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Children lead us to things that we may never otherwise see or experience in our ‘responsible’ adulthood.  They see flowers we walk past, they see butterflies that we miss.  They find leaves that we may not have noticed, and they see birds on branches that we rush past.

Children also cherish the joy of play, unplanned , unbridled play.  Children laugh – sometimes at the bird in the tree, sometimes because they tripped on that funny-shaped stone, sometimes for no reason at all but because it feels good.

Foals are alot like children.  Have you ever watched a young foal with a mare in the field?  The mare, head down and munching on grass, and the foal nosing around – discovering those new things that the mare has grown to tune out. 

The foal sees the fly buzzing about and first stares, then plays with the bug, head bobbing up and down trying to follow the fast moving fly.  The foal sees a muddy patch in the field and noses the mud,  then stomps the mud, rolls in the mud, and then scampers off with the excitement of the new feeling of wet and muddy fur.  The foal sees a flower in the paddock.  The foal fully extends her neck to touch the flower they quickly pulls away.  She engages in this approach-avoidance with this new flower for a while before running back to the mare. 

At times, the mare has been eating all the while, head down, occasionally looking to ensure that her foal has not wandered too far away.  Othertimes, the mare follows her foal.  When she does, she sees the flowers, birds and buzzing flies.

It has been my experience that children show us so many things that we might otherwise miss —  in plain sight.  Children also open us up to joys, laughter, and play that we oftentimes foolishly believe we have outgrown.

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For many of us, the beauty of nature, being present with nature, walking in the woods, following a stream, spending quiet time with a horse, can all be so peaceful.  At these times, we feel connected to something fundamental and lasting, yet changing and growing.  I think this is why we gravitate to nature and images of nature which can, even in small doses, relieve the stress and noise of life – quickly and profoundly.

Just yesterday, I was struck by how people are drawn to nature and the hope that it offers.  I was headed up to class in East Baltimore where bricks, asphalt and concrete make up the landscape.   It is a harsh visual environment.   But what I saw there made me smile.  In one particular neighborhood, the entire cement wall behind a tightly packed set of row houses was painted in bright beautiful hues to depict a mural of nature.  There were rich tall pine trees, breathtaking mountains, and soft wild flowers.  A few blocks up the road on the same street, there were two more brick walls painted with the image of the soft blue sky and fluffy white clouds.  How beautiful.  How hopeful.

Once you have seen and internalized the true beauty of nature, images painted on the side of a concrete building or images recalled from the storehouse of your memory can stimulate many of the same feelings of peace and joy as that first spring walk in the woods, following that gentle stream.

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In the pre-dawn hours on a spring morning, there is a beautiful symphony of sounds that I hear when my mind is quiet enough to listen.

Even before the sun comes up, nature has begun to speak.  So many birds are singing on these crisp spring mornings.  There are the high-pitched tones, the slow deeper rythmic calls, the intermittant chirps and buzzes.  The horses join in the music with their footsteps, their snorts and their soft munching on the grass or hay.

The wind often plays a part in the music  – causing the tree branches to creak or new spring leaves to rustle.   A cat will occasionally walk by and the pack of dogs in the house will contribute to nature’s peaceful song with their own barks and howls.

Some days, I hear the symphony in every detail, every phrase and transition.  Other days, I am deaf to it all, my mind racing with the pressures of the day ahead and with loud thoughts that drown out the music.  Thankfully, this morning I was present in nature and heard the beautiful pieces of music.

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This week, Wramona Q’s filly Quadrinity (barn name: Nina) was born. 

The most magnificent and moving experience for me on the farm is the birth of a foal.  In truth, the most precious time is the moment just after the foal has emerged from the mare.  It is at this time that all that is beautiful and essential about this earth is revealed.  As soon as the mare can see her foal’s head behind her, she will bend herself around and nicker deeply to her foal, in a low measured voice.  The mare will stretch her neck to reach her foal and brush her foal gently with her muzzle.  This first touching of mare and foal is so beautiful, so primitive and so moving.  Sometimes the foal, not fully born, will nicker back to the mare in a high-pitched plaintive squeal.  Other times,  the newborn will respond to the mare’s call by struggling mightily with minute-old legs to move closer to the mare. 

Once the mare and foal have found a way to reach one another, the mare begins the intense bonding process.  She smells the foal vigorously as if she cannot get enough of her foal’s scent.  She then licks and licks her foal from nose to tail, drying the baby and marking her new striving life.  This is the time, when if you watch closely and quietly, you can see the bonds of life forming.  It takes only minutes but makes a lasting impression.  After a few moments, the mare and foal quiet down and the two relax together, exhausted from the miracle of birth.  The mare is peaceful and quiet, and the foal is sleeping, twitching and melting into the crevice under the mare’s neck.

