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Master of my Fate

I always enjoy Dorothy’s blogs. This one is particularly close to home. This is one of the prime motives here at Over the Edge Farm, to find out how horses choose to interact with humans when they are “Free Agents”. One thing is for sure, the more I relinquish control, the more they choose to be with me. It is only our fear that inhibits the connection.

Horses under our skin

10390964_10203175476442829_4617673505203775771_n“The capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of one’s life is the essence of humanness”, Albert Bandura, 2001.

Have you ever had a splinter in your finger?  A horrible little pinprick, just underneath the skin.  You worry at it, you suck your finger, you try to grasp it between your nails, but nothing shifts it and it seems to affect everything you do.  In the end, there’s nothing for it, you have to get it out using a needle.

Now, that’s where things get interesting.  The splinter under the skin, or the bit of grit in the eye – they’re under your skin, they’re in your eye.  But you are starting to get the feeling that you’re going to have to ask someone else to get them out for you.  You don’t often put the feelings into words, but what’s there to the fore is that nobody…

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The Castaway

Dorothy Heffernan always has something interesting to say. And I whole heartedly agree that isolation is punishment and detrimental to the well-being of any social animal.
“We can understand the sadness of isolated older people in the middle of busy towns and cities. It’s time we applied a little of that empathy to the situation of horses kept alone. “

Horses under our skin

“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
―     Honoré de Balzac>

Alexander Selkirk was a Scottish sailor who spent more than four years alone on an island off the coast of Argentina in the early years of the 18th century. He was the real life inspiration for Robinson Crusoe. He wasn’t shipwrecked  – he chose to leave his ship and shipmates because he felt the ship was unsafe. I wonder did this make any difference to how he felt during the four years he spent alone on the island?  Writers tend to say that humans love solitude and seek it out, but hate loneliness and work hard to avoid it. Solitude means wanting the space to think or work but knowing that if we need someone to laugh with us, cry with us or listen to us, they can found.  Being lonely is when we find ourselves in a…

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We’re open!

P1040960I am sitting here, ready to make the big announcement. But I hesitate. Procrastinate. Stare out of the window at the horses playing down by the lake. Tinker with the wording one more time. What’s going on here?

This is the moment I have been heading towards for years. A lifetime. This is the place I envisioned. Where I could let my horses live as horses should, roaming the hills in a herd. Where I could live with my herd in harmony and freedom. Where I could watch them, learn what it is they really need to thrive in domesticity, and then provide it.

The intention has always been to share this space with others who love horses, nature, peace, self-reflection. So they can come and learn from me, the horses and nature, in a relaxing environment that refreshes the soul. So they can return to their lives with fresh eyes and a smiling heart.

It could have been Australia, New Mexico, India, Israel, Wales. But somehow we find ourselves in Portugal. And it’s perfect. The climate, the terrain, the people, the space, I love it all. The rocky hills and cork oak forests keep my horses fed, sheltered and fit. Our slopes are covered with lavender, cistus, helichrysum and other aromatics. What more could an animal loving aromatherapist want? Absolutely nothing.

So here we are. Full of gratitude. Ready and waiting.  All I have to do now is press the “Publish” button. Maybe a pause is natural, even a touch of nerves …..but then, if you are reading this I guess I took the jump.

If you want to help me celebrate and spread the word, head over to our Facebook page and play “How many horses?”. You may even win yourself a free weekend with us.

Healing the “Nature Plus” way.

I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see Sufi 100% sound and tearing across the hills.

Just 3 mornings ago I was faced with something I have been secretly dreading. A horse limping up the hill for breakfast!

I could see Sufi’s head bobbing as she came through the tall shrubs. My stomach sank. But I’m an optimist: it was just a glimpse, maybe I was mistaken? As she cleared the cistus thicket there was no more doubt. The unstoppable Sufi was very lame. It didnt look sore enough to be a break, but could well be a tendon.

I watched her hobble towards me, hoping it was only an abcess. I know how to deal with them. I met her half way up the hill. Her right front leg was definitely hot and puffy over the tendon area.

horses coming up the hill to breakfast
Coming up the hill for breakfast

My poor little Fire element princess. At just one year old, this is her first encounter with pain, and she is not taking it well. She is used to flying across the hills with total confidence in her body. She does not know what to make of this limitation and looks shocked, chastened, confused.

