20 December 2014

Return Of The Sun: Bedlam Farm. A Celelbration.

Return Of The Sun

Return Of The Sun

The sun returned to me, this morning (I take the sun personally) after a two-week hiatus marked by snow, cold, sleet, fog and rain. I love my farm, I love my life, but I will admit the first weeks of winter are a challenge, spiritually and emotionally. We need color and light in our lives, perhaps the purpose of winter is to remind us of that. These are the short days, the dark days, the transitional days. On weekends, Maria and I both try to give each other some rest, whoever gets up first sneaks out in their nightshirts and pajamas to feed the animals – they can't wait while we sleep late – and give the other a chance to sleep.

Maria went out in her nightshirt – it was 8 degrees – and I got up and went out to help here and take this photo. For me, the image celebrates the return of the sun, it celebrates my wonderful wife, friend, lover and partner. I cannot image life without her on this farm, or anywhere else. Sunday, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. On Monday, the day start to get longer again, and that is a beautiful thing, the return of the light.

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Help A Great Farrier And Human Being: The Man Who Saved Simon

Helping Ken Norman

Helping Ken Norman

Horses and horse people seem to be in my life this year.  I am so proud and excited to be telling you about  Ken Norman's GoFundMe  project to help him, his family, his many horses and donkeys get through a winter that is going to be one of the most challenging of his life. Ken has been bending over to trim hooves and heal hooves for more than 25 years, he has suffered countless bruises and cuts, many broken bones. He has helped and saved hundreds of animals. He is much loved and respected – and needed.  Now,  his knees are shot,  on December 29, he will enter the hospital to have both knees surgically replaced.

His recovery, say the doctors, will take about three months, and he will be without income during that period for the first time in his life. Apart from his medical bills, he has a wife and a daughter – Nikolene is the Bedlam Farm Barn Princess and a magical spirit in her own right – a farm, monthly bills and needs and a farm to keep going. He also has more than 30 horses and donkeys, many of them rescues, to take care of. On his gofundme  crowdsourcing site, Ken explains what it costs to care for the animals and keep his farm going.

Ken is the man who saved Simon's life, he was there right after he was  rescued, he devoted many free hours of his time to getting Simon up on his feet that awful night when he was taken from a farm by the New York State Police near death. He has helped Simon – whose hooves had not been trimmed in years – to stand and walk and recover. He has been in my life ever since I moved to upstate New York, I could not count the times we at Bedlam Farm and others have called on Ken to help – with the animals, with broken locks and gates, or to help with feed and other issues.

Ken also has two donkeys who lived at the first Bedlam Farm – Jeannette and Jesus – and has taken the most wonderful care of both of them. He lives the life of the individual, he does not have a pension or IRA, he does not have a fat bank account to tide him over. His animals need to stay where they are,  his family and farm need to be cared for. There are few good places for them to go to. Ken is a prince in the real world of real animals, in addition to being a volunteer in his local Fire Department, he has also worked to support the New York Carriage Horses in their long and hard fight to stay in New York City.

Farriers work is brutal work, physically and emotionally challenging. Anyone who has seen a farrier like Ken wrestle with a horse or a donkey will not soon forget it.  Ken has been a friend to Maria and I as well as the animals – he helps whenever he is asked, day or night.  I cannot think of a more deserving person to help as this holiday season begins. We love his visits to the farm, his way with our animals is a powerful thing to see. He has shared my life with animals and supported it.

I will be campaigning for him here on this blog and I hope you can help him – no amount is too small or large. Gofundme is different from Kickstarter, he sets a goal and gets to keep whatever you decide to give him – $5 or $5,000, whether he meets his overall goal or not.

For me, this is one of those things that defines me as a human being. We are all asked to donate money, to buy things, most of us feel financial pressure these days, but some causes are especially important and just and worthy. Ken  is one of them. I am thinking of him this weekend, and of Eli, just as dedicated to animals and community as he is. This year, many of you helped to do the impossible, you are helping to save the New York Carriage Horses from banishment. I am sorry to be asking you to help the equine and animal world again, but this cause is just as noble. Ken has always been there for us, we will stand by him.

