Monday, January 23, 2012

Must read feature: When worlds collide

Life on any farm is full of adventures but in the course of operating a horseback riding school − complete with 20 horses and an average of 30 students at any given time − Portales native Wendy Toombs has a longer list of stories than most.
Anyone who works in a teaching environment, particularly with children, knows that the adventures abound and days are made up of moments that explore the emotional rainbow.
Often inspiring, heart wrenching and sometimes just downright hilarious, I asked Wendy to share one of her favorites with In Search of Ponies and she delivered a story complete with full belly-laugh potential.
Make sure you don’t miss a tale of a young lady who was willing to risk breaking the rules so she could introduce her friends to one another.
Scroll down and enjoy!
Guest blog: When worlds collide

Guest blog: When worlds collide

As if running a farm weren't a full-time job,
Wendy Toombs is also a horseback riding
instructor, school owner, all around animal lover
and author of the blog:
 Horsin Around with Wendy.
This is for all the grandmothers out there. Moms, too. You know there has been a similar incident within your own family.
The horseback riding lesson started well. My 11-year-old rider was in a good mood and energy as were those around her. She was preparing her horse for riding when a friend of the family (who had been on the phone with her grandfather) asked her if she knew where her lizard was.
Grandmother asked why Grandfather wanted to know and was told the cage was empty. All eyes are now on granddaughter. “It’s in my back pack”, she announced.

“And just where is your backpack?”
“In the car.” (This is Grandmother’s NEW car)
“Didn’t I tell you not to put that lizard in my car?”
“Yes, but I wanted to show it to Miss Wendy”.

Now, I would like to set the record straight here. I never said I wanted to see the lizard. I was not an accomplice in this, honest. I even stepped up and told her there was a right way to do things and this wasn’t it (as I'm laughing behind my hand).
Grandmother told her that the lizard was not making the trip back with them; it was not going any further in her car. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do.
Grandmother’s next question was, “Just what made you think you could get away with this?”
I will give granddaughter credit for being honest as she said, “What you don’t know, won’t hurt you.”
This was not the thing to say. If you are a parent of a child with any age on it, you can fill in this part of the story.
We did get to the arena and my riders rode. Granddaughter was still in a good mood and sure that she was going to show me this lizard. Nearly at the end of the ride, her mom drove in. She was here to pick up the lizard so it would make the trip back home but not in Grandmother’s car.
Granddaughter went white as mom drove up and wanted to get off the horse. I finally asked her why she had to get down at that time and it was so she could show me the lizard before it left. I hung tough and made her stay on the horse as the drama unfolded.
On the way out her mom stopped by the arena so I could see the subject of all the controversy. It looked like a larger version of those I see here in the summer. It was clinging to its rescuer’s shirt when I last saw it heading home.

UPDATE: two weeks later
Kid is in one piece; the lizard is in one piece. They are both at home, same home - Grandmother’s home. They are both on probation.
Visiting – both – only for cage cleaning. Release from prison – lizard – only for cage cleaning.
Length of probation. One week per violation.
Lizard WAS NOT to ride anywhere in Grandmothers car.
Lizard WAS NOT to be taken out of the house without Grandfather’s permission.
Lizard WAS NOT to be taken to the farm (mine).
Kind of falls into the ‘three strikes and you’re out.’