So, here I stand face to face with the moment I’ve dreaded.

What am I going to do now?

Can I trust my gut and keep following nature’s route? Or is this the moment I will fold to the pressure and fear. The internal pressure of a mind conditioned to believe in western medical science, vets and doctors (we all are, even those of us who reject it). The fear of taking full responsibility for my actions, without some outside authority (an expert) to guide me.

I sometimes wish I could play it safe and go the ‘conventional’ route. But no, this is another moment when I will have to step over the edge. Think it through step by step, never knowing if the decision is right or wrong until we see the result.

Questions, questions

Conventional veterinary medicine says, “Cold hose, anti-inflammatories, box rest.”

OK, I can handle cold hose, and I have natural anti-inflammatories which can take the edge off the pain. I wouldn’t want to mask the pain completely, it reminds her to limit her movement to safe parameters. But box rest?

Even if I had a box, I don’t think it’s the right solution. Horses need movement for proper function of circulation. Circulation is crucial for healing soft tissue. And the stress of confinement and separation would create a very unhealing environment. So box rest is out of the question.

On the other hand, I am pretty sure tendons should not be overstrained when damaged. So I probably need to restrict movement. But in the wild they would have to move. Or would the herd slow down, self-limit, protect their youngster? Her mother Shanti is the lead mare, she can influence movement if she wants to, can’t she? So, should I just trust in nature, the herd?

Supercharged Nature

The wound on Sufi's leg
The abrasion on Sufi’s leg

But the idea here at Over the Edge Farm is “Nature Plus”. The best of both worlds. I’m not going to let wolves eat her, or see her suffer unnecessarily. So, I have to find a way to I keep her and the rest of the herd happy and comfortable, and help Sufi heal.

Luckily for me (Thank you universe!), on closer inspection Sufi has an abrasion on the injured leg. About 10cm of hair is scraped off, but the skin is not broken This makes it probable that the injury is from impact; maybe she caught her leg in something. It’s less likely to be caused by a mis-step or other faulty locomotion.

Therefore, I reason, it is bruised and swollen from the outside in. And while the tendon sheath feels ‘thick’ I don’t think anything is strained or sprained. This gives me more leeway in her care as I won’t have to restrict her movement so much.

So, what am I thinking now?

I clarify my goal:
Roaming freely on 30 hectares of rough land is too much for her (I’m not 100% sure of this, but am not prepared to risk my baby to find out)
I need to restrict her movement to an area that is less challenging but still provides stimulation.
I want all herd members to have access to each other to reduce stress for all.

What am I going to do?

First of all, the easy bit. An area where I have a little bit of knowledge at least.
I offer her essential oils and herbs to reduce the swelling and ease the pain. I then make a clay plaster, adding the essential oils she selects, and apply directly to the injured area. After this she lies down. This turned into a lovely quiet healing circle as we were all drawn into the relaxation of two resting ponies.

And then?

Sufi grazing on slope
Our version of box rest!

Sufi seemed brighter after this. So I bandaged her leg for extra support and released her and her mum to join the other horses, who had drifted off down the steep slope into the back valley. I am curious to see if Sufi will self-limit her movement.

Shanti was ready to join the herd, calling and going down the hill. Sufi was reluctant to move too far or fast, limping pitifully.  But it was obvious the imperative of the herd would force her to move if we didn’t intervene. So we decided to fence off the grassy slope close to camp. An area of about .5 hectare (approximately 1 acre).

Meanwhile I put a halter on Shanti and take them both to eat grass in the ‘human corral’, where they don’t usually have access. Sufi forgot about her leg as she tucked into the green grass. Shanti was compeletely unconcerned about the other horses, until her stomach was full. Then she started calling. The others replied, but did not appear. So much for the herd sticking close to the lead mare.

