Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trip Trap Tap

Please welcome guest blogger Jasper Jules Jackson Jones, 
who presents the following work of fiction for your enjoyment:

Trip Trap Tap

text by Jasper Jules

puppets by Theatre of Widdershins

We're billy goats, yes, but we're not so gruff.
My brothers and I have had enough
of these trollish tales of hoof and horn!
It's time you learn what did go on.

There was a bridge, I'll admit that,
And yes it's true we tripped and trapped.
You see, my baby brother Joe
Had someplace that he had to go.

Joe loves to dance – he trips and traps!
He boogies, woogies, tips and taps.
His hooves go slippity, fast slap, slow
and that is what you need to know.

Now Johnny, he's the middle one,
and I, we thought it might be fun
to learn those moves and dance along
with little Joe's tip-tapping song.

One day there was a casting call
A talent show – “come one, come all!”
We knew we had the moves, you see.
We practiced with a one-two-three,

We danced and danced. We tripped and trapped!
We boogey-woogied, tipped and tapped.
Our hooves went slippity, fast slap, slow
and soon we three were ready to go.

We could see the stage from our mountain side
Just over the rippling river wide.
We knew that in one brief, jolly jaunt
we'd be ready to show off our trippity trot.

We set out, Joe and John and I,
heading for the riverside.
By lunch we'd reached a long, strong bridge
And I said, “boys, let's give her a spin.”

The bridge was fine for a trip trip trap.
It sang with the boogie, the woogie, the tap.
A marvelous sound when we slapped fast, slow,
our hooves were slappy slip, tip tap toes.

Now that's about when the trouble began.
Our boogie stomp woke the boogie man!
We were spinning and stamping when that critter woke up.
We heard him shout, “Stop that dancing at ONCE!”

Now Johnny stopped, just polite as can be,
and said, “Mr. Troll, my apologies.
We didn't mean to interrupt
your afternoon nap with this trip trap stuff.”

I stopped as well, with a worried whoa,
But not that groovin' goat little Joe.
That buck could dance to beat the band
and his trip trap tap was out of hand.

His eyes shut tight, he tripped and trapped.
He boogied and woogied, his trotters tapped.
Trippity, slippity, fast slap, slow,
so danced our rip rap, trip trap Joe.

“Little goat,” cried the troll, “I'll eat you up!
This dancing's gone on quite enough!”
Now you hold still! You cease! Desist!”
But my brother Joe just trip trap tripped.

“It's me you want,” cried Johnny boy,
and he danced and he spun like a wind up toy.
“I'm a bigger bite, I've a jiggling haunch,
I'm the goat that would make you a tasty lunch!”

Johnny danced with a spin and a trip and trap.
His boogie-woogie dance was off the map.
His hooves went slippity, heel to toe,
and tippity, tappity, go go go.

That troll, he lumbered, reached and grabbed.
That capricous caprine just danced and laughed.
Johnny could spin like a smooth white blur
and that troll couldn't grab a single tuft of fur.

Troll cried, “Young goat, don't toy with me!
You goats have ruined my beauty sleep.
I'll gobble you up, you see if I don't!” 
And he leapt and he reached and he grunted and groaned.

Little Joe and John looked a bit worn down
so I stepped out quickly, toes tapping around.
I sang, “Oh troll, lookie here old chap!
I'm the one that you want for your midday snack!”

I shook my beard with a swirling snap.
I boogied, I woogied, I trip trap tapped.
My hooves went slip slap fast and slow,
I danced my best for that lumbering troll.

Now my brothers call me Jasper Jules
And I am one big, bearded fool.
More size than sense, you understand,
so I danced right towards those reaching hands.

My little bros needed time to split,
they were getting tired from the looks of it.
Figured Troll and I could tango and tussle
buying time for my brothers' run-away hustle.

I tripped and I trapped and the troll man grabbed
And we spun with a slippity poke and jab
I trod on his toes and he grabbed at my nose
And before I know, whoopsie me, where's that troll?!

Over the railing of that great broad bridge
old troll, in his wrestle-dance, up and slipped
Head over hairy trollish toes
he slipped and he splashed in the water below.

Now a goat can dance but he can't much swim.
And our dancing had worn the three of us thin.
We threw him a branch and we caught our breath
And, waving good-bye, the three of us left.

We danced into town with a trip and trap.
That troll hadn't dampened our boogity tap.
We slid onto that smooth stage right on time
And our slippity slappity stomp was fine

The judges loved our trippity slap.
Our boogie woogie dancing made them move and clap.
Joe danced a solo that was greater than great
With a skinnamarink, slap slip two, four, eight.

Now we hope that troll made it safely to shore.
We're sure he's fine, if a little sore.
As for us, we have something that we'd like you to do
 – a favor for Joe, John and Jasper Jules.

If you're ever on Broadway and you hear a tap,
If you hear a little tippity tip trip trap,
Step on in and see the show
You'll love the way our tapping trotters go!

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Little Bit of Cuteness

I, Fenway Bartholomule, know of a little hybrid in need of a home. No, he is no mule: Easy is a Gremlin/dog hybrid. At 10 pounds, he is just a little bit of a thing, and his foster mother reports that he has endured a difficult start in life and emerged unscathed as nothing short of a great little guy.  Blogger is giving me some picture-posting trouble today, but you can see pictures of Easy on my facebook fan page!

Now, if I, Fenway, had a dog named Easy, I would change it to Easyboot. That would be good, because then I could call him by a variety of surnames according to the circumstances. Just finish a rigorous hike? Easyboot Epic. Take him swimming? EasySoaker. Remove his collar? Easyboot Bare. Dangle him from the end of a chewtoy? Easyboot Grip. Note that he's stickin' right by my side? Easyboot Glue-on. 

Now, Easy is a little bit cute and a little bit wonderful, but I wanted to talk about another sort of bit: bits like my pelham, my dogbone snaffle, and my rubber jointed eggbutt snaffle. 

