Friday, August 30, 2013

Late Summer: Walk in the Woods

I trailed my daughter as she and Avi ambled through the woods on a late-summer morning, a day that dawned clean and fresh after a furious downpour of nighttime rain. They were soon out of sight, leaving me on my own in silence that was punctuated now and then by the caroling of a winter wren.

Several trees growing from a "grandmother stump" 
A ravine, one among many--no wonder the news here is full of stories of ponies stuck in ravines

These two soon receded into the distance

Detail of old wooden table languishing in the woods

Beautiful leaded windows on old farmhouse

Old farmhouse in woods

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Tooth-Rasping, Bone-Cracking, Foot-Filing Sort of Day

"I  have a funny feeling about this."
We are into our second week of horse ownership, and it was time to have a well-baby checkup for the 1,100-pound (give or take a few hundred pounds) baby.

The veterinarian who gave Avi his pre-purchase checkup--a quick look-over to make sure he didn't have any significant problems that hadn't come to light--gave us succinct advice about finding the perfect horse.

Basically, that there was no such thing as a perfect horse.

"I tell people that if they want a good horse, don't get a horse," he said gruffly, "but that if you're determined to get a horse anyway, get this one." (Meaning, of course, not our particular horse, but whatever horse he's examining at the time.)

We already knew that, like any off-the-track Thoroughbred, Avi's joints had probably endured a lot of pummeling (racehorses are being ridden when they're still babies and they work hard; a two-year-old Thoroughbred has already gone through training and is being raced at an age when youngsters of other horse breeds are just getting acquainted with saddles and such; it's bound to take a toll on young bones). A huge percentage of them also suffer from gastric ulcers, due to stress. So it was likely that, despite his excellent care, Avi might have them, too.

And we knew that he had what's known as a "lazy flapper" or "roaring"--a condition in which one of two flaps in the windpipe doesn't stay properly in place and gets sucked into the horse's airstream, which as you might guess seriously limits its respiratory efficiency and endurance. Avi had "tie-back" surgery to nail that little flapper in place, but it didn't take, thus bringing an early end to his racing career.

We'd also been told he's a real tenderfoot. He's got four feet of different sizes and sensitive soles. It's a good thing he doesn't have to shop for shoes at Macy's.

Part of Avi's going-over included chiropractic work. This is what chiropractics looks like when it's done to a horse:

I am being somewhat misleading here because it was just funny to witness what looks like somebody doing to a horse what we always tell children not to do to cats and dogs. The vet explained that she was working on decompressing the horse's spine; she also applied pressure with hands, forearms, and elbows to various points on his neck, spine, and shoulders, and worked on his head and legs.

Avi seemed to enjoy the attention and was visibly relaxed. He was even more relaxed after he was given a sedative to prepare him for some dental work.

"Whoa. Where am I? Who am I? WHAT am I?"
Be glad that you are human (as I assume you are, if you are reading this). Because when you go to the dentist, you do not need to have your head in a sling and a gigantic mouth speculum inserted between your jaws and strapped to your head. (This explains the sedation.)

You also do not need to have an electric file thrust into your mouth--a file so loud that the dentist has to wear protective earmuffs to spare her hearing.

Equine dentistry is not for the faint of heart. It's a vigorous workout. The vet wore knee guards as she spent much of her time braced against the floor as she rasped, or "floated," Avi's teeth (horses get sharp points on their teeth over time, which makes eating painful and also wastes hay, as they dribble and drop a lot of it when chewing hurts).

Finally all the dental work was done, and all that remained was to let the horse fully regain consciousness before allowing him to have access to hay and grass again.

"I have no idea what just happened."

Less than 24 hours later, the farrier arrived to trim Avi's soup-tureen front feet and replace both front shoes, one of which had already been lost.

This meant more filing--but nothing that required sedation. Getting shod was no big deal for Avi because he'd been through it umpteen times already.

Modern-day farriers have wonderful modern-day tools at their disposal, but their craft is inherently much the same as it ever was. There is still the ringing of iron on an anvil, the roar of flame, the dull tapping of nails, and the sizzle and burning-hair stench of hot metal applied to hoof.