Once the fence was ready, I turned Shanti and Sufi out. Shanti motored off looking for a way to join the herd. Sufi hobbled behind her slowly. Shanti stands at the furthest corner of the paddock, calling out, definitely disturbed by her confinement. I settle her with some hay and Sufi soon lies down and sleeps again. Sometime later the rest of the herd came up to join them and they all have an afternoon snooze.

Then it’s time to decide what to do for the night. Leave them all in the smaller enclosure? Leave a couple more horses with Shanti? If so which ones? Let Sufi out and trust in the self-limiting nature of her pain?

Observation leads to action

As we stand and watch, the horses starting to move now, we wait for our next action to become clear. Because that’s what this process is. Once the goal has been clarified, it is not a movement of mental energies ‘thinking’, but a quiet receptivity. Watchfulness. It is watching the movement of energy, seeing the pattern unfold and going with it. Despite the fear, anxiety, “not knowing”.

Arya stays close to Shanti as the others start to leave. She is Sufi’s big sister in every way that counts and so I leave her in with them. Hoping this will reduce Shanti’s stress. We put hay along the outside of the fence to encourage the rest of the herd to hang around too. They don’t. They drift off to eat grass, then around the corner to last night’s left over hay.

The “Left behinds” are disturbed, slightly stressed. So am I. What if I’ve got it all wrong?
The night is quiet. No whinnies of distress. Sufi rests a lot, sleeping peacefully on the soft, grassy bank. And in the morning? She’s barely limping! I can’t quite believe it, but the heat is gone. She takes only a small amount of meadowsweet, the pain relieving herb.

Stick or Twist?

So what do I do now? Keep on resting her as it’s working so well? Or let her out to roam the rough lands because today she’s probably up to it?

We have the morning breakfast gathering and it becomes clear: Confinement is not an option. Shanti is adamant. All her body language and energetic intention pushes me to release her. And it would take a stronger woman than I to stand against such clarity. I take another deep breath and let go.

My reward

And it is lovely to see that the herd’s movement does adjust to accomodate her. They are slower, they walk the flatter routes. There is always one mature mare at her side. Rohan is not allowed to play with her. At evening time I lead them slowly to homebase to ensure they don’t come haring down the slopes in their usual fashion. We are all mellow.

Still, Sufi’s leg is slightly more puffy than in the morning, and she is obviously tired. I am hoping she hasn’t over done it. I give her another dose of homeopathic arnica, slather on the clay mixture, and go to bed wondering whether I shouldnt have closed her in overnight. Especially when heavy rain on the caravan roof wakes me in the darkest hours.

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Grazing in the sunshine

In the morning the rain has stopped and the horses are not in sight. When they don’t appear for breakfast I go look for them, with slightly somber thoughts hovering next to my eternal question mark. I find them at the top of the property, grazing in the spring sunshine. Behind them, a long view over the hills to Spain.

Sufi’s leg looks fabulous: slim, totally weight bearing. She is nonchalant. I watch her graze, moving along one slow step at a time, thinking what perfect exercise it is for a sore leg. Then she starts playing with Rohan, racing around and rearing up as foals do. I catch my breath, but she really is 100% sound.

3 days! That’s all it took. I reflect on what a perfect machine it is, this body, and how, in the right environment, it can heal itself so well. And I am grateful to have been one small part of this healing process, a humble servant of Horse.

P.S. Sufi’s Selected Aromatics

I bet you would like to know what ‘medicine’ we used? So here it is.
Herbs she selected:

Meadowsweet, natural aspirin. Day 1 she ate about a cup full, day 2 about1/2 a cup and day 3 she had no interest
Devil’s claw, analgesic 5 pieces of sliced root soaked in hot water for 15 minutes. She ate all the slices and drank some of the water.
Milk thistle seed, to support Liver, which is necessary in any traumatic injury, especially if tendons are involved. Day 1 and 2 she took about 1/4 cup.
Rosehips, for the vitamin c, immune support and anti-inflammatory support day one she took a couple of tablespoons.
Day 2 she also took 2 tablespoons of echinacea root for immune support.

Essential oils and hydrosols

Plai (zingiber cassumunar), also known as Thai ginger. This is a cooling anti-inflammatory, analgesic and one of my “go to” oils for any musculo-skeletal damage.
Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) anti-inflammatory, releases physical and emotional trauma, seals wounds
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) anti inflammatory, calming
She selected Plai and chamomile.

