Saturday, February 24, 2018

Fun Horse/Flower Mashup

I think I'm going a little spring-crazy. I found crocus flowers in the park, the barnyard is a muck pit from the rain, and I'm walking a lot of the horses around the ring getting them out of the mud and, in some cases, started back up for spring lessons.

I thought it might be fun to match the horses at the barn up with the flowers I think they would go well with. ^_^ So here goes!

Starting with the mare field...

Cyd: Morning Glory

Morning glories open only in the morning and evening or on cloudy days. When they do open they are gorgeous pink, purple, or blue flowers. The vine is sometimes hard to control in the garden because it spreads via underground runners.

Mia: Queen Anne's Lace

Related to carrots, Queen Anne's Lace brightens the countryside in fields and along roads. Though they can thrive in tough conditions, they are also good in the garden as a companion plant to lettuces and other greens which require shade in the heat of summer.

Jewel: Snapdragon

Snapdragons come in a variety of vibrant colors and attract bees and hummingbirds with their fiery bright blooms. Just like Jewel they are fun and fairly carefree, but do enjoy some pampering!

The main barn....

Ernie: Wild Geranium

The wild geranium is a native plant in eastern North America. The tiny pale purple flowers grow well in full sun but can also be found in shade, creating forest carpets of color. The flowers attract native bees and make a lovely addition to any garden, peeking around the front of the other plants and adding their charm to the landscape.

Gus: Hoya

Hoyas are tropical flowers that love warmth and high humidity. Clusters of kaleidoscopic colored flowers in white, red, pink, and/or yellow hang from the vines and look like perfect little wax stars. The flowers are somewhat infamous among house plant owners for dripping sticky honeydew onto surfaces below.

Taz: Sunflower

Sunflowers are hard to miss. These sunny plants grow rapidly, attracting bees with the bright yellow petals in late summer and creating an enormous seed head which is food for autumn migrating birds. They require a good amount of nutrients from the soil to grow so large and have a handy trick to keep other hungry plants at bay- they secrete a toxic chemical from their roots which drives off all plants in their vicinity.

Maggie: Miniature Rose

The miniature rose is a petite beauty. It comes in several colors and is actually more hardy than the average tea rose. Miniature roses still require a fair amount of care to keep them at their best. Be careful picking the flowers though- the mini rose comes with mini thorns!

Harry: Daisy


Daisies grow freely in meadows and along roads and are a favorite of bouquet-gathering children. They are a very tolerant flower and can grow in a wide variety of conditions. The daisy has a very long flowering season and flowers can be found reliably from spring all the way through to autumn.

Miles: Trumpet Lily

The trumpet lily is a bold, striking addition to the garden. Its big bright petals form a trumpet shape that can be up to 6 inches long and comes in nearly every color, from white to deep orange. Trumpet lilies bloom in the middle of summer, when most other flowers have gone dormant. They plough right through the heat with relative ease.

*I did have Miles with Balloon Flower, but I think the Trumpet Lily is a more accurate match.

Aspen: Cherry Blossom

Cherry blossoms massed on the branches of a cherry tree are one of the most striking signs that spring has arrived. Blooms can be white or pink and are beautiful, yet delicate. The amount of blossoms that form depends highly on the weather conditions. They tend to fall apart on windy days.

Nadiya: Orchid

Outside of its native tropical environment orchids can take several years to bloom and will sometimes refuse to do so if moved to a different temperature, lighting, or soil. They dislike change. When an orchid does bloom though, the flowers are some of the most intricate, varied, and beautiful in the world.

And the pony field...

Abby: Foxglove

Foxglove forms tall stalks full of large, bell shaped flowers that are pink, purple, grey, or white and usually have spots or speckles. The unique shape of the flowers means they have whimsical alternative names such as "witch's mittens" and "fairy caps." The plant grows equally well in forests and in fields and is a favorite of hummingbirds. Extracted chemicals from foxglove have long been used in treating heart ailments.

