Saturday, May 30, 2009

Learning to live as part of the group

Was this a collective decision ...or which one started it? What could they be thinking?
I have just separated the 'Six Patricks' from the rest of the sheep this morning and they have gone into a separate pen. Changes are rarely welcomed in the sheep pen. They will have to relearn how to live as six again. They are not happy as six. It was more fun with 22.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Six Patricks

As I step into the barn at feeding time, the sheep come running and leading the flock are six noticeably larger sheep.  These are the “knee knockers,” purchased last summer, that I used to teach my dog to herd  sheep.  When you are introducing a new dog to sheep, it is best to use sheep that are already “dog broke” and are familiar with the “round pen” or as some sheep refer to it, “the torture chamber.”

As the dog hopefully begins to instinctively move towards the sheep  into a balanced position with the  sheep and the handler, the wise and experienced sheep hang out at the handler’s knees, following her around. (Hence the name knee knockers.) They also move together as a cohesive unit, almost inseparable, so much so, my daughter christened them, the six Patricks- all for one and one for all.”

 That is sort of how it works unless the dog decides to charge at the sheep, getting a mouthful of wool, scattering the sheep in all direction, sending some over the fence.

My knee knockers are part Romanov, Shetland, and Barbados.  The Romanov and Barbados combine to make a substantially heavier, taller and more aggressive sheep in comparison to my smaller and shy Shetlands and Jacobs.  No surprise that the six Patricks lead the charge into the barn at feeding time.  I had intended to keep them separate from my flock as their bad manners at feeding time, often rob the smaller sheep of their rations of hay and grain but during the winter they ended up hopping the fence and joining in with the others.

Each day before I can get the flakes of hay distributed around the barn, the six Patricks, in a frenzy, skip along beside me as they try to eat from the flakes of hay in my arms, sometimes  pushing the flakes  out of my arms, spilling  the sweeter and more delicate parts of the hay on the barn floor and  over their fleece coats.  Tossing a flake down, the excitement rises and I stumble to keep from getting my feet stepped on as the mob dashes to this flake.  As I turn to toss another flake, the frenzy moves to the new flake until we have repeated this process a number of times, dancing around the barn.  Some of the sheep will quietly stand and eat in their places while others will continue to move from pile to pile to pile until they finally settle on one pile before it disappears.  It has been my observation that the little ones that continue to hop from pile to pile  and can not commit themselves to one pile, often miss their breakfast.

These small piles of hay might well be likened to the parts of our lives, past and present, that define us, at times consuming us.  They represent our families, friends, careers, our spiritual selves, and misplaced passions. They are  our struggles.  The success and failure of one part of our lives, spills over to the next as these piles of hay do.  There can be many piles as we are stretched and separated not knowing who we are at times.  Becoming obsessed and consumed by the many piles can get our toes stepped on.  We need to take a step back, lift our gaze and stop dwelling on our struggles. So very much of what we worry about through our lives, doesn’t really matter. 

Instead, know that the only true and consuming passion in our lives should be to live for Jesus Christ.  That is first and foundational to everything else. So set your thoughts on God because  what we think about,  defines us. (Prov. 23:7)

I am not suggesting that our lives lack passion as it is the passion that colours our lives, moves us on at times when we seem to get stuck or just mechanically  move through our days.  We welcome these compelling emotions.  The very plan of God was played out in the Passion of Christ but the source of this passion began with the Father’s love and led Him along this narrow road.

Turning back once again, we may see that which consumed us is gone.

Later in the day, I will see one or two of my sheep turn  back to the barn to sift through the remains of their breakfast, hoping to find a few missed pieces of tasty hay left….but all is gone. 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  Deuteronomy 6:5

…and walk that narrow road.




Jacobs Gate Farm

Saturday, May 23, 2009

David Foster and Friends - Save the Last Dance - Michael Buble

Oh....what can I say? It's another Saturday and I've got so many weeds to pull, manure to shovel. With coffee in hand, I'm heading outside. Just needed a little spring in my step. Okay, I confess.....I am a you- tube addict. I just may sing to my sheep.
Enjoy the fast disappearing days of spring.

Friday, May 22, 2009

“Knowing This”….Rom. 6:3

In the spring of the year, the

time when kings go forth to

battle.”  Samuel 11:1

Josephus tells us that at one time, when the first blades of grass emerged in the spring,  men prepared for war.   Adad levied and led forth his army against the Hebrews; Antiochus prepared to invade Judea; and Vespasioan marched to Antipatris, all with the coming of spring and the new grass.

The Kings and armies of the East do not march but when there is grass, and when they can encamp, which is April.     Chardin

These were the rules.  From the first blade of grass, things were set in motion.

So it is on our little farm in the spring.  Sheep rise against sheep in a game of testing and posturing for leadership of the barn.  Back  and forth, they enter and cross unseen boundaries.  Horns clash, heads slam with dull thuds as echoes from the past. Yet before the first stomping of the foot; before the first lifting of the head; before the first focus of the eyes, there is a knowing inside all- who will win….it rises from within.