Sufi's leg plaster
Sufi’s lovely yellow leg after applying plaster

Witch Hazel hydrosol (NO added alchocol) She wanted to drink it and I washed her leg with it to clean the wound, reduce inflammation and bruising.

I made a leg plaster to reduce inflammation and aid circulation using
1/2 cup green clay
2 tablespoons bentonite clay
1 tablespoon of turmeric powder
1 tablespoon calendula oil
20 drops of plai essential oil
10 drops of chamomile essential oil
Witch hazel hydrosol, enough to make a mobile paste to spread on the leg with a spatula.

She also ate a little of this blend.
Once the ‘plaster’ absorbed/dried I bandaged the leg (don’t bandage on top of clay), applying Traumagon first. She also licked a little traumagon.
In the evening of day 1, I removed the bandage and re-applied clay.
Morning of day 2 she selected Traumagon over clay.
Evening of day 2 she selected clay.
Day 3 she didn’t want anything applied.

Before we released her she also had a dose of homeopathic arnica twice on day 1 and in the evening of day 2.

‘I will never shoe another horse’ – Nick Hill

Nick Hill is who I call when I need guidance with the horses feet. He will be here at Over the Edge sometime this year (dates not confirmed) for a workshop that will include feet, food and fun (for horses!).

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by Linda Chamberlain

I want you to meet a trained farrier – one that says he will never shoe again because of the harm it causes. He turned his back on the trade because separating the horse from the ground was the beginning of a destructive process. He became a barefoot trimmer because he was forever fighting against nature, causing the hoof to distort and break from constant renailing. With all our wisdom and technology, there had to be a better way…

Nick Hill 1

His name is Nick Hill and he has a list of changes needed for the domestic horse that is shopping-list long. If anyone can make a few of these demands happen it is this quietly, committed man who travels the world educating owners about a new way of caring for the species.

There is more to looking after a horse’s hoof than the style or frequency of its…

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Why ticks are good…

Horse herd on green grassy hill

Ask and it shall be given

It often happens in my life. A question is asked, by me or to me, and things start to unfold. Like a carpet unrolling before me, leading my mind. The path does not always lead to the answer. In fact it tends to lead to more questions. But the act of questioning always brings more clarity.

Why do ticks exist?

Anyway, the other day, as we did our daily tick check of the horses, Prasado said a bit grumpily, “Why do ticks exist anyway? Is there any point to them?”

Clunk clink and my cogs start turning. As we live in an interconnected and harmonious universe, then everything (yes, even ticks!) must be beneficial. Everything has a role to play and if I don’t see what that is, I should look more closely.

Ticks are yucky

Ticks are the bane of our life here in the Alentejo. As soon as the heat of summer subsides and the grass starts to grow, out they come. They invade the horses’ manes leaving sticky yellow goo, and sometimes suppurating wounds. We must always be watchful for the diseases they carry. And squashing blood filled ticks is just yucky! Every day we do a thorough check and remove any ticks we find on the animals.

Re-viewing the tick

That morning, as I searched through Doodle’s mane, doing the job of an egret, my neurons started firing. Out of random dots a picture emerged:

Ticks are blood suckers
Blood letting is a cure for excess iron (read more about this in one of my favourite books, Survival of the Sickest)
Horses do not excrete iron
One of the major problems for domesticated horses (in Northern Europe at least) is the so-called Metabolic syndrome
One of the precursors to the development of this syndrome is iron overload
Worms also cause bleeding
Is it possible blood letting is important to horse health? That over-control of parasites is causing illness?

And what about worms?

As is the way of things, a separate chain of events revealed another angle of the puzzle.

As a lifelong horse guardian I was deeply indoctrinated with the idea that worms are evil and must be killed. Regular worming has been a standard part of horse management for generations. As a child I remember the vet coming to tube worm the horses in the autumn, not so pleasant. As a teenager I remember the excitement of ivermectin paste, so handy, so efficient. Now you could control worms without the vet.