My favorite treatise on bits and bitting can be found here, at http://www.sustainabledressage.com/tack/bridle.php. I like the thoroughness with which Theresa Sandin discusses the intricacies of bitting, but I also like her overarching philosophy. She gets it—bits are a communication tool, and like any tool they are only effective when wielded properly.

There are harsh bits, and there are mild bits, but really these catagories are not as black and white as you would think. Some equine mouths lend themselves to the comfortable acceptance of a fat snaffle, for instance, while others lack the capacity for a 19 millimeter mouthpiece. Some palates are low enough to render even a small port painful, while others are so lofty that a mouthpiece might better be selected which allows plenty of tongue space. 

Bitless bridles, too, can be helpful or a hindrance. FarmWife herself is not a fan of the crossover type (Dr. Cook's, for instance), because of it's lack of an immediate release. She vastly prefers a simple sidepull, but rides me in a mechanical hackamore out of convenience. (It is what she has, after all, and her new tack budget is nonexistant). 

The mechanical hackamore is a tool that can be misused, affording the rider tremendous leverage. FarmWife knows this, and uses hers with a gentle and considerate touch. Other bits that can be misused are . . . well, all of them, but especially the bits with shanks, high ports, sharp or thin mouthpieces, or any combination thereof. 

There are a few sorts of bits and bitting issues that make FarmWife purple with annoyance. These include using the Dr. Baucher snaffle backwards or without keepers (it is a strong snaffle, but only because of the angle at which the center plate lies against the tongue), using the pelham with only one set of reins or with converters (use a kimberwicke if you don't want to handle two sets of reins!), using a jointed, shanked bit and calling it a snaffle (tom thumb snaffle? Try tom DUMB snaffle!), and using a pelham with a jointed mouthpiece. She also objects strongly to the use of an upside down baucher snaffle, and will not purchase bits from any store that shows the baucher upside down on it's sale page (more common than you'd think!).  Finally, she objects to almost all of the fancy "combination" bits that are out there, and also to the concept that any bit with shanks should be used to start a green horse. She is of the opinion, and I share it, that a rider should select the most mild bit that will serve for most introductory work.

There are three reasons to select a stronger or harsher bit, in my opinion. These are, 1) the desire to refine communication as you advance as a rider/horse (or mule) team; 2) the desire for stronger brakes, when training alone has failed remedy a horse's (or mule's) inadequate sensitivity; and 3) ignorance. If you do not need refinement in your communication or a stronger tool to supplement an adequate training program, you should not use a harsher bit. Bits alone cannot fix gaps in knowledge, and the aids are part of a language of communication that must be taught. Screaming at you in Klingon is not going to fix the fact that you don't speak Klingon, and bitting is the same. Jerking on your face with a double twisted wire snaffle is not going to help if you don't understand what pulling on your face means in the first place! 

Well, I hope you'll check out the above link for more bitting information, and I hope you'll get your mule a bit in which he can be comfortable, focused, and relaxed. As far as I'm concerned, FarmWife's favorite French link snaffle is the antithesis of a good bit (I hate, hate, hate it! It drapes like a cold, dead lizard in my mouth), and she listened when I told her that I preferred the solid feeling of a mullen mouth or single jointed bit. I hope you, human, will listen when your mule speaks to YOU.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Puppy Love

While Mat and I practiced the arts of cohabitation, cooperation, and pesticide-free cockroach control, another love was blossoming. Paisley, my gawky adolescent Australian Shepherd, was falling fast and hard for his new master.

Paisley had joined my little family a year earlier as a congenitally deaf, unwanted seven week-old puppy. His breeder saw occasional deaf puppies as a natural byproduct of otherwise profitable merle-to-merle breedings, and took her chances with every litter. Biting back my criticism of her breeding program, I asked for and was granted custody of her latest cull, adding an unneeded puppy to an already busy family life.

Finding myself the proud owner of a young Garth (his earliest given name), son of the bitch Tanya Tucker and the dog Travis Tritt, nephew of the bitch Shania Twain, I strove to free him from the oppression of the country music theme. Granting him the name Paisley, I felt at ease. It was several weeks before someone broke the bad news—Brad Paisley, it turns out, was a rising Nashville star. Paisley (Brad), as it happens, has grown on me, and I no longer object to the association.

Our white puppy joined the family at a time when toddler M and I were already living with Mirri, my beloved, then middle-aged Australian Cattle Dog. Mirri was a dog of strong character and long establishment, having had guardianship over me since I'd turned 12. Mirri had seen me through middle school, high school, college, parenthood, and now onto the path towards marriage, and she was not about to relinquish her responsibility for my wellbeing to some fluffy white upstart. Paisley, from day one, was pushed out.

Living in a verdant suburb dotted with dog parks, M and I got our canines out for daily exercise and ample socialization. It is not that Paisley lacked any particular resource in his early months; we saw that he was trained and played with; we availed him of puppy playgroups and woodsy romps; we cuddled him and indulged his fetching urges. In everything he did, however, the shadow of Mirri fell upon him. In my eyes, Mirri could do no wrong. In Mirri's eyes, Paisley was a pest and a nuisance to be tolerated, not enjoyed. Looking back, young Paisley was missing something important—a person of his own.

Mirri and Paisley, both being of herding ancestry, shared an instinctive and intense desire to please their human master. Considering their high intelligence (slightly obscured, in Paisley's case, by a severe case of overenthusiasm), and their biddability, attentiveness, and high drive, and it is to Paisley's credit that he was so easily convinced to give up the shotgun seat. Still, he was a good puppy, and it wasn't until Mat came along that I really saw what he had been missing.

 . . . to be continued . . .

Friday, March 26, 2010

There are Huntin' Mules and then there are Hunting Mules

FarmWife has taken to trail riding with me in a mechanical hackamore, which has its pros and cons. On the plus side, it's more comfortable for a long ride than my rubber snaffle, and allows for the dispensation of cookies from the saddle for a job well done. Additionally, it's wrapped in comfy green polar fleece, and coordinates nicely with my new blingy browband. The downside is that it really does afford FW more leverage than she needs; except when I am in competition with eager company, I can be ridden without a touch on the reins. FarmWife recognizes this, and uses my mechanical hack with delicate tenderness. The other downside is that, as a reformed Elk Huntin' Mule, I am working hard to cultivate an image of English Gentility. This mechanical hackamore lacks the sophistication of the pelham, and the aesthetic appeal of the baucher snaffle.

