2013 Family Photo

2013 Family Photo
by Michele deCamp; edited by Mark Butto

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Special Needs; Part II

Good Morning,
My friend Vicky’s three special needs cats were the popular subject of last week’s post, (Special Needs, Part I).  Many readers tuned in to learn about these three felines who have grown into loving family members despite physical, emotional and mental disabilities.  Vicky’s menagerie is not limited to cats.  In addition to feline residents, there are three other four legged family members in Vicky's life.  
A saucy Schnoodle, (Schnauzer/Poodle cross), named Cricket arrived eight years ago. Vicky bought the tiny terrier puppy from a backyard breeder.  In hindsight she feels that such a purchase feeds the puppy mill cycle; keeping it fueled for generations of puppies to come.  Regardless, Cricket is a cherished creature who uses her terrier tenacity to protect Fern when Timber’s and Woody’s actions are interpreted as threatening.  It is a perfect example of standing up for what is right and assuring a loved one that she is safe.
    Several years ago, Vicky found herself in need of something to fill the hole that empty nest syndrome bores into a mother’s spirit.  Her two boys, Matt and Michael had excelled through high school, college and graduate school.  They were busy establishing careers, traveling the globe and keeping their eyes peeled for every potential opportunity in between.  Although Vicky was happy for her boys’ success, she mourned the end of the phase of their lives that had included her parental guidance.  Therefore, she had a special need to fill the space within her that had been gouged out after the boys transitioned into adulthood.  The void was eventually filled by a fifteen hand black and white pinto gelding named Tango.  After responding to a horse for sale ad about him, Vicky drove to St. Johnsville to inspect the potential prospect.  Impressed by his calm nature, Vicky immediately felt comfortable around the solid compact horse while working with him on the ground.  Eventually, she tacked him up for a test ride.
“He almost killed me!” she exclaimed in summary of the initial jaunt.  “While out on the road he stopped and refused to get out of the way of moving cars.  It was terrifying.”
    Once they returned safely to the barn, Tango dropped his head into Vicky’s arms obliterating the entire traumatic experience.  Now, five years after Vicky bought him, Tango is a dependable trail horse who accommodates all levels of riders.  The stocky paint is also a calming influence for the special needs of anxious horses who may lack confidence out in the woods alone; away from the protective safety of the herd.  Vicky’s black and white steed loves to jump and gallop cross-country.  Lately, he has been challenging young students as a lesson horse.  Tango’s quiet attributes have allowed Vicky to attempt some fearless feats that include standing on his back, riding him backwards and thwarting his desire to grab the bit and charge back to his stall!   Needless to say the part of Vicky’s heart that was depleted after her sons grew up has now been filled by the relationship that she has established with dear Tango.
    “I think I am going to take a road trip tomorrow to Queens...as in Queens, New York!”  Vicky admonished the day after Christmas.  
    Although Queens is a five hour drive south of the Adirondacks, the trip was one that Vicky had been considering for several weeks.  Waiting there at the end of the long journey, was a tiny miniature foal, only nine months old.  For some time, Vicky had been entertaining the thought of acquiring a miniature horse.  Numerous correspondences with the caregiver of this little one made quite an impression on Vicky.  Although she inquired about other available minis, Vicky’s thoughts always returned to the baby in Queens. Like an itch that one can’t seem to scratch, Vicky felt compelled to bring the foal back to the Adirondacks. And so...she did. 
River is in the initial training stage of, hopefully, becoming a therapy horse. In the future, she and River will possibly visit nursing homes, hospitals and any other locations where the mini-horse's charming repertoire of tricks and social engagement will bring a smile to those with special needs.

Baby Cricket in need of a loving home....
....grew into a sweet companion with terrier tenacity.
 Tango filled a special need for Vicky.
 Trusted trail horse indeed.
Tango provides challenging lessons in horsemanship.
 River is in training....
...so that someday he will inspire those with special needs.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Special Needs; Part I