Thanks for your consideration and your help. You can help Ken Norman and his family and animals by contributing here.

Posted in General
19 December 2014

Training Lenore: Life With Dogs

Training Lenore

Training Lenore

There is no such thing as a perfect dog (or a perfect life) and if there was, I wouldn't want one. Real dogs have real problems, Lenore has very few. She is wonderfully bred, healthy, calm and obedient, she has a wonderful temperament. But I messed up in my training, I didn't really teach her to walk alongside me on a country road or on a leash. I didn't need to at the first Bedlam Farm, we  had our own woods to walk in. Lately, she has gotten into the habit on our morning walks of running off either side of the road, eating coyote and deer scat in unhealthy amounts.

There are times for dogs to be free and times for them not to be free. On a walk, they need to know their work is to stay alongside the human unless freed. There should be no pressure from a leash, no tugging. Off-leash, Lenore needs to learn to stay close, she is a Lab, but the walks are not about her running around looking for food, they are about her staying close to me – by my left or right knee, she needs to understand that the walk is about me, too. My dignity and peace of mind – and her health and safety – depend on that. It was my screw-up, last week I set off to fix it.

We are doing very well for the first week. I have been using food, verbal reinforcement and visualization to transform the walk into something we are doing together – working dogs generally love that, they are bred for it. We walk on a leash for a mile or so, I periodically tap my knee, praise her and give her a bit of kibble I carry in a plastic pouch. Once or twice on the walk, I unleash her and give her the "free" command, and she can sniff and eliminate and explore. But she cannot go more than a few yards from me, if she does, I correct her and call her back to me.

The new command is "walk with me," I keep he walking alongside my knee. We had some dramatic evidence of change this morning on our country road – which is heavily trafficked by deer, racoons, coyotes, chipmunks and squirrels. Lenore walked very well on a leash, calm and by our side, no pulling, and off-leash she is paying more attention to where Maria and I are, not simply seeing the walk as a change to forage for food. I insist on being a part of it, she has to pay attention to me, she has to walk with me, not despite me. Visualizations are always complex, they are not commands, but part of a different way of thinking. I calm myself, I imagine the walk I would like, I am peaceful and clear, it is almost like an emotion.

Lenore senses and smells my emotions, dogs will become what you need them to be if you permit them and give them the chance to succeed. I am positive on these walks, clear and increasingly patient. It is becoming the kind of spiritual experience I love in my life with dogs. I think we are about 8 to 10 weeks from getting where I need to be, the more patient and at ease I am, the better she understands and responds.  No more yelling at her or getting angry and frustrated, that is poor dog training and a failure of discipline and will.

It is going very well, we are getting there. Red is calmer on the walks as well, tension runs through dogs like a virus, so does calm.

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Farmhouse In The Fog. The Power Of Mist

Farmhouse In Fog

Farmhouse In Fog

There is something about fog and mist that gets a photographer's heart stirring, I'm not sure what it is, perhaps because fog and mist give our world a beautiful and evocative shroud and softening. They suggest quiet and peacefulness. We have not seen the sun for nearly two weeks, day after day of rain, snow, sleet, clouds and mist. I miss the sun, I miss the color and light, both of those things affect me.

But I love the early morning mist as well, there is something timeless and spiritual about it. There are rumors that the sun will show itself tomorrow, at least briefly. I will be ready.

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Sheepherding With Lenore

Sheepherdiing With Lenore

Sheepherdiing With Lenore

Lenore's sheepherding is not really progressing, although it has hit a comfortable plateau. She likes sitting near the sheep when they eat, and they are at ease with her, and she seems to enjoy watching Red work. She does not  seem interested in "come bye" or "away to me," and doesn't care whether the sheep go off and try and grab the donkeys' hay (which causes some tension in the pasture.) I think she likes being a herding dog.

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