Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Dandy Day with the Dogs (and Horses)

A Dandy Day with Dogs (and Horses)

Finding Stress- Relief with your pets and the outdoors.

After a busy, noisy, and over stimulating week, this time in the pasture and backyard with my dogs and horses was just what I needed!  And so it appears, is just what the doctor ordered too!  I read this article with 7 Ways to Reduce Anxiety earlier and the advice resonated with me.  I especially love to be outside with my dogs and horses.  I really love it when I combine that time with my love of photography.  

Here are some of the resulting photos.  As you can see the dandelions have gone to seed and rather than look upon them as a nuisance and eyesore, I saw them in the lovely sunshine as an enhancement.  There is a life lesson in that as well as I hope I can do the same in other areas of my life when confronted with something that initially can look overwhelming.


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Into the Scary Corner, We go!

Into the Scary Corner, We go!  

and we lived to tell the story!  

Today is a warm late spring day with gusty winds and dark thunder clouds in the not too distant horizon!  The horses feel good with bellies full of green grass and the last remnants of their winter coats on my barn aisle floor.  The mares are cycling and my neighbor's stud colt calls and flirts with my mares across the tree line!  It is the kind of day where trees are swaying and leaves are getting kicked up into mini tornados across our property.  Our little corner of the world is bustling with activity as everyone tries to get work done before the rain.  Our Amish neighbor's woodworking business across the road is sending clanking mechanical noises on the wind to our riding arena and paddock.  The corner neighbor is 'under construction' with hammering and saws working away.  On our other side, the neighbor's farm has a steady stream of traffic up and down our shared lane as his bee supply business hits high gear with the arrival of a new shipment of queen bees in what will be their busiest week of the season!  Yes, it is active and noisy and just a teeny bit unnerving for my hormonal mare. 

This is just my second ride of the season, after the winter off.  She is still in 'refresher' mode.  And I am in 'finding my seat again' mode since I too have had the winter off from riding.  It always feels a bit like starting over at square one on these early spring days but I know, if we keep at it, the cobwebs will clear and my mare will remember and I will have my seat back.   But first, we have to get these first rides of spring over with. 

I could just not ride today because of the wind, the noise, the commotion.... but I have been waiting for what feels like forever for the weather to improve and to get back into the saddle!  No, I am not going to waste this dry, warm day because tonight and tomorrow they are calling for rain and my arena just now got nice and dry! 

Backlit Horses in early spring. 

I typically start off these first spring rides in the arena even though my favorite riding is on the trail.  My mare is still green enough I need to ease her back into riding away from the barn.  Plus, it helps ME get back into condition too. 

Spring flowers!  

So we ride in the arena for starters.  I usually expand the area into my larger paddock and them up and down the lane, then to the trotting track around the perimeter of the property... and then, finally, off on trails.  I do this for my horse...and probably more so for me but it keeps us both from being overwhelmed and I feel it helps my horse feel confidence in me-- that I would push her into too much that she isn't ready for.  I make it my goal for my horse to enjoy our rides as much as I do.  So to do that, I have vowed to not get into fights with my horse- no bullying or manhandling or intimidating (not my style at all!!) ...but to keep pushing the boundaries of our respective comfort zones in ways that build respect and confidence but not overwhelm.  But enough of my horse philosophy... and on to our ride!!
My horse in an oil painting.

My mare is feeling energetic and a bit anxious realizing her winter break has ended and trying to acclimate to the bustle and wind.  I get a reaction, not quite a spook, but a tensing, in the scary corner.  I know every arena has one corner in which the horses think the bogeyman lives!!  My bogeyman corner is the one closest to the woodworking building. 

More flowers.

My mare, a grey TW.  

I remember a trick a friend shared with me on a way to handle this avoidance of a corner of the arena.  He suggested I work, ride etc. everywhere but that spot, and then when we get to that corner...we rest!  I stop my mare as her nose points in the corner and give her a loose rein.  And I wait.  I make sure to relax MY body, breathe and sit deep, center myself... and wait to see signs of relaxation in my mare. 

Horses at liberty, running.  3 of my 4 horses.  