Now, I used to be a Huntin' Mule in the "shall we pack this forequarter out on Bullet, or on Jeb?" sense. Some other mules are Hunting Mules in the "drain dry the stirrup cup, my dear!" sense. John Henry, illustrious Other Best Mule in the world, is a fine example of the latter.

John Henry is a mule of immense reputation, and his human Kathleen makes no exaggeration when she calls him "One of the Best Mules in the World." Like me, John Henry is known far and wide for his versatility! Where I have my Seven Responsibilities (braying the news, trail riding with FarmWife, guiding the goats, eating the hay, etcetera), John Henry has a multitude of sporting pursuits.

Pictured here on the fence side (Kathy Stoddard up and Agnes de Mule to his right), John Henry takes time out from his pursuit of Reynard to compete in pleasure driving, combined driving, driven dressage, and recreational riding and driving. He also tours the nation as a mule ambassador, spreading cheer and goodwill to the masses. He has a hard earned reputation for excellence, and his thronging fans know it!

Now, John Henry may be a shy nine inches taller than me, but I've always been taught that anything less than a foot in length is not worth counting. We are really almost the same: we both have beautiful girlfriends (though my Katie Scarlett is an internet girlfriend and a fiery redhead, and his Agnes a dark and sultry dame who helps him pull a carriage) and we both have fantastic show records (his includes a decade of wins and national championships in several disciplines, while mine includes showing up for dinner, showing up for breakfast, and showing my readers funny stuff on my facebook fan page); we both have FarmWives who love us (how could they not?). We are both known for being gentle to the little people of the world, and we both polish to a high sheen. John Henry and I both place tremendous importance on personal safety, as shown in the photo of J.H. executing Fenway Bartholomule's patented F.E.A.R.R. response before making his water entry (photo by Lisa Cenis), and we both look beautiful in profile. We both have advice columns (though mine, sadly, has attracted very few letters . . . hint, hint), and we both have very nice websites. 
Unlike me, Fenway Bartholomule, John Henry has been made into a limited edition resin model by artist Bonnie Shields. I don't let it bother me—he deserves it, and I'm holding out for an offer from Breyer anyway. While we wait, why don't you visit John Henry's website at www.john.henry.org for more splendid photos, and enjoy. He's a dandy chap and I'm proud to call him a fellow mule. 

Fenway Bartholomule

Thursday, March 25, 2010

FarmWife left my pasture gate partially closed yesterday, or perhaps the goats moved it while I was not looking. Whatever the explanation, the results were the same: A Narrowed Passageway. This is a big no-no, mulekeeping 101. My delicate hips, my tender shoulders! To think of all the accidents that could have befallen me! (They didn't, by the way, and they wouldn't have, really, because I am Sensible.)

"FarmWife," I called, "You'll want to prop that all the way open before you leave!"

She ignored me.

"FarmWife," I called, "You'll regret that later!"

She acted as though she didn't hear.

"FarmWife," I told her, "I am going to come running to you later today, and I will bray with such compelling cuteness that you will be provoked to take a video recording of the event. You will want things Just So for my movie. Open that gate all the way!"

She walked away.

Now, of course, we have a lovely video of my speedy approach. It reflects everything that is sweet about me, demonstrates all of my endearing character and affectionate charms, and stands for all that is good. She says we cannot post it on the internet because it reflects poorly on her mulekeeping standards. That half-closed gate is a B!T@H.

Well, FarmWife, my adoring public needs to see this, and I shall post it for them. Don't say I didn't tell you to open the gate.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Amory Street

It wasn't long before Mat and I were committed to making a life together, and so by the end of our first summer we were apartment shopping in and around Boston. In what may have been the first financially independent move of my adult life, I cosigned on a two bedroom apartment with my new boyfriend, leaving behind the sheltered luxury of the upperclass suburb where I'd lived while finishing my bachelor's degree. Having been given a more than generous leg up by two sets of aunts and uncles, I had been able to parent my toddler and graduate from college from the comfort of a very nice apartment on a shaded street of stately historic homes. It was with only a hint of trepidation that I packed up for the real world of Roxbury, Massachusetts, famous for it's diversity, it's MBTA Orange Line, and it's prominent role in the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s.

Our move to the ghetto does sound like the stage for hilarious tribulations and heartbreaking trials, but, all in all, I remember the Amory Street apartment fondly. Yes, there was a man urinating on the building when I showed up for my first look, and yes, a thousand cockroaches did scatter across the kitchen when our manager came to rearrange the cabinets. That said, we never experienced any assault more oppressive than late-night exposure to pounding mariachi music, and the only tragedy that struck during our year in Roxbury was the loss of our cat, Kobah. He slipped out when our well-meaning landlord let himself in for the installation of window screens. His absence, sadly, rendered the screens unnecessary, and the permanence with which he vanished makes me wonder if he wasn't eaten by one of our many urban coyotes. I still wonder if his microchip lays exposed somewhere, the only remaining proof of long-finished digestion.

Our family, less one cat, filled that little apartment nicely. We obscured an oppressive view with a tiered rainforest of houseplants, and my most pervasive visual memory from that time is of sunlight filtering through variegated greenery. Mat and I both worked several jobs, but our dwelling felt like home.

Happy though I was, I had been warned about Roxbury's criminal element, and concerned friends offered tips on everything from mace to jiu-jitsu when they heard that I tended to work late. Getting off the subway at Jackson Square never struck me as unsafe, and I only suffered one trauma during my regular 11 pm commute. It was the fault, not of the neighboring tenement residents, but of my own growing pesticide sensitivity.

