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June 10, 2020

Taking Action

I generally do not delve into too much social commentary on this horse blog, but we have reached new-yet-old levels of horrifying behaviour & I want to share a few things.

Some things shouldn't have to be said.  I'm going to say them anyway.

Judging anyone based on their skin color is wrong.

Classifying someone based on any attributes they can't control is wrong.  You are not better than someone else just because they have cells that grow with a different shade than yours.  Human behaviour, choices, ethics, & intelligence are not dictated by the colour of the sack that holds their organs together. 

Someone else is not less deserving or less worthy or in any way different from you just because they fell out of their mother on a different side of an imaginary line drawn by dead, greedy white men.  

Racism, just like sexism, is wrong.  Both should be named, called out, & shut down on sight. 

White people, of which I am one, don't like to hear it, but the truth is that we are not that special.  If you have found success in your life in this country & you are white, at least part of that success is because you didn't have to battle the colour you were born with.  Part of your success is absolutely due to pure luck (hint:  if you immediately thought 'no', that means the answer is 'yes').  Plenty of other people worked just as hard & harder than you did & wanted it more.  What they lacked was the key ingredient of opportunity, aka luck.  It's up to us as mature, thoughtful adults to realize that accepting this does not denigrate us, rather it's an important step to recognize both the humanity & the struggle of others. 

I could dig into that in extensive detail, but what I want to do instead is talk about how we can move forward.  Because it takes ACTION from all of us who did have that luck in the form of parents or other family/connections who could help us out, in the form of access to education, which creates choices, in the form of a job when we were looking for one, in the form of relative safety when we speak up -- change is possible, but to have meaning, it will require force from us to overwhelm the fear & resistance of those in power.

What that action looks like is going to vary based on our individual capabilities & strengths.  I don't have money, so in this society, I have little power.  Even my vote is crippled since I live in a gerrymandered district.  However, I can still effect meaningful change.
When I started working in conservation, I quickly noticed that it is REALLY REALLY white (it's also really, really male, but I won't get into that for now).  For much of my career, I've been banging away at that drum & trying to find ways bring more diversity into our conversations, our meetings, & our conferences.  Because it's not just about what people look like -- it's about the diversity of life experiences, cultural backgrounds, values, interests-- these are what make our communities & our programs better & that was sorely missing in our agency.

It's been a puzzling problem to tackle, because I knew that at least in the hiring decisions that I had a say in over the last 15 yrs, it was definitely NOT due to discrimination against diverse applicants.  We were simply not getting any qualified applicants who weren't white people.  And for a long time, we barely even had any that weren't white guys with brown beards who hunted & fished (yeah, sadly, I was a major component of our division diversity for a while).  So what were the barriers that prevented people from even getting to our entry level (you can be a technician with an associate's degree from a community college)?

We're a long way from a solution, but I can share some positive things.  A few years ago, my statewide professional society started sponsoring bilingual outdoor family events which are geared towards our hispanic communities.  This is a small-but-huge step that our agency is part of.  I wish I could be more help with those, but alas, we don't seem to have many French-speaking groups in NC.

The big effort though, that I am very excited about, is a result of a grant we were recently awarded from a national program.  I am part of a small sub-group of employees who are working on concrete steps to broaden the diversity of our partnerships both internally & externally.  There is a solid workplan & momentum that I am thrilled to finally see.

This effort, called Partners For Inclusion, is a 3- pronged approach, recognizing that you need diversity within in order to successfully engage the diversity of constituents.  It includes critical elements like creating opportunities all the way down to elementary levels for kids to see people they can relate to & for people to see that natural resources belong & are relevant to everyone & there are so many different ways to enjoy them.  It's hard for people to fight for environmental justice if they don't feel included as stakeholders.  It's about being better communicators, which includes both reaching out AND listening.
Many need to be coaxed out of their shells...
I mention this for two reasons:  one, I wanted to share something positive in this cacophony of violence & soul-wrenching sadness.  Two, I want to challenge each of you, if you haven't already, to look around you & identify a niche where you can contribute to opening doors & creating opportunities where they may be lacking.  Where you can give a voice to someone unheard, or even better, create a safe space for that voice to flourish.  It's easy to shower out words of support on the internet -- I do hope that some of them will cause detractors to at least stop & think, but words will never be enough.