A couple of decades later and worms are resistant to ivermectin. So vets recommend fecal egg counts and worming only if necessary. It is no longer thought necessary to wipe out every last worm. The theory is that a healthy horse can tolerate a certain level of worm infestation (hear the language). This is a step forward, but still rooted in the adversarial system of healthcare we have been raised upon.

Personally, I now see worms as an important part of the horse’s system, and an overload of worms as a symptom of lowered immunity. So I mostly leave my horses to balance their own wormload. They have enough anthelmintic herbs to eat if they feel they need help. I keep their stresses low and their immune system optimised. I also do regular fecal egg counts, to check for worm burden, just so I know what’s going on.

The worm/ tick axis

“But what have worms got to do with ticks?” you ask. This. Recently we worm checked. The results were interesting. So interesting I thought maybe they were a mistake and got a second opinion.

The horse I considered most likely to have a high worm burden had an egg count of zero. She is also the only horse who had body ticks, tiny little blood suckers all over her body. She is the horse who reacts badly to insects and gets itchy just looking at a fly.

And then there is the horse I NEVER worry about. The three year old filly, with the perfect weight and shining vitality. The one who hardly ever had a tick on her and zero reactivity. She had a fecal egg count of 4,700. Four thousand seven hundred!!! I’ve never had a count that high. New lab, maybe it was a mistake? Called the vet, who said don’t worry, young horses often have high counts, just worm her.

What does this all mean?

Do we need worms?

Of course I should have rushed out and bought the chemicals. But I didn’t. I held my natural horse carer ground. She’s young, she needs to build immunity and maybe nature knows more than I do? Maybe she needs those worms? If I wipe them all out now, how will that affect her immunity building? Maybe we’re back to iron levels now, and how they help protect against infectious disease?

In the other side of my brain, all the vets, trainers and other expert voices from my past life are screaming, “Worm her, worm her, worm her!” So I compromised. I added diatamaceous earth and neem powder to her food. After a month I retested with my trusted friend Pauhla Whitaker, worm enthusiast extraodinaire. FEC down to 945.

The Chemical Challenge

Why, at this stage, did I decide to do the chemical thing? I’m not quite sure looking back. Maybe because she’s not mine? Maybe because those knowledgeable voices wore me down? Maybe I thought the risk of not worming her greater than any potential challenge to the body of a healthy young horse? Maybe because I needed the next piece in the puzzle? Whatever. I wormed her with moxidectrin.

2 days later she has a tick bite that swells up like a plum. Then another. Luckily that phase only lasted a couple of days, thanks to intervention with essential oils. But since then she has more ticks on a regular basis.

In every other way she looks as healthy as ever. When I offer her herbs she takes a little of this or that, but her eating is not urgent, as it is when a horse really needs the herb offered. So she feels fine. Is her new sensitivity a coincidence? I think not. Somehow, having her worms wiped out made her more attractive to ticks.

Ticks win

So this is where I am at with the original question. Ticks and worms are part of the equine eco-system. They may help horses control iron by blood letting. High iron leads to increased risk of infectious disease, poor mineral uptake, and metabolic distress. So ticks help horses.

But what about the disease they carry? Piroplasmosis usually attacks stressed horses, weakening an animal who is already challenged, hastening its death. This is also beneficial to a wild horse. No long, drawn out suffering. So a good thing.

In addition, there may be some sort of balance between worm load and resistance to insects (and skin sensitivity). It is possible that human’s over aggressive control of parasites contributes to some common health problems.

Too much of a good thing?

I’m not saying you should start letting ticks take over your horses, or that wormers will become obsolete. As long as your horses are confined (no matter how large the area) you are responsible for making sure they get what they need.

In the wild, horses would balance their worm load by seeking out and eating anthelmintic plants, clay or charcoal. They protect themselves from insect infestation by rolling in dirt, or aromatic plants, or submerging themselves in water. Birds would also help keep them free of insects by picking them off their backs.

In a domestic environment, horses are usually deprived of any chance for self-medication, itself a stress. But you can provide your horses the herbs they crave, by putting some herbs in bowls and letting your horse choose which ones he would like to eat. For worm control I offer, wormwood, neem leaf powder, milk thistle seed, and green clay.