One winter evening, having stripped the leaves and thorns from perhaps a thousand roses in anticipation of Valentine's Day, I left my employer's floral shop with a pounding headache and a rash on both arms. By the time I reached my stop on the Orange Line, I was experiencing my first, and worst, full fledged migraine, complete with auditory and visual effects. I lay on the sidewalk, in the privacy of a quiet junkyard alley, and cried into the coolness of the pavement until I felt ready to walk the remaining block to home. In defense of my neighbors and the neighborhood, I must say that I was neither robbed nor raped during that self-pitying wallow.

 . . . . to be continued . . .

Fenway Bartholomule's Bray—English phrase dictionary

I'm hungry.

I love you.

Out, damned chicken!

I see you, other Equine! Do you see me?

I can't believe you just offered me jelly beans. Really, what WERE you thinking?
DAMN, that's a dusty dandy brush!
(depending on context)

I'm still hungry.

Monday, March 22, 2010

♫Braying in the Rain . . .♫

There is something very special about a nice spring downpour. It is not so cold as to endanger one's health, and, if you time it right, not so longlasting as to make tacking up difficult (we, lacking a snug little barn, tack up in the open). It is not so oppressively humid as a New England summer storm, and not so sloppy as a January snowmelt. It carries the smell of warm humus and blooming vegetation, and dampens the creeping sounds of Satans Chickens and Other Underbrushdwellers.

The combination of a nice spring downpour and a nice clay switchback is a rather messy thing, and not really special at all if we are assuming positive connotations with the word. The only very good things about a slick clay switchback are that I, being a mule and very sensible, have the presence of mind to place each foot carefully, and that FarmWife, having been raised up right, puts my safety above all else and picks her trails according to their navigability.

FarmWife and I spent yesterafternoon out on a nice trail ride, and a brief sunbreak gave in to thunderous hail once we'd been out for about a half an hour. We had a lively canter among the descending icespheres, feeling rather like players in Mother Nature's comedy. We slowed to a walk as the hail turned to heavy, sheeting rain, and turned for home after another chilly quarter hour.

When dusk and colder temperatures threatened, FarmWife and I weighed the greater distance of one route with the poor footing and steepness of another. Intrepid mount that I am, I made the executive decision to go with the latter. We descended a precipitous downslope in style, hugging the textured brush alongside the trail with such care as to not degrade it. My Easyboot Epics in front provided the kind of traction that SUV manufacturers dream about, as did my hoofies in back.

It is rather a good thing that we did not take the camera out yesterday, as my saddlebag is about as waterproof as a colander. It is too bad, though, that I was not able to get a video of FarmWife singing in the rain. The two of us are rather nice when we're wet.


Fenway Bartholomule.

Prince Charming

Tanner, imagined wonderbeast that he was, was still 3000 miles (and a great deal of packing) away. We were to have a reprieve of several weeks' preparations and travel before we were to meet him, and all of his disappointments, in the flesh.

Mat and I had been married just months earlier, on the first anniversary of our having been introduced. I vividly recall the night we met, and the amazement with which I admired his 1) eyes, 2) intellect, and 3) sexy arms (not necessarily in that order). I had never before fallen for eyes on the first date, but his are really something. Our middle daughter has inherited them, and they will take her far.

I liked Mat from the moment we met, but practical concerns precluded a romantic interest. I was heading west for a free ride at an Oregon law school, and he was heading north for a Maine-based internship building wooden boats. Still, we had enough in common that our first meeting was followed shortly by another, and another. By our third outing ("date" seems too formal), my law school daydreams had been superseded by adoration for this handsome carpenter. We were in the Harvest Coop in Cambridge, Massachusetts—the three of us, my preschooler included—when Mat and I both felt the undeniable stirrings of love. The fact of the matter is that sexy muscles and clever conversation can reel a girl in, but the way a man grocery shops can land her.

My husband came into my life as a footloose bachelor with a vigorous philodendron. I, being a full time florist and an animal-loving single mother, came into his with three dozen houseplants, two dogs, a cat, two rats, and a three year-old daughter. He adapted with lightening speed, and it is to his credit that he was walking the puppy, singing lullabies, and tailoring his schedule around preschool drop-offs within weeks of our getting serious.

Mat's introduction to my daughter M had taken place at her biological father's apartment. She, two minutes before our arrival, had profusely vomited all over herself and her dad (spoiled watermelon from a tainted salad bar). I will never forget the patience and humor with which Mat waited, allowing X the time to get my girl cleaned up and ready to go. My date was father material.

 . . . . to be continued . . . .

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I May be Little, but I'm Iced Out

Well, depending on your feelings about ponies and bling, I have bad news and good news. Or good news, and bad news. Or bad and bad, or good and good. You decide.

First, the bling . . . my mother made me this beaded browband. It's not 100% finished, but good enough for my photo shoot! The best thing about it is that I, Fenway Bartholomule, love the color green. Green is grass and orchard grass hay, green is a meadow on a sunny day . . . green like clover, green like leaves, green is the color that looks best on me. FarmWife knows this about me, and that's why I know she loves me. If she didn't love me as much, she would have made this beaded browband in HER favorite color, which is blue and which is also very nice. 

Second, my height. Here goes folks—I'm puttin' it out there. I, Fenway Bartholomule, measure 14.075 hands. No, that's not FourteenPointSevenFive, which would be 14.3, of course. That is FourteenHandsAndAlmostAnInch. The tough thing about this is that it means I am really practically a pony, but the good thing about it is that when I finish my first 50 mile CTR at age 30-plus, the headlines will read, "Ancient, Diminutive International Celebrity Finishes at the Top of his Game." I like it. 

So, here is the wee Fenway in his bootiful new jewelry. I asked the photographer to emphasize my length of leg, and I think she's really captured my essence here. There is more to me than mere inches.

To those of you who love me even though I'm a little bit tiny, thank you. I love you too. To those of you who are horrified, get this: I have nipples on my sheath.

There! Now you've forgotten all about my height. All better.

Fenway Bartholomule.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Hay Mother!