Pudge: Hydrangea

The hydrangea is a flower that is made up of clusters of smaller flowers. In some varieties these clusters can be several inches wide, creating giant puffballs of blooms. Normally the blooms are white, but many gardeners turn the flowers different colors by adjusting the soil pH. These shrubs can't be fed too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer or they won't produce flowers.

Presley: Virginia Bluebells

Another native east coast plant, Virginia Bluebells flourish in shady woodlands where they flower in early spring and can create large patches of color. The flowers start out pink and then change color to blue. Bees and butterflies adore the little bell-shaped flowers. These plants dislike hot weather and go dormant after June, biding their time beneath the soil until the weather gets cooler.

Bodi: Dandelion 

Though considered an annoyance by some, a truly nurtured dandelion is a wonderful sight. It has adapted to a wide variety of conditions and grows through concrete, but it also finds a home in the garden where its bright cheerful flowers can grow to an inch in diameter. If left long enough it develops a delightful puffball of seeds that can then be blown on the wind to new places.

I hope you have enjoyed this fun adventure in matching ponies with plants. What flower do you think your favorite horse would match well with?

PS: Too many photos in this post. I was up waaay too late trying to find pictures to go along with all the descriptions. Bed time now.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Waiting for a Horse to Decide

When I was in high school I wrote a poem about how time seems to have almost palpable turning points around decisions. I don't remember the exact words, but the idea was that just before a decision is made time seems to tilt gradually, then all at once as it tumbles into a new reality.

This phenomenon is only amplified for me around horses. Unless they are frightened, in pain, playing or fighting, (all adrenaline-fueled decision situations) horses seem to make decisions relatively slowly compared to human beings. I get a weird joy out of waiting for a horse to decide to do something I wanted rather than shortcutting to make it fit human time.

Beautiful Nadiya teaches me a lot about waiting for horse decisions

Waiting for a horse to decide involves looking for a moment where I can give them a nudge to tip the decision in my favor. For example, when Aspen and I go walking we play a game where he stops to look at something and I wait expectantly until I am almost sure that he is done looking and then I turn toward him ever so slightly and he looks at me and starts walking again. If I turn too soon he pays no attention to me. If I turn too late then he has decided for me and I've lost the game.

Aspen out for a walk.

When I pick Nadiya's hooves she is particular about getting her front hooves done because she's protective of her front bowed tendons. Sometimes she doesn't want to lift her front feet at all, and then I play the foot game. I start with her back feet, picking them up carefully and gently. When I'm finished cleaning them I put them down slooowly. Then I move up to the front again and stare at her. She might be eating hay or looking out of her stall, but eventually if I keep staring intently at her eye she'll turn her head and look at me. I look back for a long moment, sometimes several seconds until she stops looking. Then I matter-of-factly bend down and put a hand on her hoof and kind of nudge her as if to say "you know this is ok. I just showed you I'm good at this. Lift up your foot." Sometimes she does the first time, sometimes I have to go stare at her some more, but in the end the hoof comes up and I hold up my end of the bargain by being as gentle with it as possible.


I used to play the foot game with Aspen but now he lifts each foot up in turn as soon as I put the other one down. I know when a foot hurts more than usual because he'll refuse to pick one up which is by now rare enough to alert me. Sometimes he'll even hesitate or put the hoof back down briefly before picking it back up again, and almost unfailingly there's a soft frog or a deep smelly crevice in that particular hoof that I have to be careful about.