Sometimes, I'll get a big exhale and a noticeably dropped head.  Other times, it may only be a flicker of her ear, a blinking of her eyes, or a barely detectable millimeter drop of her head.  Depending on how tense she was or what I am asking her to do, I accept that as enough... enough to pat her neck, reach up and rub her head... and walk off out of the scary corner.  I do that until the corner is no longer scary.  It works like magic.  And I love it because it gives her the 'release' that horses seek and builds her trust in me and I in her and trains ME to be preceptive of HER and what she is telling me.

More spring flowers. Photography by Sue Steiner. 

My pretty mare in the scary corner!  So brave!! 
Thanks for stopping by.  Happy trails!  Sharing is always appreciated!  

Monday, April 30, 2018

Homemade Fly Spray Recipes

recipes for DIY fly spray for horses

Homemade Fly Recipes 

DIY Fly Spray Recipes for Your Horse

We are quickly moving from mud season to fly season!   So to assist you in choosing a good, easy DIY fly spray I have a collection of recipes here for you.  Happy Trails and Enjoy! 

I add to a 16 oz. spray bottle of water

1-2  tbsps. coconut oil - it softens and melts in warm weather
1-2 squirts of mane conditioner 
2-4 tsp of glycerin 
a couple drops of dawn dish soap (helps distribute the oils when shaken)*

several drops or more of a combination of essential oils of any of the following:

Lemon Grass
Tea Tree

I spray this on my horse and myself before I ride.  I use it also to detangle the mane and tail.  * You can leave out the essential oils to make it only a mane detangler.  You can adjust the ingredients according to the dryness of your horse's mane and tail.   I have also used corn husker's hand lotion in place of the glycerin.  The glycerin helps to make the hair shaft 'slippery' so is important to include.  It is what gives the hair a slick but not oily feel.  

Single Ingredient Fly Sprays

  • Apple Cider Vinegar - diluted 50/50 with water to full strength, test on small area first if using full strength
  • Avon Skin So Soft 
  • Liquid Dish Soap- diluted in water, I've used Dawn which also works as a flea shampoo on dogs, I have heard Ivory works well too. 
  • Citronella Essential Oil - add a few drops with a carrier oil to water
  • Lemon Juice

The following recipes I have not tried personally but wanted to include them for you to consider.  Most are with similar ingredients with slight variations. 

Natural Fly Spray Recipe by Savvy Horse Woman

16 oz spray bottle 
1/2 cup Witch Hazel
1 tsp. vanilla extract
100-150 drops of a Bug Repelling Essential Oil Blend (I like this one, or this one if you use it around children)
10-15 drops of any combination of the following oils:

Lemon Grass
Tea Tree

Add all ingredients to the spray bottle, and fill with water. Shake well and spray on horses and riders as needed, being careful to avoid the eyes and nose. Store in a cool, dark place.

U.S. Forest Service Bug Spray Recipe
1 cup water
1 cup Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil
2 cups vinegar
1 tbs. Eucalyptus oil (found in health food stores)
Optional: few tablespoons of citronella oil
Shake spray bottle well before spraying on a horse, human or dog!

Made by Shaklee – BASIC H. from Brianne 
It works. You can use it to spray areas where flies breed or congregate; once they have been misted, they can’t fly anymore and die. They hate it, and will not bother or bite horses who have been sprayed with it. You can make a diluted spray with 5-7 parts water and one part Basic H. You can adjust the mixture to suit your area, but trust me, that concentration is plenty strong. You can also use to bathe your horses, yourself and your tack too. PH is in the range of human and horse skin, so it is great for sensitive skinned horses and people. No yucky smell either. Try it once and you will NEVER buy another fly repellent. 

You can purchase off the Shaklee website (, or from a member or distributor. The price is great too. Buy a gallon and imagine how far it goes – makes about 7 gallons of fly spray. Great price, great product. I began using it at the stables where I board, and the whole stable was using it within the month and continues to use it even after I brought my horses home.

Citrus Insect Repellant Spray

2 cups light mineral oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. citronella oil
2 tsp. eucalyptus essential oil
2 tsp. lemon dish soap
Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Label. To use gently shake and spray on your horse avoiding his eyes. NOTE: Do not use this spray before a show as it attracts dust.