I protect my horses (and dogs) from ticks using a blend of diatamaceous earth, clay and neem leaf powder, imitating a good roll in the dirt by rubbing it through their mane and coat. And I play the role of a bird by manually removing the bugs.

The more you can mimic nature and provide a horse’s natural needs, the less need you will have -if any- for chemicals.  Anything toxic enough to kill ticks for 30 days, challenges a horse’s bio-system rather than supporting it, reducing their natural bug resistance in the long run. Plus the ‘total destruction’ approach damages the balance of nature in other ways we have not yet discovered.

Well, that’s my opinion anyway! What do you think?

 

Here we are!

Men plan, God Laughs!

If I recall, the last thing I wrote on this blog  was, “From now on I’ll be blogging regularly”. Do I hear the gods laugh?

I’m afraid I grossly underestimated the time and energy required to build a home from scratch. And I mean scratch: no water, no electricity, no habitable dwelling for man or beast.

It’s been a time of intensity. Body, mind, emotions stretched waaaay out of their comfort zone. Luckily, that’s what I call fun!

From vision to reality

It’s been a year of creativity and growth. We went from the barest necessities – water, shelter, basic amenities – to beautiful, functional buildings, which form the first permanent camp (human headquarters).

Our herd has grown from 4 horses to 10, and watching the herd building has been a fascinating process. Slowly we have expanded the horse territory. Now they have the whole 30 hectares to roam. I spend a lot of time watching where they go, what they eat, how they use the land, as I study how best to care for them and the land.

Peaks and troughs

I love this land, and the adventure we are on. The insecurity and the not-knowing make me alive. My senses are finely tuned, my mind open. But, at times, I have felt overwhelmed with what we have set under way here. Waking in the middle of the night, fears and anxieties spin around the mind.

There is so much to learn. So many things that need to be done. Every time we come to a peak, where we could maybe rest for a moment, along comes another wave. All I can do in these moments is breathe, open my arms wide and surrender myself again. Feel my feet firmly on the ground, right here, right now, and take one more step over the edge.

New Home, Same Obsessions…

So here we are, on this rain-blessed day in February.  A new home, a new herd, a new-look blog, and a new name. But the same obsessions. The same never-ending interest in the whys and hows of horses, horse care and the nature of horses, humans, life. The continuing exploration of how we can give horses what they need within the constraints of domestication.

I have learnt so much in the last 10 months. Or perhaps better to say unlearned! I don’t know where to start sharing. So I decided a short pictorial review would be fun before we get down to “serious” business.  Because this time I mean it, I will be blogging regularly now, sharing all the herd teaches me. Because this is my way to kneel and kiss the ground.

“…… let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are a thousand ways to go home again.” – Rumi

The Illustrated History of Over The Edge Farm.

The deed signed
April 20th, we signed a piece of paper and guardianship of this land passed to us, from this family, who have loved it well.
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So now what?
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The Book of Ideas and Sketches!
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First, water. Digging the pipe was our first mark upon the land. The first cut is the deepest for sure!
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Then a fence
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20th May, the horses can move in
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Then find a shady spot
Caravan
And we have a house for humans
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A toilet…
Hanging the solar shower
..and a shower. We are all set
horses and car
Just as we get settled….
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Horse number 5 arrives from France
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With Zena, who must have a kitchen.
planter bed
And plant things
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By June, it’s heating up and drying up as the first building gets going
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What’s it going to be?
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Tack room and feed shed of course!

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Complete with herb bar for horses
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Meanwhile things grow
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And we eat some
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It was a bit traumatic flattening earth for an arena, moving earth always feels aggressive! But everyone’s enjoying it now it’s done.
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And then Aug 2nd, when it’s impossibly dry and dusty, here come 5 more horses
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Shanti’s crew
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Not a very warm welcome from the home gang…
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Then just as that was settling down….
Bulldozer and horses
We brought in a bulldozer to create more dust and….
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…a great big hole in the ground! It will one day be a lake.
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Then just to add to the fun, we invited Nick Hill, barefoot expert, to check our feet.
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We decided we shouldn’t keep him to ourselves, so we made it a workshop and a great bunch of people came to learn about barefoot stuff from Nick and essential oils from myself
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While he was here, Nick encouraged us to think about who we are and how to present ourselves. We came up with the name Over the Edge Farm, because we’re always taking one more step in our quest for the answer to the important questions, like, “What do horses really need?” So, we live over the edge of the known world most of the time!
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He also convinced me to let the horses go over the edge and play in the big hole, which was starting to fill with water. “Thanks Nick” say the herd.