For the next several days after the foal is born, the bond between mare and foal is at its strongest.  The mare stands over her foal, touching the foal rythmically with her muzzle, wagging her head with authority as only mares do, and warning all to keep a safe distance from her newest treasure.  Like a metronome, the mare checks back in with the foal, touching the foal’s head, neck, and back. 

As the first week of the foal’s life comes to a close, the mare relaxes, the foal gains strength, unfolds and begins to assert some independence.    It is a beautiful process to watch.  Not all mares and foals engage in the dramatic bonding process that I describe here.  After foaling, some mares struggle with confusion, anxiety and nursing woes – but the mystery of each relationship and the process of discovery for each mare and foal is remarkable to witness no matter how the two struggle or glide through their first days together.

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Today, we said good bye to our dear sweet Oaka – our 25 year old blind former PMU mare who lived a hard life before coming to us but emerged from the PMU lines with a courageous, gentle and kind spirit.

This morning started out beautifully.  After weeks of bone chilling cold, and after a violent night of thunder and lightening, the day awakened with a warm spring breeze and the promise of sun and temperatures finally reaching the 80s.  This would mark the first true spring day of the year.  The horses could sense the pleasure of the day ahead as they danced about a bit more than usual at morning feed time.

All except Oaka.  This morning, Oaka was laying in sternum position in her stall, alert and waiting for her breakfast.  This was a warning sign as, in the six years that we had owned Oaka, other than foaling time, she never went down in her stall.  Oaka was hungry though and quickly gobbled all her hay and grain – but she would not stand up.  Two vigorous tries to pull her to her feet failed and I quickly called the vet.

The next several hours involved attempts to get Oaka to her feet.  She was not able to stand.  She was weakened to the point that her hind end failed her.  Her spirit and her mind remained very much alive as she continued to eat all the grain offered to her.  But attempts to stand exhausted her and she frequently layed back down breathless and grunting.

It is so hard to know when it is time to say good bye – so hard when the mind serves but the body fails.  Oaka’s eyes, clouded in blindness, looked  tired.  I could not read her intentions well, but saw that she was so tired, so lame, her spirit confined to a body that could not see, stand or move as I am sure her indomitable spirit wanted to.

Finally, after waiting patiently for us to “know when,” our vet set Oaka’s spirit free.  Her cloudy eyes remained open when she passed – but they softened when, as I can only hope, her pain, anxiety and fear slipped away with her last breath.

After leaving the stall, I saw that the morning had morphed into the most beautiful day of the year, to date.  I was very sad that Oaka did not have the opportunity to experience this first true day of spring. 

When it came time for Oaka to be taken off the farm, I watched as the two horses and donkey in the front paddock stood solemnly, quietly and watched Oaka leave with a new spring daffodil tucked into her halter.  The horses and donkey stood perfectly still, shoulder to shoulder, in full calm attention – a solemn farewell to their couragous friend.  When Oaka was finally gone – the three, all together began grazing, quietly, in unison.  Living in the moment, these three accepted the rythms of the farm – where life goes on.

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From the last week of March into the first week of April in Maryland, the flowering trees bloom.  It is so glorious as the white, elegant flowers start to peek out of the greed buds.  Each day, a little more of the flowers begin to show until one day all of the trees on the street are adorned with spring blossoms. 

You have to savor the beautiful trees when they bloom.  Stop, look up from the daily grind and see this gift from nature.  It is so fleeting.  In a few days after blooming, a determined wind will blow by and send all the petals flying from the trees like a February snow. 

So when those beautiful flowering trees that frame the front paddock bloom, I stop, I look up from my work, my phone, my blackberry and I enjoy the view.  I snap a mental picture to keep at the ready when the dog days of August are upon us and the dust is swirling about and the trees are a mix of green and brown.  Quick catch a glimpse while you can.

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On the breeding farm, the February freeze, cold and snow melts and gives way to the hope of March.  March is the turning point in the season when horse blankets are put away for another year, tank heaters pulled in, and the clocks changed to give more light to our days.  March is also the month when we put the foal monitors back on the mares’ stalls and stack the sweet smelling straw in preparation for bedding down the eagerly anticipated newborn foals. 

There is hope in the air for the joy of new foals.  New sweet, soft muzzles and the natural beauty of broodmares nuzzling, deeply calling to and protecting their newborns.  There is a hint of caution mixed with the hope – some concern that the foals be born safely and thrive through that critical two week post-foaling time.

At no other time is the change in the seasons so poignant, so complete, and so hopeful as the transition from winter to spring on the breeding farm.  There is a clear shift from surviving the biting cold, dark nights of chores and endless freeze to the joy and warmth of spring with the budding flowers, warm breeze, foaling mares and new striving lives gracing our paddocks.  A welcome change indeed.

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