Internal Fly Repellants

If your horse is allergic to fly bites, try 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar on their grain once a day. This raises the blood acid level just enough to bother the flies, but it is completely healthy for the horse. It takes about one week to start seeing the effects. Several old timers have told me that they always put vinegar in their horse's drinking water during the summer to repel flies and mosquitoes.

For cheap fly repellent, mix about 1 1/2 cups of plain white vinegar into about every 75 gallons of water in your horse's water tub. If you use this in the water about a week before flies start biting, it will have circulated in your horse and it helps keep flies from biting.

Other Types of Fly Relief

If anyone has problems with flies in the barn, try filling a quart jar with this mixture.
3 cups of water
¼ (one quarter) cup sugar
¼ (one quarter) cup white vinegar
Mix, punch holes in the lid, and set it where needed. It works great. —Toni Auen

Bounce fabric softener sheets -- Next time you go riding tie one to your Horse's headstall and stick one in your back pocket. It works better than ANY fly spray I've ever tried. The flies won't even fly around you. —Susan Cafouras

Horse and Healing Blog's fly and parasite management in and around the barn:  

I use food grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) which is a fine powder and add it to free choice minerals for my horses.  It is said to help with internal parasites.  I also spread it around my paddock and barn in high traffic/ manure areas.  It helps kill fly larva.  I do this early spring, along with regular manure maintenance and it makes a huge difference in the number of flies in spite of having neighbors and farms all around me also with livestock.  

Friday, April 27, 2018

Moving Mountains

Moving Mountains

     The Man who moves mountains begins by moving carry away stones. 
~ Confucious

Obstacles can loom large in front of a person and feel overwhelming.  It may be too that it appears that a vast range of mountains is holding you back.  I have been there too.  You can feel hemmed in and pulled down, with your choices and options barely visible for the fog.  It can zap a person's energy and well, quite frankly, mess with your mind.  

I recently responded to a Facebook post by a person reaching out for support and encouragement while confessing to dealing with anxiety and depression and venting about a lack of understanding by some people close to her.  I responded by saying that to me depression is like climbing a mountain, day after day, in waist-deep mud.  As a person who has dealt with depression, I remember this experience well, you are very aware that this same mud while weighing you down, has the capacity to suck you under.  It is a fight... and a mountain....and an obstacle that looms before you.   Even though I am not depressed now and have been successful in living depression free for several years, I am always on the alert for any indication it may be back.   I say this with awareness and not dread.  It is just a fact of life that I will likely always need to be on guard to watch out for its return.  I take deliberate actions to stay on top of it.  I suspect I always will need to do this.  One can not have lived with depression and anxiety for a huge chunk of their life and not do some kind self-checks to make sure it's not back.  Depression and anxiety can be sneaky in that they kind of creep up on you and before you know it you are waist deep in the mud. 

Prior to treatment, I was depressed but unaware I was depressed.  I know that sounds impossible... but if you are young and/or not self-aware, it is entirely possible to live and semi-function and never know you are depressed.  Depression doesn't present that same way in everyone.  If you have lived depressed for most of your life and have not had treatment, you may not know life can be any different.  I have the added experience of working in the mental health field in a crisis center and see patients who are in deep.   The anxiety can literally feel like electricity running thru your body while the depression paralyzes you from moving.  Or it can be projected outward by way of rage and acting out.  Either way, it has the capacity to numb you from your body.  This disconnect from your body compounds the problem.  This is the mind/body connection piece that horses are so helpful but first a visual and story for you demonstrating being 'in your body' vs. disconnected.

Fawn, the chihuahua.
I recently acquired a sweet, tiny chihuahua adult female that was used as a breeding dog in a puppy mill.  She loved nothing better than to curl up on my couch and snuggle down into some fuzzy, soft blankets.  She was quite timid and very undemanding.  She would make her already small body as small as possible and seem to almost disappear.  She seemed to sleep an inordinate amount of time but she was healthy and I was told she craved a quiet, low stimulation house (like me!!).   We had a quiet winter getting to know each other and frankly, I just loved her and she me!  She would quiver and shake if there were so much as 1 more person around.  She also would not, under any circumstances go outside while it was cold, wet or windy.  I kind of expected that and used puppy pads in the house so accommodated her in that way.