 

 

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And then September arrived and we decided it was time to get serious, before the rains started….
building frame
The bathroom goes up
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And a kitchen/living space (Bodhi is very helpful)
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Lots of friends helped and we busted a***
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The cantina nearly has a roof
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Caravan gets a mud room
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And wow!
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Just beat the rain
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So exciting to see all that water after the months of dryness

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But it didn’t take long for the sun to return and shine down on the almost lake.
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Grasses start to grow
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the green returns
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And look! We got ourselves a village

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with a fabulous cantina

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The horses are happy as we fence in the whole 30 hectares

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This is the view today. Horses living as they were meant to, roaming together as a herd. They enjoy the benefits of human management without the hassle. So that’s where we’re at. 

 

 

Moving on

Exploring horse is on the move! After two years as the guests of the Woodleys, in Central Portugal, we have found a home of our own in the fabulous Alentejo region (warmer, drier). It has been six intensive months of searching, but we have finally agreed a price and are now in the contract signing phase.

Monte Nossa Senhora, our new home (love that name, full of the power of the sacred feminine) is 30 hectares (75 acres) of typical Alentejo wildness. The place is a natural horse keeper’s paradise.

View across the valley
Monte Nossa Senhora

The hills are covered with cork oak forests; the valleys have some lush, fertile areas, olive and fruit trees. The south facing slopes are dry and stony with many aromatic herbs, lavender, thyme, cistus and hot weather grasses. The horses will get lots of movement to keep their feet strong, and a varied diet of native grasses and shrubs. Hopefully they will love it as much as I do, although I have a slight suspicion that if you ask them they will say the lovely green field they are living in now will suit them nicely thank you!

For the humans there is nothing. No electricity, no habitable dwellings, no running water! Pioneer time. We are going to spend the first months in caravans and yurts, playing at being nomads. I want to live right beside the horses as we get them settled and re-build the herd (I only have three of the previous herd with me). It also gives us time to suss out the best location for houses, shelters and picadeiros before we commit ourselves to building.

For now we are staying with friends, and the horses are in a “proper” field eating grass, acclimatising themselves to the smaller group. That won’t last long (the small group) as I already have my eye on a 3 year old filly, who is looking for a home via ARC Horse Welfare in the Algarve. I have also spotted a lusitano mare who does all the fancy dressage stuff, yet lives outside in a herd. She’s rather classy (and expensive!), but every herd needs a wise grey mare don’t they? And then there is sweet Amal, Zena’s arab gelding, who will join us sooner or later. I have to decide whether to grow the herd before we move, or if it will be easier for everyone if we wait.

We will ride the horses to the new place, about 50 kilometres away. I hate trailering, and have been looking for an excuse to go for a good long ride. Plus I think it will help the horses to locate themselves in their new home, reducing the stress in the first few days. I’m not sure how they will take to being returned to the “wild” after their cushy few months here, but it will be interesting to watch.

Lying in the grass with horses around me
Enjoying the grass!

I will be blogging again now, keeping you informed of the changing dynamics of the herd, how I introduce new horses, and how essential oils and herbs help to ease us through the transition. We are not sure if the herd will be ready to run any workshops this summer (but watch this space!); on the other hand, if you don’t mind sleeping in a tent and know how to wield a hammer (or shovel, or…) you could be welcome to stop by for a visit.

Variety is the spice of life!

One of my small obsessions is watching my horses eat. I love the way they pick and choose so carefully and precisely, how their nose and whiskers work together to sort through a dense mat of green stuff. Negev is an absolute master, a gourmand, who takes a little of this, a little of that till he has 4 or 5 different tastes in his mouth at the same time. And just as you think he’s done, he goes back for a little bit more of one plant before he chews it all up, eyes half closed. When I think of horses who are confined to single species grazing, or fed only and forever on hay, I shudder.