Aspen who is now so good with getting his hooves picked. <3

Sometimes figuring out when to press for a decision and when to wait a little longer is hard- I am still working on being able to catch horses when they aren't sure they want to be caught, especially Gus. I call it practice herding. I can't just walk up to Gus with a halter all the time. Sometimes he "nopes" right out of there and I have to walk a little ways behind him and try to anticipate where he's going to go. If I over-anticipate then he can avoid me. If I'm too hesitant he can slip past me too. The one time I got it perfect was when I was catching him for the farrier and he started avoiding me. I stayed far enough back while following him that when he made a turn I only had to step one step in either direction to get in his path and block him. Finally, he stopped moving but I couldn't move any closer until he decided to be caught or he'd have the space advantage and herding would continue. So I waited, trying to watch closely to see what he would decide. After maybe 15-20 seconds of motionless decision making, he looked at me and sort of sagged his ears and leaned his neck toward me a little and the decision was made. He let me walk up and halter him and lead him over to the farrier. (Then I accidentally tried turning him around in the barn and he got confused and attempted to drag me out of the barn again, but that's another event entirely. :P)


As usual with my horse posts, I'll point out that there's still a lot to learn about the timing of horse decisions. They inevitably still surprise me with the things they choose to do and when they choose to do them, but more and more I'm seeing how they communicate their thought processes before they decide. If I wait and observe I learn more and more.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Winter Plant Puttering

This is the season when I start getting really antsy about not having anything growing in the outdoor garden. The plants on the porch are either dormant or dead (probably a mix of both out there) and the indoor plants have slowed growth to a crawl. I need spring to get here!!!

In the meantime I putter around with the indoor plants.

The succulents I put into a large shallow container are doing well, though I had to move them out from under one of the higher wattage LED grow lights and over to my tube grow light. They were getting too MUCH "sun" and were getting all closed up and burnt looking. When the String of Buttons plant started looking like it might be going downhill I propagated some of the leaves. Now I have new tiny String of Buttons plants. So cute!

Propagated String of Buttons
 The only plants that seem to be doing really well so close to the LED grow light are the blue and pink colored Echeverias and the cacti. These enjoy full sun and are getting a nice pink tinge around the leaf edges of the Echeveria.
Some Echeverias turning a nice color.

J.D. and I had an onion sprout on our counter... so we decided what the heck, we'll plant it and see what happens. It has been growing us fresh green onions for weeks now. I planted it like I would an Amaryllus or Paperwhite bulb since it was winter and I couldn't plant it wholesale outside. I didn't want it to get too wet and start rotting. So far it seems to be doing ok, other than getting a bit leggy for light.  

Sprouted grocery store onion

The Peperomia plant I got around this time last year is doing really well! I do need to re-pot it sometime this spring. I love how adorable the leaves are on this variety. In the photo below you can also see some sad looking Polka Dot Plants in the back which I'm hoping to cut and re-root into healthier plants in spring, and some succulents.

Peperomia front and center under the grow tube light. 

Finally, the lavender and rosemary plants are getting by indoors. They're both under grow lights but not growing much, as it's not really their preferred habitat. They'd normally like just a mild winter outdoors. Too bad for them we're still getting some 15F nights! They'll probably stay in until mid to late March.

Lavender chilling amongst the Begonias.

Well, there you have it. Not much new here, just some small projects slowly growing indoors. I can't wait to grow outside again. Soon I'll start my lettuce seedlings and this year I have some Swiss Chard too! Can't wait.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Breakthroughs with Bodi

Let it be known that today was the very first day that this guy did four whole strides of canter on command in the round pen. I am so proud of the little dude.
Cantering champion, as far as I'm concerned.
I don't know if he would have done more or not because as soon as he started cantering I immediately dropped everything and was like "Yes! Good boy!" and went and gave him attention, then stopped the round penning for the day. I have this whole week off so I'm going over to the barn every day to help out. I can try teaching it to him on the other side tomorrow, and maybe play around with the idea a bit. But for right now I'm just stoked that he got it.