Brave, adventuresome Fawn! 

Fast forward to our first warm spring day.  I put a small leash on Fawn and tried to take her outside.  The slight weight of the thin leash was enough that she didn't want to move so I took her outside without it.  We have a big yard and she was protected just so you don't worry.  :)

Confident chihuahua

So now she is outside, in the warmth, sun and invigorating smells and sights of nature.  It took her a few moments but was transformed into a brave, curious, adventuresome dog!  Her whole body posture and presence did a 180-degree change.  Whereas in the house she was meek, mousy, and cowering, outside her tail, ears and head went up, her eyes brightened, her nose testing the scents and she was 100% present and grounded in her body and environment!  She began acting like a dog!  It was so fun to see!  I do not know what here prior experience was with indoors vs outdoors but her body language and sense of herself is fairly telling and a beautiful illustration of being 'in your body' and grounded vs not.  I can't help but think how healing it is for her to experience the alive feeling of nature and being able to express and act as a healthy, active dog!

Alert, engaged, interested and grounded.

I feel like this is what horses can bring to us humans if we allow them to.  It is difficult if not dangerous to be around horses and not be grounded and body awareness.  I explored this mind-body connection and groundedness in this blog here.  I can credit my Arab mare Abbey teaching me to be grounded and body aware many years ago when she was a young, green broke horse.  I soon learned that to calm HER I needed to breathe and have relaxed muscles with a deep seat.  It became a self-preservation thing because if I felt anxious or my mind wandered she would spook right out from under me! 

I saw the reverse happen too.  When I was able to relax MY body, I had a calming effect on her.  I use this skill now in my work as a mental health tech in a crisis center.  I am often the first person they see in our unit.  You can bet many come in with high anxiety and/or a short fuse.  I make it a point to talk slowly, calmly and to not hold tension in my face or body.  When I see signs of tension escalating, I become even more deliberate in speaking softly, slowly and being a calm, non-threatening presence.  My goal is to project a calm presence but not give the impression I am a pushover.  A calm, grounded leader, not surprisingly, works well with kids AND horses! 

backlit horse with saddle

In this article, How Taming the Mind is Like Riding a Horse from Mindful Magazine, they write about a loop of reactivity.  When you are able to feel the changes in your body due to emotions and stress, not bottle it up, and analyze the emotions with awareness but also with a bit of detachment, you can stop the automatic reaction and choose an appropriate response.  Mindful also shares this advice:

How our body feels and our emotional state affect how we think, thoughts lead to more thoughts, on and on. Awareness of that pattern, and actively choosing to step out of the cycle, makes a world of difference. Since it’s far easier to settle ourselves when mildly stressed than after fight or flight takes over, body awareness can help.

Chestnut horse with soft eyes

Horses help me connect to my body, release muscle tension and 'anxiety' and ground myself in the present moment as I connect with the horse and manage myself (body and mind) so that I can be that calm leader he needs.  The effects of doing this while with the horses carry over and give me that good, grounded, stress relieving, mood-boosting lift for some time afterward.  I find the positive response I see in my horse also reinforces this good feeling.  On my best days, I connect with the horse and am successful in moving forward in what we do together.  I find the combination of calm assertiveness and success with pushing our comfort zones to be an excellent therapy!  In this process, mountains are carrying a small stone at a time.  

“Whatever we call it, is my belief that making a true connection with the horse becomes very difficult, if not downright impossible, if we aren’t first connected in some way with ourselves. We also need to keep in mind that the connection we’re talking about here isn’t missing in us. For most, it has just been misplaced and simply needs to be rediscovered.” Mark Rashid

Some resources you may enjoy.  

Overcoming fears and obstacles. 

A Kinship With All Life

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Riding Home - The Power of Horses to Heal 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Sunday, April 22, 2018

In Sync

In Sync

harmony or harmonious relationship

~what every horse person wants~

Many years ago, I had a grey purebred Arab broodmare that I rescued.  I called her Shakira.  I rescued her as an emaciated, heavily pregnant mare, in a barn full of the same.  She was lame and had diarrhea.  Her stall was filthy, with manure a couple feet deep and grooves worn away where the mare paced.  I found no food or water in her stall and she was covered in dried on manure that felt like someone dipped her in concrete.  I had my vet look at her and he strongly advised me NOT to take her.... but I did.  I could not leave her in a place like that.  

