Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween on the Farm

Not just bears are out at night here lately. Witches also seem to be on the move as Halloween approaches, judging from the scene that greeted me this morning. It has certainly not been good flying weather what with thunder, lightning, wind and nearly 5 inches of rain in the last few days. But still... I think these witches could use some flying lessons from Harry Potter.

While witches were plastering themselves around the back yard, a scarecrow apparently wandered in overnight and plopped himself down in an empty flowerpot in front of the house. He looks a bit tipsy to me. Perhaps the apple chunks in the piles of bear vomit all over the lawn and driveway have started to ferment and this scarecrow has been imbibing. What do you think?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Painted Horses in Lexington

Everywhere we went in the Lexington area during the World Equestrian Games, we saw life size painted horses. Not painted to be bays or pintos, I mean painted as though they were the canvas an artist used. As it turns out, that's exactly the case. Sponsors bought these fiberglass horses for $500, selected an artist to paint them, then put the completed equine artworks on display for three months... July 15 to October 15. On December 11, these 82 amazing horses will be auctioned off at Keeneland Race Track. All proceeds will go to the Lexington Arts Council and various charities selected by the sponsors. Lexington's first "Horse Mania", in 2000, with 79 painted horses, brought in 1.6 million dollars. What a great way to celebrate the arts and raise money.

Many of the wild and wonderful horses were positioned around Lexington itself to provide a walking tour. Ruth and I saw mainly the ones at the Kentucky Horse Park and at the Lexington Convention Center, since that's where we spent most of our time. I couldn't resist taking photos of my favorites... which were all that I saw.

Here's Ruth with one in the All-Tech Pavilion at the Kentucky Horse Park.

This seashell horse is made of seashells. Tiny ones. Amazing.

And, in the spirit of Halloween, here am I in the heart of Lexington.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Barn Owl Adventures

With all the bear excitement around here, I've neglected to talk about the owls. Barn owls nest in our goat barn loft every year. Sometimes they raise two clutches as they're doing this year. The first nest, begun in March, only produced two fledglings, probably because of our cold, wet spring that kept owl food (small rodents mostly) underground.

Either the same mama owl or another one started laying eggs in August, when the weather was finally warm and dry. On August 22, Mother Owl left the nest long enough for Johnny and visiting grandson Ian to see that she had six eggs and one was beginning to hatch. On September 12, there were three or four downy baby owls (it's hard to count when they all try to hide behind each other), one naked and brand new baby, and one unhatched egg.

Barn owls lay an egg every other day, on average, and begin incubating with the first egg laid. So if five eggs hatch, the fifth baby is considerably younger than the first and may not survive if there isn't enough food to keep the older babies stuffed. Four of this second clutch survived to become yellow fluffballs and are gradually exchanging their down for lovely feathers. Why those feathers stay so pretty is amazing, considering the mess they live in.

Owls don't really build "nests". They regurgitate pellets into their favored nesting spot, some dark hole, until the whole area is littered with disgusting gunk. Then they lay their eggs and continue to mess it up. When the babies hatch, they mess it up even more. We provide a cardboard box on a ledge high in the loft with a hole cut in one end. Usually, the box lasts two years before we replace it. By then, it is not only deep in composting pellets, it is beat up and torn up.

The current box is on year number two. Since the owls nested twice this year, that means the poor box has had three clutches worth of filth in it. You can see from the photo what a mess this "nest" is. I discovered tonight just how beat up it is when I climbed the ladder to the box to check on The Adventurer, as I've dubbed the first born owlet.

Last night, The Adventurer (T.A.) managed to fly or glide from the box to a horizontal board half way to the front of the loft where he (she?) was trying to perch... unsuccessfully. T.A. fell to the floor and flopped around, managing to get wedged under the hay elevators, then flopped some more to a black plastic tarp in the back corner of the barn. The baby was not ready, apparently, to fly but he must have had high hopes. I picked the frightened owlet up (his eyes were tightly shut in hopes he was invisible, I guess) and carried him up the ladder to his nest box. T.A. seemed very happy to be home.

Tonight I climbed the ladder to make sure T.A. was in the box and okay. Well, he was, sort of. I didn't realize that the top of the box had a big hole in it, probably from last year's fledglings standing on top and making a mess as they worked up the courage to leap from their nest ledge and attempt flight. When I reached the top of the ladder, The Adventurer made a hasty, ungraceful descent from the top of the box through the hole into safety with his siblings.

