Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why I never get as much done as I think I should...

It never fails, as soon as I get the tools out the "helpers" show up.  If only I could've found a contractor who was half as reliable as this crew...

"Hey Ma, what'cha doing?  Can I help?"...

"Can I play with the thingamajig this time?"...

"Would you PLEASE stop messing about with those stupid equines and noisy contraptions and come get some REAL work done.  You haven't thrown the Frisbee for AT LEAST 30 seconds!"

And I wonder why I never feel like I get anything done.

Sunday Stills - Beast or Beauty

This week's challenge was to take something bad and make it good or find some beauty in it.  I hadn't come up with anything until Friday.  The weather was truly miserable, spitting snow, rain and ice with high winds.  Tanner and I were slogging our way through our daily hike when I noticed that the disgusting snow did look rather pretty on some of the Spring plants.  I nearly kept walking, but suddenly remembered the photo challenge.... 

A bramble thicket...

The woods in Spring...

More brambles....

Princess Pines...I liked this one, I can almost see a miniaturized elk walking out of the "woods" (these little "trees" are only 4-6 inches tall)

All four seasons...

And these last two don't qualify as a photo challenge, but what do you think...


Or beauty?....(Thank God for horse vacuums!)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Falling Behind

Emma's isn't the only baby we have been waiting on around here.  It's Spring on the farm and all the cows and sheep are due as well.  Over on my friend's farm, she has been expecting another beef calf all week.  Some other friends, on a different farm, have been waiting for their Jersey cow to calve.  All week, every time the phone rings, the conversation is the same:



"Not yet, what about you"

"Not yet"

We then spend several minutes discussing the vagaries of on-farm gynecology and make predictions based on how each animal in question can maximize the unsuitability or inconvenience of their chosen time.  It's been a bit of a race to see who was gonna go first, the cows or the donkey. 

Today, the weather was really miserable.  It was in the 30's, spitting snow and ice with high winds.  The phone rings:


"We have calves, where's your donkey baby?"

"What, BOTH calves were born?"

"Yep, Violet just had a HUGE bull calf and Pilgrim had a heifer calf."

"Well, Emma has decided that she is going to hold out for balmy weather.  She's probably going to hold out until I have to leave for work and be gone for 9 hours straight each night."


The sheep are due to start lambing in a week.  I hope we can beat them at least.

Pilgrim with her new baby...


Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Diversion

"Hey Ma!"

"Yes Emma?"

"I'm  ready to do part two of my clinic"

"Um, gee Em, don't you think you have something more important to do right now?

"Like what?"

"Uh well, we're all really anxiously waiting for you to have a baby.  Wouldn't you rather do that first?"

"You keep going on and on about this 'baby' stuff, I don't know what you're talking about.  I think I should have another clinic."

"Well, OK I guess.  Anything to make you happy Emma.  What's the topic going to be this time?

"Advanced Scratching Techniques.  It's lots of fun."

"OK, have at it.  Just try not to go too fast, you know my typing skills aren't that great."

*sigh* It's sooo hard to get good help...."alright, I'll go slow.  Oh, and before we start, you should remind everybody of how to stretch properly, that will be useful here.  It's sooo important to stay in shape.  Although, for the life of me, I can't figure out how my own belly has gotten so darned big lately...."

"It will be alright Em, you'll have your girlish figure back just as soon as the baby is born and of course, you're right about the stretching, here is the link to your here."

"Again with this 'baby' nonsense.   I hope you're feeling OK Ma, you keep repeating yourself.  Oh well, I'm just going to start my clinic, it will take your mind off obsessing about this mythical baby...."

"Hi Everybody.  Its me again, Donkey Em.... 
Today, I want to show you how you can direct your human to give you a really proper, all-over scratching.  

The secret here is to make sure that you have you're humans attention properly focused on you and she is responding to your cues.  This does take some practice and really needs to be done regularly so if your human tries to weasel out of this you may need to get creative in your persuasion methods. 

The most effective tool I have found, is to make her feel guilty about neglecting you.  Forlorn looks and odd contortions whilst attempting to reach a difficult spot often does the trick. 

Generally, if you can get your human started in the right direction with the simple butt scratch we already discussed, you can begin to add some simple directions.

The itchy spot is riiiiiight here...

You may have to be quite direct with your instructions, subtlety is lost on humans....