Our blue Volvo, which performs the weekly magic trick of disgorging several delicious 90 pound bales of orchard grass hay from it's hatch in back, is going to have a birthday this weekend. Volvos, like mules, live a little longer than most people expect them to. This particular station wagon was assembled on March 21st, in a year long since obscured in the mists of forgotten history. I am not sure that the Volvo would want its age broadcast too loudly on this terribly public world wide web, but I will say that it was assembled before FarmWife entered kindergarten and also around the time of the first untethered human space walk, the introduction of crack cocaine to America, the debut of the Apple Macintosh, and the birth of transformers (More Than Meets The Eye!). Let's just say . . . no spring chicken.

This blue Volvo has recently suffered the extinction of the fuse that powered the instrument panel, as well as a bulb in the near fore turn signal. Otherwise, FarmWife reports that it is going strong! Not bad, blue Volvo! Not bad at all. (Tap hoof on wood.)

Joining the ranks of the inspiring elderly is Connie Reeves, the now deceased "American Cowgirl" who is shown here riding in her 101st year of life. FarmWife needs to observe this carefully. You see, FarmWife occasionally worries that she is squandering her prime of life with such business as working, studying, and raising children. These, she thinks, are years that ought to be spent riding. Never fear, say I. When you, FarmWife, are 45 years old, and I, Fenway Bartholomule, am 30, you will have an Empty Nest. We will go out, then, FarmWife, and we will have our adventures. Hilltopping, CTRs, hunter paces, schooling shows, lessons, pack trips . . . life awaits us, FarmWife, and your bucket list will still be there, pending a 2012 apocalypse.

Many of you will have heard of the passing of Elmer Bandit, the Arabian horse who was a healthy competitive trail horse at 37 and euthanized at 38. Not bad, for a horse! Now, my reasoning goes that I am half as horse as he, and therefore should expect to live twice as long. Of course, according to some sources, the oldest horse reliably recorded was the 62 year old Old Billy, so let's assume a nice round 100 years as my target. Easy, peasy.

With longevity of service being the mule's legacy, and running in FarmWife's human family as well, I see no problem with assuming that FarmWife and I have a dozen or so decades of happy trails ahead of us. Let us hope, dear Readers, that the sweet blue Volvo and its sweet green hay continue to thrive alongside.

Your friend,

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Too Good to be True—Part I

Tanner was the first horse to set hoof on Bent Barrow Farm, to my knowledge, and it was with Tanner in mind that I gleefully leapt into home ownership. With a million acres of timber land and mountain ranges at my doorstep, and with a little pasture behind the garden, bringing him home from the boarding barn seemed the thing to do.

The thing about Tanner was that he was not at all the sort of horse that one rides boldly into the timber land. He was, in fact, not at all the sort of horse that an out of-shape, postpartum housewife rides anywhere at all, except perhaps within the confines of a small arena under the guidance of a skilled trainer. Tanner was a bit beyond my skill set, to tell you the truth, and after three years and two babies I had made rather less progress with him than I liked to admit.

I had gone in 50/50 on Tanner with my mother (and favorite enabler) by way of Paypal three years earlier, never anticipating the years of mental rehabilitation (his) and equestrian growing pains (mine) that we had ahead of us. In 2004, newly married and with a baby coming, I was relocating my young and amenable husband to my parents' rural island town a continent away. The schlep from Boston to Whidbey was no obstacle to my equestrian dreams, nor was my expanding waistline. Having been an avid rider in high school, and having graduated college with the promise of a lucrative career in—bear with me—writing, I was sure that I needed a horse to compliment my new life of freelance journalism and stay-at-home motherhood. Having spotted him in a seedy online dealers' catalog, and having convinced myself and my husband that I was horsewoman enough to judge him, sight unseen, from a nation away, I emailed payment and arranged the west coast pickup for a month later. Packing up our worldly possessions, my husband and I departed New England as the proud new owners of a PMU gelding.

Tanner was a Belgian draft/quarter horse cross, by anyone's best guess, and had drawn very lucky cards when it came to inherited conformation. Reflecting the best of both parents, he was beautifully put together and gorgeous in glossy buckskin. Described as a "potential husband horse," Tanner was easy to justify and easy to look forward to. I hadn't met him, and I was already in love. My husband, who had never ridden outside of one rent string experience in his sullen teenage years, was already promised a mount of his own. "I'll ride him a few times before the baby's born," I promised him, "and if he's everything we expect then he'll be a perfect mount for you." Mentally preparing to set my husband upon the docile Tanner, and go myself in pursuit of a fresh eventer, I looked forward to the restful leisure of brushing up the draft cross during my last trimester.

 . . . . to be continued . . . .

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Once Upon a Saint Patrick's Day

There once was a mule from the county
Whose folks travelled downtown without he.
    They attended parades,
    Saw hooves dipped in limeade,
While their mule sat alone, sad and pouty.

That poor, jealous fellow, meanwhile, 
Could be seen turning green for a mile.
    His complexion did change
    That particular day
To the color of yon' Emerald Isle. 

Had it been a Thursday or Sat'day,
No one might have cared This way or That way,
    But it was midweek 
    And believers did seek
proof of the magic of Pat's Day.

Saint Patrick himself did descend
With a leprechaun perched on his head.
   With a rainbow about,
   To the mule he did shout,
"You're the greenest and greatest, my friend!"

The neighbors in Acme did cheer
When they saw that Saint Patrick was near,
    To the mule they did cry,
    "What a fabulous guy!"
For 'twas HE caused the dead to appear. 

By the time that his family returned,
That dear mule had turned back his brown fur,
    But there, 'round his feet,
    Clovers graced with four leaves
Grew abundantly, thicker than turf.

Naomh Pádraig had come visiting, see,
To make sure that the mule was esteemed.
    And now, every year,
    We commend the longears
For deserving such blessings from he. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On the Question of Horse Shows

It has been brought to my attention that some poor, donkey-loving child out there in the big bad world of recreational horse showing is in danger of being turned away because her equine is, technically, not a horse.

Horse shows are for horses, argue the opponents. Not, they say, for donkeys.

Very well, then. I say that as long as the terminology is going to determine the ruling, we shall have a horses-only rule. Sorry, human competitors! No people allowed.