If you can support protestors in any way, that's great, do so.  But don't feel helpless if you can't, because there is a great deal of important work, some already in progress, much more that still needs to be done, that lies ahead of us.  That work, to ensure people have access to their basic civil rights & an equal opportunity at choosing their own path through life, will take commitment for a long time, from all of us to see it through.  Because make no mistake, if someone else's civil rights can be trampled on, that absolutely means yours can be too.

Every society is only as strong as its weakest members & helping someone else does not reduce you.  Taking care of each other strengthens us all.  Conversely, standing by & letting others fail merely dooms us all to an inevitable tumble into the same abyss.

It's up to us whether to choose to build a bridge instead.

May 23, 2020

Solo Steps In & Other Updates

Thank you again to all who took the time to share compassion & kindness for the loss of our dear friend.  I miss Richard very much.  I miss bumping into him feeding his horses when I get home from work, when I would stop the truck for a chat.  I miss his friendly greeting of, "Hey, girl," always accompanied by his infectious smile.  Sometimes I talk to him as I walk around the farm now -- it's not the same without his quiet chuckle, though.  There were still so many things I wanted to ask him & stories I wanted to hear. 

In the meantime, Echo is working on shoulder healing.  Being a horse, he of course does not proceed in a linear, or even understandable fashion.  But there is slow progress.  And I'm getting pretty good at equine massage.
Ridiculous creature
In between those meantimes, I've been doing short work sessions with Solo.  Sometimes longeing, sometimes riding, at all times, a joy.  I decided since I don't know how many rides he has left in  him (although we never know that for any horse...or human), I didn't want to waste any opportunities.  We both love working with each other -- although Solo has distinctly less love for longeing, given his long & complex history with it.

We don't do anything complex -- walking, a bit of trotting, some ground poles, depending on what he is feeling up to (he never fails to tell me).  I sneak in a few steps of lateral work or transitions, then quickly look away in case he catches me trying to surprise him with his nemesis, Dressage.  Occasionally,  he gets excited & takes a few steps of canter.  I let him have it because it puts a big, stupid grin on both of our faces, but I bring him back after a few strides so he doesn't make himself too sore.

His bad foot gets tired quickly, so I keep field sessions around 30 minutes or so, although he can walk longer on a trail once Echo can go out again.  He's crooked, but I don't pick at him since he's 24 & carrying old injuries.  Despite that, he still has his lovely suspension when he lifts into the trot.  And I still get to spend a few minutes with my favourite view in the world.

April 30, 2020

A Different Kind Of Derby

In an effort to give us all something to think about that is not tragic or terrifying, I present to you the following:

This weekend is the first Saturday in May, but due to COVID-19, for the first time since 1945, there will be no horses lining up at the post for the Kentucky Derby.  There WILL however be a Derby...

...of turtles! 

You can read the details here about the Kentucky Turtle Derby, which will even include an official race call by the Triple Crown announcer.  It doesn't sound like he has ever called a race this long before.  This isn't the first time racing reptiles have stepped in to give us something to cheer for:  the Turtle Derby emerged the same year, 1945, of the last equine Derby cancellation.

I will definitely be tuning to see the athletic prowess of delightfully named animals including Seattle Slow & Sir Hides A Bunch.  Thank you to whoever is organizing this, I, for one, sorely need a little levity.

It'd be even funnier if they actually ran like this...
     

April 26, 2020

Take Care Of The Caretakers

Thank you to all of you who took a moment to leave a comment or send a message - each means a great deal.  Our community, our world, has indeed suffered a great loss & it feels just that much dimmer without Richard in it.  While I am grateful that he didn't meet his end with this damn virus, in a hospital, attached to a ventilator, as I so worried, I would really rather he still be here to sit down & share a stale Oatmeal Creme Pie from his tack room stash.

I learned last week that Richard was only 70 -- which sounds old if you are 25, but not after you pass 40, as I have.  Until about a year ago, I felt certain that he would be one of those sturdy farmers who keeps working until they hit triple digits.  But then his wife became very ill (she still is) & Richard became a caretaker.