Yesterday was a crapshoot in the round pen. I'd been round penning him with a dressage whip since the longer lunge whip was cumbersome when he tried to come trotting up to me repeatedly. There was no way to nudge him with the long one when he was that close- the whip is almost as tall as I am, so I switched to the shorter ~3 ft length one. That worked for awhile, however now that I'm trying to get him to canter the short one means all the energy I'm displaying is way too close to Bodi for his comfort. (And to be honest, I'm too close to Bodi for my own comfort.) He started pinning his ears and flailing his head and feet around and getting frustrated. It seemed to be him saying "I'm trotting as fast as I possibly can, what do you want?! What is that kissing noise?! What?!" And then he'd throw a tantrum and everything would fall apart. I asked Barbara if she thought I might be getting too close to Bodi in the round pen and she said yes- he probably felt like I was challenging him with my physical presence instead of encouraging him to try something new. So I switched to the long lunge whip.
In the beginning even the long lunge whip didn't make Bodi very happy.
Here's him being the grumpiest while I redirect him to the outside
so he can't cut across the middle towards me.
Granted, I probably didn't have very good form here either.
I'm still learning strong but calm body posture.

Good grief, it was like night and day. Bodi went out immediately, transitioned wonderfully from a walk to a trot and then back again, and switched directions better than he ever had when directed from up closer. I was no longer trying to close a path off, I was showing him where to turn. I was also calmer, because I wasn't staring down a grumpy horse. I could create energy from a distance to get him to canter without making him feel like I was chasing him down.

Not as naughty as he used to be. :)

I recognize that today was probably also just a random good day, but hopefully now that we've had a good day with the lunge whip and staying further away and cantering, it's more likely that he won't be as confused on a less perfect day. Tomorrow we'll see!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What causes shooting stars?

One of my first introductions to astronomy was being woken up by my mom in the middle of the night to go lie in the middle of the driveway and watch meteor showers. It requires no telescope or special equipment, just enough willpower to drag yourself out of bed if you're interested in catching the peak viewing time.

A representation of me at 2am
However, you don't need to watch at the peak of a meteor shower to see meteors (or shooting stars, as they're sometimes called). Why is this? And what IS a shooting star anyway? Can you find one that has fallen to the ground? Why do meteor showers only happen on specific dates?

A shooting star isn't actually a star at all. It's a meteor. Meteors are anything from space that falls through the Earth's atmosphere, burning up as it falls in. Most meteors are only as big as a grain of sand! They burn up as they enter the atmosphere because they're going SUPER fast. Like thousands of miles per hour fast. When they hit air it creates a lot of friction and that heats the grain of space rock up so hot that it disintegrates!

Some impressive dust specks. 
Jeff Dai/Arizona State University
Some space rocks wandering across the path of Earth's orbit are bigger than a grain of sand. They might be anywhere from pebble sized to larger than a car. The one that fell in Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013 was estimated to be 20 meters (65 ft) wide before it started disintegrating in the atmosphere!

The Chelyabinsk meteor's trail
Alex Alishevskikh - FlickrMeteor trace

That one made it to the ground and was recorded as it fell and broke apart- a very rare event. It created a shockwave when it exploded in mid-air that shattered windows for miles around. When a meteor reaches the ground it is then called a meteorite, and can be collected and studied to find out what kind of minerals it's made out of, which can tell scientists more about when it formed and under what conditions.

Many of our meteor showers come from the tails of comets. Comets have very long period orbits, so they swing in close to the sun, begin melting, then swing way out into the outer solar system again and re-freeze. The melted dusty "tail" of the comet is what the Earth flies through when we experience a meteor shower. If the comet has passed by recently then we get an extra-dense dose of dust resulting in a better meteor shower. The Orionids, for example, are caused by the dust trail of Halley's Comet which passes by Earth every 74-79 years. We fly through part of the dust trail every October. However, since meteors are caused by any object burning up in Earth's atmosphere, shooting stars can haphazardly appear at any time. It just has to be a dark enough sky that they show up against the background!

A comet that could produce a meteor shower

The next few meteor showers coming up aren't very strong ones- the Ursids which peak on December 22nd don't produce a high rate of meteors, though you might see the odd shooting star if you happen to be out and about. The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks from January 2nd to January 3rd, but there will be a full moon for that one which will make the sky too bright to see some of the dimmer meteors. However, there are several meteor showers every year! Check them out and don't forget the hot chocolate and warm blankets while you're lying in the driveway. ;)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Sucky Side of Learning

I wanted to write a post that talks about a truth that I've realized about pretty much any hobby that I'm trying to learn more about: Sometimes learning isn't fun at all, even in something I enjoy. Sometimes learning just sucks.