I remember the spring of 1973.  I was graduating from school and preparing to leave for Newfoundland for my first job-a new adventure. We had all sat in front of our televisions that late spring watching “Watergate” unfold, eyes wide open, disbelieving. The Vietnam war continued and we wondered what it was all about. It was the beginning of a hot summer. 

I also remember that everyone was talking about an amazing horse from Virginia who had gone forth and won the Kentucky Derby, next the Preakness Stakes, both in  record time and everyone was waiting for his appearance at the Belmont Stakes, longing for him to emerge as the first triple crown winner in 25 years, longing for greatness.  We were not to be disappointed.  It was just a horse and one race but for 1 1/2 miles, we witnessed the same greatness that kings of old sought each spring.  It was a display of such utter knowing …that this horse knew he was in the race of his  life. It was his time to run.      

Secretariat’s Triple Crown Part 2 The Belmont Stakes                                 

As Christians, how do we measure  greatness?  Perhaps, it is when we know that we know that we know who we are and where we come from.  It is God’s revelation to us. We do nothing to receive it.  It is not an intellectual knowledge at all.  We may not understand it but we know it in our hearts and see it in our spirits…and our hearts speak to us.

People around us and circumstances  test us but we learn ‘being small’ is our greatest asset.  We learn not to be anxious about the markers of time in our lives, as our lives will go on after today…this year… next year…into eternity.  We learn, amid confusion , we can see clearer.  We learn the vastness of one moment in time. We learn to breathe deeper.  We learn to praise God for what we are and what we have. We have become new creatures.  The old has passed away. We are those who abide in Christ.

Yet we struggle as we forget we are in Christ. Watchman Nee speaks of this struggle as the bewilderment of trying to get into a room in which you already are.  “Think of the absurdity of asking to be put in!” Know that you have been made new. Know that you have unlimited potential. Know that you are His.

“Knowing this,” says Paul, “that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away so that we should no longer be in bondage to sin.”  Rom. 6:3

Knowing this…our greatness will rise from within. 


Secretariat –Running From Within (at Claiborne Farm, Virginia)…enjoy!


The Immortal Secretariat (right click your mouse for hyperlink)….enjoy

I promise…this is the last of my horse movies for a while.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Seeking Momentum

Coming through Kentucky on our journey home recently, we stopped at the Kentucky Horse Park, something I’ve wanted to do for many years.  We visited the Hall of Champions and met several racing champions. Upon asking one of the handlers if she had a favourite; she replied no. She loved them all but none of them  as much as she  had loved John Henry who was a resident of the Horse Park until his death in October 2007 at the age of 32.   “ John Henry,” she said, “ has touched all of us who worked with him.  He was a very intelligent horse. There was just something different in his eyes when you looked at him.  He knew he was different.  He knew he was a champion.”

John Henry  was a Kentucky horse of dubious breeding lines.  His sire was “Old Bob Bowers,” a moderate racing horse who was known more for his bad disposition than his racing ability and sold for $900 as a stallion.  His dam, “Once Double,” was also a moderate runner and had problems carrying her foals to term.  As a foal, John Henry was remembered as  small, ugly and foul tempered. He had a conformation defect called “calf Kneed” which is a serious fault as it places such stress on the back legs that most horses cannot withstand training let alone racing.  Nobody expected anything from him and he was sold at the mixed sale at Keeneland which usually draws the bottom of the barrel for $1,100. During the sale, John had a temper tantrum cutting his head.  He was cleaned up as much as possible but went in the ring looking like a drowned rat with blood running down his face.  As he grew, his knees worsened along with his disposition as he would tear buckets and tubs off the walls of his stall, stomping on them, and pitching them out the stall door at people walked by. This habit earned him his name, “John Henry” after the steel driving man of the folk song.  John’s first owner never did break John to saddle and in less than a year, John was back at the Keeneland mixed sales as a 2 year old selling for $2,200.  John’s new owner managed to break John to saddle but it wasn’t easy.  Again John was sold but he kicked his stall walls so hard, the walls had to be kept in place using 55 gallon drums of molasses.

Despite his off track antics, his on track professionalism and a few early track wins led a few people to scratch their heads and wonder if within John might be the makings of a champion . But John never made it easy for them and after being sold eight times, he finally found a friend and wise trainer in Ron McAnally who had a reputation of  working with horses  that nobody else wanted.  For the next four years, John established his reputation as a winner with many wins in important races on both dirt and turf.  When most horses his age were retiring, John was coming into his own stride.  He finished his racing career in 1984 at age 9 with 4 straight stake race wins.  Injury forced him into retirement.  In eight years of racing, he won 30 stakes,  earned $6,497,947 in earnings,  won seven Eclipse awards and Horse of the Year twice, the last coming at the unprecedented age of nine.  At the time of his retirement, he was the highest money earning thoroughbred of all time.

“John Henry was a truly gifted thoroughbred who kept horse racing alive during a difficult decade. John Henry’s true legacy was written in the people’s heart far more indelibly than his superlative racing career could ever reflect,” said John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park.  “John Henry was a testament to the fact that a horse’s value is far greater than the sum of his pedigree, conformation, sales price and race record.