Story and photo submitted by Wendy Toombs, exclusively for In Search of Ponies,

Dove had one last ride

As featured Jan. 13, 2012, on

It looked a little like a seasoned sailor, oblivious to the motion of the world beneath its feet.
Puffed up twice its natural size, with its head scrunched tight into its body, the dove didn’t seem to notice anything at all as it was moved from right to left, forward and backward.
Nor did it notice as the neighboring filly stretched her neck as far as she could so she could nip at its tail feathers right before it passed out of reach.
If I were a bird in on one of our bitter cold New Mexico nights, I might look for a similar perch.
What better place than the broad back of a horse to weather the cold — after all, it has to be the closest thing to radiant heat a bird can find in these parts, short of singeing feathers on a chimney pipe.
A logical as it seemed, it was odd enough that I was fascinated and grabbed a camera to document the slumbering hitchhiker.
If the host-horse had any clue there was a bird on his back, he didn’t care as he impatiently pranced around, anxious to have his feed bucket filled and not amused in the least that I was taking so long and flashing that thing in his eyes.
And sleeping bird, well, he kept sleeping, not willing to give up a good thing unless he was just flat forced to.
I was impressed that he didn’t startle at all the noise I made, discovering later as I went through the pictures that he did indeed open his eyes several times, he just apparently didn’t care enough to move.
Maybe he was just exceptionally brilliant as doves go, seizing a marvelous opportunity when he saw it. After all, where he could he possibly perch that would be safer? As if a cat or fox would dare try and snatch him from the back of a horse!
Or perhaps the little guy was in touch with his African relative, the Oxpeckers, who spend their lives on the backs of rhinos, zebras, buffalo, giraffes and even cattle, feasting on the parasites that nibble on large mammals.
Their coexistence is referred to as mutualism — another way of saying, “you eat my bugs and I’ll let you hang out,” although its said the hosts aren’t always friendly and try to knock them off – understandably, since they literally live on the backs of others, to include courting and... well... mating on the go.
Not to mention, in some cases the birds aren’t above picking at their host when bugs are in short supply.
A friend suggested perhaps the bird was ill, roosting on the horse in some state of delirium. While less inspiring, it was a plausible theory, given there are no Oxpeckers in our area and it wasn’t being a normal dove with the dozens of other doves that were roosting in the nearby trees as they do every night.
Regardless of how and why he got there, it turned out to be his last ride and I found him lying on the ground the next day partaking of a permanent nap.
Maybe my friend was right and he succumbed to some mystery ailment and just slipped away — and off the horse. Or, maybe after they finished eating, the other horses returned to nipping at his tail feathers and finally succeeded.
Could also be that the horse laid down with a full belly and rolled over to scratch that itch on his back.
I still prefer to think the dove had one of those dreams, you know, the one where you’re floating and defying gravity ... blissful ... until you roll to far and hit the floor beside the bed.
And in this case, the bed shifted and stepped.
Whatever happened and as genius as the bird’s idea may have seemed at the time, maybe the other birds are in fact the smarter ones, particularly notable every sunrise as they continue to fly like clockwork from their no-doubt cold, but remarkably safe tree limbs.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Make In Search of Ponies part of your New Year!

It's 2012, the holiday hiatus has ended and it's time to get back into the swing of things.
If you look forward to the Saturday column featured in the Clovis News Journal and Portales News Tribune, but find you just can't wait a week for the next In Search of Ponies, then this blog is the place for you!
Here you will find exclusive content such as guest blogs, photos, previews of upcoming columns and your past favorites. 
Subscribe today: Using the tools provided on the right of this page, you can enter an email address to have posts delivered to your inbox, add an RSS feed to your homepage or follow along with your favorite blogs.  
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Of course it's all free and you can unsubscribe any time you like, so there's no excuse – Subscribe today, stay connected and get updates as they happen!
And, as always, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read In Search of Ponies. 
It's going to be a great year!

Exceptionally brilliant or abominably stupid?

Sometimes, someone who is willing to take a risk and march to a different beat can bring about new ideas that leave everyone else scratching their heads wondering why they didn't think of that.
And sometimes the establishment exists for a reason...
This week, In Search of Ponies recounts the story of a dove who cast off conformity and bucked bird establishment in pursuit of the perfect place to sleep.
To find out if the dove prevailed, visit or Friday evening, Jan. 13, 2012.
Or, find it in newsstands Saturday morning, Jan. 14, 2012, featured in the Clovis News Journal and Portales News Tribune.

