Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘horses

Long Approach

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Cyndie was walking Delilah on the perimeter trail and paused to take a picture of the latest version of fall colors developing along our landscape. Then the horses noticed her. Cyndie kept taking pictures of the next few moments.

“Hello there!”

Of course, it was Mix and Swings who approached to see what Cyndie was up to. Light and Mia just kept grazing where they were.






Written by johnwhays

September 24, 2021 at 6:00 am

Middle Two

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As long as I’ve set off on the topic of featuring the horses residing with us since April, I would be remiss to stop at only the youngest and oldest. In the middle are Zodiacal Light (Light) and The Yellow Sheet (Momma Mia).









These two chestnuts prefer each others’ company more than hanging with the other two horses. At the same time, when we moved Swings and Mix inside the barn for their turns with the vet for teeth work, Light and Mia became very unsettled at the separation, whinnying and hurriedly moving about.

In addition to similar coloring, they share equal subserviency to Mix’s demonstrations of dominance over them, accepting the situation with little complaint.

The easiest way to tell them apart is by the markings on their faces. Light has a “round star and stripe” and Mia sports an “irregular stripe.” We usually need to wait for them to turn around to look at us before we are sure which horse is which.

Mia is a little smaller than Light and she’s the older of the two. Born in California in February of 2000, Mia is about 63 in comparative human years.

Sometimes I think she looks older than Swings. Mia reminds us of our previous horse, Dezirea for her acceptance of the lowest position in the hierarchy of the herd and for being quick to react startled by many things.

Light was born in British Columbia in the spring of 2003. She shows a bit of caregiver trait in looking after the sensitivities of the other horses. She was actually rescued twice from kill pens, one time with a foal at her side.

Light and Mia are the perfect middle two for the herd, creating a wonderful balance of four different horses that together project a precious equine energy.

The rescue organization, This Old Horse, did a masterful job of selecting them as good candidates for our land when we expressed interest in the possibility. It’s been only five months that these horses have lived with us and with each passing day they seem more and more comfortable with the situation.

I think it would be fair to say the same thing about us.



Written by johnwhays

September 23, 2021 at 6:00 am

Swings Photographed

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I didn’t set out to capture portraits of all the horses the other day. Moments after capturing the image of Mix that I posted yesterday, I turned to find Swings uphill from where I was standing. I had to change my position a couple of times to remove my shadow from the frame. The result provided a shadow of Swings that, for me, makes up for the other aspects of the shot I don’t like so much.

The background robs some of the definition her outlines deserve but I’m not discarding the image just because of that.

I like the way her shadow stands up against the wall behind her.

I like how the shadow appears to have its own personality.

I like how the outline of the head of the shadow is better defined than her actual head.

I like how Swings’ physical features and coloring come through looking totally defiant of her actual age.

Swings’ full Thoroughbred racing name is “Gate Swinger.” She was born in Kentucky and started racing as a two-year-old. Over her four years of running she earned $116,812. Swings is currently 26-years-old. That is approximately 75-and-a-half in human years. She is the oldest of the four now living with us.

When the horses arrived at Wintervale last April, one of the things we noticed about Swings was anxiety that led her to pace back and forth along a short distance of the paddock fence, from the barn overhang to the gate through which they arrived. At one point, I tried walking with her from outside the fence. She gave me a look like I was weird, but kept pacing.

I changed my tactic and switched to walking opposite her direction, back and forth so we passed each other in the middle. It caused her to give up for a while, but then she soon returned to pacing. I saw the other horses occasionally interrupt her pacing, as if to break the spell she was under.

After a few days her anxiety and that habit of pacing seemed to dissipate. Now she seems like the calmest of the four of them. As the eldest mare, she could easily take the role of herd leader because she presents herself as the most regal, but she doesn’t show a need to hold that complete dominance over all the others.

In fact, the order of hierarchy among the herd is a little complex. Swings will take over Mix’s feed pan in a gesture of dominance and Mix holds command over both Light and Mia, but Light is able to move Swings off her pan without any fuss.

The average life expectancy of Thoroughbreds is 25-28. Swings looks so good and has settled into such a zen-like calmness now that we will be very surprised if she doesn’t thrive well beyond the average range.

I will have plenty of opportunities to capture a picture of her that properly reveals how gorgeous all her features really are.



Written by johnwhays

September 22, 2021 at 6:00 am

Mix Photographed

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I didn’t set out to write about Mix today. It’s just that I took this picture of her over the weekend that I really like looking at and I wanted to use it in a post.