I brought her home on April 1st, April Fool's Day.  Once home, I worked on trying to get her clean but the dried manure would NOT come off.  Thankfully she was beginning to shed so as she shed then it peeled off.  She was a smart mare- Arabs are smart horses!  She was Egyptian bred and high strung but trusted me and allowed me to work around and handle her just fine.  She was around 10 or 11 at that time and had never been broken.  Her lot in life was to produce babies but wound up where she did for the usual reasons- nothing that has to actually DO with the horse... but an owner in over their heads.  This was at the tail end of the Arab popularity spike of the 80's- 90's.  Someone hoped to make some money but instead had a barn full of pregnant, registered, well-bred, skin and bones broodmares.  

I took good care of her- provided a clean stall, fresh water, and nice, clean grass hay and slowly incorporated grain and pasture.  She put on weight and muscle and began to feel good.  She looked so much better but even still had visible ribs at delivery.  Everything went to the baby.  She delivered a healthy foal 2 months later.  We had a bit of a struggle initially with her milk supply but things thankfully worked out.  I firmly believe I got her just in time.  Had she stayed where she was any longer, the foal would not have had enough and the mare surely would not have had enough nutrition.  

As an extra bonus... her digestive problems resolved under normal care and maintenance.  She continued to be lame until after the foal was born and an abscess blew out her coronary band and she was sound.  

I raised the baby and let the mare be a pretty pasture ornament.  She deserved it. The filly grew and blossomed into a gorgeous, young horse.  She went on to a good home and life went on.  

I can't even remember how I got back in touch with the filly's owners.  It's likely they called me.  The filly, named Shaklana, was shown in halter until she was in a horrific trailer accident.  This ended up giving Shaklana a large scar on her rump, ending her halter career and providing a lifelong fear of trailers.  Completely understandable!  Shaklana now was maybe 5 or 6 and the owners wanted to know if I wanted her back.  I took her back.  I still had the dam so was curious if, after all this time, they would recognize each other.  

Shaklana came home and after all the proper introductory steps to the herd, she was turned out into a large pasture with her dam.  

I will never forget it.  They touched noses and then immediately set off around the large pasture in one of those floaty trots Arabs do so well, with the horses looking like hovercrafts moving around the field!  They trotted, and floated... side by side, in perfect harmony, in stride, and in sync.  It was a beautiful sight!  I cried.  It was amazing to see.  Yes, I guess they remembered each other!  

What a beautiful thing is harmony!


Synonyms for sync

verb go along with; coexist


Saturday, April 14, 2018

From Zero to Sixty

From Zero to Sixty

Horses Flight Response And Trauma Awareness

When I first got Willow she has 2 speeds, standing still and 60 mph! She would stand and basically let me do anything.  If she was nervous or scared while standing, she would spook in place but as soon as I asked her to move forward, she rushed around the arena, going faster and faster, with head up and eyes bulging out of her head!  (I am exaggerating slightly or embellishing.)

I worked with her all last year to get her to ride calmly and with a loose rein which she did- halleluja!  But I've have gone all winter without riding her.  :(  To see where her mind was at, I decided to just do some groundwork.

I set up an obstacle course in my riding arena but started off just grooming her.  Believe me, she needed it!

Willow, with dreadlocks. 

Willow's long tangled mane. 

Willow after her grooming session.  No more dreadlocks! 

Willow being brave!

Willow stood like a perfect student as I groomed her.  This is her first speed- standing still.  She is very good at it.  Willow is a bit of a wimp, bottom of the pecking order kind of horse with the herd and a generally unconfident horse but she does like people which is a great plus!  She just isn't very brave.  She needs a leader but is easily overwhelmed.  I decided to take my time grooming her so she got that positive reinforcement of being on her own, away from the herd with me.