I don't think the situation of caretakers for the gravely ill gets talked about enough.  As I learned from personal experience, in some ways, it's even harder to be the "helper" than it is to be the sick person.  There are few to zero support services for caretakers & in many cases, people who are doing this work for someone they love are doing it in addition to their regular job/life duties.  They dedicate all their own resources, financial, emotional, physical, to supporting their loved one every way they can think of.  It is stressful, scary, & most of all, draining.

Because the caretaker is not doing this as a job, they don't get mandated breaks, there is no sick leave, there is no "signing off."  Because the caretaker is often driven by the twin engines of love & fear, they will push on into territory they would never have previously entered.  When this persists for a long time, as it so often does, the toll can be debilitating or even deadly.

I point all this out to say that if you know someone who is a caretaker, take note that they are at risk too.  Stress absolutely exacts a price from our bodies & the caretakers very much require care just as much as their charges do.  It's not anyone's fault, except for maybe the larger cultural system which doesn't do enough & that's a bigger problem than I can tackle.  But there are things we can do on the individual level to support each other. 

If you have the ability to give someone a break for a few hours or a day, do so.  Whether that be by helping with tasks or a financial contribution to hire some help, say, a house cleaner.  Maybe you can bring food or supplies or run errands if you are going to be out & about.  Maybe you can do some chores or take care of some pets.  Any of these things can help reduce some of that stress, even if just temporarily, it still counts.  And remember to check back in a few days & next week & next month & the time after that. 

If you ARE a caretaker, you are probably both tired & stubborn -- I hear you & I know that condition all too well.  Please hear me -- let others help you.  Ask for help.  It's not an imposition, we will all need help at one time or another.  It doesn't mean you are weak or incapable.  It's ok to be helped. 

None of us can fix everything or save everyone.  We can, however, by doing things that seem small & every-day, make a big difference in tough parts of someone else's life.  Maybe even save a life, but at the very least, add a bright spot where it is sorely needed.  Taking care of our caretakers is a win for everyone -- the world needs all the generous, compassionate people it can get.

And because this a horse blog that is about horse things -- I found a photo of Big Boy & Richard, both doing what they loved most, & I hope his family won't mind that I borrowed it from his obituary:

April 21, 2020

Unexpected Loss

Saturday night, we unexpectedly lost a treasured human friend.  I still can't wrap myself around the size of the hole he has left in our lives.

I don't know exactly how old he was.  Maybe in his 70s, but up until a couple of years ago, he was strong, active, & capable of working harder than I was.  The past couple years though, he has been taking care of his wife, who has terminal cancer, which has dragged on far longer than anyone expected.  I can testify that the exhaustion & stress of watching cancer eat alive the person that you love is a deadly threat.  And so it was - Richard collapsed of a massive heart attack & a relative found him in his home Sunday morning.

"Heartbroken" does even begin to describe how I feel.

The first time I met Richard was when I came out to look at this property in 2013.  He was selling his back pastures, so he was also looking for a good neighbour.  As he carried me back through his fields in his utility vehicle, his soft-spoken kindness & gentle humour immediately put me at ease.  I fell in love with the parcel which became Flying Solo Farm, but part of that was due to added feature of having Richard next door.  For two people from two very different generations, we had a whole lot in common.
We both loved horses; Richard with Buddy the Appy, last April
FSF sits on the foundation he created.  He bought this parcel as cut-over timberland & transformed it to rolling pastures edged with mature oaks, pines, & sweetgums.  He built the fences by hand, hung the gates, established the forage that my horses use today.  He could have made more money selling this property to someone else but that was never what Richard was about.

I never could have built this place without him.  He used his enormous tractor to bushhog over-grown fields for me.  He moved & re-drove fenceposts so I could make new gates & he built the entrance road.  He taught me how to repair & adjust the hi-tensile fence so it stayed safe for horses.  He helped me improve my tractor bucket skills & pitched in to any project that was too big for my equipment.
2016: Fixing my driveway culvert
What defined Richard, though, was his generosity.  He owned every tool known to man & offered any of them to me.  It didn't matter how busy he was, if I needed a hand with something, he was there for however long it took.  And it was the same for any other person he met -- he lived to help others, no matter who they were.