While we're at it, let's make sure there's nothing to spook the horses. You see, donkeys can be terribly frightening to some horses. Soda cans terrify my Arabian friend-of-a-friend, Donny, so let's ban them, too. Me? I'm afraid of lines. I, Fenway Bartholomule, hereby forbid the assembly of equine competitors at any facility on which there are roads painted with, decorated with, or otherwise exhibiting the presence of yellow, white, orange or other lines, whether they be continuous, dotted, dashed, intermittent, single, double, fresh, or partially obscured.

I am also afraid of the transition between pavement and grass, or pavement and gravel, and of my own shadow. Equine shows shall, from this day forth, be held in facilities in which there is a single continuous surface of grass, gravel, pavement, or sand, with no transitions therein. And no sun. No artificial lighting, either.

There! All better. Welcome to the world of fair, safe, all-inclusive, donkey-, mule-, human-, soda pop-, line-, transition-. and shadow-free horse shows. Enjoy!


The Magic of Spring

Spring is a Donkey. Spring is made of All New Materials: polyester fiber stuffing, acrylic and polyester shell. She is about knee-high to a giraffe and is able to comfortably carry up to 200 pounds, which is about what I am able to comfortably carry, too, as it happens.

Spring joined our family via Dear Aunt Alice, known internationally for her reputation as the World's Best Gift Giver, and caused quite a sensation at Christmas time. Spring belongs to FarmWife's middle daughter.

FarmWife's oldest daughter, far from being too mature for a ride-on donkey of her own, was thrown into such paroxysms of longing by the arrival of Spring that she invented her own imaginary toy donkey, Autumn. Autumn became her constant, invisible companion on or around December 26th, and arrived in the flesh for her Feb. birthday via Dear Granny Joan, known for her reputation as the Grandmother Who Supplies Ponies. Autumn is made of All New Materials, and is not invisible. She is a pleasingly realistic grey.

FarmWife's youngest daughter, at two weeks shy of three years old, has enough of a grasp of the thing to want a donkey of her own, now. Still young enough to submit to peer pressure, this toddler girl was taken aside and given two choices. She chose to name her not-yet-obtained donkey companion Summer, causing HUGE sighs of relief in the barnyard!

You see, dear readers, FarmWife is not above wanting a donkey of her own, but the Polyster/Acrylic set is not for her. She dreams of a real live dust bunny to put in the paddock with yours truly, but pending that unlikely acquisition, she is more than satisfied with her one good mule. Her daughters, pained by the lack of a Winter, real or imagined, to complete their quartet, have pressured her into agreeing to something outlandish!

If and when young Summer joins the family (and there are rumblings that this may take place as soon as early April), I will be esteemed with an additional name of my own. I will be able, dear readers, to introduce myself as the Honorable Fenway Bartholomule Winter Jackson Jones. Though no donkey at all, I am more than willing to be FarmWife's Donkey of the Dark Season. It will be an honor, plus it will mean that we get to join in all the donkey games when the other three girls and their little grey mounts are out gamboling around the place this summer. Perhaps, my friends, you can imagine how happy it makes me to have been relieved of the threat of being known as "Fenway Bartholomule Summer." Even the neutered among us deserve to retain some shred of masculine pride.

FarmWife comes from a family of equine appreciators, and it is to her great maternal satisfaction that she sits, at present, surrounded by one radio flyer ride-on horse, one sit-on donkey (Autumn is away at present, and Summer not yet arrived), one furry rocking horse with realistic neighing sounds, one wooden rocking horse with yarn mane and tail, one black  26" rolling horse, six stick horses, one stick donkey, one stick unicorn, and a half-dozen or so Breyer models who have been relocated to her office from their stables in the upstairs bedrooms. Two hours away, at her mother's farm, FarmWife has access to another handful of ponies in-the-flesh, and in the yard, just behind the greenhouse, grazes yours truly - the worlds best babysitter mule. These children may not be growing up on a diet of weekly lessons and weekend horseshows, but they are getting their recommended daily dose of equines nonetheless. I, Fenway Bartholomule, wouldn't have it any other way.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Sancho ran to his Dapple, and, embracing him, said: 'How hast thou done, my dearest Dapple, delight of my eyes, my sweet companion!'

Then he kissed and caressed him as if he had been a human creature. The ass held his peace and suffered himself to be thus kissed and caressed by Sancho, without answering him one word."

I, Fenway Bartholomule, understand, Dapple. Sometimes you just have to stand and take your kisses.

text by Miguel de Cervantes

art by Honore Daumier

B.B.F. Citizen Haiku

Soft white Mini Mule
No tail, no hooves. Poor wee thing!
Ears and heart, though: large.

White as driven snow
Soft, sweet. I'd sniff you, but you're
terrified of me

Little striped man,
tame tiny house tigerlet,
What? The dog likes YOU?

In your belly, Miss,
There are eight legs, and two heads.
Outside, four and one.

You dress like a mule.
Poor dog, you are not a mule.
You have no courage.

Steely lizard gaze
Feathered friend, your stare gives me 
the heebie-jeebies.
Like inside's better. As if 
the house is special.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Bent Barrow of Bent Barrow Farm

Mat and I bought this house on Meredith Lane at the beginning of a very wet winter, and in doing so we spent every penny of ours and a few of our relatives'. So it was that we found ourselves economizing when it came to the accessories of farming, and so it was justified that we bought a bargain basement, low end wheelbarrow. Feeling like Frugal Fanny at her finest, I brought the plastic barrow home just days before my horses arrived; at the time, I had a draft X gelding and a borrowed mare, and there was nothing I had looked forward to as much as bringing the pair of them home from the boarding stable. 

Any horse person worth her salt will tell you that two horses on one acre of Whatcom County lowland in the month of October is a recipe for disaster, barring the importation of dozens of tons of gravel. It came to pass that by early spring, Mat and I were stretching our budget a bit, putting 12 tons of this and 13 tons of that, plus 11 tons of the other, on one of several credit cards. We have since chopped said cards into a million little pieces, but that's a story for another day. That day, that rainy day, we made a choice between slogging through the filthy mud or dropping some cash on some very good 3/8" minus plus fines for the paddock and pathways, some 1 1/4" minus for the driveway, such as it was, and a couple of yards of compost for the spring garden. By March, we were the lucky owners of Gravel Mountain. 