 Winston Churchill said that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man, but I would add that horses like John Henry prove that the inside of a horse is even better for the inside of Man.”

 John possessed the courage to overcome obstacles; courage that all people strive to find.  John found his stride in the bare fact that he would not give up.  If you ran head to head with John, he would beat you every time as he was such a fierce competitor.  The only way to beat him was to come from behind so he couldn’t see you and get to him at the wire. John was so determined to get to the winner’s circle in 1983 when he just lost by a neck at the Arlington Million, he dragged his groom to the  Winner’s Circle.  It took quite a few people to drag him kicking and biting away.

Behind the legend of John Henry that continued to grow in his retirement…what really made him a champion were a few people who believed in him and patiently worked with him.  Had it not been for these people in his life, he probably would have been euthanized at a much earlier age  and been known as a horse who “also ran.”  It always comes down to that …whether a parent-child, teacher-student, trainer-horse….mutual respect.

It was that way between Ron McAnally, under whose training, John flourished and John –John as he affectionately called him.  It was McAnally who saw how special John was and patiently worked with him. When John was celebrating his 28th birthday at the Horse Park, Sam Rubin, his owner, remarked “The only one he’d really recognize is McAnally.  McAnally would holler “John-John” and he would jump up.  If I called him, he wouldn’t move, unless I had an apple in my hand.”  McAnally continued to visit him,  always bringing apples, carrots and sugar.  He would holler John’s name coming through the stable as John would nicker back.

John was a horse that you might never want to turn your back on, especially if you did something to him that he didn’t like.  Despite his ornery side, he also kept his youthful playfulness throughout his senior years.  Occasionally, when walking with his trainer, John Henry would put his left leg out in front of him and try to trip him. He did that with those he loved. Somewhere He learned to play the broken leg game.  He would stand infront of his stall and nicker until you came over.  He waited for you to ask him if he had a broken leg.  He nodded his head, nickered, raised his front leg off the ground and held it up as he waited for a treat to be placed in his feed trough.  

John Henry was not the best race horse…not the fastest or the busiest.  He wasn’t the greatest weight carrier and certainly not the handsomest or the the most personable but he  had a big heart and did not know how to quit.  Many  of us have  dreams  but we let them slip away. We let the mundane things of life, people, circumstances slow us down.  We grow weary, losing our momentum. We forget we are still in the race as we slow to a leisurely pace.  We forget we have been gifted with special talents to use.  We forget that we do not travel alone. 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Coming Home

First, there were the taxes, then shearing the sheep…and finally I have just returned from bringing my daughter home from school in Oklahoma.   While inching our way through  nine states, through sun, rain, forests, over hills, in our little four cylinder, the thought or essence of home was never far from my mind.  As a child, I  remember my mother had a way of saying, when far from home, “I’m dying to get home for a cup of tea,” with such conviction that I knew the value she placed on her home and a good cup of tea in her life.  What stirred my spirits as I hurried on towards home  this past week, was  nothing so simple and honest as a cup of tea but my thoughts were  of reorganizing my life,…new projects, new priorities, a new simplicity, a new peace, a new beginning…in a way that one must leave in order to rediscover.

I also thought of the changes in my life this past winter and how I had lost my dear friend and neighbour, Bill.  Despite being 84 years of age, Bill was always ready to work alongside me, mending fences, gates, sinking posts, planting our garden  and as we worked, he sang or told tales, tales that after a life time needed to be told.  How deeply I will miss his songs, his stories, his strength this spring.  Bill was blessed with an inner driving force that kept him moving forward, always ready to embrace each new day, the best and the worst of it, leaving yesterday to the past.  And such was the vitality within him that to work along side him was to move ahead with him. I who tend to languish in the moment have always needed to borrow from other people’s momentum.

He considered himself a rich man indeed.  He once remarked to me during his illness,” I have a good family, good neighbours and a good home…I would like to have lived longer but what are you going to do?”  What could one say but nod, feeling the depth of his regret.  Family, friends, home and a great respect for life and all beings were at the heart of his stories.

It comes as no surprise to me that he loved horses.  He loved to tell me how in England after the war, leaving  his home in Ukraine, he worked for a farmer, named Mr. Westman, repairing his farm equipment.  Mr. Westman had a horse on the farm that was getting old and he decided to sell it.  All the arrangements were made and the horse was to leave for his new home shortly after Bill left work for the day. His new home was to be about fifty miles away.  The next morning as Bill arrived at the gate to his amazement, there was the old horse standing waiting patiently at the gate .  Up the driveway, the two walked through  fog and mist as he had through the night. “Hey Mr. Westman, I thought you got rid of this horse.”  Mr. Westman starred in disbelief at this horse who had never been more than five miles from the farm in his life.  Tears filled his eyes and he resolved that the horse would stay on the farm for the rest of his life.

I think back to my first blog post this past autumn where I spoke of the essence of home and how one’s life journey is all about returning home.  Jacob understood that well, under his starry sky.  My friend, Bill, understood that also.

                                                                                                                                                  Bill Szmyrko

Some song  and sentimentality….

…a few more thoughts to  follow.