Last year, when Willow first came to me, she would either stand still with manners (which is good!) or when asked to move forward quickly go from zero to 60!  Not so good.  It was pretty easy to see  she would 'lose her mind' when she had to move out and would become frantic and scattered. 

Some background on Willow- She had been ridden before me in one of those long shanked walker bits, hollow backed with head up and reins tight.  When I rode her once with me, she would walk fairly calmly but only if she didn't have to move any distance away from the barn.   She went from being 'balky, resistant' to becoming nervous and flighty moving away from the barn.  She braced herself against the bit which you can pretty much expect from the riding style mentioned prior, and she would try to bolt back to the barn.  She was NOT fun to ride.  I worked all last summer with her and we got to the point where I could ride her on a loose rein, away from the barn, gait, stop, and stay cool-headed.  It was really rewarding to see the progress she made.  You can read about it here.

Today she remembered she could be brave standing a little ways from me and she could think and remain calm when her feet moved.  Good girl Willow!!  We practiced going from a standstill to moving forward slowly to moving faster around the obstacle course...and then back to slow and stand.  Ahhhh.... big sigh!  It was a good way to ease back into riding and very good to see she retained what she learned.  Good girl!! 
Going from zero to 60 reminds me of a trauma survivor's reactions when escalated. Anyone who works/lives/ is a trauma survivor is likely to be familiar with this reaction.  A person can be calm, engaged, thinking and present one minute and then wham!  Something sets them off or triggers them and off they go!  They can spiral into high gear as the trauma circles around and around, just below their awareness and greatly affecting their reactions.  Possible reactions could include oppositional or defiant behavior, hyper-vigilance and highly emotional or at the other end of the spectrum, passive, compliant, shut down, depressed.  ~~  Please know, I intend no blame here at all ~~  I am a trauma survivor too and am speaking from my own experiences.  It is not a good place to be and I understand the struggle to keep a handle on your own reactions.  That is where the horses come in.  At least for me, they have been instrumental- along with professional therapy.  

Willow last year, a little bugged out by a broom.  

Willow, last year, outside and away from herd mates and a teeny bit on edge.  :) 

Lunging lessons last year. 

A MUCH calmer Willow, very far from the barn and herd mates after a couple months of training.  

In a horse, it is easy to see hyper-vigilance and reactivity.  Each body movement of mine has to be purposeful and clear if I want her to continue forward.   I  know to only give the slightest cue to move forward for a horse like Willow, because she can be so reactive.  Had I gone with a big whip and started acting aggressively or over-asserting myself, I would have put gasoline on to her fire.  That is NEVER my intention.  

The beauty of horses and working with them in this way, is they teach ME how to keep my body and mind calm, my energy focused and not aggressive.  I can be assertive but have learned how to bring my energy right down again after the correct response.  I can watch her 'reactiveness' somewhat impartially and allow her to see I am not adding to her high energy.  The more she focuses on me, provided I am calm and focused, the faster she comes around.  There is a great reward in seeing that reflected in this large animal in front of me.  

Willow surprised me today also by going over the obstacle course very willingly.  That was a nice surprise to see that the work we did last year stuck with her and she looked like we had just done this yesterday!  It was a good reminder for me too that I need to continue to be open to what she is telling me.  This is very much a two way street.  Things don't go as well when I am not receptive to her response and do not adapt to her sensitivity. 

Willow is even shy around the other horses, preferring to hang back.  
The lesson in this for us is as we observe the horse, pay attention to about what is going on in OUR own bodies.   We learn how to remain calm and focused under stress.  Learning to not be reactive back to someone just because they are emotional and reactive is truly a great skill.  I'll be honest, it is much easier to do with the horses then people sometimes...but that body awareness piece lets us know we are into our own flight/ fight response.  If we can recognize that....and NOT go zero to 60.... that is the golden nugget of being around horses. 

When we learn to stay engaged, observant, pro-active and assertive under stress and not aggressive, emotional or reactive, we have received one of the greatest gifts our horses can give us- if we are open to it. 

Willow at liberty. 

Romans 12:18

Willow, a black sabino TW mare
* Approach and Retreat, my oil painting above, has a description here you may want to read since it goes along with the topic.

As always, thanks for stopping by!  

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