Bent Barrow Farm is laid out in such a manner that none of it, save the driveway, is accessible by truck. Renting a tractor being out of the question due to funding shortfalls, Mat and I did the only thing remaining to do . . . we shoveled. We shoveled, and wheeled, and shoveled, and wheeled, and raked, and shoveled, and wheeled. Our wheelbarrow, rickety enough to begin with, began to feel the strain in earnest after the first fifteen or so tons had been relocated, and by the twentieth ton the device was buckling like cooked spaghetti. A couple of additional braces helped get it back on it's feet—er, foot—erm, wheel—and we got our gravel driveway, equine paddock, run-in shed, and garden pathways safely resurfaced before the thing gasped its expiring breath. 

This shoveling, wheeling, shoveling, raking, wheeling, shoveling, and raking was mostly a job for the man of the family, not so much because I was not up to the task but because, being in expectation of my third child that spring, I had been asked to refrain from heavy labor. 

Mat tried reasoning with me, and he spent every waking hour on his weekends with shovel in hand, but the fact is that a stay-at-home mom with a brand new farm is going to have a burning desire to get out and enjoy it. With Mat working or commuting for up to 50 hours per week, and with our darkest days lasting just a shy seven or eight hours, I was not about to sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam while my horses slogged in the mud outside. With a very normal, healthy pregnancy and a beautiful, if muddy, little farm to tend, I pulled my weight that spring. My weight, by the way, had increased dramatically by the end of the gravel-spreading season, and we had a couple of unconvinced neighbors shaking their heads at my daily labors. Mat, in a vain attempt to quiet me, put in a couple of after-dark hours in every evening, and did as much of the gravel-moving as he humanly could. On weekday mornings, like a delinquent child, I snuck out of of the house. With my toddler in a backpack, sleeping, I tried daily to move as many yards as I could manage before her nap ended, or before my harmless Braxton Hicks contractions set in. 

By the first of April, Tanner and Blue were moved into a very comfortable paddock on eight inches of gorgeous footing. At about that time, my excellent midwife and wonderful husband orchestrated an intervention, during which they sat me down and made me pinky-swear not to touch the shovel again. I agreed (the work, after all, being done), and on April 4th, I took my hours-old daughter out to meet the horses without a single muddy footstep. 

I Have a Price

OK, guys, help me out here. I have been feeling a little insecure lately. For one thing, it's raining, which means that my FarmWife time is limited to my receipt of three meals per day and a brief trough check. I miss the leisurely sunny afternoons of mingling with her and her larvae, and without a snug little barn there's no likelihood of a dry hangout for the four of us anytime soon. My shed simply isn't big enough for that kind of social get-together, and a quick ear scratch from a dripping wet FarmWife can't substitute for a nice long visit in the sunshine.

The bigger problem, though, is this: FarmWife, until this week, had always called me priceless. She had said, out loud to her friends and out loud to me, that I was the sort of mule that no money could buy, that she would give her right arm before selling me, and that there could never be a dollar amount on my head. Then, just Wednesday, I heard her tell someone that I was worth my weight in gold. At the current exchange rate, and assuming I weigh in at about 900 pounds (sucking in my gut), this puts my dollar value at about 14 and a half million bucks.

14.5 million is not nothing, and while I realize that this is pretty valuable for a mule, I still think it wasn't fair for FarmWife to settle on a figure for which she would sell me. Knowing me, and the extreme public reverence for my celebrity status, she may well get an offer that tops this.

I hope you know, dear readers, that I will not go without a fight! Give her twenty million. Give her thirty—I will not be sold. I will pull a Lassie on you, wealthy purchaser, and I will go home again. You have been warned.

Now that I think about it, this could end up being not such a bad thing after all. Imagine this: A rainy afternoon. Wealthy Purchaser shows up at Bent Barrow Farm with a suitcase containing 14.5 million dollars. FarmWife accepts, and I, Fenway Bartholomule, am bid a tearful farewell. After a comfortable ride in an air-conditioned trailer, I descend to a green lawn of sprawling immensity. I am tucked into bed with a new $600 custom halter, a monogrammed Rambo blanket, and a supper of imported carrot cupcakes.

Leaving a precious row of hoofprints behind in the wet cement of the Wealthy Purchaser's new patio (for he, or she, must somehow be repaid, and surely this token will do), I leave as quickly as I arrived. Sneaking out in the depths of the night, I, Fenway Bartholomule, return to Bent Barrow Farm under cover of darkness.

To quote Eric Knight, "Lifting [my] head again, as the desire for [my] true home woke in [me, I] scented the breeze as if asking for directions. Then, without hesitation, [I] struck down the road to the south. [My] senses were now aware of a great satisfaction, for there was peace inside [my] being. [I] was going home. [I] was happy."

And what do we have now? We have me, FarmWife, a new Rambo rug, a custom halter, and 14 and a half million dollars. And we have Bent Barrow Farm, my humble home home, and perhaps some plans for a snug little barn.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Open Letter to Courtney King-Dye

Dear Courtney,

Firstly, I am a mule.

There, now that that's out of the way . . . my human, like so many others, has never met you. She is touched by your struggle and inspired by your life, however, and wanted to write with her very best wishes for your quick and full recovery. I, Fenway Bartholomule, interceded. 

"FarmWife," I told her, "Ms. King-Dye is surely getting kazillions of emails from humans just like you." Of course, she agreed. 

"FarmWife," I said, "perhaps Ms. King-Dye has not gotten one single email from a mule, as of yet!" Of course, she agreed. 

"FarmWife," I told her, "wouldn't an email from me, Fenway Bartholomule, be something indeed?" Of course, she agreed. This was a very good thing, Courtney, because I have no opposable thumbs. I rely upon my human to help me with typing.

From both of us and from all of your many fans, worried and hopeful, we send our very best. We are pulling for you. As you may know, we mules pull like the dickens. 

