this year and when the weather’s cold she doesn’t zip out into the field with her counterparts – the feisty pony or the stubborn Appaloosa.  On cold days, she walks slowly and reluctantly out of her paddock.  “It’s tough getting old,” I thought.

Ceci was 19 years old when she was dropped off at my trainer’s barn by an owner that no longer wanted to care for her or maybe couldn’t.   When I laid eyes on her she was nothing but skin and bones.  My trainer had a reputation for taking unwanted horses no matter the condition they were in.   She was one of the thinnest horses I had seen.  Yet, there was still a spark in her eyes.

"This horse could take you to your next level, she’s got all the buttons”, my trainer said.  I knew where she was going with this.  It was November and the last thing my trainer wanted was to feed a starved Thoroughbred thru the winter months.  Wryly, I eyed Ceci wondering if her rickety frame could even hold a rider.   My heart ached looking at her sad condition and even though her eyes were soft and kind, I flat out said, “no way.”    I’m not sure what changed my mind.  Maybe the desperation in my trainers voice when she called again to see if I was interested, or was it the unlikely chance that if I dusted her off and gave her some time and care she would be a real gem of a horse.  Either way, by December, Ceci was in my barn starting her journey back to health.

It troubled me I had no background on her.  I called the women that owned her to see if I could get some history.   She was reluctant to talk, but with a little prodding, she told me Ceci had an injury early in her life, was a brood mare 3 times, and then a school horse.  Unfortunately, the rest I have to imagine.  What kinds of shows did she compete in?  Did she win ribbons?  She must have been something to watch in her prime standing at 16 hands with her four white feet and flaxen mane and tail.  How many riders soared as she flew over jumps?

Most Thoroughbred’s have a tattoo on the inside of the upper lip.  It links the horse to their registration papers.  I checked to see if Ceci had this tattoo.  When I first curled her lip, I was looking for something small maybe an inch long, so I didn’t even see it.  When I looked again, I was shocked to see huge bold black ink letters blazon across her upper lip; S43159.

I searched for her number by logging into the Jockey Club website.  Anxiously, I typed each of the characters, and then hit the Enter key.  C’est Le Soleil meaning I am the Sun, Chestnut Mare born May 08, 1989 popped up.  “Oh my god,” I thought.  I know her real name.  The name is appropriate too.  She’s listed as Chestnut, but her coat looks almost golden like the sun, closer to a Palomino.  Her mother was Solar Royalty and her sire was, That’s a Nice.  She had 8 starts meaning she raced 8 times and then it was over.  Her racing days were done.  Was she injured or too slow on the track?

It took about two summers of weight gain and building muscle before she was back to her former elegant form.  I compare Ceci to high quality second hand clothes. You know the kind you can’t afford new.  Even though they have been previously owned, the fine fabric makes you feel good.  Ceci’s like that, she’s been owned a few times, but she’s bred from quality stock and riding her lifts my spirit and makes me feel extraordinary.

We have turned the corner on the worst of winter. Longer days and warmer weather will start to show in the same way Ceci’s elegance shows as she sheds her winter coat.  I look forward to watching her canter with her herd mates rocking back and forth enjoying the sunny days of Spring living up to her name -I Am The Sun.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Barn

Yes, it's about me again

Two weeks before Christmas I had a clash with Major or should I say a crash.  Yes, that lovable Eeyore character that doesn’t like to move too fast, literally gave me a run that would have lit the forest on fire.
Heading out on the path

I had about an hour to get a quick ride in before my son’s home school class was finished.  Having not ridden for about three weeks, I was feeling some pressure to exercise the horses.  Once Major, our Appaloosa pony, was saddled I took him into the arena, walked around once and got on.  No pre-flight exercises were done, like moving his back legs or backing him up to see if he was listening to me.  Heck, I’ve been riding him all summer, two, three times a week, we’re well trained buddies. 

As we trotted around the arena, he gave a little buck.  I figured he was feeling fresh, so I didn’t give it another thought.  The students in my son's home school class could see the arena from the window.  Not wanting to distract them, I decided to go into the woods behind the house.   Off we went and all was going well; a little walking, a little trotting- Yahoo!    The path we took lead to an open field.   There we stopped and listened.  It was a beautiful day, very little wind, and peaceful.

In the clearing
It was still hunting season and Major seemed to have a heighted awareness.  His ears were straight up and listening.  I decided to turn around and head back to the arena.  

Coming back

We always walk back.  It’s the rule, but the minute I turned his nose he tried to bolt. “Damn,” I thought.  I quickly slid my right hand down the rein and pulled his nose to my knee.  He spun around in a half circle and stopped.  “Good boy,” I said, as I gave him a pat.  I relaxed my body, sat back into the saddle and commanded, “Walk on.”  I’m not sure saying anything with authority matters to a horse, but it gave me courage.   Major wanted none of it.  I didn’t know if we were trotting, jigging or cantering, but it occurred to me he wasn’t listening to any of my cues and it would be wise to get off.     But I didn’t, I stayed on and managed to slow him down by see-sawing the reins back and forth.   That’s when he got mad and decided to get this monkey (me) off his back.   With ears pinned, I could feel the tension building in his muscles.  The last thing I saw was Major’s head curling down.

frightened Major

“Get up,” my son said as he helped me get to my feet.     He told me he saw Major flying back to the barn alone and knew something was wrong.     Once he was satisfied I was moving relatively well, he went to make sure the horse was ok.  I stumbled my way out of the woods, sat down outside the barn to get my vision back.   I took my helmet off and was amazed as it came apart in my hands.  “What happened,” I thought, and thank god I always wear a helmet.

Major getting the monkey off

In the house, I assessed my condition.  My body felt fine.  Nothing broken and nothing pulled.  My vision was back, but my head ached, I felt queasy, and embarrassed my horse had gone barn sour and the home school group saw the outcome.
My initial reaction was, “I’m so done with this horse!”   I’m sick of his personality and pony mentality.  I’m also finished with riding.  How many more falls before they carry me out on a stretcher.  I’m playing Russian roulette and don’t like the odds.  I need to find a safer sport.
It’s been a month since the fall and it’s taken me time to recover from feeling angry at Major and disappointed with myself.    I took Major’s behavior as a personal insult.   I’ve worked years with him on the ground and in the saddle.  We were passed all this running back to the barn stuff.  Wrong.   Major was following his horse instincts.  He perceived danger and took charge by high tailing it back to the barn.  Horses don’t do anything personally to anyone.  
Barn sour can happen to any horse; the underlining issue is trust.  He did not see me as the leader to guide him out of danger.  If I got him using his thinking brain instead of his reacting brain by doing some groundwork, would the situation have turned out differently?  I don’t know.   For now, I’m back to basics with him, building trust, and hopefully, in the future, riding into the woods without bolting back.