Personally, I think the two most important factors in horse health are movement and variety of diet. Enough movement is essential for the musculo-skeletal system, including the feet, varied diet keeps the motor running at optimum to fuel the movement. With enough variety in the diet a horse can balance his nutritional needs, which vary from day to day, or week to week, and many of those niggly little problems of itching, or nervousness, or runny eyes will clear up. Not to mention the not-so-niggly problems, such as laminitis and metabolic syndrome.

I am lucky -or determined, I didn’t get here overnight!- as I am now living in an environment where it is easy to provide my horses with a wide variety of forage, on a selection of different terrains (different terrain means different mineral content and trace elements). And when I say ‘provide’ I don’t mean they get room service, they have to move a lot to find their food.

This property starts in moist, cool river bottoms with Atlantic vegetation, then strolls up the rocky hillside through oaks, pines, and mediterranean scrub with rough grasses: ideal. However, when I lived in less perfect conditions I used to provide variety by taking horses out to graze on the hedgerows of England or equivalent (depending on the country!. Or I offered herbs and essential oils to provide the secondary metabolites necessary for  self-medication, and clays and minerals to provide their non-vegetable needs. If your horse is confined you can add herbs and barks to a feeding ball to keep them entertained and healthy.

I have hours of video of horses eating (did I mention obsessed?), I’ll spare you that, here is a small clip just to illustrate my point. I will be putting the full length version on You tube at some stage for those who would like to get the whole picture of how and what horses eat.

Horse Herding

We’ve been doing a lot of horse-herding recently. The grass is almost finished on our slopes and the new hay isn’t in yet, the result of a colder/wetter year than is usual in these parts – our weather is dictated by the Atlantic, which is suffering from melting polar caps, as I’m sure you all know –  so, in time honoured tradition, we take the herd to look for greener pastures.

The property on which we live is under repair. The pine and eucalyptus trees were cut before we got here, but the place is still littered with stumps and branches. We cleared one slope just barely in time to seed some oats as green feed (for the soil not the horses!) and the horses are kept out of there. Most of the time they roam around the steep hills, foraging between the timber debris for native grasses, heather, gorse, and whatever else is edible (have you ever watched a horse eat gorse tips, or thistles? Know how they do it? Carefully!).

We have varied this diet with occasional access to the grassier areas around the human living areas when we want to control growth (we use them to strim in other words). We also have a few flat areas alongside waterways which were cleared of bramble and bracken, then seeded with a grass mix of 10 traditional grasses. They are not really established yet so the horses are only allowed on to do a little trimming to help strengthen and thicken the growth. Anyway, horses used to a wide variety of plants become quickly bored on plain old grass it seems. Now all those areas are used up and we can’t count on further growth till September sometime (as far as we understand from the locals, it’s all new to us, we don’t really know the growing cycles yet, or the times of fat and lean ).

So to keep the horses healthy and happy, physically and mentally, we turn to horse-herding.  One behind the other we set off in search of fodder. The horses know the routine now and quickly fall in to their allotted places (allotted by them not us) and follow us keenly. And likewise we listen to them, moving at their pace, heeding their suggestions.

One day we find bunch grasses under the Eucalyptus plantations, which is a favourite, or we cross the river to an overgrown patch of land full of herbs and grasses, or today, we find ourselves under a stand of pines that is due to have it’s under-storey cleared on Monday, but now is rich with long-stalked grasses, cow parsley and other delicious tidbits. Jessie is topping all the thistles.

I sit and watch over them, sharing the pleasure of the breeze in the pines, the fresh, green smells, and the peacock-blue dragonfly resting on the ferns. When they’ve munched their way through this lot they’ll let me know and we’ll move on, walking calmly in a line, connected by the invisible string of energy that holds us together. Time and place dissolve in this walking, I feel the nomadic spirit, ancient and immediate, and nature’s rhythm pulsing in us all.

I invite you to share for a moment in my horse watching meditation in this short video clip: Nothing ever happens what is just is!