  Good Morning,
    My friend, Vicky has a collection of cats who might never have found forever homes. She is attracted to those with special needs.  Time and again these animals have rewarded her with love and devotion; a testament to their gratitude for being given an opportunity to do so.  In addition they have demonstrated to Vicky how well an animal can adapt and establish itself as cherished member of the household.  Looking passed their peculiarities and disabilities, Vicky has accepted them as they are.
Perhaps the most inspiring of Vicky’s cats is a gray tortoiseshell female. Four years ago, Vicky heard about a litter of kittens that included one with a severe deformity. Aside from an unusually stiff tail, the kitten was born without fully formed feet. She also appeared to be missing lower forearms and lower hind legs. This stubby conformation prevented her from learning how to use a conventional litter box.  
Eventually, all of the normal kittens were adopted. Sadly, the remaining one was kept isolated in a bathroom while the owner determined her fate. Vicky was working for a local veterinarian when she became aware of the unwanted kitten's plight. For days the image of the lonely six month old baby, haunted her. She felt compelled to intervene. Finally, Vicky made the decision to take the kitten home and assess its abilities. 
At first the kitten was quite shy for she had rarely interacted with people. A severe case of diarrhea added to the challenge of caring for such a needy kitten. Bathing the un-socialized cat added unavoidable stress to the situation. Immediately, diet was addressed and changed to combat diarrhea. A litter box was modified to accommodate shorter legs. The kitten was also spayed. No doubt, Vicky had her hands full but patience and problem solving paved the way to make a happy life for this kitten. 
Four years later, the cat, Fern, is an inspiration to all. A distinct rhythmic gait easily identifies her when she bounds about the house. Fern is still a bit shy around strangers and she doesn't love being held. However, she does seek out a lap to sit on and at bedtime she curls up on her own special blanket between Vicky and her husband, Mike. Sweet Dreams Fern.
One year later, Timber, a red tabby found his way into Vicky's home. He was a healthy rescue who struck a heart string with his tiny ginger good looks. There was hope that this kitten might provide company for Fern. Fern, however, was not impressed. She had spent too much time as an only cat and planned to maintain her status as such. Timber was not discouraged. He loves to socialize with people, but only those with whom he is well acquainted. Until then he remains shy and a bit aloof.
Two years after Fern's arrival, Vicky took in another cat with special needs. This little guy was born with cerebellar hypoplasia; a condition caused by a viral or bacterial infection, injury or poisoning while the kitten is in utero. The permanent effects include spastic, uncoordinated movements that frequently result in miscalculated jumps and falls.
This kitten had another lethal factor stacked against his chance of finding a home. Although his condition was not life-threatening, his coat color was. Black cats are the least likely to be adopted, for whatever reason. Once again, the fate of this innocent animal weighed heavily upon Vicky's heart. She adopted the little one and named him Woody to compliment an Adirondack theme already established by Timber and Fern.  
Woody is the sweetest cat Vicky has ever owned; a little simple perhaps but without a mean bone in his body.  From the day that Woody arrived, Vicky engaged him in physical therapy to build muscle strength. She made him walk up the grassy hill in her yard and encouraged him to romp freely about. Gradually, his muscles improved and undignified falls have decreased. Over time the cat has gained even more control of his physique. Wrestling with Timber guarantees extended workout time each day.
At mealtime Woody must be reminded where his food station is. When he gets excited his, physical symptoms magnify with tremors and jerky movement. He walks as if he has sticky tape on his feet; pulling his legs up in high cadence. He may run into walls if he gets going too fast and frequently loses his balance. His resilience and acceptance is what endears him to Vicky the most. Despite physical challenges, Woody embraces life and lives it with charming exuberance.  

Fern has adapted to life as a normal cat.

 Timber is Vicky's 3 year old rescue.
 Woody is unfazed by failed attempts land where he intended to go due to in-coordination.

Next week; Meet the rest of Vicky's menagerie in Special Needs Part II!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Field of Green

     Good Morning,
     It's mid-winter in the Adirondacks.  So far the temperature and conditions have behaved themselves, moderately.  However, I can't help but crave the lushness of the good weather months.  So much is green in these photographs from six months ago.  It swaddles me like a wool sweater.  The four and two legged companions affirm that I am truly blessed.  As I write the green field is hidden under ten inches of winter white.  I like to think it's resting; recharging energy necessary to foliate back to life.  

 A Field of Green 

In a field of green
My horse and I 
Are free to run in the wind
On sturdy hooves 
we pound the ground
into the future from where we've been

A picture framed 
Through pointy ears
A hazy image of what's to come
We gallop onward blindly
Hoping for a fate 
Meaningful and and loaded with fun

With every strike 
From hoof to earth
Blood is pumped back to his heart
Just look at me
Alive astride 
A living work of art

Of lever and force
Is the equine physique
In some strange way 
I am traveling aboard
a breathing time machine

For back I go
To days of youth 
where upon his back I played
Acquiring skills of an equestrian 
I remain as such today

In a field of green
I want to ask my steed
"What comes next for us, I wonder?"
But choose instead
"What is right now?"
On which to meditate and ponder

Hurry back Summer!  We miss you.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Fantasy Farm Shopping, 2015

     Good Evening,
     Its that time of year again.  Wellington, Florida is gearing up for the WEF, (Winter Equestrian Festival).  Show horses from all over the Midwest and Northeast are being clipped and shipped to this horsey mecca in the Sunshine State.  Like migrating butterflies they swarm along main arteries such as I95 and I75 to escape polar conditions that grip the north from December until April.  Just follow any equine transport carrier's FB page, (Brook Ledge, Judge Manning), where they announce possible departure and arrival dates. Trainers, grooms, and a myriad of support staff follow in their horses' wakes to pursue one of the greatest perks of working with elite horse flesh.  It's a grand migration of many different species and walks of life.  They are all so lucky to escape the inevitable; bitter cold, freezing rain and blowing snow.
     My computer screen provides access to glimpses of a balmy, carefree winter.  Every Saturday evening I tune in to catch the current corporate sponsored Grand Prix Jumping event, Dressage Freestyle or Hunter Derby, (USEF NetworkChronicle of the HorseFEI TV).  Although I watch the best horses and riders from around the world compete, I scrutinize details not related to horses.  While buried under a fleece turtleneck, wool sweater or two, my attention is drawn to spectators attending in shorts, sandals, and shirt-sleeves.  I feel better when I notice the crowd is wearing jackets.
"It must be cold there tonight," I announce with satisfaction to my husband.  He half-listens while engrossed in the NFL playoffs on television in the living room.
     What would it be like to pack up the menagerie, shut down Moose River Farm, and flee to Wellington?  To skip a whole winter of scraping the car windshield, draining the hose, and bundling up for barn chores?  Perhaps if one of the following properties, (fully staffed of course), was waiting for us to arrive, it might be nothing short of perfect!
     Truth is winter in Wellington is not a reality for MRF.  Decisions made through out my life have led me along a whole different path.  I am perfectly content with those choices.  Once in awhile, I welcome the distraction to wonder what it would be like to live financially carefree with my husband and my animals in Florida's equestrian paradise.

Come along...let's browse these sale properties that embrace our horsey lifestyle...and dream a little.  

$1,750,000; Starter Farm for Wellington Newbie



$24,900,000; This will do nicely!



$9,999,000; A bit more modest!

After all that eye popping farm shopping I have come to the following conclusion: There really is no place like home!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Moving Forward into the New Year

     Happy New Year!
     Rod and I have just returned from a holiday reunion with my family at Mohonk Mountain House in the foothills of the Catskills.  For three days we immersed ourselves in activities such as skating and hiking along with my siblings and their children.  The greatest treat however, was sitting down to delicious meals prepared by someone else.  After three days I crave nothing.  
     One evening my family gathered in a television room reserved for us, (there are only 3 TVs at Mohonk), and watched videos from years ago when my siblings' children were youngsters.  My father who has been deceased for over twenty years made several appearances throughout the films.  The emotions that struck while reliving the past surprised me.  Frankly, I didn't recognize him; light and engaging with his grandchildren.  Even his voice sounded like a stranger to me.  He was more handsome than I remember, tan and square in the jaw suggesting strength and confidence.  My mind searched for signs of the Dad that raised me at arm's length while devoting most of his energy to a long career so that he could afford four private college educations.  The Dad who became my partner in horse ownership when I turned 16 and the Dad who instilled the value of saving money for emergencies and "stuff" that will last was difficult to locate in the character on screen.  
     Since watching the videos I have reflected on my reactions and have come to some powerful conclusions in the process.  The opportunity to spend three days together as a family definitely falls into the category of quality.  Perhaps it even dabbles as an emergency since ever-changing lives of so many busy people make it difficult to schedule a yearly reunion.  My father's pride in his three generations spending time together radiated from us all.  Finally, although the adult versions of those children in the videos were present in the room watching along with me, I still felt a pang of loss.  Childhood is too short.  I hope they were able to recognize a glimpse of who they were and where they came from while revisiting a time when life was carefree, innocent and under the supervision of adults.
     As 2014 comes to an end, I scan the recent past before squinting my eyes into the future.  Losses this year included our 9 year old goat Lilly in early October.  On a Friday afternoon Rod met me at the car as I arrived home from school. 
     "Lilly is not good," he informed. 
     I found her lying down; her whole body quaking with pain.            
     "There is something inside her that shouldn't be there and I can't fix it," Dr. Jennifer Nightingale declared with sad honesty after a thorough examination.    
Lilly's presence in the barn is missed by all who lent a hand to scratch the top of her head or provided a leg where she could rub her itchy spots.  
    Two weeks later, Rosemary, our 21 year old iguana was diagnosed with a mass in her lower abdomen.  This news, although devastating, did allow me to spend eight more weeks caring for her at home.  Not once did she appear to be suffering from intense pain.  Her stoic attitude and willingness to eat if hand fed remained consistent until just before Christmas.  On a day of unseasonably reptile-loving weather Rosemary and I returned to the vet clinic to bring closure to a long life.  She was buried in the corner of our backyard where she had spent many a summer day basking in the sunshine.  RIP sweet girls.
     In May my family lost David Lane, the lovely gentleman who recaptured my mother's interest in living after the death of my father.  She and David were married in 2001 and spent their time together traveling the world.  David graciously visited the Adirondacks with my mother every summer.  I am grateful for that and his devotion to her over the past 15 years.  
     With that said I punctuate the end of 2014.  It is now free to drift off behind me while wispy memories remain to savor and soothe grief.  Into a future full of promise and hope I now step.  With age and wisdom I am learning not to fret too far ahead.  Instead, I must keep my vision focused on where I am at the moment and soak up the simplicity of just being....right now.  Peace to all in the New Year!

My first horse, Promise, Dad and me.

Lilly, (right), and her brother Liam were orphaned babies in 2005.
She loved to scratch her head on humans.
Lilly was always ready for her close-up.
My niece Meg, (a junior at Gettysburg College now), was one of Rosemary's best friends.
Yes, a reptile can lie in the sun for a few therapeutic minutes in the winter.
David and Bobbie Lane.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Season's Greetings From Moose River Farm, 2014

    Good Morning,
    There is so much to be grateful for this time of year.  Our gratitude was captured brilliantly by Adirondack Mountain Productions, a film company right here in Old Forge.  Photographer Kurt Gardner spent considerable time with us as we went about our day with the animals.  Through his lens, Kurt has conveyed exuberance and joy of the holiday season.  Allow us to extend these same pleasures to all of our family, friends and animal loving readers.  Merry Christmas everyone!
Photos by Kurt Gardner

Zambezi, (Zambi) and Eastern Salute, (Easau) kick off the holidays at full speed!
Lowtchee and I are riding in a Winter Wonderland.

Festive Donkeys, Frankie and Bing.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Equine Affaire 2014 and Courtney King Dye

    Good Evening,
    It has been weeks since I last posted on MRF's blog.  My only excuse is lack of time.  The little bit of writing that I have accomplished lately is in the preliminary draft of my next book.  It's patchy and rough with ideas spread all over; in notebooks and hanging precariously from the cloud.  Needless to say, it has been difficult to focus on an inspirational blog post....until last weekend.  
     Seven friends and I piled into an SUV early Saturday morning for a four hour drive to West Springfield, MA.  There we attended Equine Affaire, an Expo that celebrates all things horsey.  For an entire day we indulged ourselves in shopping, watching demos and meeting equine representatives from various breeds.  The company of 3 riding students enabled me to view the event through the eyes of horse-loving teenagers, eager to soak up opportunities offered.  
     My favorite building was where many breed organizations, rescue groups and various riding clubs set up luring displays.  I bought Rod, (my husband), a save-your-ass T-shirt to support a Long-ears rescue, (donkeys and mules).  I also browsed the Friesian horse display and gawked at the stallion, Othello who greeted patrons lingering by his stall.  
     While strolling passed the New England Dressage and Combined Training Association, a book on display caught my attention; Courtney's Quest by Courtney King Dye.  I told my inquiring students about King Dye's gift for training dressage horses and her participation in the 2008 Olympics.  Sadly, she suffered a traumatic brain injury in a riding accident in 2010.  I began to tell them how her notoriety as a world class athlete resulted in an immediate reaction by the entire horse industry to promote safety helmets.  As I continued speaking a woman behind the counter caught my attention with her eyes.  They were darting back and forth from me to a figure I was barely aware of sitting in the booth.  Shifting my focus I realized it was Courtney King Dye signing a copy of her book for a young enthusiast.  
    I believe the woman behind the counter worried that I was about to say something offensive about Courtney's accident.  Quite the contrary. 
     My love of dressage has been cultivated by watching some of the best riders and horses compete in the flesh at Dressage at Devon, (DAD), almost every September for the last 15 years.  At DAD one can stand in the schooling area for hours and witness, at eye level, the incredible communication that takes place between horse and rider.  After warming up the pairs enter the show ring to dazzle the judges and the educated crowd assembled to watch and support them.  
One year my childhood friend, Diane and I, lost in a 'wannabee' trance, witnessed an apparition appear among the field of world class combinations present in the schooling area.  The pair could only be described as centaur-like, graciously accommodating each other through the required movements of Grand Prix.  Diane and I looked at each other.  
     "Who is that?" we asked in unison.  Immediately, Diane thumbed through the official DAD program to identify the rider by the number attached to her horse's bridle.  
