Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Horsing Around, Part II

Yesterday's riding lesson was rife with obstacles. Pun intended.

Alex and I are finding that learning to jump is both a challenge and an art. Horses are unpredictable and yesterday Stormy and Duchess put us to the test. As usual, Stormy took some extra motivation, while Duchess decided to throw a wrench in my lesson by refusing a jump or three.

We found we had to push not just our horses, but ourselves, to make the good rounds happen. And ultimately we did. Alex and I learned to do rollbacks and jumped our first verticals.

So it was a good lesson, but bittersweet. Our instructor and the schooling horses will be moving to a new stable next week and we'll miss our small, simple arena that's become like a second home to us these last few months. But the new stable apparently has many amenities, including an eventing course! Yes, an eventing course. How cool is that?

Anyway, hope you enjoy the video. For those of you concerned with such things, this was produced on my MacBook Pro using iMovie. The song is "Push" by Matchbox 20. After watching the video, it seemed wholly appropriate.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Debut video of our foal

For those of you who expressed an interest in seeing the video of the new foal we had born here last month, I have finally gotten it produced and uploaded. "Xena" arrived in the wee hours of June 12. As I'd hoped, her mother had an uncomplicated delivery that put an end to months of needless worry on my part.

I'm so sorry it took me so long to get the video uploaded. I've just been so busy with paying work that I've not had as much time to go through all the footage and put something together. But after a busy week I'm taking several days off to do some creative stuff for myself instead of for my job. This video was on the top of the list. I do hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Death in the garden

We were on the way out to feed the chickens when we first heard the frantic squeaking. It's been a bad year for rats, so the sound of them isn't uncommon around the chicken pen, but this was different. This was clearly a distress call.

I grabbed Alex's arm. "Stay close," I said, and began to scan the ground for what I knew was there - a snake.

I'd expected to see a greenish rat snake or some other constrictor, but was surprised to see it was a black racer that had caught the rodent. The rat was little more than a weanling, but still a good-sized meal for such a reptile.

Black racers aren't venomous. And they aren't constrictors. They have to kill their prey by overpowering it, by swallowing it alive. I've seen many snakes feed, but none like this. I sent Alex for the camera.

It took fifteen minute for the snake to subdue the rat. It was a remarkable, almost holy experience to be there in that place and that time playing witness to such a primal struggle. It was terrible and beautiful and poignant, and while I felt a bit of sympathy for the rat - I did not interfere and explained to Alex that this was simply what happens when Wild Things get hungry.

The rat continued to struggle as the snake worked its powerful jaws around to the front of its head. There was one, final scream as the racer closed its jaws over the rat's face, cutting off its air supply. The rat continued to struggle, its front paws grasping at anything and everything around it to try and stop its progression into the snake's mouth. But it was no use.

The late morning sun was high in the sky when the rat finally stopped struggling and the racer dragged it back through the grass, knowing the process of swallowing would make it hard to move and vulnerable to heat and predators. Once in deeper grass, the snake began to work its detachable jaws over the rat's head and down its body. Like the kill, the consumption was no quick process.

As the rat descended down the snake's throat, its flexible scales and ribs stretched to accommodate the meal, giving the racer an appearance that was more lizard than snake.

But finally, nearly forty minutes since we'd heard the distressed rat's screams, it was disappearing down the racer's throat. Its tiny feet and tail paused briefly at the opening of the snake's mouth before the powerful muscles pulled it completely out of sight.

The snakes powerful muscles continued to work, until the bulge of the rat became compressed and almost unnoticeable in the center of its slim body.

The snake sat for one more moment before easing away into a tangle of banana plants. It will be another week before it will need to feed again, another week until the drama plays itself out in the quiet of our garden while we work and play around it, completely unaware of the wild beauty. Of the horror. Of the necessity we humans often fail to completely comprehend.

Alex and I watched the spot the snake had occupied for a few more moments before silently going back inside. There's little to say after witnessing something like this, little that needs to be said. It is Nature, and words cannot do it justice.

(**Less squeamish readers can click on the photos to enlarge them, if they dare.**)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Still horsin' around...

So this horsemanship stuff is dominating all the free time of my summer, not that I'm complaining. A year ago I was laid up with a shattered ankle, having been informed by my surgeon that I wouldn't ride again for a year.

But when you're in your forties you have a better view of the Importance of Time, and how fleeting it is. So I defied my doctors and started riding again last winter. This summer I began training for competitive show jumping along with my youngest daughter, Alex.

Some lesson days are better than others. Yesterday Alex's horse, Stormy, was a bit unmotivated while Tyson, the horse I usually ride, was out having his feet shod. So while Alex tried to light a fire under her horse, I was getting used to Duchess, a spirited three-year old I'd never ridden.

We had a great time, regardless of the challenges and I have no complaints, even though at one point I nearly knocked my head off on a low hanging branch. You can see it in the video, provided you can sit through all two minutes and thirty seconds of it. :-)

And Alex finally got Stormy to trot the course and jump the vertical, which made us all very proud. And I had no problem riding a little horse with a big jump, so that made me quite proud of myself.

We ended the lesson tired and happy, and a bit more confident about our next show which will take place at the end of the month. (Oh, and as an aside to JohnR who noted on my last post that I looked a bit somber, I made sure this time that I included some pictures of myself in which I am actually smiling. It's easier during schooling --far less pressure.:-)