There is no specific story to go along with this image. It was early in the morning and the sun had just risen over our horizon. The horses had finished chomping their servings of feed and she was probably contemplating what to do next. As Mix turned her head, this moment was captured.

I like the way the sun highlights her tail, but with the addition of the fence shadow breaking it up.

I like how she is pointed toward the open gate to the hayfield.

I like how the hayfield is illuminated by the low-angle sunlight.

I like the two directions of fence line that accent the scene.

I like how attentive her ears look.

Mix’s full Thoroughbred racing name is “Pleasant Mix.” She was born in Ontario and started racing at age three. Over her three years of running she earned $213,420. We were told all four of the horses became broodmares after they were retired from racing, but we don’t have any of those details. Mix is currently 17-years-old. That is approximately 53 in human years. She is the youngest of the four now living with us.

When the horses arrived at Wintervale last April, one of the things we noticed about Mix was how she demonstrated food aggression. When feed pans were being prepared, she would chase off the others and paw at the ground. They all continue to work on their comfort level around feed time and are showing good progress about moving beyond any issues.

Mix takes multiple deep inhales to learn people’s scent. She is now showing a propensity to be very present with whoever shows up to visit. She loves attention and demonstrates a kind of quirky sense of humor about ways to get it.

For those of you who remember our old herd leader, Legacy, there is no denying that they share a very similar appearance, both being Grays. We feel they share a little bit more than just color.

I think that is one more reason I like this picture of Mix so much. I think I see some of Legacy’s spirit coming through.



Written by johnwhays

September 21, 2021 at 6:00 am

Brilliant Day

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The weather yesterday was perfect for a September outdoor event. A lot like the day 40-years ago today when Cyndie and I were married in a garden on the shore of Lake Minnetonka. Blue skies, warm sunshine, and tree leaves turning colors right before our eyes.

I took Delilah for a walk in anticipation of the arrival of Hays family visitors and paused on the first hill of our driveway to enjoy the fresh breeze and take in the panoramic view of the horses peacefully grazing in the hayfield. The beginnings of the rainbow of fall colors are noticeable along the horizon.

Throughout the day of visiting and gorging on delicious food, we took time for walks in the woods and visits with the horses. The herd is growing more welcoming of human presence and they all made very obvious movements to approach us as we arrived near the areas they were grazing.

I had turned off the electric fence for the day to remove that concern while larger numbers of people come around, but that change is a little confusing for the horses. We try to have our greetings happen at one of the gates to give the horses consistency but the spontaneity of yesterday’s connections had us at unusual locations along the fenceline.

At one point, a group of us made our way up to the barn overhang, hoping the horses might follow along, despite them being over the rise on the far side of the hayfield. Initially, only Light decided to make the journey back and she was rewarded with some hand-offered treats.

After a time, Mia came into view as she returned as far as the waterer before deciding to reverse direction and head back out. The two chestnuts looked as though the distance of separation between them and the other two horses was something they preferred to minimize.

Their bond with each other is still stronger than any bond with us humans.

The bond with my family is as strong as ever and we enjoyed catching up on a few details and comparing experiences and perspectives. We share a lot of traits and laughed over how much our lives and behaviors tend to resemble our parents.

After the first couple had departed, we realized our neglect in capturing a group portrait. By the end of the day, we never got around to posing for any specific group pictures. I guess we will need to get together again soon so we can make up for that oversight.

The only picture I took included the spread of scrumptious delights available for human grazing presented on the center island of the kitchen.

Today, we hop from one family gathering to another as this day of Cyndie’s and my wedding anniversary is also the day of Julian’s birth. Cyndie’s mom and brother will be joining us for a brunch date in St. Paul at Holman’s Table in a renovated control tower of St. Paul’s downtown airport to celebrate the occasions.

Happy birthday, Julian!

Happy September 19th, everyone!



Written by johnwhays

September 19, 2021 at 8:24 am

Dancing Cranes

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Cyndie is home again! She received a wonderful greeting from Delilah, got ignored by Pequenita, adored by me, and most surprising of all, warmly loved by all the horses. She said they were all behaving like the four Arabians we used to have, showing that same desire to receive attention from her.

On Friday morning, she was cleaning the waterer and heard the sound of horses snoring.

We can’t remember the last time we saw them lay down for naps while either of us was around. The serenity didn’t last for long, though.

Two sandhill cranes made an appearance in the hayfield. The trumpeting vibrato trills of sandhill cranes have been reverberating for weeks from a dry creek bed beyond our trees in a neighboring field. Yesterday, they showed up in plain sight and grabbed the attention of the horses.

Cyndie recorded from a vantage point where she could capture both the horses and the two posturing, squawking cranes. Wait for their hopping around toward the end…



Today, we host a gathering of some of my family. Siblings and kid cousins will be here for a long-overdue get-together.

We will probably remind the horses of the sandhill cranes, but without the dancing.



Written by johnwhays

September 18, 2021 at 7:00 am

Different Problem

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Well, the horses didn’t eat through the bales in the slow feeder boxes in one day, but they seemed to have a different problem with one of the boxes. This is what I found when I got home from work on Monday:

I wish I could have seen how they went about tipping this onto its side because it isn’t just pulled over forward. It’s too close to the wall. It is possible they pushed it backward after tipping it, except there were no drag marks anywhere. It looked like the box had been picked up, tipped forward, and then set down on its side after moving a little back toward the wall.

I reoriented the box and there’s no evidence either box has been messed with since. The one on the other side had been emptied by the end of the day on Tuesday and this one was empty when I got home from work yesterday. It doesn’t seem as though they are having any difficulty eating through the metal grate as the hay disappears all the way down to the bottom of the boxes.

Speaking of different problems, Light has a very annoying habit of stepping on the side of her feed pan and dumping the contents onto the sandy limestone screenings below. It’s not good for them to eat their feed off the sand. Ingestion of sand can build up in their intestines and cause problems.

We’ve tried putting a mat beneath her pan, but she does a pretty good job of kicking that around, too.

The other day, I sat nearby and kept a hand on her pan when she started feeding, moving it each time she picked up a leg to step onto it. I think she then just started stepping more to make a game of it.

It was a bit of a game actually because the horses are constantly flinching and moving legs in response to irritating flies. Sometimes she was stepping to shoo flies and other times she wanted to stomp on her pan.

I eventually tired of my role and left her on her own after she’d eaten more than half the serving.

As I was scooping poop in the paddock I glanced up to find she had moved over to Mia’s pan and had made quick work of flipping that one completely over.

Of course, she then set about eating any leftover pellets out of the sand.

It’s unfortunate that a little nuisance of bad habits could lead to a different problem that harms their health and well-being later on.

When Cyndie gets home, we may take our mitigation efforts to the next level and mount a feeder for Light that won’t be so easy to spill.

“Just wait until your mother gets home!”

Yeah, I’ve been using that line with all the animals for most of the week.



Written by johnwhays

September 16, 2021 at 6:00 am

September Eleven

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Twenty years later, I’m pausing to remember my trauma of that day, witnessing so many other peoples’ trauma over the unimaginable death and destruction unleashed by fanatical terrorists hijacking commercial jets containing passengers to use them as explosive missiles.

I spent the first moments, and then the unfolding hours, trying to grasp the reality that such things could be happening. We didn’t learn of the events after the fact. We witnessed much of it as it was happening. I’ve never really liked hearing the sound of a commercial jet flying overhead after that day twenty years ago.

This morning, I turned on some of the television coverage of memorial events being held at the three locations where the planes crashed. In Minnesota, they read the names of people from the state who were killed that day, as well as Minnesota members of the military who died in the wars since.

Thinking of John Lennon’s lyric “Imagine there’s no countries…,” how many more names would need to be recited if loved ones from Afghanistan were to read the names of all who died in the twenty years since.

Meanwhile, in the idyllic surroundings of our home on this beautifully warm September day, we are living life in peace. The first hints of color continue to slowly transition in the panorama of trees along the edges of our woods.

On this third day of being the only person feeding our animals, they are all settling into my way of doing things. On Thursday evening, the horses demonstrated a fair amount of uncertainty navigating the feeding routine, but as I have adjusted my methods and they’ve responded willingly, this morning was as serene as ever.

Having watched Swings lose as many pellets out of her mouth as she consumes, I’ve started soaking her servings in a little water first and that seems to be making it easier for her. We had hoped having their teeth floated would help her more than it appears to have done.

This morning I decided to try again to use the hay boxes I built. They were powering through a single bale so fast the last time we tried using these that we switched to providing the net feeders from which they were used to eating.









If they make it through a bale too fast today, I’ll plot a modification to the grate that might slow it down to something comparable to grass-grazing speed, if I can guess what that actually is.

It seems illogical to me that they would prefer dry hay bales over the two large fields of fresh grass that we provide them full access to day and night, but I’m not a horse. I trust they know why they make the choices about what to eat.

As rescued thoroughbreds, they know about memories of trauma.

Today we are soaking up the peacefulness we have been afforded and adding another day of distance from the source of our past traumas.

We will never forget, but we will always seek that world where we all be as one.



Written by johnwhays

September 11, 2021 at 10:01 am

Teeth Filed

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Any time you think dental checkups are a big deal, just think what it is like for horses. The vets grab the tongue and reach their arm into the horse’s mouth. The horse gets to wear a speculum that forces the jaw to stay open and the rasp is attached to a power drill that looks like the one in a construction worker’s toolbox.

It was actually the first time we have moved the rescued Thoroughbred mares into the barn stalls since they arrived in April. They walked in without hesitation, but since we only brought in Swings and Mix at first, the other two that were left outside became very vocal and upset about the separation.

We haven’t reached a level where the four horses we are fostering have shown complete comfort with us yet, so we didn’t know for sure what condition their teeth were in. Our suspicions were raised because the mares all show some difficulty eating the feed pellets we serve in pans.

Since the upper and lower jaws of a horse don’t align precisely, the outer edges of the upper teeth and the inside edges of the lower teeth can develop high spots, some of which can become sharply pointed. The rest of the tooth gets ground down by regular grinding contact that happens naturally from chewing.

Occasionally the vet needs to file or “float” the high spots to give the horse a fuller flat surface for chewing.

Our horses were mildly sedated to minimize stress during the procedure and allows the veterinary team to focus more on the inside of the mouth and less on the thousand pounds of unpredictable equine energy attached to it.

We were happy to learn that none of the horses’ teeth were in terrible shape. There were some other sore spots and understandable aging evidence, but nothing requiring additional treatment.

When the work is done and the speculum comes off, the horses are kept in the stalls for a couple of hours to nap until the sedative has worn off.

I was happy for the sedation because Light became very agitated when we got her into a stall, even though she was now inside with all the others. Luckily, she didn’t balk about stepping in there, but once inside, she became very unsettled. I wondered if it might be a Post Traumatic Stress memory of the life circumstances from which she was rescued.

The horses had a very interesting day because I brought out the big tractor with the brush cutter earlier to mow the high grass around the perimeter of the paddocks and along the edges of the pastures. They showed a healthy curiosity about the big machine and my activities, as well as an attraction to the areas freshly cut.

It is our hope that their newly floated teeth will make both their grazing in the fields and chomping the feed pellets easier and more comfortable for them. I also hope the sedation will have left them with little memory of the indignities to which they were subjected.



Normal Morning

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I’m writing a little late this morning as I have been occupied with solo coverage of the ranch this morning, as Cyndie spent the night at her mother’s house in Edina yesterday. Delilah and I startled a couple of deer in our woods on our morning walk, which then grabbed the attention of the horses who were grazing nearby in the back pasture. Their heads were all on full alert when we popped out of the woods.

I took a picture of some fantastic-looking fungi on the edge of one of our trails as we passed.

The horses were a combination of calm yet mischievous as I set out the pans of feed for their morning rations. They had serenely paraded their way into the paddock from the back pasture alongside Delilah and me as we made our way to the barn. The four horses conveniently avoided being positioned on either side of our serving area under the overhang, so I decided to serve them where they stood for a change.

They quickly set about moving around from one pan to another, snitching bites between rotating to be sure no other horse was getting something they didn’t have.

I finally coaxed Mix to the far side and closed a gate to disrupt their dance. That solved things and they all stopped to finish the pan at their feet in front of them while I rolled the wheelbarrow around the paddock to do the morning housekeeping.

By the time I finished tending to the compost pile and returned to get Delilah in the barn, the four horses we already around the corner in the back pasture again, grazing peacefully.

On our way back to the house, I need to detour to the shop to pick up some tools for a kitchen project Cyndie left for me. She bought new slide-out racks for cabinets that are going to require some customization of the dimensions of the openings. There, I discovered a mousetrap had tripped and the victim was being cannibalized by other vermin. Oops.

My bad.

Back in the house, the dog and cat were served their breakfast and then I fed myself.

Somehow, the early morning hours have vanished, but it was all rather normal except for the fact I was alone with the animals.

I look forward to getting the kitchen enhancements installed. Anything to make Cyndie happier in the kitchen is going to directly benefit my luxury of being exceptionally well-fed.

It only takes one morning of fending for my own food to be reminded of how well I have it every other day.



Written by johnwhays

August 21, 2021 at 10:26 am