The bird on the far right of the photo is The Adventurer, just returned from his escapade on top of the box tonight. He is the biggest, most feathered, and undoubtedly the oldest. Soon these birds will learn to fly and leave us. But hopefully they'll stick around a few days to test their wings. It's always fun to watch them fly from the top of the barn to a nearby tree, landing ungracefully on a branch for the first several tries. When they're good and truly gone, we'll replace their filthy box. And put another box in the loft of the new goat barn in hopes they'll move over there before the old barn is torn down.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

David Blake Dressage Clinic

This past weekend found me at Traumhof, auditing a great dressage clinic and spending time with grandson Ian. David Blake, who trains with Steffen and Shannon Peters in California, rode most of the horses at least one of the two days and was able to make progress on problems the riders were having... plus help them understand how to work with their horses on their own.

David used a lot of body language while instructing riders. Here he is leaning with Lily, Jessica's Grand Prix mare.

Nicki and Lily, always an elegant pair, became even more so under David's tutelage.

Lily had to really stretch to satisfy David. But she loves performing and I think was excited to find how much more she could do than she thought.

Rudeau (Rudi) looked like a fire-breathing dragon on frosty Sunday morning. Rudi is Lily's 6-year-old, embryo-transfer son. The flashy gelding can sometimes be a challenge but David loved him.

Unlike Rudi, Joe the Friesian could be a bit lazy for his diminutive rider. David got him fired up for her.

All the horses and riders made improvement from Saturday to Sunday. Everyone went home encouraged and happy.

For fun, Jessica brought out two of the horses in her barn that were not in the clinic just to show David the variety they have at Traumhof. Penny, the mini cross, and Pumba, the Percheron, greeted each other in the arena.

It was a fun weekend. There are always great clinics with great clinicians at Traumhof. Check their website for an up-to-date clinic schedule. http://www.traumhofdressage.com/

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Johnny's Bearicade

It's been a contest of wits and we've been losing. Letting Polly the horse clean up all the apples on the ground led to the bear, deprived of easy apples, destroying the dog food container and eating half the dog food. Moving the dog food container into the back room resulted in the dog food automatic feeder, hung on the inside of the llama fence not far from where the ill-fated dog food container used to sit, being hauled out across the top of the fence and dismantled. The bear, after ripping the feeder apart, ate all the dog food. This was the scene that greeted us the morning of October 10.

Johnny repaired the feeder and we now keep it in the back room at night, bringing it back out during the day. That's okay, but having the feeder plus the dog food sacks in the back room was a bit much. So Johnny created a new dog food container out of an old steel garbage can and secured the lid with heavy hinges and bolts. We put it back where it was outside, convenient for filling the feeder. So far, so good. Pictured is the repaired dog feeder and the newly created dog food tin.

(Obviously, our guard llamas aren't much help against bears and the bear is either unable to read or not impressed.)

We worried that the bear, deprived of expensive dog food, would go after the cheaper chicken food inside an easily accessible garbage can in the chicken house. So every night, Johnny puts his bearicade in place. It is a heavy sheet of plywood held upright by a clamp attached by rope to the garden tractor inside the chicken house/garden shed. To date, the bear has not attacked the bearicade.

For two nights, we have seen no bear scat or vomit around our house. Hopefully, he has moved on. Before moving on, however, he found our bee hive. Several years ago, wild bees took over a wood duck nest box we had hung high on a tree.

Their comb and honey grew so heavy that it finally pulled the box off the tree and into the little creek below. I drug it out of the creek and we hauled it up on the bank, out of flood reach. The bees have been living happily there ever since. Until the bear found them. Bears love honey.

We are not the only ones in the neighborhood with bear problems. Our nearest neighbors across the arboretum fence had a mother/mother-in-law come visit and camp in their yard. She intended to camp for two nights. But the morning after the first night, she woke to find the food from her two coolers, or what little was left of her food, strung all over the yard. She moved indoors.

Mostly, the neighborhood bear delinquents hit garbage cans. We have no outdoor garbage cans (since we compost or feed the chickens/llamas/sheep/goats all leftovers) but we keep dog food and chicken food in garbage cans. Here's hoping the bearicade holds.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dressage at WEG

Each day of dressage was more spectacular than the day before. This was largely because the second tier team members from each country rode their Grand Prix test on the first day with the top two ranked riding on the second day. Day three saw the top 30 of those riders riding the Grand Prix Special test for individual placings. The last day of dressage, Friday evening, the top 15 riders from the Grand Prix Special competed in the Musical Freestyle.

It was wonderful to watch such talented horses and riders, but I was disturbed by a few things. A horse is supposed to have its poll as the highest point and its nose in front of the vertical at all times. I saw very few horses who achieved that very often, if at all. The most classical riders who seemed to have the most relaxed and happiest horses... and achieved that ideal the most... were the Brits and the Americans, particularly Steffen Peters on Ravel. The commentator was very politically correct, but did use terms for the Dutch and Australian riders (the worst offenders, in my opinion) indicating that their horses were "submissive, obedient," while for the horses of Steffen (who won the bronze medal) and Laura Bechtolsheimer (silver medal winner from Great Britain), the commentator said "the FEI wants a happy athlete... this horse certainly is".