Rats capable of selflessness

As featured Jan. 7, 2011, on

Few in the animal world have obtained a reputation quite as bad as theirs. In fact, their name is so bad, it has become ingrained in cliché’s and slang as a negative.
And as if that bad rep weren’t enough, the thought that rats might be smart or playful or even make good pets is an even harder sell for most people.
But the idea that rats are nasty little creatures that are only out to save their own hides has come under attack by the science community, and it turns out it may be altogether wrong.
In a recently released study, scientists found rats will work relentlessly, forsaking personal comfort, to free a friend locked in a trap.
Not only did the rats poke around and work at the trap until they sprung their fellow rat, they ignored nearby treats until they had set their buddies free, then shared in the spoils.
As I read the study I dismissed it as rats just being overly curious – wanting to go where they aren’t supposed to be.
No, the scientists thought of that too and found that if the trap was empty, the test rats ignored it and went straight to the snacks, chowing down.
When the trapped rat showed panic or called out, they responded in kind, working with a sense of urgency to get them free faster.
With trial after trial conducted, scientists eliminated possible reasons why they did what they did, concluding it wasn’t curiosity, or hunger or just plain problem solving drive that motivated the rats to free their trapped pals.
The reason they settled on was instead a rather humanistic and one completely in contradiction to the characteristics they are branded with.
The ability to identify and share the feelings of another, more than just understanding as in the case of sympathy, but rather taking it to the point of feeling the same thing as someone else – not exactly something one might expect of a rat.
Not only did scientists conclude that rats become concerned about their friends, responding to their fear with heroic fervor, female rats were even more driven to help those in distress than their male counterparts.
Rats certainly come across as greedy, so driven by food, that they consume virtually anything in their path in the search for nibbles, but the information gives the impression there is something even more important to them than a full stomach.
It shows a human emotion that isn’t often found to exist in the animal world.
Without a doubt, it can be a little challenging to get past the urine trails and droppings, the fact they can carry disease, tend to congregate and multiply, or their insatiable appetites. When you look at it like that, it’s certainly no wonder they aren’t usually held in high regard.
Yet, if the study is correct, it seems they have a softer side that includes a little bit of selflessness.
I have to admit, I can’t help but wonder what it actually means in the long run, especially considering they can apparently turn the empathy off, which they surely must do when they often kill cage mates and eat their remains.
Yeah, the trials may give a new level of intrigue to the way rats think, but it’s probably not time to strap barrels under their chins, reflective vests on their backs, and send them out on patrol for those in distress.

Blizzard becomes feather raising experience

As featured Dec. 30, 2011, on

When the winter waves hit, the dogs came in, the horses got an extra scoop of sweet feed and the firewood was stacked high.
Everything was ready for the bitter wind and clinging ice...Until I suddenly remembered, I had no interest in frozen chicken.
Namely because a frozen chicken is wasted on a vegetarian, but also because this particular chicken has a name – Molly – and, well, that just kind of changes things.
Besides, the unfortunate chicken stew I ended up with over the summer when her sister chicken decided to go for a swim in the horse trough was an added incentive to keep her scratching.
Not being of the farming persuasion but being in the unique position of having a single hen to care for, I found myself pondering what exactly one does to keep a chicken warm in blizzard.
Even in the barn where she usually roosts, the temperatures were brutal for a football-sized bird. Sure, it's shelter enough for horses, but they have a several-hundred-pound advantage and if a water trough can freeze solid, surely a lone chicken would be no challenge for Old Man Winter's wicked breath.
Of course if one had a full-up chicken operation going, there would be a hen house with comfort in numbers and perhaps even a heating element of some kind (pardon the pun), but a single, free-spirited chicken just doesn't warrant all those digs.
And while it's one thing entirely to bring dogs in the house, the image of an anxious, squawking, flapping chicken pinging from the dining room table to the kitchen counter just didn't resonate with snowbound domestic harmony – much less said pinging chicken with bored dogs in chase.
Which left only one option as I saw it.
I bundled up and braved the blizzard, snatched the shivering and snoozing hen from her perch on a stall railing and deposited her head-first into a cat carrier, trying not to knock her around too much as I high-stepped through the snow on the way back to the house.
Satisfied that I had saved her from her frozen fate, I covered the kennel with a blanket in the garage and went on about the business of being snowbound.
The next morning I waited for the sun to do it's business before I took her back to the barn, sorry that she remained confined, but glad that at least she was still alive, and finally when the world was a little warmer, I bundled back up and carted the kennel back to the barn.
But when I bent to open the wire door, I saw only feathers – masses of them.
Stuck in the door, stuck to the floor, poking out the sides ... Feathers everywhere.
Instantly struck with fear that I had somehow committed some chicken-care faux pas that had caused Molly to explode, I bent and looked deep inside the kennel, afraid that there were chicken chunks scattered amidst the feathers.
There, huddled shaking in the far back corner was Molly.
I never realized how much of a chicken's rounded physique could be attributed to the feather count but covered in huge bald patches, Molly not only looked more than a tad mangy coming out, but far thinner than when she went in.
Well that was counter productive.
While keeping her warm during the worst of the cold was the prime objective, there were many more pretty cold days to come, days for which she might need feathers.
Molly and I compromised in the interest of keeping what insulation she had left – she uses her new roost in a sheltered nook of the barn and I don't put her in the “box.”
In the meantime, she seems to have sworn off egg-laying – not that I blame her aversion to squatting in the snow, what with her minus a few feathers and all.