Don't forget to reward good behavior...

But be sure to correct your human immediately is she veers off course....

 Remember, lots of positive reinforcement...

And before long, you can be directing her wherever you have the worst itch... 
Ahhh, that feels good.
Thanks for coming to my clinic.
(I've been kind of worried about Mom lately.  She just won't give up on this "baby" notion and I thought this might help). 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

While We Wait

Foal-watch can get really boring, especially when you are sitting around waiting for a young mare (or jenny) to figure out what is going on and get on with the job. There comes a time when all there is to do is sit around and tell stories about previous nights sitting around waiting on a young mare....

It was about this time of year in 1991 or 2, I was a young college student studying Equine Science and Agricultural Technology.  I was at the time, a very serious student, trying to deal with the very recent death of my mother from cancer; worried about keeping my grades up so I could continue on to vet school and not lose a desperately needed scholarship and possessed of very underdeveloped social skills.  One of the duties of such lowly creatures was to do foal-watch once a week throughout the Spring.

One of the riding instructors (whom I shall call Mr. Jones), was an exceptional horseman, a mediocre teacher, a drunk and he had a reputation for sleeping with his favorite, female students.  And before you ask, the answer is no, I was not in that group.  I fit more neatly into what would have been the overly tall-awkward-shy-driven-grief stricken group, had there been more than just myself for such a group to exist. 

The barn housing the expectant mothers also housed the school's six-horse hitch of Belgian draft horses, plus a couple of Clydesdales in for training.  All of whom lived in tie stalls and none of which had been groomed for several  weeks (I never did understand why, but there was a pervasive attitude that the draft horses did not require grooming).  As I said, it was Spring, these horses had not been allowed outside and were in tie stalls so they could not roll.  The shedding hair coming off of them covered them like a wave.  It was fairly clear that none of the mares were actually going to have any babies that night so I decided to pass the time by grooming all of the draft horses.  A job that took several hours and resulted in a pile of discarded horse hair the likes of which has seldom been seen. 

After grooming all of the draft horses and still facing many hours of uninterrupted boredom, I decided to entertain myself by building a horse sculpture out of the pile of hair at my disposal.  It was in the wee hours of the morning (sometime after the bars shut down for the night) and I was just putting the finishing touches on my masterpiece when I heard the barn door being opened and went to investigate.  Mr. Jones had stopped by on his way home from the bar to see how things were going (and most likely hoping to find a bored, lonely co-ed.  He was a bit disappointed to find me).  He was just saying hello when suddenly his jaw dropped, his eyes bulged and all the blood drained from his face,

"What happened?!"

My confused response, "huh?"

He begins wildly pointing down the isle, "why didn't you call someone??!!"


I started looking around myself, trying to figure out what was wrong.  Was he hallucinating?  Had I unwittingly messed something up?  Was there actually a reason (aside from laziness) that the draft horses weren't supposed to be groomed?  I began to wonder if one of the mares had somehow had an unnoticed baby in the last 5 minutes and managed to squirt it out of a crack in a stall door into the isle or something, but I couldn't see anything wrong anywhere.

"What happened to that baby??!?"

I squinted down the barn isle, trying to decipher his wild gesticulations, and finally realized that in that light, at that angle and with a seriously elevated blood-alcohol level, my sculpture could, sort of, look a lot like a dead foal laying on the floor.  Ooops.

After several minutes of explaining and convincing, we were standing over the body of my sculpture and Mr. Jones shakes his head and starts laughing.  He laughs so hard that he falls back against the wall and slides to the floor, tears running down his face.  I stand there, starring rather bemusedly.  After an eternity of this he finally gets to his feet wipes his eyes, pushes his hat back and says, "You know, I've kind of wondered about you.  You're so darned quiet, but you know, you're alright."  And with that he thumps me on the shoulder, straightens his hat and weaves back out into the night.

I decided to put my hair sculpture into the trash barrel and spent the rest of the night reading a book.  Boredom didn't seem so bad.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Setup

A commenter asked me if I am sleeping in the barn.  The answer, thankfully, is no.  I have done so in the past and have some interesting stories to tell as a result, but I am rather glad I don't have to now.  I didn't have foal-watch in mind when I built my barn, but I do like to be able to look out my windows and see my horses.  It's the very first thing I do every morning and it always gives me a sense of satisfaction to be able to look out and see my beasties hanging out, content with their world.  It has the added bonus that now, with the addition of a low wattage lamp, I can get up and check on Emma right from my living room.