Ears to You,

Fenway Bartholomule

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Poll

Dear Readers,

I understand that you, my loyal fans, are primarily interested in what I, Fenway Bartholomule, think. That said, I would like to understand YOU as well! To this end, I have established the first in a series of YOUcentric polls. Feel free to select multiple answers, and feel free to expand upon your answers with an explanation in the comments field of this post.

You must know that most of my exposure to the world outside of Bent Barrow Farm is through A) the Cowboy Campsite, where recreational trail riders abound, and B) FarmWife, who is an English rider through and through (despite her attachment of Western-influenced breeching to my Wintec Isabell). That said, I have relatively little exposure to the Western disciplines and have, consequently, offered only general selections on this subject. Feel free to suggest additions if your beloved discipline has been left off!

Finally, know that a "fantasy discipline" poll is coming up soon. It shall not ask, "what do you do?" but rather, "what do you want to do?" In that light, please answer this present poll with the disciplines in which you currently participate.

Your friend,
Fenway Bartholomule

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rabbit Habits (Part II)

The best thing about Harriet might be the way she lounges softly like a bag of warm rice across one's lap. I would have to argue, though, that it is even better to see the way she entertains herself, and us, in her more enthusiastic moments. The biggest crowd-pleaser up Harriet's sleeve might be the floating 180. She executes this maneuver from a full gallop, a gait which more closely resembles the action of Chester Cheetah than of Peter Rabbit. Springing a full 18 or 20 inches into the air, Harriet manages an aerial twist that ends in a flat-out run in the opposite direction. It's a particularly popular move during her morning garden turnout, where she uses the carpeted weedblock pathways as personal hurdling tracks. Our dog Paisley, who is often turned out with her as a hawk deflection measure, serves as a launching platform for her more complex acrobatic endeavors. 

Harriet always amuses us with her free time antics—her gymnastic superman stretch, executed in midair during her liveliest leaps, and her hop-flop, with which she transitions, sproinging up and flopping down, crash between active play and sprawled repose. We all love her ghost walks, during which she covers her face with a clean cloth diaper and roams, blindly nudging, to the tune of my children's collective, spooky moans. We love the way she begs for her breakfast, flipping her heavy ceramic bowl up and over, up and over, up and over, ever backward in a thumping rhythm. 

Unfortunately for all of us, but not least Harry herself, her liberty and gymnastic opportunities have been limited since the last in a series of destructive occurrences. Now, in addition to her daily garden turnout, Harriet makes do with supervised indoor freedom under the watchful eye of my middle daughter D. We like to call D, in this role, Patrol Officer Jones. Never, to my knowledge, has there been a cuter parolee than little Harriet. 

 . . . . to be continued . . . . 

A Day in the Life of Fenway, Part I of V: EARLY MORNING

5:30 am. Awaken to the pitter patter of little hooves. This is not, as I had once feared, the ghostly hoofbeats of my unborn children. It is the sound of Jasper Jules getting up onto his goat loft, from which the view is better. I don't even care what Wickersham looks like from up there. Hmmph.

6:00 am. Engage Laser Eyes and Radar Ears. Conduct surveillance of the house until human activity is detected. Bray the news. (6 am and all's well!)

6:30 to 6:59 am. Graze behind the greenhouse, commingle with Jeffery the calf over the fence (his humans call him Burger), 

6:40ish. Bray hello to neighbor B. as he departs for work. 

7:00 am. First indication of human activity outside the home. Dogs emerge like thundering typhoons into the yard, where they defecate with terrible imprecision. (I prefer to keep my feces in a tidy little pile, the better for FarmWife to remove them.)

7:01 to 7:28 am. Graze behind the plum trees.

7:29 am. Wander back towards the driveway in anticipation of Mr. J's emergence from the house.

7:30 am. Mr. J emerges from the house. Bray a rousing good morning, then retreat to the staging area near the raised beds. Commence pump up with empowering phrases: "I am beautiful. I am loved. I can do anything. I will be fed."

7:40 am. FarmWife emerges from the house. Gallop, braying, from staging area to shed, giving every impression of having been alone in the wilderness, starving and heartsick, for at least a week. Give FarmWife Googly Eyes, Loving Whickers, and Open-mouthed Exhalations until hay is produced. 

7:41 am. Ignore hay for one minute, so as to gaze a loving thank you into the eyes of FarmWife. (This is hard to do without laughing when she is still in her pajamas, but it is important.)

7:42 am. Eat, being careful to remove every most delicious strand from my hay, while the goats eat out of their own manger. 

8:15 am. Eat with the goats, who have already removed every most delicious strand from their own hay with their weird little split lips. Note, as the goats eat, that they have no top teeth in front. Silly, silly beasts! (We will have to talk more about these silly beasts again. There is so much about them that is strange . . . like their eight hooves each.)

8:20 am. Greet FarmWife, who has reemerged, looking ready to greet the day (and the mule). Stand politely for the removal of blanket. Try ordering a latte for the four hundredth time. 

8:30 am. Bray the news. (8:30 am and all's well!)

8:31 am. Poop with graceful dignity on top of Fenway Tower. (Horses, take note . . . pooping in a carefully balanced stack can save your human plenty of mucking out trouble, and will be repaid when she has extra time to spend with you!)

8:32 am. Select wallow for first of several daily rolls. Make careful inspection of rolling surface.

8:33 am to 8:36 am. Roll left, roll right, roll all the way over. Itch the withers, itch the rump. Left ear down, and itch-itch-itch. Roll over, close eyes, right ear down. Itch-itch-itch. Exhale. All the way over, roll left, roll right, and itch-itch-itch. Rise to dog-pose, which for a mule has nothing at all to do with yoga. Endure, if they are present, the laughter of the larval humans. 

8:37 am. Rise and shake. 

8:37:05 am. Listen to the dying echos of the ear-flap sound as it bounces off of Stewart and Anderson mountains. Flap-ap-ap-ap. 

8:40 am. Assume thoughtful pose, with hind leg cocked and ears at half mast. Brainstorm daily blog content. Telepathically convey material to transcriptionist.