The gold medal winner from the Netherlands, Moorlands Totilas, ridden by Edward Gal, is a supremely talented athlete. Only ten years old, he is almost unbelievably gifted. Gal and Totilas have broken dressage records everywhere they've gone. I just hope that beautiful, submissive horse holds up with the type of riding I saw Edward do in warm-up. The FEI has said that hyperflexion can only be used for ten minutes at a time... Edward rode that way the entire time I watched his early warm-up with his team mates and/or WEG personnel lined up on the fence blocking the view from spectators as much as possible. Here he is on the left with a rider from Belgium on the right.

On a happier note, there were horses who obviously were having a wonderful time and loving the enthusiastic crowd. Fuego XII, a Spanish horse, was one. What a showoff! Fuego, with Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz from Spain, placed fourth, just out of the medals in the freestyle, but I think the crowd would have put him first. However, he did have enough errors to drop him down in the standings.

For the most part, I and others thought the judging quite good and fair. There were a few riders who probably earned a few points on reputation, but that is unavoidable in subjective contests like dressage and figure skating. I don't think it's deliberate on the part of judges; I think it's the way our brains work. When we have seen someone excel over and over, those pathways in our brain are programmed to assume excellence. Isabel Werth had something like 28 medals coming into this competition and her scores were higher than I suspect they would have been otherwise.

Totilas, the phenomenon, earned his gold medals in both the Special and the Freestyle. There really are no words to describe the talent of this horse.

The silver medal winner from Great Britain, Mistral Hojris with Laura Bechtolsheimer, was an elegant, happy athlete with a lovely freestyle. I was so busy enjoying her rides, I only took a photo of her exiting the ring with a big smile on Laura's face.

But, of course, my favorite was Ravel and his partner Steffen Peters, the hope of the American team who came through with two bronze medals. Theirs is a true and beautiful partnership. I am so glad daughter-in-law Jessica is solidly in Steffen's camp. Her Grand Prix mare Elisienne, with rider Nicki Grandia, will spend three months this winter and spring in training with Steffen. It will be exciting to see them progress under Steffen's tutelage, where, as at Traumhof, the welfare of the horse always comes first.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bear vs. Finks: The Game Continues

We were expecting to hear the bear trying to get into the dog food barrel during the night, since Johnny had put two bungie cords across the lid, very taut. Sure enough, about 2:30 a.m., Johnny got up to use the bathroom and heard something banging in front of the shop. Both dogs were barking. Johnny came and woke me up. We both straggled around looking for a flashlight. Finally found one and shone it out the kitchen window. No bear in sight in front of the shop. No dog food barrel (heavy plastic garbage can) in sight either.

Johnny figured the bear had rolled the barrel out of sight under the big linden tree between chicken house and shop. So he bravely went out the back door to look. I sensibly waited inside. Johnny came back and said it wasn't there. Since he survived and saw no bear, and I finally remembered where I'd left the big light I use to get to the barn in the dark (ever since running into the bear weeks ago), I came out and joined him. Together we searched all around the house and barn and shop and up the driveway. No dog food barrel anywhere. The bear must have picked it up and carried it off... an unnerving thought.

Next morning (this morning), after I did my pre-breakfast chores of letting the chickens out, feeding them, and feeding llamas and sheep, I hiked out through the arboretum to look for where the bear must surely have dropped the barrel. Both dogs accompanied me. I could not tell that anything had walked, much less drug a heavy object, through the dewy grass. I had convinced myself that I would find the barrel in the bear's picnic spot... a place under the ponderosa pines where the grass has been matted down by some heavy creature and there are many bits of elk hair and bones chewed by something with very large teeth. The neighbor had shot a spike elk some weeks back and apparently left the hide and bones where the bear found and drug them to our side of the fence.

No barrel in the bear picnic area. But Shirley Puppy was happy to lead me onward into the woods and to the river via the path that isn't a path where she always tells me a predator has gone. Still no barrel. As I was walking back up to the arboretum, Johnny called my cell phone and said, "I found it."

The barrel was under the pear tree outside our bedroom window... on the neighbor's side of the fence. Johnny couldn't see if the lid was still on or not from where he was standing in the driveway. I walked back up through the arboretum to the house and joined Johnny, then crawled through the path where the bear had evidently gone. The fence, it turned out, was raised up from the ground... the bear has been going under the fence to glean the pears on both sides.

In the bushes on the other side was the barrel, lid and bungie cords still firmly attached. From our side of the fence, the barrel appeared to be intact. However, when I arrived at the other side, the picture was different. The bear had ripped the side out and exposed the two half sacks of feed within. There wasn't much more food gone than the day before so we must have scared it off when we were searching before daylight.