Animals have part in holiday traditions

As featured Dec. 24, 2011, on

Glistening lights, glints of gold, decadent treats, wafting cinnamon and cloves, perfectly creased ornate paper, topped with perfect bows... Ah, the traditions of Christmas.
Over the years, we've polished and refined the season, making Christmas sound, look, taste and smell better than any other single day on the calendar. If we were to go back to the beginning, I suppose Christmas would be spent in the barn as it began, surrounded by musty hay and the smells of warm manure.
However, while congregating in barns to commemorate the special day isn't part of modern routines, the animal component of Christmas certainly hasn't gone away, even if it has evolved a little here and there.
Of course, the central story has its different versions, with a jolly fat man and his bag of toys now riding through the night instead of a very pregnant woman carrying an equally heavy gift (guess centuries ago, selling impoverished children on the idea of being “nice” just to get yet another baby didn't go over quite as well as toys and candy).
But the donkey that carried her?
Well, he didn't exactly make it into subsequent stories either, but there's been no shortage of champions to transport the Christmas prize since he made the first trek.
In the 13th century, rather than a donkey, an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir's extra appendages allowed him to leap across the world in service of a gift-giving Germanic god.
To this day, some children in Germanic regions still place their boots next to the chimney filled with munchies such as hay, carrots and sugar, in the hopes that after Sleipnir chows, his rider will leave gifts.
For other European children, however, the eight-legged horse is actually a white-gray horse who spends up to three weeks carrying an elderly man across rooftops so he can drop sweets and gifts for the well-behaved into chimneys.
Scandinavians were once terrorized by a man dressed as a goat who spent Christmas harassing the population with pranks and demands until they gave him gifts. The “Yule Goat” must have been stricken by guilt because at some point, he changed his tune and started giving instead of taking.
Turning out to be a job too big for one goat, he later teamed up with gnomish gift givers, pulling their sleighs so they could deliver presents.
How or why reindeer entered the picture is mostly speculation, though it is thought to have been nothing more than the product of early 1820's holiday prose, from New York, no less.
With the publication of “The Night Before Christmas,” it was a sleigh pulled by jingling, antlered reindeer, which replaced the donkey-octaequine-gosthorse-mangoat.
It's a good thing there are eight of those strapping reindeer bulls too, because with the modern version growing wildly popular world-wide – between the fat man and the amount of toys it would take to gift children everywhere, that's one heavy sleigh.
Oh, but wait... there's been a little misunderstanding...
It turns out, in the spring calving season, the antlers of female reindeer fall off, regrowing over the summer after their babies are born. Male reindeer, on the other hand, usually drop their antlers by mid-December and are bare-headed on Christmas.
Which means, yep, you guessed it... Santa's an equal rights employer, recognizing the value of girl power a full 100 years before passage of the 19th Amendment.
And in honor of working moms everywhere, tonight some pickles and ice cream may be better than the carrots you traditionally put out for Santa's hard working ladies, because not only are Blitzen, Dasher, Prancer, Comet and even Rudolf, all girls, but with a seven month gestation period, they are probably all expecting babies in April.