Sunday, November 22, 2009

Protesting Change

When the snow covers the mud and the muck, I throw everything in the washing machine: the rugs, Kitty’s bed cover, the dog bed covers, the quilts, and the polar fleece throws. Not that I don’t wash them any other time of year, but it’s like shaking out the fall mud season from the house and breathing in fresh air.

This year after I replaced Kitty’s bed cover, she didn’t crawl back in. She slept on the stairs, in her favorite living room chair, or tucked away under a banister in Pete’s office. Each time I walked in the laundry room where her bed sits next to her food, it was empty. I even put her in it one morning to see if she could reconnect. No luck. Then a few days ago, I walked in after my morning coffee and found Kitty asleep in the laundry room sink. I hadn’t recalled ever seeing her sleeping there. I’d watched her from time to time balancing between the two sinks to drink out of the faucet, a few drips and drabs at a time, but I’d never seen her use the sink as a bed.

Kitty did fit perfectly in the stainless steel sink. She was safe there: up away from the dogs and any other traffic through the room and when I approached to take a picture, she barely took notice. Somehow, Kitty was at home. Although, I’ve washed her bed cover before, I wondered what loss she was protesting: the dirt, the matted cat hair, the fleece perfectly contoured to her body, or the very special smells that made her bed deeply familiar.

It was a mystery that reminded me of how profound unannounced change can be. I know some years I wouldn’t invite winter to arrive so soon. But it never asks. It comes without my consent and resets the season, changing the inner and outer landscape of my life. I, like Kitty, bristle and protest the intrusion, but then over time my books open, paperwork unfolds, and chores of a different kind invite me to sort and simplify. I know how unannounced and unplanned for health issues of family members can create a new physical and emotional landscape for each member: each person faced with adjusting and dealing with the unexpected; each faced with accepting the reality of a new place in the family landscape and finding something of comfort within that place.

Kitty never asked me to wash her bed cover. I came unannounced and, for reasons I do not understand, dislocated her, took away the personal and the familiar. I keep hoping she’ll adjust and return to the familiar. I keep hoping her protest will end and she will dare re-enter the comfort of her bed and recreate the scents and smells and the contours that were hers. Then, can she, as we all do when we give up protesting change, transform the untenable into the tenable?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Seasons Turn

Each year, as October nears its end, we mark Halloween as the potential dividing line between the fall and winter seasons. Snow that arrives near this spirited celebration could stay on the ground for the rest of the winter season. Psychologically, this is a little like the wind and rains and slush of April carrying on into May when we long for the warmth of spring: it pushes us to endure an unusually long winter season. We always hope winter waits off stage for just a few more weeks and this year it did.

We relished the warm and dry days of early November by treating ourselves to a brief lunch outside and working in the unusual warmth of a late fall afternoon. Pete had begun feeding the horses a bit of hay: a normal ritual for the first part of November. But two weeks into November, the seasonal clock turned within twelve hours: eight inches of snow fell, the roads turned to ice, and the meadows fell beneath an early winter drape.

With winter’s arrival, I sensed, as I do every year, its competing invitations to retreat and to engage. While I relished sitting peacefully at my desk for a few hours the first day the snow fell, I knew I would later step outside to touch winter, to take in its return. I tightened my snowshoes down as Emma and Griz quickly sprinted ahead of me through the green gate and onto the meadow: Emma’s head just peeking out beneath the snow; Griz darting, racing, his joy filling the cool overcast afternoon. I ducked beneath the snow laden aspen branches to follow and soon witnessed winter’s art resting on the fence line and a thirty-year-old ladder rescued from my children’s tree house. I found the irrigation ditch still running, its pace slowed, the first ice flows forming; soon to coalesce and remain silent until spring. The horses stood at the feeders luxuriating in its bountiful hay. I found the hitching post now at ease; a rope hanging on the arena gate, frosty and forgotten; and a wagon wheel, a still and receding visible remnant of a time long ago.

Back home, I shook off the snow from my snowshoes and placed them on a hook in front of the garage. Winter eventually calls. Once attuned, I answer the call, both at my desk in reflection and later as I stride out across the meadows with Emma and Griz: the chill, a call to awaken and know myself in relationship to the world in which I live; and the landscape, an invitation to experience that which arises in the still and the quiet of its fold.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Equine Dentistry

The dental health needs of horses are often one of the last things an owner thinks about in terms of their horse’s care. However, just as with humans, it’s one of the most important basic health issues to be considered in terms of their overall health. A horse’s dental health can impact their nutrition, head and facial comfort, attitude toward work, effective bitting, and, or poor overall movement and ability to collect.

Cassidy recently had difficulty with her barrel horse prospect, Vegas. Although he was good minded and physically in good shape, he frequently turned his head to the side, struggled with the bit, and had difficulty collecting himself as he moved out. She didn’t know whether to suspect an old splint as the problem because head and bitting issues can be a result of problems with feet and lower legs; or if it were a dental health issue which creates the same problems with his head, his cooperation, and busyness with the bit.

In hopes of finding an answer to Vegas’ inconsistent behavior, Cassidy made an appointment with a local vet, Courtney Diehl, who also does equine dentistry. In addition to being trained as a veterinarian, Courtney trained under Jack Easley, a well known veterinarian from Shelbyville, Kentucky, who is a leader in equine dentistry. Courtney first evaluated Vegas for outward signs of confirmation problems or apparent lameness issues. She then asked Cassidy to ride Vegas in the arena in order to determine if the gait and collection issues might be structural or true lameness issues. After watching him stride out, Courtney concluded the issue was most likely a dental health issue.

Horses’ teeth grow continuously during their lifetime. When horses graze on foods, such as hay grasses, the high content of fibrous tissues naturally grind their teeth down and keep pace with their growth. If a horse is eating a less fibrous diet or has genetic dental issues, the surfaces of its teeth can be become uneven with points or sharp edges developing on the perimeters of the teeth. This impacts the ability of the jaw to move smoothly laterally and the problem becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. The points prevent correct movement and the incorrect movement adds to more uneven wear and greater development of the points.

In order to work on Vegas’ teeth, Courtney gave him a sedative and then put a speculum into his mouth to keep it open and make it safe for her to work. She said if you don’t, it’s the easiest way to break an arm if you’re not careful. Once she began the oral exam, she knew immediately there were multiple points on his teeth and found ulcers on both sides of his cheeks created by the constant irritation of the points rubbing against them. Cassidy also examined Vegas and was shocked to feel how sharp the points were: sharp enough to cut fingers if rubbed just right.

Courtney began her work by using hand rasps, called floats, hence the term “floating teeth.” She used a combination of hand rasps and a power drill rasp to file down the points. She was very careful to file just enough and not too much. She felt the combination of the hand rasps and the power drill rasp offers her the best control in her work.

When Courtney felt satisfied with her filing, she re-examined Vegas and asked Cassidy to do the same. She thought there was a pretty good chance that floating his teeth would resolve Vegas’ bitting, gait, and collection issues. If it doesn’t make a significant difference, it’s important she completes a further evaluation.

Cassidy certainly hopes Vegas’ movement, behavior, and general comfort improve. Bred to the AQHA World Champion Barrel Horse, Designer Red, and Mighty, our all-time favorite Jet Deck mare, Cassidy is looking forward to training him to be her next top barrel racing horse.

For more information on Dr. Diehl, go to:

For an interview with Dr. Easley on equine dentistry, go to: