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

Posts Tagged ‘Wintervale

Beautiful Adventures

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It was another beautiful day in Wintervale-be-gone yesterday where the dog and cat are strong, the horses are good-looking, and the scenery is above average. I was able to get out for a short bike ride into the wind in a test of my bike with no battery installed. I finally purchased the cover that replaces the battery on the down tube. It required a call to Trek to learn it was only available from the distributor QBP (Quality Bicycle Products) and only able to be ordered by bike shops.

I kept telling myself the bike was so much lighter, that it would be noticeably less effort to pedal it up the hills without electric assist. I think it almost was.

Cyndie has done an absolutely heroic job of working to stop the spread of leaf rust fungus on our wild black raspberry plants lately. Inspired by success from the daunting project last summer, she set out to continue this year, fighting the spread of this highly infectious threat, diligently bagging infected plants she digs up and then cleaning and disinfecting her tools, boots, and clothes afterward.

While she was busy finding a nest of eggs nestled in the middle of the bushes, I set out to cut one last trail that had been passed by the last time I was out with the power trimmer. Just a small distance that wouldn’t take very much time. Was that why I may have been less attentive to every step I was taking?

My foot landed on a protruding root and my ankle rolled severely enough to drop me in a heap of anguish and pain. I have strained my ankles so many times in my life that this was an all-too-familiar predicament.

I stayed flat on my back for a long time, holding my foot in the air above me while waiting for the initial sharp pain to calm and trying to think through my options. It felt like a medium level of severity but I wanted to be overcautious in hope of recovering from this little misstep as soon as physically possible.

I phoned Cyndie but she didn’t answer. I tried texting. I propped my boot on the trunk of a tree and stayed on my back to ponder my next move. I could wait for her to find me. I tried my loud shrill whistle to see if it would trigger her to look at her phone. I thought she could bring down an ankle brace or crutches or, worst case, help me get back up to the house if it seemed so bad when I finally stood up that I didn’t want to put weight on it.

I laid long enough for the pain to calm and the mosquitos to find me so I decided it was time to stand up and make an assessment. I could put weight on it but walking was quite a hobbling limp. All part of the adventure in this beautiful place that is our home.



Written by johnwhays

June 13, 2022 at 6:00 am

Small Banquet

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Once again, the phrase “dined like royalty” comes to my mind to describe the homemade feast Cyndie served yesterday for a visit from our son, his wife, and their friends. Beyond her classic culinary artwork of two varieties of scones, Cyndie tried her hand at making hummus out of peas and baking naan bread for the first time.

The main dish of curry chicken and roasted vegetables was followed by her version of a turtle cake from a copied recipe of St. Paul’s Cafe Latte.

As often happens, there was so much delicious food consumed, there was little room for dessert. That’s no problem for Cyndie. She had “to go” containers available so slices of the chocolate caramel decadence were sent home to be enjoyed later.

We were blessed with an afternoon of warm sunshine that felt even nicer than the actual temperature, especially compared to our recent extended spell of rainy, snowy days.

The horses had been brushed earlier in the morning but were perfectly covered in mud by the time we all showed up to visit after a stroll in the labyrinth. While Mix showed interest in checking out the new guests, the other three paid little notice, choosing instead to linger in the altered state of almost sleeping, but not really.

The day was a wonderful celebration of sharing the wonders of Wintervale while we are mired in the muddy conditions of early spring.



Written by johnwhays

April 10, 2022 at 10:19 am

Big Between

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We have been living in a pretty peaceful time of late at Wintervale, one I tend to label, “the big between.” Whenever we get a significant block of days without a major weather event or an unexpected life disturbance, it becomes the time between the last one and the inevitable next one.

Delilah was her best-behaved self all day on Saturday. She responded surprisingly quickly in obeying a “drop it” command that she normally resists. She had just made a lightning-fast dash and discovery of a recently departed squirrel just over the snowbank of the driveway. We were on our way back from the barn after feeding the horses and Cyndie was just telling me about startling a hawk when she came out of the house at right about that same spot.

Poor bird didn’t get the benefit of its kill. That is, unless it was keeping an eye on where Cyndie tossed the limp tree rodent over the property line into the neighbor’s woods where it will be out of reach of our dog.

Delilah was rewarded with a fully sanctioned dead animal chewy treat that Cyndie purchases, not made out of squirrels.

Heavy napping soon followed.

A couple of days ago, just as the horses were finishing their pans of feed pellets, I was blessed with a precious interaction with Light toward the completion of my manure scooping.

She approached the wheelbarrow, which they often do, and was checking things out as I walked up with a full scoop. She stepped as close as physically possible to impede me from being able to grab both handles. I dumped the contents of the scoop into the nearly filled wheelbarrow and set down the tool to give Light my full attention.

Not yet confident that I am reading the signals from any of these mares, I attempted to see what combination of hand contact, intensity, and location appeared to meet with her satisfaction. Scratches behind her ears? Under her jawline? Massage her neck? Slide my hands under her blanket?

Scratching her forehead and jawline seemed to elicit the best reaction of eyes closing as if in bliss, with ears happily relaxed. The routine I am used to with these four Thoroughbreds is for them to move away rather soon after we put hands on them, but this time Light was more inclined to lean her forehead into my torso with no hint of wanting to be anywhere else.

It is such a treat to be given so much attention from a horse. Surprisingly, I ended up being the one to break the spell. We had been standing together like that for about ten minutes and I really was on my last scoop and ready to dump the wheelbarrow so I could join Cyndie up at the house for breakfast.

I moved toward the far handle of the wheelbarrow and Light read my intention and slowly backed up so she could turn and mosey over for a drink of water.

I’m hoping the time between that session and my next opportunity to receive similar love from any of the mares is not anywhere as long as the number of quiet days we’ve been enjoying around here lately.



Written by johnwhays

February 7, 2022 at 7:00 am

Visiting Mia

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Saturday afternoon brought us visitors who wanted to see how Mia was doing and their first impression was oh so rewarding. To hear people say how good the horses are looking is wonderfully validating of our intentions and efforts.

This family had owned Mia when she had her eighth and final foal in 2018. After a thoroughbred broodmare is done having foals, the level of attention and care drops significantly. This owner was already living up in this region and Mia was still in Kentucky. Confident the horse would receive better care up here, they worked with This Old Horse to move Mia north.

When she first arrived from Kentucky that year, Mia hadn’t had a reason to naturally develop a heavy growth of winter coat and so she needed to wear a blanket through the cold season. Seeing the healthy growth Mia now sports brought them much comfort.

We have finally learned the foal count for each of the four horses we are fostering:

    • Swings  –  4
    • Mia        –  8
    • Light      –  3
    • Mix        –  3

It has given us a new perception of what Mia lived through after her racing career.

I wouldn’t say that Mia was overly demonstrative of recognizing her previous owners, but she was definitely more “present” than normal. She stayed at the gate in contact with us, while we chatted and gave some attention to the other three, for much longer than she ever does when it’s just Cyndie and me.

Since our visitors were eager to know what kind of place Mia had landed in, I guided them in a short walk around the bend of the back pasture to see the labyrinth. They showed great interest and were eager to spend some quiet time strolling the route to the center.

We had segretated the horses so that the chestnuts only had access to the hayfield and the other two could be on the back pasture, but my wish that horses would show up to stand close while the visitors were in the labyrinth didn’t pan out. The four horses had stayed up by the barn, which actually made it easy for our guests to connect one last time before they departed.

They are happy to see Mia has landed a good place and we are happy to know Mia has people from her past who still care about her.

I am extremely pleased to know that others believe our horses look healthy and appear thoroughly content with the home we are providing for them.



Written by johnwhays

November 22, 2021 at 7:00 am

In Motion

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In a matter of just a few days, a decision to take the next step toward inquiring on the possibility of offering our fields to a horse rescue organization set in motion a series of steps that has us surprisingly close to having horses back on our Wintervale pastures much sooner than we imagined possible. They are very interested in adding us to their existing locations providing summer grazing space for their rescues.

It is happening so fast that Cyndie and I are finding ourselves dizzied over the mixture of glee and cautiousness washing over us all at once. We are thrilled over the vision of horses grazing our land again, but we need to get ahold of our renter and alert him of the loss of access to our fields for his hay. There are gates to reinstall and the automatic waterer needs to be turned back on and checked out. The electric fence hasn’t been turned on in a couple of years and will need some maintenance to restore proper operation.

I know what I will be working on this weekend.

We have already been given a preview of four Thoroughbreds that are being considered for transfer to our place. They are all mares that range in age from 15 to 26. Interestingly, they all have a hint of familiarity with the four Arabians that were our first Wintervale herd that came to us in the fall of 2013.

I’m obviously holding back on announcing this as official and providing a proper full introduction, but it’s such powerful news that I couldn’t stop myself from sharing at least this sneak preview rumor.

Now you will have read it on the internet, so it must be true.

I’ll share more detail as the situation develops. Probably tomorrow. How will I be able to write about anything else while this excitement is unfolding right before our eyes?

Where did I leave my compost-turning pitchfork?



Written by johnwhays

March 24, 2021 at 6:00 am

Don’t Stop

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Whether it’s depression-related struggles or simply one of life’s difficult challenges, there is a well-known saying about going through hell: Don’t stop; keep going.

The changes and complications of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic this year, stirred in with an unprecedented series of hassles unraveling my usual activities at the day-job, have been making an impression which holds certain similarities to the concept of hell.

I’m working hard to focus on the practice of not stopping. Despite umpteen repetitions of troubleshooting exercises that have repeatedly produced mixed results alternating between success and failure, I have tried Einstein’s definition of insanity so many times lately that I am growing a little concerned about the clarity of my thinking. (Insanity as: doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.)

Luckily, I have a pretty good antidote in the landscape of Wintervale that helps inspire me to keep going.

I’m not gonna stop.



Written by johnwhays

July 29, 2020 at 6:00 am

Six Years

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Somehow, six years have passed since we moved from our home of twenty-five years in a suburb of the Twin Cities to this amazing property in western Wisconsin.

Happy 6th Anniversary, Wintervale!

What an amazing time we’ve had figuring out a completely different life from the one we had previously known.

Looking back on our arrival here, we now laugh about the week-long struggle we endured to accomplish the actual closing on the property, while being granted access anyway by the sellers and moving our furniture in as if it was already officially ours.

We put our trust in a local fencing company to help design a layout for our paddocks and pasture fences and were rewarded with a much-loved result. They also helped us accomplish the addition of the hay shed, overcoming repeated weather delays caused by one of the wettest springs locals had experienced.

Five years ago September, our horses arrived and really brought this place to life. That started an ongoing lesson in the art of composting manure, among many other more romantic attractions of owning horses.

This time of year, we are probably composting as many leaves as we are manure.

We are in our second year of having chickens around to control flies and ticks, while also enjoying the secondary benefit of unbelievably great eggs.

We have learned a lot about baled hay and forest management.

We dabbled a little in trying to launch a business.

We’ve stumbled through trying to train our first dog, while simultaneously working on keeping one of two house cats we adopted from a rescue organization.

Every time the leaves fall from our trees and cover the trails six inches deep, it throws me back to that first year when we arrived.

That leads to thoughts about all the things I’ve listed above and gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the number of things we have accomplished since moving here.

I also have a tendency to contemplate what life might have been like had we not made this move. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be in as good of shape as I am now. Caring for animals and managing many acres of hilly fields and forest has a way of keeping a person off the couch for long stretches of time.

I wouldn’t trade this for anything. It’s been a great six years.

Here’s to diving into our seventh with wonder and glee over whatever adventures it may bring!



Written by johnwhays

October 24, 2018 at 6:00 am

So Proud

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Today, I am giving a shout out and a hat tip to my amazing wife, Dr. Cyndie Hays.

This week, she is conducting a full week of training sessions, off-site, combining all of her many years of experience into beautiful teaching for other educators and caregivers. Merging horse knowledge, emotional intelligence, and courageous conversation skills, she is presenting powerful information, often life changing, to people in organizations that touch a lot of lives.

I am so proud of Cyndie doing this often difficult work. Guiding others in exploring complex and emotional concepts that often rupture the fabric of their senses about themselves, and others in the world, is demanding work.

When she comes home at the end of the day, worn out by intense experiences, I get the benefit of hearing about the incredible interactions of her day. It helps her unpack some of the residual emotion from the sessions.

I really think she should write a book about some of the life changes she has witnessed, and the principles and exercises that bring them about.

Her stories help to expand my awareness, both about myself and others. It is really an embodiment of Paul Wellstone’s basic credo: “We all do better when we all do better.”

Simply by hearing Cyndie describe how one of the day’s training exercises positively altered a person’s perspective, which flowed into an opportunity for participants to practice talking about subjects that are laden with emotion and years –generations, even– of avoidance or animosity, I am inspired to improve my “game.”

Am I behaving in a way that allows and encourages those around me to do better?

I am a firm believer that a success which must come at another’s expense, is not really a true success at all.

Altruism is not a universal trait, but if one has a genuine interest in caring for others, odds are improved that raising their awareness to unconscious biases and privileges will be valued.

In the stories that Cyndie brings home from sessions she has led, the number of people who choose to resist the insights she presents is always low. For days like this week, where she is talking to hundreds of participants, it gives me a good feeling of hope.

Maybe we are inverting the pyramid of ills in the world.

I know that Cyndie is sure doing her part, and for that, I am extremely proud.




Family Visits

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In my rush out-of-town for the weekend, I skipped over the adventure we enjoyed on Friday with visiting family. Three generations! My great-niece, Brooke, and great-nephew, Drew, each brought a friend, arriving with my niece, Tricia and my sister, Judy.

Friday morning started with significant thunderstorm, but by afternoon, the weather was pleasant for hanging out with the chickens and doing some exercises with the horses.









Cyndie spent the rainy morning in the kitchen, baking fresh buns and some chocolate chip cookies. Combined with the snacks Judy and Tricia brought, and some brats Cyndie had grilled the day before, we had plenty of fuel for the adventures.

Hunter was the star horse of the day, seen above making faces with Drew and participating in some communication connections in the round pen with Brooke. It is thrilling to witness the horse-human interactions as they play out. I think I get as much pleasure watching as the people who are engaged in the activity.

It looked like Hunter was getting a fair share of pleasure out of it, too.

The chickens were pretty happy to have a lot of hands feeding them fruit scraps from Cyndie’s morning kitchen projects. That’s a much better way to dispose of food scraps that are otherwise commonly ground up in sink disposals and flushed into municipal waste water systems. Since we don’t have a kitchen disposal, if our food scraps don’t go to the chickens, they end up in the compost bin.

Shortly after getting a bite to eat, I dashed off for the lake place, but I did hear the kids trying to negotiate their way into an overnight. There was too much fun to be had and not enough time to fit it all in.

Their glee was so inspiring, it renewed my appreciation for everything our place has to offer. Living it day after day changes the perspective. It was refreshing to have their invigorating, contagious energy knock me from taking the adventure of this life for granted.

I always say, this place never reaches its full potential until company shows up for a visit.

Especially when they are able to stay long enough to try out an exercise in the round pen with one of the horses.

Thanks for making the trip over on Friday, Judy, Tricia, and kids! It was a blast having you here!



Written by johnwhays

August 6, 2018 at 6:00 am

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January Thaw

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I have lived near the Twin Cities for most of my life, but I never realized how consistently we experience a January thaw. From Meteorologist, Paul Huttner’s Updraft blog:

“A January thaw is defined as two or more consecutive days of high temperatures above 32 degrees. That happens in 93 percent of all years on record for the Twin Cities. In fact, a January thaw is more reliable than a white Christmas (72 percent) in the Twin Cities.”

Everyone at Wintervale is enjoying this little break from the ravages of the deep cold that has besieged us for the last few weeks.

The sunshine and warm Pacific breeze was just right for an afternoon sun bath.

The chickens are much quicker to come out of the coop with the warmer temperatures. The Buff Orpington spent a fair amount of time breaking up frozen sand so her bath could be a mixture of sun and soil.

When I noticed her kicking up a dust cloud storm and wallowing luxuriously in it, I pulled out my camera to record video of the spectacle.

I got two seconds of fluttering and a minute and a half of her sitting mostly still, occasionally pecking at the frozen sand. She was not interested in being the star of my movie.

The scene of Dezirea nodding off in the sun, with her tail flowing gracefully in the gentle breeze turned out to be the more rewarding video, even though it has about the same amount of action as the shot of the hen.

Legacy interrupted my video of Dezirea when he stepped forward to poke his head into the bright sunshine and blocked my view.

We have been trying to absorb this early January thaw for all it is worth, given the impending swing back to serious winter weather being forecast. Tomorrow could become a day of our greatest snow accumulation this season, and the thermometer is expected to sink back to sub-zero overnight temperatures.

Hello, again, winter.

It’s getting hard maintaining a charade of still being on a tropical vacation by simply revisiting our photo albums.

But that doesn’t prevent us from putting forth an effort.



Written by johnwhays

January 10, 2018 at 7:00 am