The barn from my living room window...

I hung a brooder lamp (with a 20 watt bulb) in my barn and it gives off just enough light that I can see into the barn at night without having to disturb Emma or get too far away from my bed. 

Poor Tessa is feeling rather left out and like she just got kicked out of the Country Club.

"Can I come back in?"


"Pretty Pleeeease....

"I Promise to be good...

Emma has decided to keep thinking about everything for a while.  She rather likes all this special attention and has made up her mind to just take her time and get as much as she can out of the situation.   

Monday, April 23, 2012

Waiting and Watching

After 4 days of fairly constant progress and changes, Emma has decided to take a little break.  Meaning, no baby yet.  She is spending a lot more time lying down and napping.  Her udder hasn't changed much today.  It is impossible to tell how long she may do this.  The last mare I had who foaled, got to this point and had her baby 2 hours later.  I have also seen mares get to this point and hold out for several weeks.  It is nerve wracking, but all I can do is keep everything as calm and quiet as possible and watch carefully.  

I have moved Tessa into what will be the Donkey Palace and given Emma the whole barn along with her own fenced area on the lawn.  I took the windows separating the barn from the palace area out so that they can talk through the window.  Tessa is a bit jealous and is moping a bit because Emma gets to be on grass and she can't now, but I think it is safest for Emma.  I don't think Tessa would do anything to hurt the baby or Emma, but you never know.  Tessa acts very motherly toward Emma and I can see that she would be a great mom.  I can see that she would like to have a baby of her own.  I have also seen mares, who want to be moms, steal babies.  Sooo, I think visiting through the window is good for now. 

The crystal ball says:  more sleep deprivation for you!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Foal Watch

Two days ago, Emma's udder quadrupled in size.  The next day it doubled again.  Today, bigger still.  There is no milk...yet, but it's getting there.  We were having a stretch of very nice weather.  However, tonight, it is in the 30's with lots of very cold rain coming down.  Mind you, I am not whining about the rain, we REALLY need it.

Gabe was due to come home today.  Actually, he was due to come home two weeks ago, but I talked the trainer into keeping him another two weeks in the hopes that Emma would have her baby while he was gone and the weather was nice.  No such luck of course.

I can't do anything about the weather, but I did take Gabe down to my riding buddy's house rather than bring him home.  Thank God for good friends who will take in an 1100 pound, walking appetite on short notice in order to keep things peaceful and safe for a pregnant donkey.  Thanks Riding Buddy.

We're as ready as we're going to get and the weather is lousy.  Perfect time for a baby to show up.  I did look into my crystal ball in the hopes discovering what the future holds, the response was just two words:  sleep deprivation. 

Stay tuned, I'll try to update as soon as anything changes.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sunday Stills - Potluck

Seems like every week I try to take pictures for Sunday Stills,  I post what I get only to to end up with a better picture 2 days too late.  This weeks challenge was a potluck of previous challenges so I took the opportunity for a couple of do-overs.  The first two belong in the "through a frame" assignment and most of the others could fit in there as well I guess...

These I took this afternoon, walking with Tanner.  The lighting was poor, but I liked this old, dead tree...

"Watch out Tanner!  I think it wants to eat you"...

I am having some trouble with my camera lately, a lot of pictures are coming out sort of hazy looking.  I don't know what the problem is (aside from general abuse from me)...

This last photo was sort of an accident that I took a few days ago.  Tessa had her nose squashed up against the window and it was really goofy looking.  Of course, by the time the camera was ready to do anything she had moved, but I pushed the button anyway.   And...I like it. It could've been part of last Sunday's challenge on reflections.

And, reflecting on another subject all together...A baby donkey could show up any time.  We're as ready as we're ever going to be....

Donkey Em's Tips & Techniques For Training Humans

"Hey Ma, I'm ready to start my clinic."

"OK, if you're sure about this..."

"Of course I'm sure, I've got today's subject all picked out."

"Well, what's it going to be then?"

"I thought we'd start out with something simple.  A fun, easy trick that everyone enjoys.

"Oh yeah? sounds interesting."

"Yup, the butt-scratch.  I mean, who doesn't like a good butt-scratch?  And, it can be awfully hard to get you guys to do this right.  Seems like a good place to start."