As is common with those of generous spirit, Richard also had a deep & open love for animals.  His quiet, gentle way with them endeared him to dogs & horses with the same effect he had on people.  Broken hearts with darkened pasts found a balm for all the sharp edges that life cut into them.  He was a quiet port in which to rest, safe for a moment from battering seas.  It was his gift to abused equines.  It was also his gift to me.

Richard loved horses above all.  An avid trail rider, he showed me the vast network of trails across neighbouring properties that he'd strung together over the years & kept maintained.  Although he had a weakness for a flashy paint, his favourite horse, his Solo, was an old-school, plain bay TWH named Big Boy.  A big-moving, big-headed mahogany gelding overflowing with energy, the two of them used to do 15-20 miles a day the first few years I lived here.
I can't find any Big Boy photos, so here is Nobody, another of Richard's TWH & this was Richard's contact photo in my phone
Big Boy died suddenly last fall -- he was found dead in his pasture, not a mark on him, no sign of a struggle.  He was somewhere in his 20s & retired & we suspected his heart just gave out.  Richard buried him where he found him, on top of a hill looking over the fields where he had lived out a good life.  It's a little eerie looking back now, that they both went the same way. 

There's so many more good things I could tell you about Richard.  He was well-loved in this community & you'd be hard-pressed to find a person he hadn't helped.  He & his wife both grew up here in this small-town county & were related to everyone by blood or marriage.  He went far too soon & I know I'm not the only person missing him terribly.
2014: Driving anchor holes for my first hayshed w/ 100 HP behemoth
One of the things he was most looking forward to was eventually getting back to riding.  He hadn't been able to do much of anything due to his wife's health needs & he always put her first.  I worried so much that he wouldn't survive the stress, because I knew what a similar situation had done to me.  My deepest sorrow for him was that he didn't make it to that goal.  He missed riding so much & he never stopped cleaning his tack in hopes that he would get to use it again.

One day last summer, I did manage to coax him out on a brief ride in May, his first in two years.  I didn't know then it would be his last ride, but it makes me doubly glad I did.  It was a beautiful day, with summer sun dappling through the leaves & he kept telling me over & over how good it felt just to sit on a horse.  I couldn't stop smiling watching him.
That ride:  Richard & Smokey, me & Buddy
I've spent the last few days aimlessly wandering the farm & sitting on the porch, alternately weeping & cursing the unfair universe.  I miss my dear friend, I miss his gentle teasing, I miss his unintelligable phone calls of southern-mumble-quiet-drawl where I had to guess at every other word.  I miss his looking out for me:  if we didn't cross paths in his yard (my driveway goes through his farm) & he hadn't heard from me in a while, he'd randomly come back to the house & knock on my door just to see if I was ok & have a chat. 

Most of all, I miss one of the biggest hearts & kindest, most generous natures I have ever known.  I owe him so much - I tried to repay him via barter whenever I could, grooming his horses when he couldn't get to it, fixing small things for him, mowing a fenceline while I was on the tractor -- but he was so dang capable, I felt like I could never keep up.
2015: Plowing my driveway with his skidsteer (part of this amusing story)
I will forever be grateful to him for this farm, which has become my quiet sanctuary, although it will never be the same without his ready smile.  I will try to do what I know he would tell me to do:  enjoy the land, enjoy the horses whenever & however I get a chance, & enjoy quiet walks on pretty days.

I would ask this of you, readers, in honor of Richard:  look for opportunities for a small (or large) good deed, which can be as simple as checking in on someone who is on their own.  Don't wait to be asked - kindness unbidden is always a welcome gift & it is one that I will try to give more often because I know what it meant when given to me.

For Richard:  I don't think anything magical happens when we die & I don't think you did either.  Nonetheless, I choose to think of you meeting Big Boy on the other side, where you calm his anxious energy with a touch just like you did in life.  May the two of you step out together on the trail that never ends, free of the aches & worries that piled up behind you, with not a single fly in sight.  There will always be a part of you here on Flying Solo Farm & I will try my best to do it justice, even though I can never do it as well as you.  I will never forget all that you did for me & I will miss you always.

Farewell, my very dear friend.  Ride free.