Johnny figures the bear drug the barrel by one handle. There is a little dried blood by one handle so perhaps the bear cut his gum in the process. Lots of scratches on the barrel so he could also have manhandled it (bearhandled it?) across the driveway, through the bushes, and under the fence. He must have ripped it apart over there as there is no spilled dog food except in the barrel itself.

The photos tell the story. This was a thick, sturdy, plastic can, not a wimpy one.

I have moved the two, somewhat mangled, half sacks into the back room off the kitchen for now. I'll lock the back door tonight. Johnny is looking for a metal trash can with a tight lid today while he's in town. I really would like to keep the dog food out by the dog feeder, where it is convenient. But this bear seems to love Innova large breed adult dog food and this bear is, indeed, a large breed.

The game continues.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

WEG Photos and Wildlife Stories

Since I am having difficulty finding time to write about the World Equestrian Games, anyone who would like to see photos can go to my facebook WEG album. (You don't have to belong to facebook to see the photos). I am putting more pictures into that album daily. Eventually, I'll have gone through all 800 that I took and posted the best. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2063191&id=1370703779&l=5e9282530c

In time, I'll put some photos on my blog entries, whenever I get around to writing them... life at home keeps getting in the way. Today's distraction, other than freezing the garden produce I picked yesterday, was the otter. Last night, it was the bear.

Yesterday, I had the brilliant idea of turning Polly out in the yard to eat the apples since, with the pears gone, the bear has been coming to the apple tree right outside our back door. I'm really getting a bit tired of this bear stuff. Polly, who is 31 and the only one of my four horses who can eat all the grass and apples she wants without getting too fat or foundering, did a good job. But my brilliant plan backfired.

Last night, with fewer apples in easy reach, the bear dismantled the barrel I keep the dog food in, ripped open the sack, and ate half of it. That is very expensive bear food. Johnny has now put two bungie cords holding down the lid in hopes that will deter the bear. I plan to leave a light on in Johnny's shop (the barrel is just outside) so if I see the varmint, I can bang pans together or something and scare it off. From inside the house.

Before I left for Kentucky and WEG, I took this photo of wet bear tracks crossing the road. We now know how he gets here.... through the wetlands by the creek that runs alongside our driveway.

The otter that was feeding in our pond today is not a problem, just a distraction. I'm glad, though, he isn't as big as a bear because he's quite unafraid and spent a good deal of time scolding me. You can hear him in this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVmtbF0ZIes

I returned from the civilized bluegrass country of Kentucky, where I saw a lot of horses but very few birds, a couple squirrels, and no other wildlife, to the wildlife mecca of our farm. It is good to be home where the wild creatures roam, although I would prefer some of them roam a little farther from my back door.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Home from WEG

Wow. What a week. I left Sunday morning, early, for Lexington, Kentucky, via Chicago, and returned the following Sunday evening (day before yesterday), late. In between the two full days of travel were six days packed with The World Equestrian Games, the Kentucky Horse Park, a Thoroughbred farm tour and more. Every day was jam packed with horse-related activities surrounded by horse nuts from all over the world. Our hotel was full of people in Lexington for the Games. Everywhere we went, whether on a bus to and from the hotel, in Lexington, in a restaurant, wherever, people were talking horses, mostly in English but also in every other language on the planet.

There is too much to tell so I will start with photos and a few impressions: Kentucky folks are warm and friendly and courteous and have the most wonderful, soft, slow drawl. I wanted to take that courtesy and drawl home with me, but it disappeared as soon as we hit Chicago's O'Hare airport.

The Kentucky horse park is enormous. We must have walked at least ten miles every day, just getting from the entrance to a massive stadium where the dressage events were held to a food booth (food was the low light of the week... thank God and Faiza for Larabars) to wherever else we were going in the Park. But what a gorgeous place.

After walking a mile or two from the gate, we approached the main stadium via the road you can see on the left of this photo. A huge lake was on our right, with the stadium beyond. An enormous mural covered the back of one side of the stadium, which held 30,000 people and was completely full the night of the dressage musical freestyles.

There is so much to tell, but it will have to wait for another time. I hit a wall this afternoon after picking garden produce that has been waiting for me for a week... tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, beans, peas, broccoli, even a melon! Oh what I would have given for some of that fresh food last week! ...I will have to continue when I am more rested. I left home still sick with a cold, recovered gradually over the week, but am still running a little slow... with a ton of catching up to do... the freezing of the veggies will have to wait until tomorrow... along with more WEG photos and stories. Tonight I will cook corn from our garden.

It was a spectacular week, but it's very good to be home.