     "Oh," she said with a head nod.  "That is Courtney King riding Harmony's Mythilus."      "That is Courtney King," I echoed affirming that only Courtney King was capable of creating such a flawless image.  From my view at ground level I couldn't take my eyes off of them.  They appeared to be enjoying a cup of tea together, (Courtney would say beer), like a pair of old friends who need not fill the air with small talk.  The contrast to other riders in the ring was measurable.  Mythilus never grunted, pinned his ears or swished his tail when asked to transition from movement to movement.  Courtney's torso, legs and hands always appeared to say please and thank you when she asked or he complied.  I will never forget watching them.  The lasting image helped me coin a phrase for my own riding students when they are having difficulty communicating with their horses.
     "It is a constant yet quiet conversation between your hand and your leg.  Allow the horse's reaction to dictate how much is necessary."
    When it was my turn for Courtney to sign a book for me, I shook her hand and was greeted by warm smiling brown eyes.  I gave her one of the MRF family photo postcards that I use to promote my own book.  She commented favorably on the variety of animals in the picture.  Her right hand dutifully produced her signature as well as my name on the first page of the book.  She posed for a picture with me and then repeated the process with my friend Vicky and friend/riding student, Alex.  Later we agreed that meeting Courtney King Dye was the highlight of Equine Affaire 2014. 
    Late Sunday night when the cold air and physical activity associated with nightly barn check prevented me from feeling sleepy, I picked up Courtney's book and began to read.  By 1:00 a.m. I had to peel myself away from the engrossing pages and make myself go to bed.  For the next four days I read the book every chance that I could.  I took it to school with me and awarded myself with several pages after my work was caught up.  Grading papers and tests took several days because I could not stay away from Courtney's engaging story.  
    The book is multi-faceted.  Not only does it take you through the events of her struggle to create a career with horses, but she brings the reader along on just about every competitive dressage test that paved her world class career.  I am privileged to have sat on Idy, (Idocus), and Mythy, (Mythilus), as she schools tempis, pirouettes, and the ever challenging piaffe.  My seatbones, lower leg and outside rein responded appropriately with each word read. 
     Her relationship with and understanding of each individual horse brought me to laughter and to tears on numerous occasions.  As somebody who spends a great deal of time caring for my own horses, I could relate to her passion and acceptance of each individual horse's strengths and weaknesses.  Mythilus the do-gooder, always striving to please, therefore entrusting his total being to Courtney, stands in humorous contrast to Idocus's inflated self-image as he returns home from the World Cup convinced that he has won when in fact he hasn't.  
    Courtney's beautiful words and brilliant writing drew me right into her world, providing me with intimate glimpses of the highest levels of dressage.  Her devastating accident takes the reader along for the whole rehabilitation and recovery phases.  She teaches patience, acceptance and the lesson that we can only control certain aspects of our lives.  Courtney's appreciation and love for those closest to her is confirmed on every page; husband Jason, siblings and other family members, Lendon Gray, Steffen Peters, and so many more, you will just have to read the book to acquaint yourself with them all.  
    I am eager for others to read the book so we can commiserate over it.  Be prepared for an exciting trip filled with ups and downs, laughter and tears, love and loss that all of us will face in our lifetime.  Courtney's struggles measure to the extreme.  Yet, she still proclaims her happiness and invites the reader to come along with her for this exciting ride.  
    Spoiler alert: The book ends with the birth of Courtney's daughter River.  This one event, which I was aware of since meeting River at Equine Affaire, kept me from falling into total despair at various times in the book.  River is the ray of hope that we know will bring Courtney and her husband lasting happiness.  Best wishes and Happy Thanksgiving. 

 Well written and from the heart.

Haley fell in love with this sweet baby Gypsy Vanner filly...

...and then the filly fell in love with Haley's Mom, Robyn.

 Road trip.
 Vicky and I pose with Laura the shire.

Someday I wish to ride off with the Canadian Cowgirls! photo by Janine Slezak