And, at the end of it all, a horse cantering around his pasture, testing out his new shoes. No more sore right front sole!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When Wishes Become Horses, At Long Last

If you had told me, when I was about eight, that someday I would really, truly have a horse, I wouldn't have believed you.

But here he is.

His name is Avi. And to be precise, he's not mine. He belongs to the Resident Teen. But I can bask in the glow of  her adoration of him.

He is a six-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, born in Kentucky.

He actually did some racing (more on that in another post), but retired from that and so joined the ranks of many other off-the-track-Thoroughbreds, or OTTBs, as they are known.

His second career began straightaway as he went into hunter/jumper training at a local stable.

He even picked up a few ribbons in his new job.

And it was at the stable where he met the Resident Teen, who is also in hunter/jumper training.

Before you could say "double-jointed snaffle," we had ourselves a horse.

Well, whoa there a second. Not so fast. First he needed a vet check.

And then he had to get into a trailer in order to travel to his new stable. He wasn't having any of it.

Eventually Avi must have decided it was getting boring to stand on the ramp being gently poked by a crutch (one of the experienced handlers loading him was laid up with a badly sprained leg) and so he responded to the encouragement at his other end and stepped in nicely.

A short ride later, he followed his new rider into a pasture to check out the surroundings.

Later, he met some of his new companions, all of whom were intensely curious about the newcomer.

I think I am still in rather a state of shock.

Friday, August 9, 2013

New House, New Town, New World

Everything is different, and yet I feel as if we have lived in our new home for always.

There is a new view out the kitchen window.

And a new view from the office, one that allows chickadees and hummingbirds to peer in at me as curiously as I look out at them.

Fewer planes fly over us, but more fire-breathing dragons, of a sort. This giant balloon sneaks up on us every evening; you don't know it's there until you suddenly hear the roar of the flames heating the air inside it.

There are new walks to take and trails to explore.

There are different things going on down the block. Like rodeos and gymkhanas.

Some of us have had new experiences such as learning that crawling under the deck may require extra time devoted to face washing.

The "lived here for always" feeling can't be due to the place being a big mess, as our old home often was (having had a  natural inclination toward entropy). Things are slowly coming out of boxes and finding niches for themselves in cabinets and on shelves. So it won't be a shambles forever. I hope.

And these are just the book boxes!
I've lived in cities for the past 30 years; first Hoboken, New Jersey, then New York City, and finally Seattle.

But I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, where I enjoyed a very happy childhood. I spent endless summer days in a big backyard drenched in blazing East Coast sunshine, drowsy with heat, listening to cicadas whir and mockingbirds sing, drawing pictures and reading and downing glass after glass of sweet iced tea.

So moving out to an unincorporated area of King County, to a home that's sort of suburban but dips its toes into the vast pool of countryside around us, doesn't feel as jarring as I thought it would after three decades of city life.
Our former house's living room, which faced west

Sure, I miss being close to my friends in Seattle.

I miss the garden I nurtured for 17 years, the birch tree and the shrubs and the living-room window view of the birds at the feeder and the Steller's jay that perched on the fence by the patio. And the light that poured in through the windows of our westward-facing house and dappled the wall with shimmering shadow-patterns of fluttering birch leaves.

And I miss the easy access to the things that make city life so enjoyable. It takes a lot of planning and good shoes to walk to a coffee shop around here, whereas I could step out of my previous house and grab a latte, buy cowboy boots, sample some gourmet chocolate, and even go get a tattoo, if I pleased, without walking more than a block's circumference away from home.

Venturing out a few more blocks, I could dine on pizza, Greek food, Mexican cuisine, or pub grub, then wander over to a world-class zoo or poke around in book shops and vintage stores. And that's without even putting any thought into what else I could do that day.

But this habitat feels good, too. Sitting in the backyard, on a small deck a bit like the one my father built on the house I grew up in, I felt a lot like my 12-year-old self, reading a book while chickadees chirruped overhead. I feel very fortunate that I have moved from a place I love to a place I love.

And sunlight still finds a way to flood our northern-facing home, even if for just a portion of the day.