I guess a pre-reveal: no one got hurt in this adventure, so don't worry.

One of the things about handling horses is that they are, for the most part, giant animals. Bodi is an exception- I like to say that even if he kicks me he'll just take out my shins. But Aspen is a large, sometimes timid and spooky horse, especially if I'm also feeling spooked by something. The fear of getting hurt or of him hurting someone else when he's frightened and not thinking clearly is always in the forefront of my mind. As it sort of should be with any large animal. Second is my fear of him injuring himself, since he has tendon issues in his back legs and can become lame if he spins in a tight circle or something and re-injures the tendons.
Handsome but not super sturdy in his back legs.
So I made the perhaps not super fantastic decision to take Aspen out for a walk while people were working on the roof in the pony pasture. In order to get him out past the workers I needed to bring him around the back of the barn, then through the gate to the ring where we would have our walk. I was feeling pretty good about how we had been working together and I'd been able to work with Bodi earlier that day even with the roofing noises. I figured as long as I could get Aspen safely past the back of the barn we would be fine. Later that day I'd be helping out with a children's pony picnic but I had a good hour and a half until that started so I figured we'd have plenty of time to go out, have a 10 minute walk, and get back to the field.

The trip out went fine. Aspen was jumpy when we walked past the roofers but we got past them ok and into the ring. Once in the ring, however, Aspen just kept spooking in circles around me. We'd start off in a straight line, then some noise would come from behind the barn and Aspen would surge forward to the end of the lead rope and then circle me at a fast trot until he could calm back down enough to stop, eyes bugging out of his head, ears perked to the max. Then we'd start walking side by side again for a few steps, then repeat the process.

Aspen is scared of many noises, including people on the rail trail, loud vehicles, and sheep.
Reactions vary from slightly nervous to OMG WTF OMG.

I realized we weren't going to get any sane walking done and decided to just take him back in since that was probably going to take awhile, but then kids started arriving an hour early to the barn. Small kids. Kids who might not listen to me when I yelled at them to stay back and not run up to us. Thankfully the first two were kids I knew well so they listened and their mom was right behind them, but my "Oh crap, someone is going to get hurt" buttons were pressed pretty firmly at this point and Aspen could feel me getting stressed out, which only made him circle more frantically. I managed to drag him by degrees to the farthest corner of the ring away from the roofing noise and the gate so we would be as far out of the way as possible.

Like, this size of small children. Terrifyingly small and breakable.

I tried for a few minutes to do some deep breathing and visualizing us confidently striding back around the barn, but standing still only made me feel a deeper and deeper fear. I was almost relieved that Aspen kept distracting me with tense circling. It at least gave my brain something else to do. I was stuck. I realized we couldn't go anywhere like this. We were going to be stuck in the corner of the ring until there were no small children or roofers between us and where we needed to go. I supposed this wasn't the worst thing- uncomfortable and tense, but not quite as terrifying as getting any closer to the gate, children, or roofers. Then I spotted Barbara and asked for help.

Barbara, of course, was able to drag Aspen back into the field with no problems because she wasn't a panicked mess. Aspen just needed a person who was sure of what was going to happen to get him back safely. I at least had the presence of mind to realize that person was not me. Meanwhile I closed the gate and attempted not to cry in front of several children.

Learning like this is not fun. I already knew that Aspen needed confidence in order to make it back into the field. I just didn't know how to magically make myself into the person that Aspen needed right then. The step I took was suddenly too big. I'm hopeful that someday I'll have the confidence I need to work through something like that. Until then I'm glad I have mentors who can help me out when I get stranded.
I much prefer interacting with Aspen in his calm moments,
like when I'm brushing him in his stall.