"Oy.  OK, let me introduce you properly..."

Welcome to Donkey Em's Training Clinic

"Hi out there, can y'all hear me?" 

"Oh, there's no sound??"

"Well, um, I guess you better just read out loud then."

"Yeah, that'll work.  So lets just get started...

Well, we all know how hard it can be to train humans and I know it may seem like a hopeless task sometimes, but it can be done.  All you need is a lot of patience.  It also helps to keep in mind that they just don't think the way we do.  Their senses aren't so sharp either.  They have those funny, round eyes, their noses don't seem to work at all and their ears...well even a horse can tell you that those are nearly hopeless.  

The main problem though, is that they just don't have very good language skills.  You can tell them and tell them things and they just don't listen.  It can be very frustrating. 

Still, they do communicate.  And I know I know, I might be accused of donkopomorphizing, but I do really believe that all those noises and gestures they make are an attempt to talk with us.   So, Take heart, I'm here to tell you that it can be done.  

The secret is to make sure your wishes are so obvious that even the human can see it.  Once you FINALLY have their attention, use LOTS and LOTS of positive reinforcement.  And be sure to keep it positive, they get really grumpy if you try to correct them.

See, humans like to feel useful and they like it when you return their gestures of affection.  Trust me on this one, if you can master this, you'll have 'em wrapped around your hoof in no time!

So, here's how to get started in, a, um, a bunch of easy steps.  Just follow along and you'll have that butt-scratch you've been hoping for...  

First, get in position.  Move up next to the human and then start backing into her.  Go slow here, humans are terribly spooky creatures and may get alarmed if they misinterpret this.

Just keep backing up, nice and slow, until she puts her hands on you, it will be an instinctive reaction.  Of course, it helps if you are my height.  Whatever my height is, it's perfect.   

Once in position, indicate that you would like the scratching to commence...

Here's the really important part.  Your human needs to know that she is actually doing something right.  Time for that positive reinforcement.  Go ahead and drop any dignity and let her know that she is getting it right....

Stretching and craning your neck while making little snoring noises works great.  She won't be able to resist...

And if you start to hear any whining noises that sound like "my arms are getting tired here",  pull out all the stops, let your eyes glaze over and your lip quiver...It gets em every time.

See, it's not so hard.  Next time, I'll demonstrate some more advanced techniques for those of you who have been working with your human for a while now." 

Thanks for coming to my clinic!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Scary Proposition

"Hey Ma"

"Yes Emma?"

"Tessa's been telling me about all sorts of trainers she heard about back in her riding days, people like Ray Hunt and Tom Dorance and John Lyons and Clinton Anderson, all sorts of people.  I think I should do that."

"You mean you want  to go to a trainer??"

"No no, of course not.  I don't need any training.  What a ridiculous idea." shudder "No, I mean I should give a training clinic."

"Uh, sooo, what, you want set up the round-pen and give lessons or something?

"Round pen??? Why would I want that!  You run around in circles enough as it is.  Look, I just thought that since I'm finally getting you broke in fairly well, I'd offer a few training tips."     

"Umm, thanks"  I think.  "I'm still not sure what you have in mind."

"I know, you humans are so slow.  How about you just do the typing and I'll take over from here.  It'll be like one of those web seminars you do.  They're all the rage now, right?"

"Well, I suppose we can give it a try."

"Good. I've even got a title all picked out, it's all about marketing you know.  Gotta have a catchy title.  How does this sound?:

Donkey Em's Tips and Techniques For Training Humans 

"Uh, well if you really have your heart set on it..."  

Stay Tuned for Donkey Em's Training Seminar


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Favorite Flowers

My Favorite flowers are popping up all over the place.  I love seeing fields full of dandelions and I have always been genuinely baffled by their lowly, hateful weed status.  Theses humble, tough, nutritious and beautiful dandelions are also one of the most important early food sources for honeybees in the Northeast.  Many hives exhaust their food supplies in March or April and often starve to death mere days before food becomes available.  Dandelions provide a desperately needed early source of nectar and pollen.  The nectar is made into honey and mixed with pollen to produce bee-bread which is fed to young bees as they grow.  These little weeds are often the difference between life and death.  Just as long as no one sprays poison on them. 

"They taste good too.  Yum!"